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40 posts categorized "Poland"

29 May 2018

Janusz Korczak – the champion of children

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Elizabeth Gifford’s novel The Good Doctor of Warsaw (London, 2017; ELD.DS.232274) was the subject of a recent British Library event. It is based on the true accounts of Misha and Sophia, two young Polish Jews who helped Janusz Korczak in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War. Korczak is best remembered for his heroic death march with 200 orphan children to the gas chambers in Treblinka on 6 August 1942.

Janusz Korczak from the King of the children YC.1989.a.4207Janusz Korczak, from Betty Jean Lifton, The king of children: a biography of Janusz Korczak (London, 1988). YC.1989.a.4207  

Janusz Korczak was born Henryk Goldszmit into a wealthy Jewish family in Warsaw in 1878. He was a doctor by profession, an educator at heart and a gifted author. In his early years he experienced adults’ lack of respect and concern for children, an experience that greatly contributed to the choice of his later path in life. Henryk’s childhood was disturbed by his father’s mental illness. His premature death left the family impoverished and the 18-year-old Henryk began tutoring to support his mother and younger sister. He then discovered that he liked working with children. At that time he published his first pedagogical articles about raising and educating children and tried his luck as a writer under the pseudonym Janusz Korczak.

 

Janusz Korczak Big business Billy 12825.eee.5 Title-page and frontispiece from the English translation of one of Korczak’s children’s books, Big Business Billy (London, 1939). 12825.eee.5

However, two years later he enrolled as a medical student at Warsaw University. He decided to be a doctor, not a writer; as he said in his journal “literature is just words, while medicine is deeds”. In 1904 he graduated as a paediatrician and took up work at a Jewish hospital for children in Warsaw.  Korczak was also active as a tutor at summer holiday centres and continued to write children’s novels which reflected his experience both as a doctor and educator. In 1912 he gave up work at the hospital to devote his life to poor orphaned children.

Korczak lectures
Korczak pictured with some of the children in his care, cover of Janusz Korczak: the child’s right to respect: Janusz Korczak’s legacy: lectures on today’s challenges to children (Strasbourg, 2009). m11/14075

Korczak established an orphanage for Jewish children, implementing his pedagogical ideas of treating children with fairness, justice, respect and empathy. The children had their own parliament, court and newspaper and all felt valued as equal members of the community.  Korczak emphasized the importance of giving the child a voice and in that he was a precursor of modern child psychology.  He wrote a number of books based on his daily observations of the children’s development.  His 1919 publication Jak kochać dziecko (How to love a child) formed the basis for the first International Declaration of the Rights of the Child in Geneva in 1924. His later booklet of 1929 Prawo dziecka do szacunku (The child’s right to respect) is considered his pedagogical manifesto. The child is the greatest asset of society. The child has a right to dignity as much as the adult has. Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people of today.

Korczak Matthew the Young King1Page with an illustration by Irena Lorentowicz  from Janusz Korczak, Matthew the Young King (London, 1946). 12593.i.26.

In more than 20 books Korczak  expressed his great love and concern for children. His best-known novel Król Maciuś Pierwszy (King Matt the First, also translated as Matthew the Young King), first published in 1922, was inspired by his own childhood memories, contemporary political events in Poland and the children of several orphanages he successfully ran in Warsaw. The book tells the story of a boy king’s adventures and his attempts to bring social reforms to his subjects. Written in the form of a fairy tale, the book addresses the difficulties of adult life and the responsibility for decisions they have to make. But at the core of this story is a child with the loneliness, dilemmas and struggles it faces in its daily life.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Janusz Korczak, Jak kochać dziecko. Internat, kolonie letnie (Warsaw, 1948). 8313.bb.15

Janusz Korczak, Prawo dziecka do szacunku (Warsaw, 1948) 8313.bb.16.

Janusz Korczak, A voice for the child: the inspirational words of Janusz Korczak (London, 1999). YK.1999.a.3347

 

09 March 2018

Mr Inkblot’s Academy – A Polish Children’s Classic

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Each generation of children has its own favourite book which defines their childhood. For children growing up in Poland in the 1950s and 60s it was a book about a school for wizards called Akademia pana Kleksa (‘Mr Inkblot’s Academy’) by Jan Brzechwa, first published in 1946.

