Freedom to read: Jackson filmmaker smuggled books behind Iron Curtain
- Just a teenager at the time, Sava Malachowski knowingly risked going to prison by committing the simple acts of reading and lending books. “These books were extremely precious,” Malachowski recalls. “They were so difficult to get. They were all illegal.”
- Malachowski would receive the books published by Kultura, a Polish émigré publishing house outside of Paris, France. Some of the books were even smuggled underneath the coiled ropes and climbing gear of Polish mountaineering and caving expeditions. Malachowski would contact people, who he knew were interested and trustworthy, and would give them a book and two days to read it. Then he would move the book to the next person.
- “Basically, all these books played a very significant role in educating people behind the Iron Curtain,” Malachowski says. “That was the experience of a lifetime to be able to read those books. It was so enlightening.”
- Malachowski himself would devour the books, reading them briskly while secretly moving them around Warsaw, where his father was a member of the political opposition and later one of the leaders of the Solidarity Labor Union. When martial law was imposed in Poland, his father was imprisoned.
- The Soviet Union erected the Iron Curtain – a physical and ideological divide – to insulate its dependent and central European allies, including Poland, from unfettered contact with the West and non-communist areas. Malachowski and others, including some of his friends who were sentenced to three years in prison for running books, breached that barrier to intellectual knowledge and the free-flow of ideas.
- It wasn’t just about smuggling ideas into the Eastern Bloc countries, but also getting information out. One of the most influential titles that began to undermine the power of the Soviet Union, Malachowski says was Aleksander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, one of the titles he read and loaned to others under threat of imprisonment in the 1970s. The book was a detailed description of the Soviet system of concentration and labor camps in which millions of people perished between 1920 and 1957.
- “The book was a seminal work that destroyed the image of the Soviet Union as the workers’ paradise for many Western intellectuals,” he says. “The Gulag Archipelago cracked the foundation of the Soviet Union because it described in detail the inner workings of the Soviet labor camps, which were essentially death camps.”
- An independent pipeline channeled the banned books, including The Gulag Archipelago and other influential works, such as: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak; The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz; New Class by Milovan Đilas; Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler; and A World Apart by Gustaw Herling. The founder of Kultura, the Polish émigré magazine, Jerzy Giedroyc also founded the Literary Institute, which translated, published and distributed the banned books. Like the books, the monthly magazine, Kultura, was a major influence and banned in Poland. Kultura played a major role in Poland’s reconciliation with Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania, as the first independent Polish intellectual circle to openly advocate, in the 1950s, recognizing Poland’s postwar eastern borders.
- Kultura also published books, including tiny volumes designed for smuggling printed in miniature (requiring a magnifying glass to read) on bible-thin paper. In September of 1981, Malachowski became the managing editor of the Solidarity Press Office in New York City. After martial law was imposed in Poland on Dec. 13, 1981, he became founder and president of Solidarity International, an organization that supported the Solidarity Labor Union, which had 10 million members in Poland and was suppressed by the Polish Communist Party. He was also a media spokesman, appearing on Nightline, the Today Show and Good Morning America. Later, he owned and operated a bookstore in Manhattan, which sold books published by Kultura, to support Kultura so they could publish more books and smuggle them into Poland. In the 1980s, he also did freelance broadcasting for Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
- Today, Malachowski, who moved to Jackson Hole in 1987, is a filmmaker, ski instructor and one of the founding members of the Teton County Search and Rescue. Founded in 1988, his production company, SavaFilm, owned and operated with Valerie Schramm, has produced films on everything from Wyoming old timers to how to drive safely in snow country. (http://www.savafilm.com) He also produced A Sense of Snow, a video about avalanche awareness, which is available for check out from Teton County Library’s DVD collection; No Fear of Flying: An Image of Virginia Huidekoper; and Wild at HeArt, a history of the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
- After growing up behind the iron curtain, where some ideas were illegal, he freely borrows any books he likes from the Teton County Library and also buys books from the Library Friends, who now have a permanent book sale, the Book Nook, inside the library lobby.
- “I’m almost running out of space from all the books I’m buying from the library,” he says. And while he loves the Tetons, which remind him of his native Tatra Mountains, he also loves having access to a mountain of books. “I think one of the biggest advantages of living in Teton County is this library.”
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