The Ledóchowski Family herb2 Ród Ledóchowskich

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Wladimir Ledóchowski 1910 - 1987

 

Włodzimierz (Wladimir) Ignacy was born on 2nd April, 1910. He was the only son of Ignacy Ledóchowski, then a Colonel in the Austrian Army and later, after Poland became independent, a General in the Polish Army. His mother was Paulina, née Łubieńska. As a young boy he was sent to the famous Jesuit boarding school at Chyrów.  However his favourite childhood memories were of country holidays with his beloved elder sisters, Jadwiga, Teresa (later Teresa Tyszkiewicz) and Józefa (“Inka”). These were spent at Wulka (sometimes spelt Wólka) Rosnowska, his mother’s home, and nearby Krakowiec, the home of his grandmother Jadwiga Łubieńska, née Rożnowska. His grandmother was the great granddaughter of Józef Wybicki, author of the national anthem Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła, "Poland is not yet lost".  Wladimir later studied engineering at Lwów Politechnic. Like in France today, Politechnics were considered very prestigious, and Lwów was a very popular place for students from all over Poland.  Then came military service. You can see him in the photograph on the right, marching with his colleagues in the snow. After military service he was allocated to the Artillery reserves because of his skills at mathematics. I remember as a child being given a long explanation about how in the artillery you needed to calculate parabolas, which were asymmetric due to the slowing down of the shell as it met air resistance.  He then started his engineering career working on the construction of the Wapna-Gopło canal near Konin.

Military serviceYoung sisters

Mounted infantry

Artillery officer:  In August 1939 Wladimir was called up to serve as a sub-lieutenant in the 13th Horse Artillery Division.  After extremely exhausting battles, the Division was finally destroyed at the Battle of Głowno.  Not for the first time in his life, Wladimir refused to surrender, sneaked off, and “commandeered” a farmer’s horses and cart. He used this to break through the Kampinos Forest to Warsaw, which was then heavily under siege, and where he reported for duty to join the defence.  After a battle on the outskirts of Praga (Eastern Warsaw), he was appointed commander of a battery of guns at a barricade pointing South along the East bank of the River Vistula. It then engaged in a constant duel against a battery of  German guns down the road.  The only way to aim accurately at a small hole from which the enemy gun poked out of the opposing barricade was down the barrel of one's own gun. They eventually hit one of the enemy guns.  In his Memoirs (2) he recalls movingly how a neighbouring house was hit by a German shell and started burning. One of the Jewish boys in the battery very bravely volunteered to get water from the river to put out the fire, but after a few return trips to the river he was killed by a German machine gun. The Poles later destroyed the machine gun. They could see the Old Town of Warsaw on the other bank of the river being ferociously bombed and the Royal Palace burning fiercely despite the efforts of the fire brigade.  Finally everyone was hungry as all the horses had been eaten, and the order came from the Warsaw Commander, General Rómmel, to cease fire and surrender.  Wladimir was supposed to go to Prisoner of War ("POW") camp. The evening before the surrender, seated by a campfire in Warsaw Zoo, over a meal of flamingo soup, Wladimir argued with his Colonel and eventually persuaded him to allow Wladimir to “desert” the Army, so he would not have to surrender.  So he was not one of 140,000 soldiers taken POW in Warsaw. Instead, Wladimir stood in civilian clothes, with tears in his eyes, watching Hitler’s victory parade along  Ujazdowskie Avenue.

