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by Bamber Gascoigne

Jerzy Andrzejewski (1909-1983)


Polish novelist, short-story writer, and political dissident, whose most famous work is Popiol i diament (1948, Ashes and Diamonds). It dealt with the conflict between two visions of the world in Poland, some years before "a people's republic" was established in 1947. Andrzejewski's novel was translated into more than 20 languages and adapted for screen in 1958 by the director Andrzej Wajda.

"What lay ahead, what sort of life, what future? The worst years had passed but now, at the beginning of a new day, it looked as if so much had been destroyed, so much laid waste, so much crushed down and afflicted, that the destructive force, as though yet unappeased, was encroaching upon the present, poisoning even the future, in which she placed her hopes during the worst periods." (in Ashes and Diamonds, tr. David J. Welsh)

Jerzy Andrzejewski was born in Warsaw into a middle-class family. His father was a grocer and mother the daughter of a provincial doctor. Andrzejevski studied Polish literature at the University of Warsaw, without taking a degree, and contributed to the right-wing literary weekly Prosto z mostu. He had started to write in his early boyhood. Andrzjewski's first works Drogi nieuniknione (1936), a volume of short stories, and Lad secra (1938, Order of the Heart), published in Prosto z mostu, showed the influence of such French Catholic writers as François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos. Lad secra received the award of the Polish Academy of Literature. Andzejewski was called the most gifted Catholic writer of his country, a "Polish Mauriac." ('Andrzeyevski, George [Jerzy],' in World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman, 1975, p. 60) 

During WW II Andrzejewski was a member of the Resistance movement, becoming a moral leader of the Warsaw writers. His closest friend at that time was the future Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, with whom he worked on the underground publication of Milosz Poems (Wiersze). This handmade book was written under the pseudonym Jan Syruc. Noc (1945, Night), Andrzejewski's collection of short stories, dealt with the war and occupation. This collection contained the novella 'Wielki tydzien' (Holy Week), written in the spring of 1943 and adapted for the screen by Andrzej Wajda some fifty decades later. "There is probably no way Andrzejewski's work could be changed to make it politically correct enough to appeal to a general Polish viewership. This was a film that invited itself to be made but, at the same time, a film for which there was no natural audience, a contradiction that led to its inevitably disappointing performance at the box office." (Holy Week: A Novel of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, introduction and commentary by Oscar E. Swan, foreword by Jan Gross, 2007, p. 144)

Structured around the plight of a young Jewish woman, Irena Lilien, the novella dealt with emotional and moral responses towards the Jews and saving her as the Warsaw Ghetto burns. Irena understands that she is doomed, but she also prophesies that the Poles will soon be killing each other for ideological reasons. This controversial work was one of the earliest Polish literary attempts to approach the Holocaust.

In occupied Poland helping Jews was punished by death. In addition, the predominat attitude towards Jews was hostile; for a long period they had been the main targets of nationalists. Andrzejewski himself helped Jews in hiding at the risk of his own life. Later, during the communist period, the 1968 purge drove more than half the Jews then living in Poland out of the country. After decades silence, in the 1980s, writers began to examine Polish-Jewish relations.

With Popiól i diament (Ashes and Diamonds) Andrzejewski captured the agony of the war-torn generation. Its title and motto, how a new society can be created, was taken from Cyprian Norwid's (1821-1883) drama Za kulisami. The novel covers three days in May 1945 in the district city of Ostrowiec, where old ideals collide with the rise of a new government. Wajda's celebrated film version from 1958 completed the director's informal trio begun with A Generation (Pokolonie, 1955) and Sewer / They Loved Life(Kanal, 1957). One of the characters says: "But nowadays I've met so many people who broke down and failed this or that test that I don't attach much importance to what a man thinks of himself. Until a man faces the test he can deceive himself endlessly." Fragments of the novel appeared in 1947. When Andrzejewski revised the work in 1954, he wrote key passages according to the rules of socialist realism. 

