Kazimierz Moczarski was born in Warsaw on 2l July 1907. He graduated with a law degree from Warsaw University in 1932, having undergone military service. After continuing his studies at the University’s School of Journalism, Moczarski went to Paris to study international law at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Internationales for two years. Later he worked at the Ministry of Welfare dealing with legislation concerning conditions of work.
During the German occupation Moczarski was an active member of the Home Army, working in the Bureau of Information and Propaganda (B.I.P.). He played a major role in the investigation of collaborators, heading the Investigation division in the Resistance. One of the actions he organised was the springing of over a dozen prisoners from an armed hospital in June 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising he was in charge of one of four radio stations organised by himself and he was the editor of “Wiadomosci Powstancze” (the daily newspaper of the Uprising). For his activities he was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit. In mid-October 1944, after the total destruction of Warsaw by the Germans [or Nazis?], Moczarski re-activated the Home Army information and propaganda centres in Kraków and Czestochowa.
On 11 August 1945 Moczarski was arrested by the new Communist authorities, which had started a campaign to eradicate all potential opposition to their power. Most former Home Army leaders were arrested: some were simply murdered, others were imprisoned, tortured and faced show trials, frequently being accused of collaboration with the Nazis. In 1946 Moczarski was sentenced to 10 years’ jail, which was later reduced to 5 years. In 1949, at the height of Stalinism, a new series of interrogations was started against him and he was sentenced to death in 1952. In a letter to the court Moczarski lists 49 methods of torture used against him. His confinement with Stroop during this period was one of the methods his jailers used to try to break his will. In “Conversations with an Executioner” Moczarski mentions Stroop’s walks, parcels from home, personal library and right to receive and to send letters, all privileges denied to him. After Stalin’s death in 1953 his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but he was not informed of this for another two and a half years.
On 24 April 1956 Moczarski was released after spending 11 years in prison and was rehabilitated 6 months later. Part of the verdict read: “. . renewed examination of the case during the appeal procedure disclosed the baselessness, artificiality and bias of the charges brought against Kazimierz Moczarski. These findings were confirmed by the representatives of the Polish People’s Attorney-General who withdrew the charges. Moreover, the appeal proceedings exonerated the Polish Resistance Movement, restoring its honour and good name. Kazimierz Moczarski exemplified the movement’s virtues, showing admirable fortitude and unbreakable spirit as an active Resistance worker and during his lengthy incarceration.”
After his release Moczarski worked as a journalist for many years. He also adroitly used the margins of available freedom to champion various social causes. In 1968 he was removed from his job when he spoke out in defence of his Jewish colleagues at the time of the Communist Party directed anti-Semitic purges.
Kazimierz Moczarski died in 1975.
Zbigniew Herbert dedicated his poem “Co Widziałem” (What I Witnessed) to Kazimierz Moczarski.
Conversations with an Executioner” by Kazimierz Moczarski
On 2 March 1949 Kazimierz Moczarski, a former member of the resistance, was locked into a Polish jail cell already occupied by two profoundly sinister men. One of them, Gustav Schielke, had been a former policeman and later a low-level officer in the SS. The other was Jűrgen Stroop, an SS general and the liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto whom Moczarski had once tried to kill.
For 255 days Moczarski shared a small cell with the mass murderer. His Stalinist jailers thought that this would break him. Instead, as both men were convinced they would be condemned to death, they were able to talk believing that neither would break any confidences.
This book is the record of these prison conversations. Moczarski charts the events that caused a seemingly unexceptional German youth to become a passionate Nazi, an unswerving follower of Hitler and Himmler and, at various times, the SS overlord in Greece, the Ukraine and Czechoslovakia. The book largely retains the original conversational tone, increasing still further the drama of the situation. Moczarski is not merely a passive chronicler, but, as a witness to Stroop’s crimes, remains an aggressive opponent and continues to pursue Stroop’s replies. Schielke, the third man in the cell, provides a different perspective – that of the German mixed up in the Nazi world. Schielke thus is frequently critical of Stroop and his colleagues and has his own stories to tell.
The major section of the book is a day-by-day account of the Nazi liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Stroop had been specially groomed for this task and he was sent to Warsaw to carry it out. Already hundreds of thousands of Jews had been sent to the extermination camps – now the Nazis wanted to remove the last remaining Jews from Warsaw. Himmler was only expecting the “Grossaktion” to last a few days, but because of the bravery of the Jews, galvanised by the Jewish Fighting Organisation, it lasted nearly a month. Even after this, when Stroop symbolically dynamited the Great Synagogue, some Jews fought on for many months. Stroop admits that about 70,000 Jews were killed as a result of his action. The SS General has, however, great respect for his enemy, even though he still stresses that German scientists have shown that Jews are not human beings, having different blood and tissue from the rest of humanity.