AkademiaCover1960Jan Brzechwa, Akademia pana Kleksa (Warsaw, 1960) X.990/537

The book tells the story of incomparable eccentric Ambroży Kleks (Ambrose Inkblot), headmaster of an equally nonpareil school for wizards based in Fairylandia at the very end of Chocolate Street. Fairylandia lies not far off but is not that easy to find unless one is invited and guided there, just as one day an unhappy, bullied 12-year-old boy, Adaś Niezgódka (Adam Contrary), is by a learned blackbird which communicates words by dropping their first syllables.

Inkblot MathewMathew the blackbird on the phone

The school is a three-storey building with classrooms, refectory and dormitories, and the top floor, to which there are no stairs, housing all Mr Inkblot’s secrets. It stands in the middle of a large unkempt park, surrounded by a wall lined with iron gates leading to other fables. Nobody knows how many of these gates there are, but all are locked with silver locks, and Mr Inkblot keeps the keys in a silver casket.

The 24 boys in the school – all of whose names begin with A – are taught by Mr Inkblot the subtle art of wizardry in subjects ranging from inkblotography and letter-spinning to un-breaking broken things. Mr Inkblot also helps the boys improve their dreams by selecting the best of them from dream-reflecting mirrors at each boy’s bedside: He also cooks for them: brightly-coloured beads which turn to delicious soups and juices, but also huge roasts, prepared with the help of a magnifying pump. But he can cook anything a boy can fancy by painting the dish with his magic brush. He himself gets by on hair-growing pills but loves flavoursome colours and for elevenses treats himself to a handful of butterflies, a special kind which he plants and grows like beans.

Inkblot clockMr Inkblot examining the broken clock

Mr Inkblot, who knows and sees everything, is the epitome of goodness and always tries to make everyone happy with themselves. He is a tall man, though he can control his size with the magnifying pump, making himself teeny-weeny for going to bed. He has a mop of hair gleaming with all colours of the rainbow and a vast bushy beard as black as soot. He wears an old-fashioned velvet frock coat with a lemon-bright waistcoat full of pockets, the contents of which could easily fill three rooms.

Inkblot expeditionMr Inkblot taking his pupils on a school expedition

Jan Brzechwa, started writing Mr Inkblot’s Academy in 1944, when war was still raging outside the window of his Warsaw flat. As a Jew he was hiding on the ‘Aryan’ side, somewhat contrarily, by not hiding at all and trying to live a ‘normal’ life. Writing was for him a way to escape the horrors of war by sticking to what he was good at: writing children’s stories and rhymes. He was an acknowledged master of the art.

Yet the horrors seeped into the narrative, most vividly in the story of Alojzy Bąbel (Alois Blister), a boy-marionette brought to Mr Inkblot for schooling by Philip the barber, Mr Inkblot’s nemesis. Mr Inkblot brings Alois to life but the boy grows wickeder and wickeder, spewing hate and destruction, until he has to be dismantled. This enrages Philip, who steals Mr Inkblot’s secrets, sending him and his Academy on a course to total annihilation. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances surrounding the creation of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, Brzechwa originally named the wicked boy Adolf, but, wanting to protect the innocence of his young readers, or just driven by his wicked sense of humour, changed the name to that of Hitler’s father, thus neatly blaming it all on the parents.

Inkblot Alois BlisterMr Inkblot bringing the boy-marionette Alois Blister to life.

The character of Mr Inkblot also had his real-life counterpart. Franz Fiszer was a real character, legendary in the literary circles of pre-war Warsaw. A Socrates and a Falstaff, a practicing metaphysician and the last of true alchemists, if by such we mean not quack-chemists but serious searchers for the philosopher’s stone, Fiszer dined and drank during legendary symposia, which convened spontaneously wherever he sat at a table. It would be an inconsolable waste if Franz Fiszer were to recede into oblivion without a trace. Luckily for him his memory has not been totally blotted out – he transmogrified into Mr Inkblot. Thanks to Jan Marcin Szancer – another Polish Jew hiding in occupied Warsaw, who created Mr Inkblot’s definitive image much as E.H. Shepard did for Winnie-the-Pooh – Fiszer/Mr Inkblot became a great friend to generations of Polish children.