The protagonist is a young Polish nationalist and partisan, Maciek Chelmicki, a member of the anticommunist underground Home Army (Armia Krajowa). His acts of terrorism bring him in conflict with the new social order. Maciek is assigned to assassinate a new Communist district secretary, Szczuka, who has returned from Russia. Maciek and Szczuka, both sympathetically portrayed, form a contrasting pair – the young man representing the past and cynicism, the old man the future and purposefulness. As Maciek waits in a hotel, he meets a young woman, Krystyna. She works at the bar, where people celebrate the end of the war and drown bad memories in liquor. Maciek and Krystyna both like violets, and they spend some time together. Maciek shoots Szczuka in the street, but in the morning he is in turn fatally wounded by soldiers. Maciek dies on a giant scrap-heap – an obvious symbol. Highly dramatic, realistic in detail, and full of memorable scenes, such as Maciek setting fire to liquor in glasses, and Maciek and Krystyna conversing in a ruined church building, where a figure of Christ hangs upside down.

After the war Andrzejewski joined the Writers' Union. The fairly liberal cultural atmosphere did not last long. Early in 1949 the Union of Polish Writers adopted the Soviet model for socialist realism. In 1949 Andrzejewski was elected president of the Polish Writers' Union. He produced some books in the Socialist Realist vein, and defended in his journalism the Communist rule in Poland. Andrzejewski (as "Alfa") was portrayed by Czeslaw Milosz in The Captive Mind (1953), which revealed the problems of intellectuals living under Stalinism. Milosz described his colleague as a man with a "barometer-like sensitivity to the moral opinion of his environment". (The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, 1981, pp. 89-90)

Andrzejewski left his first wife soon after their wedding in 1934. His companion from 1941 to 1943 was Wanda Wertenstein, who gained prominence as a film critic and screenwriter; she was partly the model for Irena Lilien in Holy Week. Another model was Janina Askenazy, the daughter of Simon Askenazy (1866-1935), a historian. In 1945 Andrzejewski married his second wife, Maria Abgarowicz. They occupied an apartment on Nowiniarska Street, which looked out on the walls of the ghetto. Later they moved to a house in the Northern Warsaw suburb of Bielany.

From 1952 to 1954 Andrzejewski was editor of a leading cultural weekly, Przeglad kulturalny, and from 1952 to 1957 he was a member of the Polish parliament. Wojna skuteczna (1952), which satirized the positive hero of the Socialist realism, atytracted the attention of censors.  The banned short story 'Wielki lament papierowej glowy' (1956, Great Lament of the Paper Head), which satirized the emptiness of speeches at mass meetings, circulated in mimeographic form until it appeared in print. In protest against censorship (it was not so all‐encompassing as in the Soviet Union) Andrzejewski resigned from the party in 1957. As a result he lost his job. In the 1970s he had a weekly column in the literary journal Literatura.

Disillusioned in the policy of the General Secretary Władysław Gomułka, Andrzejewski moved towards more or less open criticism of the Communist  regime, starting from the novel The Inquisitors (tr. 1960), a philosophical parable on the autocratic rule of a totalitarian ideology. Primarily following the thoughts of a young Dominican, it documents how his personality is changing as he adopts the mind of his teacher, Torquemada. Between 1968 and 1971,  Andrzejewski was reportedly denied publication in Poland. In 1968 he protested against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and the closure of a production of Adam Mickiewicz's play Forefathers

Andrzejewski's characters are often defeated by circumstances, or forces outside of the control of themselves. The Appeal (1968) attacked directly the police state; it was not published in Poland. The protagonist is Jan Konieczy, a middle-aged paranoiac and faithful supporter of the United Workers Party. He is too conscientious and uncorrupted in his work and is shut up in an institution, where he appeals to the First Secretary, whom he trusts. Andrzejewski seems to say that sometimes paranoiacs are actually persecuted, but only an insane person can truly believe in the totalitarian system.