Moczarski’s background as both a lawyer and a journalist equipped him perfectly for his role and his eye for detail and fluency resemble the style of Kapuscinski. Numerous theatrical and radio performances testify to the dramatic power of the book, which is added to by Moczarski’s occasional confrontations with Stroop and by his touches of irony. “Conversations with an Executioner” then reads very easily, but remains one of the most illuminating titles ever published on the nature of Nazis
For many years, in spite of the Polish’s Communists permanent anti- German propaganda campaigns, it was impossible to publish “Conversations with an Executioner” (since this would have been de-facto admission of the repression of the Resistance). Eventually it was serialised in a provincial, small circulation paper but then had to wait 5 years, and for Moczarski’s death, before it appeared in book form.
Selection of Reviews
If seldom are biters bit, how much more rarely are executioners executed? On such rare case here recounted in baleful detail, is that of Nazi General Jurgen Stroop, Hitler’s liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II and a man who calmly sent thousands to their deaths in concentration camps. After his capture Stroop shared a cell with a low-level German prison-of-war and Polish resistance fighter Kazimierz Moczarski. For 255 days the three man discussed the war, their attitude to life and death, the Nazis’ determination to extirpate Jews from the face to the earth, and Hitler’s grandiose plan to reorder mankind along Germanic-Nordic lines. […]
All in all these long conversations let one enter into the darkness of the Nazi mind as no other book does that I can recall.
John Barkham, New York Review of Books
An extraordinary document….a book whose scope equals the message of a Solzhenitsyn.
La Nouvelle Republique
One of the most astonishing portraits of a Nazi leader which we have... (it) brings us what no other document can: the truth which comes from a long look at oneself under another’s eye.
La Quinzaine Litteraire
The main source for an understanding of Stroop’s personality is a posthumously published book by Kazimierz Moczarski,” Conversations with an Executioner” (“Gespräche mit dem Henker”)
Introduction to the Stroop Report, Secker Warburg, 1980
...without precedence in our literature, and who knows, maybe without precedence in the literature of other countries.
K.Wyka, Professor of Literature, Jagiellonian University, Kraków
Immerse yourselves, I beg you, in the words of Jürgen Stroop, who is the classic case of a mind captivated by the totalitarian way of thought. Reading “Conversations with an Executioner” understand the fate of Kazimierz Moczarski, a man who never gave up, who was ready to die in order to protect others from a wretched life under any totalitarian regime.
Introduction to the German edition
History of the Book – "Rozmowy z katem" by Kazimierz Moczarski
Published in excerpts by the literary monthly "Odra" in Wroclaw, Poland.
First Polish edition of "Rozmowy z katem" in a book form published by PIW (Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy). Introduction by Prof. F. Ryszka. Immediately sells out.
German edition (hardback), Droste Veralg, Dűsseldorf “Gespräche mit dem Henker”- translation by Margitta Weber, introduction by A. Szczypiorski and Erich Kuby
French edition by Éditions Gallimard, Paris “Entretiens avec le bourreau” – translation by Jean-Yves Erhel, introduction by A.Szczypiorski
Yougoslavian (Slovenian) edition by Borec, Ljubljana, translation by France Vodnik -“Pogovori z rabljem”
Yougoslavian (Serbo-croate) edition by Prosveta, Belgrade, translation by Ilija Marinković – “Razgovori sa dželatom”
German paperback. Fisher Verlag, Frankfurt, translation by Margitta Weber, introduction by Andrzej Szczypiorski
Finnish edition by Kansankulttuuri Oy, Helsinki “Keskusteluja pyövelin kanssa” translation by Unto Järvinen, introduction by Prof. F. Ryszka
Hungarian edition by Europa Könyvkiado, Budapest “Beszélgetések a hóhérral” – translation Gimes Romána, introduction by István Kovács
American edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey "Conversations with an Executioner" edited by Marianna Fitzpatrick
Hebrew edition published by Beit Lochamei Haghottoat Publishers, D.N.Ackrat, Israel represented by The Book Publishers Association of Israel, Tel-Aviv
Japanese edition through Tuttle-Mori Agency, Inc. Tokio. Published by Kobun Sha Ltd.
