Geremek, a historian who was an MEP in his final capacity, died when the car he was driving hit an oncoming vehicle near the Polish town of Lubien. His passing came as a shock to the European Parliament, where his fellow MEPs, journalists and employees expressed their grief at the sudden disappearance of "one of the brightest minds" they had the privilege to know.
Until his last days, Geremek served democracy and did not hesitate to criticise even his own country, where he recently felt that democracy was threatened.
Last year he refused to file a statement stating whether he had ties with the communist-era secret police, saying the new law aimed at purging public life of ex-communist agents was "creating an Orwellian-style ministry of truth". The European Parliament and many across the EU rallied behind him when the Polish authorities attempted to strip him of his MEP's mandate (EurActiv 27/04/08).
Born Jewish in Warsaw, Geremek later turned Catholic. He survived the Holocaust, escaping from the Warsaw ghetto when he was 11, and remained in hiding until the end of the war. His father died at Auschwitz. Later, Geremek joined the Communist Polish United Workers Party, but he resigned in protest in 1968 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Then he became one of the leaders of Solidarity, the independent trade union movement, and was imprisoned when martial law was imposed in Poland in 1981.
After the fall of communism, Geremek was widely seen as a possible prime minister, but he believed that the time was not right for Poland to acquire a Jewish-born head of government and opted, despite his popularity, for a low-profile role as president of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. However, this did not prevent Geremek from playing an important role in the life of his reborn country, leading the negotiations to join the EU and signing Poland's NATO accession treaty.
A minute of silence was observed as a tribute to Geremek at the inaugural Mediterranean Union Summit in Paris. In a letter of condolence, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy stated: "He was the personification of basic virtues of the European ideal."
Commission President José Manuel Barroso called Professor Geremek "a symbol of freedom," adding: "He was a European of exceptional greatness, who throughout his entire life proved his uncompromising political courage."
European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering said in a statement: "In the European Parliament, we got to know him as a wise man of outstanding knowledge and as a great colleague. Professor Geremek was a true European and a great Polish patriot."
Polish politicians were united in grief over the death, including his political opponents, who more recently included the Kaczynski brothers.
"This is very sad news, I am deeply moved," said Polish President Lech Kaczynski, adding that Geremek's death is a huge loss for Poland.
Those who knew Geremek well greatly valued his mild manner, humour and elegance. Graham Watson, the leader of Geremek's political group ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), said in a statement: "Even with the passage of time, his memory will never be erased, nor his marvellous and mischievous smile obscured."