"I consider myself a very Polish product in many ways, i.e. a – and simplifying it a little – a person generally more immune to great hardships than to the petty troubles of everyday life. Two periods in my life I consider the most intense: the second World War and the period preceding the so-called 'Polish October.' I lived through two great spiritual adventures: in my youth, the Roman Catholic Church; and in my middle age the experience of Marxism." (Jerzy Andrzejewski in World Authors 1950-1970, ed. John Wakeman, 1975, p. 60)

In general, Andrzejewski's career reflected the typical development of an eastern European intellectual after World War II, from the initial support of the Communist policies to the later more or less openly expressed disappointment. The widening gulf between reality and official truths led Andrzjeweski to such explorations of mass movements and culture as Bramy raju (1960, The Gates of Paradise), focusing on the Children's Crusade of 1212, and the satirical Idzie skaczac po górach (1963, A Sitter for a Satyr), in which Andrzejewski used a stream-of-consciousness style. The Picasso-like protagonist is Antonio Ortiz, a celebrated artist and genius (an "old fox, clever goat"), who is surrounded by women, art dealers, and sycophants. He thinks he has lost his creativity, but returns to painting after the stimulation of young love and energy. Reviewers noted that the novel, lacking dots, commas and capital letters resembled the natural flow of thoughts. Andrzejewski's ambiguous and experimental use of language was a problem for the authorities, and several of his works were left unpublished. His most important novel from late 1960s, Miazga (1969), a portrait of modern Polish intelligentsia, did not appear officially until 1981. An internal report described the novel as "descending in many places to the level of tawdry anti-Soviet and anti-Communist lampoon and trivial scandal-mongering". Moreover, this was an indication of the author's "creative decline and psychological imbalance". ('Jerzy Andrzejewski: Polish novelist, 1909-1983' by John Michael Bates, in Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, edited by Derek Jones, Volume 1-4, 2001, p. 57)

Andrzejewski, Kazimierz Brandys, Tadeuz Konwicki, Wlodzimierz Odojewski, and several other authors printed their works in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the literary quarterly Zapis (1979-82), or in the emigré publishers. In 1979 Andrzejewski helped found the workers' defence committee (KOR) to aid families of striking workers, who were jailed or dismissed from their jobs. Andrzejewski died on April 19/20, 1983, in Warsaw. His novel on the homosexual Roman emperor Heliogabalus was left unfinished.

For further reading: The Captive Mind by C. Milosz (1953); Portraits of Contemporary Polish Writers by Mutuszewski (1959); 'On the Evils of Fanatic Belief' by S.L. Shneiderman in Eastern Europe, Oct (1960); The History of Polish Literature by Czeslaw Milosz (1969, 2nd edition 1983); 'On the History of Ashes and Diamonds' by J.Krzyzanowski , in Slavic and East European Journal, 15 (1971); Andrzejewski by Waclaw Sadkowski (1973); 'Andrzeyevski, George [Jerzy],' in World Authors 1950-1970, ed. by John Wakeman (1975); A History of Polish Literature by Julian Krzyzanowski (1978); Modernist Trends in Twentieth-Century Polish Fiction by Stanislaw Eile (1996); 'Jerzy Andrzejewski: Polish novelist, 1909-1983' by John Michael Bates, in Censorship: A World Encyclopedia, edited by Derek Jones, Volume 1-4 (2001); Polish Literature and the Holocaust: Eyewitness Testimonies, 1942-1947 by Rachel Feldhay Brenner (2019)

Selected works:

