As a Jewish child he was saved from the Holocaust by a Polish family.
Passent studied journalism at the University of Warsaw, Saint Petersburg State University, Princeton University, and Harvard University in the 1950s and 1960s. He first wrote for a communist youth magazine Sztandar Młodych in his sophomore year at the University of Warsaw in 1956. In college, he wrote satirical texts for a student standup comedy group STS (Studencki Teatr Satyryków). There he met his wife, Agnieszka Osiecka, a Polish poet and lyricist. Their daughter, Agata Passent, is also a journalist. Since 1959 he has been working for a Polish weekly Polityka. From 1990 to 1997 he was a journalist in Boston for a Spanish monthly magazine El Diario Mundial. From 1997 to 2002 Passent served as a Polish ambassador to Chile.
In addition to his articles and columns, Passent wrote several books, among others about the Vietnam War, the Olympic Summer Games 1972 in Munich, about the drug problem in the USA, and about the world class Polish tennis player, Wojciech Fibak. He also translated books and other texts by James Baldwin and Martin Luther King into Polish. He speaks Polish, English, German, Spanish, and Russian.
An article in a conservative Polish newspaper Dziennik, claimed that Passent worked in the 1960s as a spy for the communist government under the code names "Daniel" and "John". Passent asked an independent court to review such claims through a procedure called lustration; this request was denied as Poland's lustration law applies only to people holding (or running for) a public office.
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