Leopold Tyrmand, a Polish Jew who survived World War II by working in Germany under a false identity, would go on to live and write under Poland’s Communist regime for twenty years before emigrating to the West, where he continued to express his deeply felt anti-Communist views. Diary 1954—written after the independent weekly paper that employed him was closed for refusing to mourn Stalin’s death—is an account of daily life in Communist Poland. Like Czesław Miłosz, Václav Havel, and other dissidents who described the absurdities of Soviet-backed regimes, Tyrmand exposes the lies—big and small—that the regimes employed to stay in power. Witty and insightful, Tyrmand’s diary is the chronicle of a man who uses seemingly minor modes of resistance—as a provocative journalist, a Warsaw intellectual, the "spiritual father" of Polish hipsters, and a promoter of jazz in Poland—to maintain his freedom of thought.
Written in 1954 and only fully published in 1999 Tyrmand’s diary is not only an introduction to Warsaw, the way my generation imagines it, based on the photos of Tadeusz Rolke, Wajda’s and Polanski’s movies and accompanied by Komeda’s jazz – it’s a diary of a sensitive intellectual. Notes on life, relationships, artists’ struggles – and human ones too. This is what I think of Warsaw and how I experience it; what I think of Polish intellectual history and what I think of choices we’re facing every day – something that has not changed in almost 70 years – trying to figure out what matters in life, while strolling the streets of a city that once was, and isn’t anymore.