Czech edition by Mlada Fronta, Prague – “Rozhovory s katem”, translation by Pavla and Dušan Provaznikovi, introduction by Dr. Václav Novák
Sixth Polish edition by PIW (bringing total number published in Poland to over 200,000 copies)
First uncensored Polish edition by PWN (Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe), Warsaw. Immediately reaches bestsellers lists, and sells out. Introduction by Andrzej Szczypiorski
Next ten Polish editions by PWN, Warsaw. Becomes a school set-book. (total number published to over 90,000 copies)
New Polish edition by ZNAK, Kraków - over 50 000 copies sold, introduction by Prof. Norman Davies
Osburg Verlag, Germany – new German edition; translation by Margitta Weber, introduction: Gesine Schwan
Bollati Boringhieri Editore, Torino, Italy – first Italian edition, translation by Vera Verdiani, introduction by Adam Michnik;
Jota, Brno, Czech Republic – a new Czech edition;
ALBA Editorial, Barcelona, Spain – first Spanish edition;
Books –XXI- first Ukrainian edition, introduction by Adam Michnik
New French edition by Gallimard (Collection Folio Historie), translation by Jean-Yves Erhel, introduction by Andrzej Szczypiorski, prologue by Adam Michnik
Alexandria Publications – first Greek edition, translation by Εdyta Kosiel-Evanggelou, Olga Bezantakou
Absynt – first Slovak edition, translation byMilica Novakova
Riva Publihers – first Bulagarian translation by Bogdan Glishev
Novoe Izdatelstvo – first Russian edition
Teatr Powszechny, Warsaw. Theatre adaptation by Zygmunt Hubner, directed by Andrzej Wajda (Many other adaptations in Poland follow)
French theatre adaptation, Hede
German Theatre adaptation by Diter Kuhn. Main theatre, Dusseldorf
East German Production, Dresden
Finnish TV production
Dutch theatre production, Amsterdam
Various radio productions in France, Israel, Germany, Hungary, Finland Czechoslovakia and Poland
1994 – Documentary on Kazimierz Moczarski “Na Hożej, Jasnej i Słonecznej” directed by Andrzej Titkow
2007 – Polish TV Theatre directed by Maciej Englert, first prize at the Polish TV Theatre Festival, summer 2007
2015 – "Moczarski’s Case" – a short animation film by Tomasz Siwiński, - in a metaphorical way tells the story of Moczarski’s life and his encounter with a Nazigeneral - Jürgen Stroop, the liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto
The Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize
The Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize for the best book on post-1918 Polish history is one of the most prestigious literary awards in Poland and an important stimulus to the study of the country’s recent past. Held annually since 2009, the prize’s significance is attested by the distinguished jury led by Professor Henryk Samsonowicz and by the highly respected winners.
The award is a tribute both to historians focused on the modern history of Poland and to Kazimierz Moczarski, author of Conversations with an Executioner, an account of interviews conducted with the war criminal Jürgen Stroop, with whom he shared a prison cell for nine months after the war. After being freed in 1956, Moczarski wrote in one of his letters: “I do not like fascism and dictatorship (…) I do not like clichés and grand words. (…) I do not like imprisonment, terror and rape, the crushing of fingers and scorching with fire (…) I do not like contempt towards man. I do not like candidates for angels, because in the end they become beasts. (…) What do I like? Freedom, democracy, socialism, international and interpersonal solidarity, a sense of personal dignity (…), a clean flat, proper food, good clothing for all, theatre, cinema, concerts, sports, museums, science, books for all (…) public control, free public opinion. (…) the kind gesture of a friendly hand”. These are the values the prize aims to promote.
The competition is open to original non-fiction books on post-1918 Polish history (the first publication of a book by a Polish author and the first Polish publication of a translated work by a foreign author), as well as journals, diaries, and collections of source materials. Submissions are encouraged not only of strictly academic books but also those aimed at a broader audience, just like Kazimierz Moczarski’s Conversations with an Executioner.
The winner receives a financial award and a “pencil sharpener" statuette. The award ceremony usually takes place in November or December, and in recent years has been held in Warsaw’s Krasiński Palace, the home of the National Library.
Prize winners to date:
Olga Linkiewicz, Lokalność i nacjonalizm. Społeczności wiejskie w Galicji Wschodniej w dwudziestoleciu międzywojennym
Universitas, Kraków 2018
Jerzy Kochanowski, Rewolucja międzypaździernikowa. Polska 1956-1957
Znak Horyzont, Kraków 2017
Agata Zysiak, Punkty za pochodzenie. Powojenna modernizacja i uniwersytet w robotniczym mieście
Nomos, Kraków 2016
Andrzej Nowak, Pierwsza zdrada zachodu. 1920 – zapomniany appeasement
Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 2015
Alexandra Richie, Warszawa 1944. Tragiczne powstanie
Przeł. Zofia Kunert, Wydawnictwo W.A.B. 2014
Karol Modzelewski, Zajeździmy kobyłę historii.Wyznania poobijanego jeźdźca
Wydawnictwo ISKRY, 2013
Marcin Zaremba, Wielka Trwoga. Polska 1944-1947
Wydawnictwo Znak, ISP PAN, 2012
Timothy Snyder, Skrwawione ziemie. Europa między Hitlerem a Stalinem
Przeł. Bartłomiej Pietrzyk
Wydawnictwo Świat Książki, 2011
Andrzej Friszke, Anatomia buntu. Kuroń, Modzelewski i Komandosi
Wydawnictwo Znak, 2010
Bogdan Gadomski, Biografia agenta. Największy agent policji politycznej II RP Józef-Josek Mützenmacher (1903-1947)
Wydawnictwo Tedson, 2009
Gunnar S. Paulsson, Utajone Miasto. Żydzi po aryjskiej stronie Warszawy 1940-1945
Przeł. Elżbieta Olender-Dmowska
Wydawnictwo Znak, IFiS PAN, 2008
Statuette of the Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize
The small contraption with a hand crank is a very important element of the statuette awarded to the winner of the Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize. It is a replica of my father’s pencil sharpener, or – as he called it – machine for sharpening pencils, which he ordered specially from a friend who was travelling to the US. It was one of his favourite and most frequently used possessions. It stood on his desk next to the lamp, the papers, magazines, typewriter and Buzek our cat, who often liked to perch there. Father really delighted in it, he was fascinated by the possibility of sharpening pencils and crayons of different thicknesses. He wouldn't let me use it, it was his. All of his manuscripts, including Conversations with an Executioner, had multi-coloured commentary made using pencils sharpened with this device.