SkiingCourier for the Resistance:  Obeying the orders of the German occupying forces, Wladimir returned to his engineering job in Konin. The German appointed to supervise the work of his office quickly realised that Wladimir must have been a young officer who should be a POW.  Instead of alerting the Gestapo, he sent Wladimir on a “business trip” to Kraków.  So Wladimir went there, adopted a false name (a code name or "pseudonym"), and went into hiding. He made contact with Colonels Komorowski and Rudnicki, who were busy establishing Poland’s underground Resistance Army, and agreed to work for them as a courier. He was not allowed to take any confidential resistance documents with him in case he was arrested. Instead he had to memorise the documents, which he would then dictate to the recipient on arrival at the other end.
In December 1939, in -20ºC, in the first of three such trips, Wladimir was sent struggling through deep snow, illegally crossing the Tatra mountains, avoiding Gestapo border patrols, through Slovakia and into Hungary. He dictated the Colonels’ messages and documents to Krajewski, intelligence officer at the Polish Embassy in Budapest.  Wladimir was sworn into the ZWZ, "the Union of Armed Struggle", which had been formally established by Polish Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister General Sikorski in France on 13th November, 1939.  He was then given a package of documents, including cyphers, orders and the Statute (constitution) of the ZWZ, which he brought back to Poland by New Year’s Eve in -30ºC. (The ZWZ's name was changed to AK, "Home Army", in February 1942.)

In February 1940 Wladimir made a second trip across the mountains to Budapest. He stayed there for three weeks and spent time with the other Poles actively involved in the struggle against Germany, including Ludwik Popiel and KrakowiecAndrew Kowerski.  Over a drink one night Kowerski boasted about how on 12th September he had led a victorious attack by one of the units in General Maczek’s armoured brigade, destroying a Polish country house used as a German HQ.  It turned out this was Wladimir’s grandmother’s beloved home Krakowiec, which he had expected to inherit.  There was no mention of someone who shortly afterwards had quite an impact on Wladimir's life - Krystyna Skarbek. 
Then came the order to return to Krakow. But by the end of his stay Wladimir had become quite well known in Budapest. The city was crawling with German agents, who were likely to pass the word back to the Gestapo in Kraków to look for him there. So Krajewski ordered him to tell everyone he was going to Paris.  Back in Kraków, Wladimir reported on developments in Budapest. He was asked whether in his opinion Ludwik Popiel, whom he had met in Budapest, was an appropriate person to smuggle from Poland to Hungary a Polish anti-tank rifle which the Allies wanted to copy. Wladimir said Ludwik Popiel would be fine, and the latter subsequently perfomed the smuggling operation quite successfully. Many years later in London, General Rudnicki told me Wladimir was his best courier. Wladimir spent Easter with his parents in Kraków. He never saw them again, nor indeed Lwów, nor his homes at Wulka Rosnowska or Krakowiec, nor his sister Teresa's home at Lelechówka. That part of Poland was ceded by the British and the US to the Soviet Union at Teheran in December 1943. Even if those homes had been in the remaining part of Poland, Wladimir would have been banned by the postwar communist regime from approaching within 50 kilometres of them.

MemoirsClare Mulley's Christine Wladimir was then sent on his third trip to Budapest.  This time he was told by the Colonels that he would be looking after a female agent, who turned out to be Krystyna Skarbek (later known as Christine Granville). She had been sent to Poland by British intelligence.  People in Kraków asked her to prove that she was to be trusted by giving the names of people she had met in Budapest. She gave a list of names including Wladimir Ledóchowski, who she said had gone on to Paris.  When she finally met Wladimir himself, who was using a false name, she repeated this story, saying she had even met Wladimir Ledóchowski, who had gone on to Paris. So Wladimir could laughingly announce “Actually, I am Wladimir Ledóchowski!”.   He found her very charming and attractive.  They were soon deeply in love (he thought), but the relationship became confusing when they arrived in Budapest and he discovered another Pole, Radzyminski, living in her flat, and even more confusing when later on during his months in Budapest it became obvious that she was also having an affair with Andrew Kowerski.  He no longer felt so special. 