InkblotFranciszek_FiszerPortraitPortrait of Franciszek Fisher by Aleksander Żyw. Reproduced in Roman Loth, Na rogu świata in Nieskończoności, wspomnienia o Franciszku Fiszerze (Warsaw, 1985) YA.1988.a.1331

Mr Inkblot’s Academy was the first of a trilogy, followed by Mr Inkblot’s Travels and ending with Mr Inkblot’s Triumph, which rounds up the story with Adam’s graduation from the Academy and his last journey with Mr Inkblot in search of the disappeared tribe of Fairytalers (and his own parents). It all ends well – despite continued machinations by Alois Blister – with Adam’s engagement to a lovely girl named Reseda.

Inkblot Adam and ResedaAdam and Reseda

The books’ enduring promise of escape, renewed interest in Mr Inkblot and his academy when Poland was drowning in the greyness of the martial law imposed in 1981. Three films made in the 1980s relaunched the imperishable Mr Inkblot’s career and brightened the years of yet another generation of Polish children, and perhaps not just Polish, as the films were shown on European television well into the 1990s. One can only wonder why Mr Inkblot’s Academy’s film potential was discovered so late. Brzechwa himself wrote film scripts, among them an adaptation of another classic, The Two who Stole the Moon, the horrid twins of the title played by Kaczyński brothers, later president and prime minister of Poland. Sadly, an earlier project of turning Mr Inkblot’s Academy into a Hollywood film came to nothing, even though it was scripted by Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas. Although her treatment was the first English version of Mr Inkblot’s Academy, and can be read online via the website of the Münchener Stadtbibliothek, there has never been a published translation – a challenge perhaps for a publisher today?

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

 

07 February 2018

Exporting the Animals’ Revolt: Kostamorov - Reymont - Orwell

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People say that there are only 3? (7? 11?) basic plots in the whole of world literature. Goethe claimed it was 36, but apparently he nicked the idea from a guy named Gozzi. I suspect the exact number will be argued as long as people tell stories but they can spin yarns of such striking likeness it makes one wonder how these plots travel, cropping up in different times and places, in seemingly disparate worlds.

Orwell’s Animal Farm is a good case in point. As discussed in two previous blog posts, for close on 60 years it was the prime example of a political allegory using the ancient form of animal fable to comment on 20th century politics, but the rediscovery of two earlier stories of animal revolutions, Władysław Reymont’s Bunt, and Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt  in recent years has raised the question of whether the three stories share the same genetic lineage. If they do, the next question is: how did the original idea travel from Russia to Poland to Britain?

The first possible route that immediately comes to mind is via Sonia Brownell, “the girl from the Fiction Department”, Julia from 1984, and Orwell’s future wife. They met in the early 1940s at Horizon magazine where Sonia was working as a secretary to Cyril Connolly, but already had solid editorial experience as assistant to Eugene Vinaver, a Russian post-revolutionary émigré and another specialist in fairy tales, though in his case they were Malory’s Arthurian tales.

Eugene was the son of Maxim Vinaver who was born, raised and educated in Warsaw before making a career as a lawyer in St Petersburg. He played an active role in the Russian Revolution but escaped to France before it could swallow him up. While settled in St Petersburg, the Vinaver family would almost certainly have subscribed to the legendary magazine Niva, which published Kostomarov’s story in 1917, as no respectable bourgeois family could function in society without it.

