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Szulc was born in Warsaw, Poland, the son of Seweryn and Janina Szulc. He attended school in Switzerland. In 1940 he emigrated from Poland to join his family (who had left Poland in the mid-1930s) in Brazil. There he studied at the University of Brazil, but in 1945 he abandoned his studies to work as a reporter for the Associated Press in Rio de Janeiro. In 1968 he was a reporter in Czechoslovakia during the Soviet invasion to quell the Prague Spring.
In 1949 he moved to New York City, and in 1954 he became an American citizen.
Married for 52 years, he had a son and daughter.
On April 6, 1961, nine days before the CIA-supported Bay of Pigs invasion, Szulc wrote a Times article stating that an invasion of Cuba was "imminent." Before its publication, President Kennedy became aware of the article and personally telephoned the Times' publisher. The Times yielded to the President's demand that the story be reduced in prominence and detail. His interest in Cuba continue over time, with the publication of an in-depth biography of Fidel Castro.
Szulc was a Knight of the French Légion d'honneur.
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