In June 1940 Wladimir’s and Christine’s respective Polish and British intelligence bosses sent them back to Poland.  However they were arrested by border guards at a railway station. While being marched towards a Gestapo station Wladimir threw his resistance documents (including a document confirming the promotion of Colonel Komorowski to General) into a ravine. Christine started shouting that she wanted to save her “diamonds”. These were really a glass necklace Wladimir had given her. The guards lunged for the necklace, it snapped and they ran down the hill chasing the glass beads, while Wladimir and Christine escaped.  Back in Budapest, Wladimir’s bosses were increasingly antagonistic towards Christine, for reasons still debated today, and he defended her against them several times. Wladimir had to return to the Army.  His bosses told him he could no longer work as a courier to Poland as his identity was blown.  Unknown to Wladimir for many years, the Gestapo did in fact then visit his sisters in Warsaw and his parents near Kraków looking for him (1).  Wladimir was annoyed with Christine but also grateful to her for saving his life. Not long afterwards he wrote in his Memoirs 1942(2, p166):"..we went to the same little restaurant as our first night...then tiny little leaves of spring were emerging on the chestnut trees...now they were big, strong, summer leaves....this last evening, this my evening, I want for the last time to look into Christine's eyes, which are strangely big and shiny, as if tears were stuck in them...then we went up the dark street to [her flat]. We slipped on the shiny tarmac, because Christine was crying and her hair blocked my view....I close this particular chapter in my life, Christine, a strangely colourful one. Thanks to you it was very special . I am grateful to you for everything."

Tobruk:  Wladimir went to Istanbul, where he joined the Polish Carpathian Brigade under General Kopański, and thence to Palestine. At the age of 30, Wladimir decided to attend a language course to learn English. In August 1941 the Brigade was sent to support the long, heroic defence of the first Siege of Tobruk.  In December Wladimir joined an infantry attack on the fortress of Bardia, with the job of giving precise radio instructions to his artillery battery far behind him on where exactly to fire.  A shell landed and exploded near him, he was badly wounded in the thigh and his right elbow was destroyed.  Before passing out he saw British tanks enter Bardia.  Black South African medical orderlies picked him up and an air ambulance flew him to Alexandria, where he spent a long convalescence in the company of his old school friend Mieczysław Pruszyński, war hero and author of several fascinating books.  His upper and lower arms were fused together to form one stiff, short limb. After the victory at Tobruk, the Brigade was withdrawn to Palestine to link up with General Anders’ army, which had just arrived from Siberia.  General Kopański awarded Wladimir the Krzyż Walecznych (Cross of Valour) and he kept his Tobruk Eagle as a memento for the rest of his life.  But he could no longer fight.

Cross of ValourTobruk Eagle

Sokolnicki appointmentDiplomat and intelligence officer:   In May 1942 Major Pechowiak asked Wladimir to join Polish Intelligence (Drugi Oddział or “Second Department”).  In September he was sent to the Polish Consulate in Istanbul and in December appointed as Secretary to the Embassy in Ankara at the personal invitation of Ambassador Sokolnicki.  His real job was intelligence.  He told my brother and me that one of his achievements was to identify a German agent for the British, who were very grateful. Wladimir's Memoirs (2) cover the period up to 1942 but do not include his period in intelligence in the Ankara Embassy and therefore any more about the agent, perhaps because Wladimir was too busy or perhaps because like many other intelligence officers he considered his work to be covered by professional confidentiality. However in 2015 and 2016 it was confirmed to me that the German agent was Hanz Merz (Polish pseudonym "Jan Merwiński", Dutch pseudonym "Jan van der Linde") who, having arrested the deputy chief of staff of the ZWZ, Janusz Albrecht, in Poland in 1941, was now on a mission to persuade General Anders to switch sides. Wladimir, working for Polish Intelligence, made contact with Merz and arranged for him to be sent from Turkey to Cairo, where he was arrested by the British (3).  Wladimir was recommended for a Virtuti Militari (the highest military decoration, which can only be approved by the Government) but the papers sent to the Prime Minister, General Sikorski, were lost in the chaos of war, possibly at Gibraltar. He became close friends with Ambassador Sokolnicki and during the round of diplomatic functions got to know the Papal Nuncio, the future Pope John XXIII.  In 1944 he moved on, leaving his wartime Memoirs behind in the Ankara Embassy.