  • Drogi nieuniknione, 1936 [Unavoidable Roads]
  • Ład serca, 1938 [Order of the Heart] 
  • Noc, 1945 [Night]
  • Apel, 1945
  • Święto Winkelrida, 1946 (with Jerzy Zagórski)
  • Popiół i diament, 1948
    - Ashes and Diamonds (translated by D.J. Welsh, 1962)
    - Tuhkaa ja timanttia (suom. Ćke Lahtinen, 1960)
    - Film 1958, dir. Andrzej Wajda, screenplay by Wajda and Andrzejewski, prod. by Stanislaw Adler, photograph by Jerzy Wójcik, art director Roman Mann, ed. by Halina Nawrocka, starring Zbigniew Cybulski (as Maciek Chelmicki), Ewa Kryzjewska (Krystyna), Waclaw Zastrzezynski (Szczuka), Bogumil Kobiela
  • Aby pokój zwyciężył, 1950
  • Robinson warszawski, 1950 (screenplay, with Jerzy Zarzycki, idea Czeslaw Milosz; film prod. Film Polski, dir. Jerzy Zarzycki, starring Jan Kurnakowicz, Zofia Mrozowska and Igor Smialowski)
  • O człowieku radzieckim, 1951 [On Siviet Man]
  • Partia i twórczość pisarza, 1952 [The Party and the Writer's Creative Work]
  • Ludzie i zdarzenia, 1952-53 (2 vols.)
  • Wojna skuteczna, czyli opis bitew i potyczek z Zadufkami, 1953 [An Effective War]
  • Książka dla Marcina, 1954 [A Book for Martin]
  • Złoty lis, 1955 [The Golden Fox]
  • Zagubione uczucia, 1957 (screenplay, with others, story by Hanna Mortkowicz-Olczakowa; film prod. Zespol Filmowy "Syrena", dir. Jerzy Zarzycki, starring Maria Klejdysz, Andrzej Jurczak and Wladyslaw Woznik)
  • Ciemności kryją ziemię, 1957
    - The Inquisitors (translated by Konrad Syrop, 1960)
    - Film: Torquemada, 1989, prod. Cine International, Georgian Film Productions, IVE International Films, screenplay Stanislav Barabas and Georges Claisse, dir. Stanislav Barabas, starring Francisco Rabal, Jacques Breuer and Michel Auclair
  • Niby gaj, 1959
  • Niewinni czarodzieje, 1960 (screenplay, with Jerzy Skolimowski; film prod. P.P. Film Polski, dir. Andrzej Wajda, starring Tadeusz Lomnicki, Krystyna Stypulkowska, Wanda Koczeska, Kalina Jedrusik, Zbigniew Cybulski, Roman Polanski)
  • Bramy raju, 1960
    - The Gates of Paradise (translated by James Kirkup, 19633)
    - Film 1968, prod. Avala Film, Poste Parisien, dir. Andrzej Wajda, screenplay Jerzy Andrzejewski, Donald Kravanth, starring Lionel Stander, Ferdy Mayne, Mathieu Carrière
  • Idzie skacząc po górach, 1963
    - A Sitter for a Satyr (translated by Celina Wieniewska, 1965; GB title: He Cometh Leaping upon the Mountain, 1968)
    - Katso hän tulee vuorten yli (suom. Taisto Veikko, 1965)
  • Apelacja, 1968
    - The Appeal (translated by Celina Wieniewska, 1971)
    - Vetoomus (suom. Toivo Toivas, 1969)
  • Miazga, 1969 [Pulp]
  • Prometeusz, 1971
  • Teraz na ciebie zagłada, 1976
  • Już prawie nic, 1979
  • Nowe opowiadania, 1980
  • Nikt, 1982 [Nobody]
  • Gra z cieniem, 1987
  • Z dnia na dzień. Dziennik literacki 1972–1979, 1988
  • Listy, 1991 (with Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz)
  • Wielki Tydzień, 1993
    - Holy Week: A Novel of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (introduction and commentary by Oscar E. Swan, foreword by Jan Gross, 2007)
    - Film: 1995, prod. Agency for Film Production, Berliner Spiele, Canal+, dir. Andrzej Wajda, screenplay Andrzej Wajda, starring Beata Fudalej, Wojciech Malajkat, Magdalena Warzecha, Bozena Dykiel
  • Zeszyt Marcina: październik 1943-grudzień 1945, 1994
  • Dziennik paryski, 2003
  • Listy 1944-1981 / Jerzy Andrzejewski, Czesław Miłosz, 2011 (edited by Barbara Riss)
  • Pod okupacją. Listy / Jerzy Andrzejewski [and others], 2014 (edited by Maciej Urbanowski. 
  • Samotne pokolenie: szkice i recenzje krytyczne z lat 1927-1939, 2019 (edited by Maciej Urbanowski)

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