Maxim Vinaver RB.31.c.577
Maxim Vinaver as a member of the first Russian Parliament in 1905, from Pamiatnaia knizhka pervoĭ Gosudarstvennoĭ dumy (St Petersburg, 1906). RB.31.c.577

It’s practically certain too that Maxim Vinaver knew Reymont’s work; after all they went to school in Warsaw at the same time, a fact which wouldn’t have been lost on Maxim when Reymont won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. As a sociologist and a lawyer fighting for Jewish rights, he must have been familiar with Reymont’s rural and industrial novels of the Russian Empire, Chłopi (‘The Peasants’; Warsaw, 1904; 12591.b.52.) and Ziemia Obiecana (‘The Promised Land’; Warsaw, 1899; 12591.cc.39) and also with his journalism dealing with the rights of Polish minorities subjected to heavy Russification in the Lublin Governorate after 1912. Maxim might have even read Bunt, and would have shared both its anti-revolutionary sentiment and its interest in folklore – he was a founding member of the Russian Jewish Ethnographical Society and apparently infected his son with his interests badly enough for the young Eugene to study mediaeval literature and eventually to become an academic specialist in fables.

Clearly both Vinavers had good first-hand knowledge of both the mechanics of revolution and the art of fairy tales. Just as Orwell had towards the end of his spell at the BBC when he was working on radio adaptations of fairy tales. At that time he had already met Sonia Brownell. Could it be it was then she passed Vinaver’s infection (in-fiction?) on to Orwell?

Another possible route from 1920s Poland to 1940s Britain for the story of animal revolt as a parable of Russian Revolution could be via Teresa Jeleńska, Animal Farm’s Polish translator (in fact the first translator of Animal Farm into any language). Jeleńska was an aristocratic socialite in pre-war Poland, moving in European literary and political circles, who found herself as a refugee in London in 1941. Working as a journalist she met Orwell and the two became friends.

TeresaJelenska2
Photo of Teresa Jeleńska (Rome, 1924) from:  Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, Teresa Jeleńska, Konstanty A. Jeleński, Korespondencja (Warsaw, 2008). YF.2011.a.6916 

Jeleńska’s son, Konstanty, or Kot, later an influential essayist and translator of Witold Gombrowicz, after the war ran the Eastern European division of Congress for Cultural Freedom (its Manifesto was drafted by Arthur Koestler, a close friend of Orwell). In a letter to Jonathan Brent of 7 August 1985,  explaining the biographical introduction to his first collection of essays Zbiegi okoliczności (‘Coincidences’; Paris, 1982; X.950/16831), Konstanty recalled, “During my war years in England I discovered the Horizon and Partisan Review and met some English writers like Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman, Cyril Connolly, Raymond Mortimer and George Orwell (a friend of my mother…)”. It must have been at the same time that he met and befriended Sonia Brownell, though their shared interest then was probably more in painting than literature.

KonstantyJelenski

Title-page and frontispiece of Konstanty A. Jeleński. Chwile  oderwane (Gdańsk, 2008). YF.2009.a.16241

Jeleńska’s name doesn’t register in any biography of Orwell as one of his friends but only as a translator. Yet their paths apparently crossed quite frequently (probably after Jeleńska and Kot moved to Scotland in 1942), and their friendship, or at least their working relationship, was close enough for Orwell to trust her with the typescript of Animal Farm before publication. They may have been also Orwell’s Polish liaison behind his piece in Tribune (Sept. 1944) on the Warsaw Rising, in which he denounced the West for not helping the insurgents and Stalin for holding up the offensive and waiting for the Uprising to bleed to death. They corresponded regularly until Orwell’s death in 1950.

It’s unlikely that the Jeleńskis would not have known of Reymont’s story but whether they talked about it with Orwell remains unknown, as does whether Sonia Brownell regaled Orwell with stories heard from Eugene Vinaver about his years in St Petersburg or his father’s knowledge of a fellow Varsovian’s work on revolution. The readily available literature is mute on the subject, perhaps the secrets are still buried in the archives? These are mostly uncharted waters but perhaps one day someone out there will map them out. Sails up.

 Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator

02 February 2018

Arians in the age of the Polish Reformation

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In the 16th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual country and was renowned for its religious tolerance. It provided safety for religious refugees fleeing from prosecution in their own countries. Although Poland was predominantly a Roman Catholic country it quickly absorbed the new religious ideas and a Protestant movement was steadily growing. German citizens were followers of Lutheranism while native Poles adopted Calvinism.