Paris: Wladimir was appointed secretary to the Polish Embassy in Paris following its liberation in August 1944.  There he worked for the Ambassador, Kajetan Dzierżykraj Morawski. He proudly told us as children that he first kissed the Ambassador’s daughter Maria Barbara („Basia”) on the front steps.  At the age of 34, Wladimir was Vice Consul (click to enlarge the diplomatic passport below), Secretary to the Embassy, intelligence officer and Captain of Artillery.  In 2016 I was told by Waldemar Grabowski of IPN (the National Remembrance Institute) in Warsaw that during this period in Paris Wladimir was head of a Polish military base in France whose precise existence and location were kept secret from the Americans and British in particular because of their cooperation with, and tendency to pass secret information to, Stalin and their general opposition to Polish efforts to preserve independence from the Soviet Union at this time. This would have been an important job and suggests his bosses had a high level of confidence in him. There are understandably very few documents on this base and to my knowledge Wladimir kept this part of his life confidential from us his sons and from his friends.

All these "free Poles" had to leave the Embassy in Paris when the Allies finally recognised the Communist Government in Poland in July 1945 and the Poles had to close their base soon after.  As Poles were not allowed to participate in the Allied Victory Parade in the Champs-Elysées, Wladimir had to stand watching the Victory Parade in civilian clothes and with tears in his eyes, just as he had watched Hitler’s Victory Parade in Warsaw six long years earlier.  He did a French engineering conversion course and worked in Marseille. He married Basia in February 1946. He also underwent a second operation to recreate a weak hinge where his elbow had once been, after which he could use his right arm for light tasks such as writing and eating. However the arm remained short and bent in a strange direction for the rest of his life, which fascinated us as children. It can be seen in the black and white photograph of him smoking a cigarette below.
George Medal certificateDiplomatic passport

SA Engineer certSouth African engineer:  In 1948 Wladimir and Basia emigrated to South Africa, where he worked on engineering projects for the government.  In Johannesburg he met a Jewish  family, the Laubs, who had owned property near Lwów and been friends with his father before the War.  They lent him money with which he bought a partnership in a leading civil engineering firm, Jeffares & Green.  Young sonHe designed and oversaw the construction of roads, railways and bridges throughout South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, the Congo and Moçambique.  He and Basia spent a few years in Salisbury, Rhodesia (today Harare, Zimababwe). There he built roads through the bush to the Kariba Dam, one of the world’s largest man-made lakes.  They bought a tea plantation in the beautiful Congolese province of Kivu. They had to abandon it (despite being begged by the workers to stay) when massacres of nearby settlers, including Poles, began after Independence.  He also worked at considerable risk for President Tshombé of Katanga in the middle of its failed war of secession from the Congo, and claimed to have been in a private plane which was nearly shot down at one point.

BasiaAthensSocial activist:  Despite his successful career, Wladimir and Basia never accepted apartheid.  Unhappy with the passive attitude of the church, they founded the Catholic Association for Racial Equality (“CARE”).  Wladimir became Chairman of the Justice and Peace Commission, while Basia founded two organisations dedicated to the education and advancement of black domestic servants.  They sent their sons, my brother Chistopher and me, to boarding school in Swaziland to be educated in an atmosphere of anti-racism.  Family friends included the Catholic activist Horst Kleinschmidt, the Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela’s wife and members of the liberal Jewish community, including the Laubs, the Nobel prize winning author Nadine Gordimer and our wonderful neighbours the Itzigsohn family. The Ledóchowskis were core members of the Polish community. Many a riotous Johannesburg New Year’s Eve party was passed in the international company of the Potters and Waterkeyns from England, and the Barnabo’s from Italy, as well as the Radziwiłłs, Potockis, Mycielskis, and the great horseman and cavalry officer Colonel Iwanowski.  In the Cape, families like the Brownes, Dennistons, Rozwadowskis and Komornickis were the core. However some other members of the Polish community were unhappy with Wladimir's visits to communist Poland and his critical attitude towards apartheid.  They accused him of being a crypto-communist and nicknamed him the “Red Count”.  The Security Police visited him at home. In the end Wladimir's partners, fearing for their contracts with their main client, the Government, forced him to retire early.

