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Jerzy Urban, Acerbic Communist Turned Free-Speech Hero, Dies at 89

Jerzy Urban Acerbic Communist Turned Free Speech Hero Dies at 89


The publication, a cross between Spy and Screw, was scatological, irreverent, anti-Catholic and pro-abortion rights. Full-frontal, full-color nude drawings often ran on the back page.

Mr. Urban was charged in 1991 with distributing pornography after publishing a guide to avoiding pregnancy. He won and later published a guide to the brothels of Poland. It was great publicity: Within a year, Nie had a half-million subscribers, making it one of the largest-circulation weeklies in the country.

Mr. Urban reserved his harshest material for the Roman Catholic Church, in particular Pope John Paul II, who, as the bishop of Krakow, had played a role in the Polish opposition movement. Mr. Urban called the pope a sadomasochist and the “Vatican’s Brezhnev,” a reference to the ailing Soviet leader who died in 1982.

Those comments once more landed him in court. He was convicted of insulting the pope and forced to pay a fine.

In both careers, Mr. Urban was a master manipulator of public opinion. He was, he liked to say, “a man who makes a living by being talked about.”

Jerzy Urbach was born to Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland, on Aug. 3, 1933, the year Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany. His father, Jan Urbach, owned the city’s second-largest newspaper, and his mother, Maria Urbach, was a homemaker.

When the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland in 1939, the Urbachs took their chances with the latter, fleeing east to Lviv. As they crossed into Soviet territory, a soldier recorded their surname incorrectly, as Urban — a Catholic-sounding name and a clerical error that Mr. Urban later said saved their lives.



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