Calvinism resonated well with the Polish nobility because of the egalitarian structure of the Calvinist Church. Furthermore, Jan Łaski, the leading Polish reformer, significantly contributed to the spread of Calvinism in Poland, which reached its zenith in the middle of the 16th century. However, 1562 marked the division of the Calvinist Church with the formation of the most radical group called Polish Brethren, also known as Christians, Arians, Antitrinitarians or Socinians. As a result of the split the Minor Reformed Church was created attracting the most outstanding theologians. 

Arians Portrait Socinus
Faustus Socinus, reproduced in David Munroe Cory, Faustus Socinus (Boston, 1932) 4868.f.14 

Among them was Faustus Socinus, an Italian refugee who arrived in Poland in 1579. He united the group ideologically but never formally belonged to the Church for his objection to water baptism. However, under his influence the Arians rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, infant baptism, the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of original sin.

Arians Vita Socinus
Title page of Samuel Przypkowski’s biography of Socinus, Vita Favsti Socini Senensis (Raków, 1636) 4887.aa.60 

The Warsaw Confederation of 1573 granted religious freedom to Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and Bohemian Brethren, but not to the Arians. In addition, the latter were strongly opposed by both Catholic and Calvinist clergy. In Cracow the Arians were prone to attacks by Catholic mobs at the instigation of the clergy. Taking advantage of the tolerance promoted by the Polish kings the Arians left the unfriendly city and moved to the provincial town of  Raków, some 100 km away from Cracow.  The town became a religious and intellectual centre of the dissidents. The famous Racovian Academy, established in 1602, provided excellent education not only for fellow believers but also for Catholics and Protestants. Religion along with other subjects such as foreign languages, history, law, economics, mathematics, medicine and gymnastics were on the curriculum.

Arians Catechesis
Title page of Catechesis ecclesiarum (Raków, 1609) 3506.a.2 Known as the Racovian catechism, it includes the Socinian doctrine and is dedicated to King James I.

Arian publishing became to flourish when two printing presses transferred from Cracow to Raków. Numerous works in Latin, Polish and German were issued in the presses of Aleksy Rodecki and his son-in-law Sebastian Sternacki. The publications included Arian religious books and lay literature as well as some Calvinist prints. Soon Raków was well known in Western Europe as a printing centre and books with the Latinised form of imprint ‘Racoviae’ were in high demand. Arian religious literature was mainly of polemical character and consisted of theological tracts, catechisms and disputes with their antagonists. The most prolific authors, in addition to Socinus, were Hieronim Moskorzewski, Johannes Crellius, and Valentin Schmalz.

Arians De Vera Religione
Title page of Joannes Volkelius, De vera religione (Raków, 1630) 4225.cc.31 A full account of the Arian doctrine, and the most important Arianwork alongside the catechism 

A period of prosperity for the Polish Brethren ended in 1638 with the closure of the Academy and the confiscation of the printing press. Subsequently, the Arians were expelled from Poland by order of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in 1658. They moved to the Netherlands and established their publishing centre in Amsterdam with the prominent series Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, the collection of works of the Polish Brethren. Although small in numbers the Arians made a significant impact on political thought in Poland as well as philosophical thought in Western Europe.

Over 240 works are recorded with the Racoviae/Raków imprint of which the British Library holds 72 titles.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

Faustus Socinus and his heritage, edited by Lech Szczucki (Krakow, 2005) YF.2007.a.15720

Alodia Kawecka-Gryczowa, Ariańskie oficyny wydawnicze Rodeckiego i Sternackiego (Wrocław, 1974) X.100/12928

Stanisław Kot, Socinianism in Poland: the social and political ideas of the Polish Antitrinitarians in the sixteenth and seventeen centuries (Boston, 1957) 4696.de.23

 Thomas Rees, The Racovian Cathechism (London, 1818) 3554.a18

17 January 2018

Władysław Reymont’s Revolt of the Animals

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A recent Europen Studies blog post by Masha Karp examined the publication history of George Orwell’s Animal Farm  in the languages of Eastern Europe. That the book has maintained its canonical status worldwide for over 70 years is proof of its universal truth. But as Orwell sat down to write his tale – a warning against the creeping advance of Soviet Communism based on his growing awareness of its brutal reality – was he aware he was not the first modern writer to use the allegory of an animals’ revolt to capture the mad logic of revolution?