FormalWriter:  Throughout his life Wladimir harboured literary ambitions.  During the War he wrote his Memoirs (2) while, unknown to him, his Informalmother was writing her own Memoirs, left in the care of Ursuline nuns after her death (1).  He wrote about seventy articles (5) starting with an article about Tobruk in 1943.  They were mainly in Polish and the rest in English. They were published in the Polish press in London, Paris and Poland, in the South African press, and even in the London Catholic paper The Tablet.  They were on the one hand increasingly critical of the South African regime, while on the other they argued that the Communist regime in Poland was not as bad as alleged and offered optimistic hope for reform in the future.  His Polish friends argued back that the blacks were not yet ready for the responsibilities of government; that the Communist My countryregime intended to remain in power in Poland forever; and that the Communist "reforms" were just a superficial pretence to hoodwink the West.
Yet his most beautiful works were his evocative descriptions of his own life experiences in his Memoirs and his accounts of expat life in Johannesburg.  He was sometimes taken by surprise when his friends took offence for no apparent reason, having just realised that the people with pseudonyms they had just read about with gales of laughter were actually themselves. 
Two books were published: the Memoirs (2) and My country not my homeland (4).  Another two were never completed and published.  One was The bell tolls for an optimist, about his great friend Vincent Rozwadowski in Swaziland.  The other was about Christine Granville, which was blocked by Andrew Kowerski, Francis Cammaerts and other members of the “panel to protect the memory of Christine”. They decided to work on an authorised version with Madeleine Masson and wanted to stop the release of certain information. Most of the information they hoped to keep secret was published after their deaths anyway, in other books about Christine, e.g. by Clare Mulley in 2012 (6).

Paul VISisters older

Return to Poland:  Throughout his long life abroad, Wladimir longed for the country of his birth, which he left at the age of 30.  He started visiting Poland as soon as this became possible after the fall of Stalinism in 1956. He adored the company of his friends and his sisters - above, from the left, Maria Teresa ("Aunt Teresa"), Sister Józefa ("Aunt Inka") and Sister Teresa / Jadwiga ("Aunt Jadzia"). We would visit them in convents in Otorowo, Lipnica (near Poznan) and Kraków. They would shriek with laughter telling me stories about their childhood and their parents.  When I swore loudly in Ruthenian (Ukrainian) to prove that I had learnt these swearwords from my father, there was even more laughter. My mother would however hiss in my ear to shut up - as the nuns were listening. There was always great humour in that family. 

Swimming poolLiving roomWladimir decided to return to live in Poland.  His Polish friends in South Africa whom he had teased earlier now teased him back, circulating a poem in Polish, translated into English roughly as follows:

By the swimming pool,
One fine evening,
Sat our liberal Count.
He looked into the water,
At his own reflection,
And uttered the following words:
“I just can’t stand Africa any more.”

In 1984 Wladimir settled in a house built for him by a wonderful cousin, Jan Sawa, in Podkowa Leśna, a commuter village in lovely forests outside Warsaw.  He was not accompanied by his wife Basia, who left Poland when she was 18 and could not face leaving her friends and the warm climate of South Africa.  However the life he had dreamed about with his friends and relatives in Poland did not last long.  He was soon suffering from lung and throat cancer.  He last visited his family in London in May and June 1987. 

Grandson 2Grandson 1

He slowly lost his voice, the disease progressed and he died in a Warsaw hospital on 21st October, 1987, at the time of the Great Hurricane and Black Monday in England.  The Nobel prize-winner Nadine Gordimer wrote a lovely article A Man of Two Worlds for the Polish magazine Zeszyty Literackie no. 25 published in France in 1989. Great articles were also written by Mieczysław Pruszyński, Edmund Moszyński and Stanisław Ledóchowski. He was buried in Podkowa Leśna and on his tombstone was engraved in Polish:

Grave"Wladimir Ledóchowski - Soldier, Engineer, Writer"

Twenty years later, after her death in 2007, his wife Maria-Barbara ("Basia") was buried in the same grave.

