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TESTIMONY FOR GUSTAW HERLING (KIELCE, 20 MAY 1919 – NAPLES, 4 JULY 2000)
 

                A soldier from the Polish unit came, Gustavo Herling Grudzinski, scholar of philosophy, reader
                of my books translated into German and member of a Warsaw group that follows my philosophy;
                he wants to translate my books into Polish.


So wrote Benedetto Croce in: Quando l’Italia era tagliata in due. Estratto di un Diario (When Italy was cut in two. Excerpt from a Diary) on 21 March – 1 April 1944.

Several years later, in the story entitled Villa Tritone. Interludio bellico in Italia (Villa Tritone. Wartime interlude in Italy) published in 1951, my father described the house where Benedetto Croce and his family lived, which he visited on a regular basis when he came to Italy with the Anders troops between winter and spring 1944 and was sent to Sorrento by the English hospital in Nocera to convalesce after arriving from Alexandria and disembarking in Taranto. He described it in the Mediterranean lights of the gulf and in the penumbra of the philosopher’s study. He called it “Open House” and “Wartime interlude in Italy” referred to the months he spent there and wrote about on those pages. His first work in Italy - Guida essenziale della Polonia per i buoni Europei (Essential Guide to Poland for Good Europeans) was written there and translated from his words in English into Italian by Elena Croce. From Sorrento he set off for the front in Venafro, to take part in the battle of Montecassino: “I ran like a man possessed to the unit to arrive on time, still very weak” – he wrote in 1970. I was told of the dawn of that departure by my aunt Silvia Croce who wanted to visit him in the military encampment near the Hotel Loreley, and found him reading by the light in his tent.

My father’s time in Sorrento before leaving for the front at Montecassino is symbolic of his destiny as a soldier, as a “pilgrim of freedom”, and later as an exile: in his speech for the honorary degree awarded to him by the University of Poznań in 1991, meaningfully entitled Ho cessato di essere uno scrittore in esilio (I stopped being a writer in exile), he linked it to the “prologue of the years before the war”. A young student of Polish studies at Warsaw University and an up and coming literary critic, he then began to take an interest in Croce and his works, particularly the Storia d’Europa (History of Europe) the concept of which, the “religion of freedom”, represented “a good viaticum” (or travelling provision) on the journey from the Soviet Gulag to the armies at war in Europe.

He spent the years after the war and in exile in Rome where, with Jerzy Giedroyc, he founded “Kultura”; in London, where he wrote Inny świat (A World Apart), and then in Munich, working for Radio Free Europe. In met up again with Lidia Croce in Munich and decided to move to Naples. In the house in Via Crispi, to quote the words he dedicated to his Italian friends during the opening address of the ceremony for the awarding of the Order of the White Eagle, he “founded a family”, and had his own study, where he started writing again: this is an emotion that he reveals in an unpublished Diary from 1957, kept in his archive. Here in his splendid Naples, in Italy, his “second home by adoption” where “he spent over half of his life”, he composed the stories and the pages of the Dziennik pisany nocą (Diary Written by Night), his opus magnum. An isolated life, oxygenated by regular stays in Paris in the glorious house of “Kultura”. With time, his life became richer in the city as it began to open up to him and seek him out, when “the return of independence and democracy in Poland” led to his “resuscitation in his homeland”, allowing him to take the journeys that, starting with that memorable trip in 1991, accompanied and enhanced the last years of his life, made radiant both for him and for us.

Now his presence is testified by his study which, in the intimate atmosphere that has always permeated it, houses the library and archive, endless sources for the studies and projects dedicated to his work; and by the plaque on the façade of the villa where he lived, which was unveiled last year on the 20th of November in the presence of Presidents of the Polish, Italian and German Republics. A heartfelt emotion which I wanted to share in this letter.



Marta Herling
Marta Herling

Marta Herling
Gustaw Herling

Gustaw Herling

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