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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Krygier, Henry Richard (1917–1986)

by Peter Coleman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Henry Richard Krygier (1917-1986), publisher, journalist and businessman, was born on 9 September 1917 in Warsaw, elder son of Jewish parents Benedykt Krygier, timber merchant, and his wife Flora, née Schoenman, and was named Henryk Ryszard. He studied law at the Jozef Pilsudski (Warsaw) University, where he was elected chairman of the protest committee of Jewish students that in 1938 successfully campaigned against the exclusion from examinations of Jewish students who refused to sit in the officially segregated `ghetto benches’. He graduated in 1939.

On 8 January 1939 Krygier married Romualda (Roma) Halpern in Warsaw. In September the Polish Command ordered all able-bodied young men to leave the city and walk east to the nearest army recruiting centre. Instead, unable to find the army, Krygier walked and hitch-hiked to Lithuania. Roma joined him and they settled at Kaunas. Roma had been a member of, and Richard was sympathetic to, the Polish Communist Party. Their political faith, already shaken by the Moscow trials of the `Old Bolsheviks’ (1936-38), was shattered by the Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939, the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union and their experience of Sovietisation in Lithuania from June 1940. The Krygiers obtained Japanese transit visas, which enabled them to travel by train to Vladivostok and thence by ship to Japan. They lived in a hostel at Kobe for some weeks until they were both appointed to the Polish relief committee in Tokyo.

About nine months later the Krygiers left for Australia via Shanghai, arriving in Sydney on 21 November 1941. After eighteen months as a waiter in Romano’s restaurant, Krygier was appointed correspondent of the Polish Telegraphic Agency, London (effectively press officer in the Polish Consulate, Sydney), responsible for writing and distributing news releases in support of the Polish government (in exile) in London. He also served as a war correspondent for the Polish press in the Netherlands East Indies and the Philippines. In these capacities he became familiar with Sydney newspapers and journalists and Australian politics. He supported the Australian Labor Party. In 1947 he was naturalised.

When the postwar communist government in Warsaw closed down the consulate in July 1945, Krygier and his Polish boss from Japan had begun a business, K. Zyngol & Co. Pty Ltd, which exported food and clothing parcels to Europe. He set up another business, Vistula (Aust.) Pty Ltd, importer of European books and magazines, which amalgamated with Overseas Periodicals (Aust.) Pty Ltd; at different times Krygier was chairman of directors and managing director.

The events of Krygier’s youth, especially his loss of his native land and his survival of the Holocaust and the Gulag, produced in him a democratic, anti-totalitarian perspective that the years would deepen. It attracted him in particular to the liberal internationalist Congress for Cultural Freedom, which one hundred intellectuals, mainly refugees from Hitler and Stalin, had formed in Berlin in June 1950. He became its honorary `Australian representative’, that is, distributor (and sometimes translator) of its publications.

In 1954 Krygier formed and became secretary of the Australian Committee (Association from 1957) for Cultural Freedom. Under the chairmanship (1954-61) of Sir John Latham, the committee’s principal activities were judicious statements on such matters as the reform of laws on immigration, censorship, defamation and Aborigines, and occasionally on wider issues ranging from South African apartheid to Soviet oppression. It also published a bulletin, Free Spirit, which debated these issues in a livelier, journalistic style.

The Australian Committee’s—and Krygier’s —greatest achievement was the creation of the literary-political magazine Quadrant under the editorship of the poet and critic James McAuley. At first a quarterly and later a monthly, it published poetry, fiction and cultural criticism of a high standard and political essays of literary quality. Although never editor of Quadrant, Krygier was publisher, business manager and fund-raiser as well as contributor and `ideas man’.

Krygier arranged lecture tours (by Stephen Spender, Malcolm Muggeridge, Leszek Kolakowski and Zbigniew Brzezinski) and overseas exhibitions by Australian artists (John Olsen in Paris, Peter Laverty in Tokyo). He organised several international conferences (in Canberra 1960; Port Moresby 1964-65; and Kuala Lumpur 1966) on the problems of establishing constitutional or democratic institu­tions in `developing states’. Another major conference, in Sydney in 1962 on the role of `little magazines’, brought together editors of these publications from the United States of America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

On Latham’s retirement as president in 1961, some members of the Australian association saw an opportunity to appoint not only a new president but also a new secretary—one less preoccupied with the dissolution of the Soviet Union or the liberation of Central Europe and more responsive to the new ideas of the 1960s. In the presidential election they supported (Sir) John Kerr, QC, while Krygier’s supporters backed Dr Lloyd Ross of the Australian Railways Union. Ross narrowly won.

It was revealed in the 1960s that the US Central Intelligence Agency had funded the Congress for Cultural Freedom and that some of this money had trickled down to the Australian association and Quadrant. There was no evidence that any member of the Australian group was aware of the source of the congress’s funds or that any subvention from the congress had ever influenced a decision by the committee or Quadrant, but the fact of any secret subsidy was deplorable. In subsequent years Krygier ensured that all funding was open, transparent and Australian. He was appointed OBE in 1981.

Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, Krygier died of cancer on 27 September 1986 at Darlinghurst and was cremated. Tributes to him in the November 1986 edition of Quadrant emphasised not only his civic courage and contribution to Australian intellectual life but also the warmth of his personality. H. W. Arndt found him `invariably cheerful, imperturbably optimistic and completely secure in his convictions’. Sir Zelman Cowen and Owen Harries described his capacity for warm friendship. Zbigniew Brzezinski (US national security adviser) noted that his commitment to democracy was `a life-long epic’.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Coleman, The Liberal Conspiracy (1989)
  • Quadrant, Nov 1986, pp 8-43, Oct 1996, p 12
  • series A12508, item 50/1311 and series A435, item 1946/4/6884 (National Archives of Australia)
  • J. D. B. Miller, interview with R. Krygier (transcript, 1984, National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Coleman, 'Krygier, Henry Richard (1917–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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