The statuette is designed by Jacek Kowalski from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. It is inscribed with the words “Clarity of generalisation, precision of detail” – a motto from the journal my father began writing in 1956, just after leaving prison.
Elżbieta Moczarska, Chairman of the Board of the Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarscy Foundation.
Kazimierz Moczarski Youth History Clubs
Kazimierz Moczarski, a well-known and universally admired Polish hero, is barely mentioned in the current Polish school curriculum. His Conversations with an Executioner is no longer required reading, and the book is merely an “optional choice” for teachers to pick for their students from a list of non-fiction writing.
Yet Moczarski can be held up as a role model for young people: he was tenacious, strove uncompromisingly towards his goals, was profoundly interested in the world about him and was always ready to engage in dialogue, even with an enemy, to understand another human being. “An indomitable (…) man, Pole, European” wrote veteran Polish historian and fellow resistance fighter Władysław Bartoszewski. It would be difficult to find a more appropriate patron for a discussion club.
The idea of creating a space for young people to discuss historical issues is what inspired the Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarscy Foundation to establish Kazimierz Moczarski Youth History Clubs in eight schools in Poland in 2016. At the same time the Foundation launched an annual national prize in which secondary school students nominate the best new book on post-1918 Polish history.
The Clubs operate in selected schools in towns and cities across Poland, and are run by history teachers. The aim is to support literacy, popularise historical literature as a tool for working with young people, teach history and shape attitudes. The Foundation supplies each Club with the 10 books nominated that year to the Moczarski History Prize. The students read the books, weigh up their respective merits and put forward for their own prize the one they consider to be the best.
Thanks to funding provided by the Foundation, the Clubs get together in Warsaw once a year. This gives students from all the Clubs a chance to meet, exchange views on the books they have read and hone their powers of argumentation to decide the winning title. They also participate in workshops and meetings with authors. For the teachers this is a valuable opportunity to discuss the books and consider ways of using them in history, civic education, Polish language and cultural appreciation classes.
The winner of the first award made by the Kazimierz Moczarski Youth History Clubs – Timothy Snyder for Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning – was announced in December 2016 during the Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize award ceremony in Warsaw.
In 2017 the Moczarski Youth History Clubs Award went to Cezary Łazarewicz for his reportage Żeby nie było śladów. Sprawa Grzegorza Przemyka (So There Were No Traces, The Case of Grzegorz Przemyk).
In 2018 Anna Bikont and her book Irena Sendlerowa. W Ukryciu won the Youth Award and in 2019 Urszula Glensk was awarded for Hirszfeldowie. Zrozumieć krew.
The award made by the Youth History Clubs is a bronze pencil. This complements the bronze statuette based on a copy of Moczarski’s pencil sharpener that is awarded annually by the jury of the Kazimierz Moczarski History Prize.
Adam Rębacz, Secretary of Moczarski Youth History Clubs, history teacher
The Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarscy Foundation
The Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarscy Foundation was established in 2014 by the daughter of its patrons, Elżbieta Moczarska. The Foundation realises its goals through historical and social education, and most importantly through an annual award for the best book on Polish modern history, which is awarded in Kazimierz Moczarski's name. Moczarski remains in the public eye to this day through his famous book "Conversations with an Executioner", which encapsulates Poland's WW2 experience in a dramatic episode from his personal life.
In 2016 the Foundation created the Kazimierz Moczarski Youth Award and set up Youth History Clubs in 8 towns in Poland in cooperation with secondary schools and teachers. The goal of the Youth History Clubs is inspiring and developing knowledge, reflection and debate about modern history among young people, by means of popularising new modern history books published in Poland.
The Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarscy Foundation
Al. Wyzwolenia 9/96
00-572 Warsaw, Poland