Three generations sailing


Request from Jan Ledóchowski:  I am assembling material for a book about Wladimir and I would be most grateful if any recollections, documents, comments or other contributions could be sent to me at JanLedochowski@yahoo.co.uk.

 

Notes:

(1) Z nowu wojna (War again), the memoirs of Paulina Ledóchowska, née Łubieńska, Wladimir’s mother, left in the care of Ursuline nuns after her death in 1951. The memoirs are kept in the Ursuline archives in Pniewy. Wladimir never read them. In it she describes how the Gestapo visited her and her husband near Kraków, and also Wladimir's sisters who were then in Warsaw, looking for Wladimir. His eldest sister Teresa is supposed to have told the Gestapo cheekily first, that Wladimir never told her what he was doing anyway, and second, that he had probably left Poland as it had become such an unpleasant place under German occupation.

(2) Pamiętnik pozostawiony w Ankarze (Memoirs left behind in Ankara). Włodzimierz Ledóchowski. Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej (Ministry of Defence), Warszawa 1990. ISBN 83-11-07820-3.

(3) In 2015 I was contacted by a German historian, Michael Foedrowitz, who is writing a book about Hans Merz (Polish pseudonym "Jan Merwiński", Dutch "Jan van der Linde"), member of an "Einsatzgruppe" that took part in the 1939 invasion of Poland. As head of intelligence in Kielce he arrested Janusz Albrecht, deputy chief of staff of the ZWZ (later AK), in Warsaw in July 1941. Inspired by some rightwing Polish groups, he was then sent on a mission to persuade General Anders to return to Poland and form a pro-German Army. This is not as far fetched as it sounds, because we know from the arrest by the AK of former Polish C-in-C Śmigły Rydz and their execution of Resistance leader Witkowski on 18th September 1942 (I can supply an essay on him in English to anyone interested) that there was an earlier attempt by the Germans to persuade Anders to switch sides. The Polish historian Franciszek Grabowski confirmed to me in 2016 that Merz travelled to Turkey, where Wladimir, working for Polish Intelligance, made contact with him and organised his onward trip to Cairo, where Merz was arrested by the British on 6th November 1943 and interrogated for two years.

(4) Mój nierodzinny kraj (My country not my homeland). Włodzimierz Ledóchowski. Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1988. ISBN 83-08-01862-9.

(5) Click here to see list of articles.

(6) Perhaps a dozen books have been at least partly inspired by Krystyna Skarbek / Christine Granville. Wladimir's, written before 1944, was the first, with about 50 pages of personal memories about her. In Mieczysława Wazacz's documentary film on Christine, Francis Cammaerts, a later hero in the story of Christine, declares that the "Panel to protect the memory of Christine" blocked at least two books. One was Wladimir's book about her written in 1970-72, the other one maybe much earlier, possibly by Michael Dunford, whom Christine left behind in Kenya. Mr Ronald Nowicki also wrote a book in the 2000s, not yet published. The most complete, balanced and up-to-date book on Christine, based on extensive research in Poland and elsewhere and on materials released from SOE archives in Kew in recent years, was published in 2012:
The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville. Clare Mulley. Macmillan, London 2012. ISBN 978-0-230-7595-10 HB www.claremulley.com

Other books published earlier include: Hide and Seek, Xan Fielding, Secker & Warburg 1954; Christine, Madeleine Masson, Hamish Hamilton, London 1975; Miłośnica (Lover Girl), Maria Nurowska, PULS, London 1998; The Women Who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, Hodder and Stoughton, London 2002; Krystyna Skarbek, Agentka o Wielu Twarzach (The Agent with Many Faces), Jan Larecki, Książka i Wiedza, Warsaw 2008. I wrote an essay about her myself in 2008.

Tydzien Polski 2008

Information on living family members will be included in this website only if submitted or approved by them. Informacja o żyjących członkach rodziny może zostać umieszczona na tych stronach jedynie w wypadku gdy dana osoba wyrazi zgodę. Jan Ledóchowski