• Panufnik’s Escape (1)
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 Leave a comment
In the annals of defections from the Polish People’s Republic in the 1950s, that of Andrzej Panufnik in July 1954 is one of the least likely. He was not a fighter pilot like Franciszek Jarecki or Zdzisław Jazwiński, who flew MiG jets to Denmark in March and May 1953. Nor was Panufnik a senior figure in Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Poland’s Department of Security) like Lieutenant-General Józef Światło, who defected via the US military mission in West Berlin while on a visit to East Berlin in November 1953.
Nor was Panufnik living abroad when he defected, unlike the writer Czesław Miłosz, who was the Polish Cultural Attaché in Paris when he decided to seek political asylum in France in 1951. There were some Polish composers who were living abroad, especially in France. One of these, Roman Palester, had left Poland a couple of years after the Second World War, when it was still possible to do so. He effectively emigrated fully in 1949, moving to Munich in 1952, where he worked for Radio Free Europe.
Act-alone defectors such as these had a relatively immediate, if sometimes high-risk transition from communist Poland to the capitalist West. Panufnik’s escape, however, was prolonged (six days) and he was totally dependent on others for its successful outcome. In effect, he did not spring free; he was sprung.
The best-known narrative of Panufnik’s flight from Warsaw to London via Zürich comes from his autobiography, Composing Myself, published 33 years later in 1987. His fear and nervousness are vividly recalled, but how accurate is his account? In the first of two related articles, posted today, I compare his story with an official one-page Polish memo written in Switzerland the day after Panufnik landed at Heathrow.