ReymontBunt2004

Cover of a recent edition Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (Warsaw, 2004) 

The question has been bugging me since I discovered Władysław Reymont’s Bunt (‘Revolt’) when it came out in Poland in 2004. While growing up in communist Poland in the 1970s I read Orwell’s Animal Farm in a samizdat edition, and while well acquainted with the rest of Reymont’s oeuvre, which was compulsory reading at school as well as being widely popular through TV and film adaptations, I never heard – and I’m sure very few in Poland at the time did – of Bunt. The similarity to Animal Farm was obvious. And another striking thing was that both stories are told as cautionary tales. I was very surprised it took the book so long to resurface, especially when its lesson seemed past its sell-by date. But apparently that’s how things are with truths and lessons.

ReymontPortrait

Władysław Reymont. Portrait by by Jacek Malczewski, painted in 1905 when Reymont was acknowledged as Poland’s foremost novelist, author of The Peasants and The Promised Land, both sweeping panoramas of late 19th-century rural and industrial Poland. (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Bunt is a story of a revolt among farm animals who work for their master and often love him but are spurned, ruthlessly exploited and cruelly beaten in return. The revolt is initially stirred up by the dog Rex who calls on animals to rise against the landlord and follow him to the land of justice and plenty for everyone, a land that lies somewhere in the east. Sadly, the poor beasts, worn out by the never-ending quest, eventually turn against their leader and plead with a gorilla, the nearest they can find to a human, to rule over them.

Of course the two stories are different, both in detail and in tone – one is bleakly tragic the other tragically funny, but the basic idea and the narrative mechanism that delivers the moral point is essentially the same – a parable of human ideals falling victim to animal instincts, a lesson revealing the inherent fault laying at the heart of a revolution, or indeed at the heart of all power and authority, which may change hands even from the oppressors to the oppressed but nevertheless remain the same mechanism of oppression, and there is no escape from it.

ReymontBuntBLcopyTitle-page of Bunt (Warsaw, 1924). YF.2018.a.342

Originally Bunt appeared in the Polish weekly Tygodnik Ilustrowany (Mic.A.4839-4844) in 1922, and then in book form in 1924, the year of Reymont’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and just before his untimely death at 58. Despite being one of the first literary echoes of the Russian Revolution, it barely registered on the critical circuit. Reymont’s great champion, his German translator Jan Kaczkowski, a Polish diplomat hiding under the pen-name Jean Paul d’Ardeschah, felt the book, being topical as well as universal, deserved a better fate. He managed to place Bunt with a Swiss publisher in 1926 as Die Empörung: eine Geschichte vom Aufstand der Tiere. Later, after being transferred by the Polish Foreign Office to Holland, Kaczkowski instigated and oversaw a Dutch publication in 1928 as De Rebellie. That was the last the world heard of Reymont’s Bunt.

Reymont BuntGermanedition

 Cover of a modern edition of Die Empörung (Frankfurt am Main, 2017). Awaiting shelfmark

For a long while I was combing through Orwell’s biographies looking for ways he might have come into contact with Reymont’s story. Was he familiar with Reymont as a Nobel Prize winner? Could translations of Bunt have passed through his hands while he was working at Booklover’s Corner? Orwell did not speak German or Dutch, and the story was not translated into French, a foreign language Orwell knew – after all he read Zamyatin’s We  in French translation.

Another possibility were his friends who did read German – or Dutch or Polish – who were also interested in Eastern European literature and Russian Revolution. They may have discussed Reymont and brought up the story as part of the revolutionary lore and connected it with Orwell’s interest in fairy tales, which he had apparently developed during his time at BBC, just before he started working on Animal Farm. Could it be his publisher friends, Victor Gollancz or Fredric Warburg? The German-born Tysco Fyvel or the Swiss-born Jon Kimche with whom he worked at the Booklover’s Corner? Or was it Arthur Koestler with whom he discussed extensively how revolutionary logic worked? Perhaps someone – a Pole? – he had met in Spain? Perhaps, but I haven’t found a direct link yet.

And then my detective work suffered an unexpected twist. Discussing it with my friends at the BL one of them told me of another tale about an animals’ revolt, this time Russian, and written years before Bunt – in 1880 in fact! Following the new lead I discovered that Nikolai Kostomarov’s Skotskoi Bunt (‘The Revolt of Farm Animals’) was indeed written in 1880 but published only posthumously in 1917, in the popular magazine Niva, just a few issues before October Revolution consigned it forever to history. How come nobody knew of this story for so long? Could Reymont possibly have known of it and how? Could it be it was in fact Kostomarov’s story that seeped into revolutionary lore and inspired both Reymont and Orwell? It could be. But that’s another story. Or is it? Watch this space.

Wiesiek Powaga, Polish translator.
Wiesek’s most recent translation ‘Inside Red Spain’ by Ksawery Pruszynski, appeared in Pete Ayrton's anthology No pasaran! Writings from the Spanish Civil War (London, 2016; YC.2016.a.6057)

 

02 January 2018

Polish mathematicians and cracking the Enigma

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For centuries all cryptosystems had a linguistic orientation. However after the First World War cryptography entered the era of mechanisation and as a result cipher machines were built with the set of rotors as a primary component. They were used for encrypting and decrypting secret messages. To break their ciphers mathematical knowledge was needed.

The Enigma, the most famous example of the cipher machine, was created by the Germans at the end of the First World War. It was used for commercial and military purposes, although the two versions differ significantly. In the late 1920s Germany had the most sophisticated communications in the world. The British, French and Americans tried to tackle the Enigma cipher but failed to break it. One country, however, desperate to monitor German secret messages, achieved considerable results. This was Poland.

Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, Soviet Union to the east and Germany to the west, Poland, a newly-created state after the First World War, was in great need of finding a way to ensure her security. The success of the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 was due to intelligence activities in which Polish cryptographers played a crucial role. To continue the work on cryptology seemed to be an obvious choice.

Enigma Memorial
Memorial at Bletchley Park commemorating three Polish mathematicians. (Photo by Magda Szkuta)

Polish Intelligence was successful in cracking the German military ciphers until the German cryptograms began to change in 1926. The Poles quickly realized that they were machine-enciphered and identified the machine as the Enigma. A commercial model purchased by the Polish Cipher Bureau was however different from the German military Enigma. Unable to decipher military messages and to reconstruct the machine they decided to turn to a mathematical approach. In 1932 a team of young mathematicians from the University of Poznań was set up. Among them were the main code breakers Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski. It was Rejewski who first cracked the Enigma code, in only ten weeks. His excellent mathematical education, fluent command of German, exceptional intuition and completion of a course in cryptology, together with the intelligence information he received from the French Secret Service, led to his success. The first messages were deciphered as early as Christmas 1932.

Enigma Rejewski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, Marian Rejewski: the man who defeated Enigma. (Krakow, 2013) YD.2014.a.1832

Rejewski was now joined by Różycki and Zygalski. Their contributions included the Różycki clock and the Zygalski sheets Subsequently the Poles were able to replicate the Enigma machine and design mechanical devices which allowed them to break the Enigma code. A crucial device which made it possible to reconstruct daily codes in two hours was the cyclometer. It was substantially developed by Alan Turing in the Second World War. In 1938 the German cryptographers increased Enigma’s security and the Poles’ techniques no longer worked. There were no resources to carry out further work either. By that time the Polish cryptographers had read about 75% of intercepted German Radio communications. This was kept strictly confidential.

Enigma Zygalski

Cover of Z.J. Kapera, The triumph of Zygalski’s sheets: the Polish Enigma in the early 1940. (Kraków, 2015). YD.2016.a.4085

In July 1939, with the German invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles invited French and British code breakers for a secret meeting near Warsaw. The Polish team disclosed their Enigma results and handed their allies-to-be copies of the Enigma machine. On 1 September the war broke out. The three genius mathematicians fled Poland and later joined the French cryptographers in France. The knowledge they had provided considerably contributed to the cracking of the more complicated wartime Enigma codes used by the Germans. This happened at Bletchley Park. The breaking of Enigma had a significant impact on the course of the Second World War. It is believed that it shortened the war by two years and saved countless lives.

An original Enigma machine is currently on display in the British Library outside the Alan Turing Institute.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

References/Further reading:

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma (London, 2010). YC.2011.a.1687

Frank Carter, The first breaking of Enigma: some of the pioneering techniques developed by the Polish Cipher Bureau (Milton Keynes, 2008). YK.2010.a.35748

 Simon Singh, The Code Book (London, 1999). YC.1999.b.8756

Enigma Machine
The Enigma Machine on display in the Library (Photo by Clare Kendall)

 

21 November 2017

Orwell in Translation

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George Orwell’s Animal Farm was first published on 17 August 1945 and on 28 August the Russian scholar and critic Gleb Struve wrote to Orwell to say that he found the book “delightful” and would like to translate it for the benefit of Russians, “who could read the truth about their country only when outside it”. Replying to this letter on 1 September, Orwell wondered “what the procedure is. Are books in Russian published in this country, i.e. from non-official sources?” He told Struve that, at about the same time, he had received a letter from a Pole who wanted to translate the book into Polish. Orwell’s main worry was how to pay his translators, but he said he was “anxious that the book should find its way into other languages. If translations into the Slav languages were made, I shouldn’t want any money out of them myself (The Complete Works of George Orwell (CWGO), vol. 17, pp. 274-5). 

Animal Farm Polish

Cover page of Polish translation: Zwierzęcy folwark ....(London,1947). 012642.pp.100.

The first translation of Animal Farm into a Slavic language – in fact, into any language! – was into Polish. It was made by Teresa Jelenska, the wife of a Polish diplomat, and published at the turn of 1946 and 1947 in London by the League of Poles Abroad.

Teresa Jelenska was also instrumental in putting her son’s friend, a young Polish-born Ukrainian Ihor Szewczenko  in touch with Orwell. Szewczenko, then aged 25, wrote to Orwell in April 1946 immediately after he had read Animal Farm and saw at once, as he put it, “that a translation of the tale into Ukrainian would be of great value to my countrymen” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 72). Szewczenko (who later changed the spelling of his name to Ševčenko, the heading under which his works can be found in the British Library’s catalogue), translated Animal Farm while commuting between Munich, where he lived with his wife and mother-in-law, both Soviet-Ukrainian refugees, and Quackenbrück in the British zone of Germany, where he worked for a Polish newspaper.

A year later, when the translation was ready for publication by the Munich publisher Prometheus, Szewczenko wrote to Orwell again asking him for a preface for the book and Orwell, although he was “frightfully busy”, did indeed write the preface to the Ukrainian edition, which remains his most detailed explanation of his motives for writing the “fairy story”. He was particularly glad to find out from Szewczenko, who published his translation under the pseudonym of Ivan Cherniatynskyi, that his publishers in Munich were the Soviet Ukrainians, who defended the “acquisitions of the October revolution”, but turned against the “counter-revolutionary Bonapartism” of Stalin and the Russian nationalistic exploitation of the Ukrainian people. Orwell was “encouraged to learn that that kind of opposition exists in the USSR” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 73).

Animal Farm Ukrainian

Cover of  the Ukrainian translation. Kolhosp tvaryn: kazka. Translated by ‘Ivan Cherniatynskyi’ with an introduction by George Orwell. ([Munich, 1947?]) 12593.f.40.

The first Ukrainian edition was not very lucky. Orwell informed his friend, writer Arthur Koestler on 20 September 1947 (CWGO, vol. 19, pp. 206-7), that “the American authorities in Munich have seized 1500 copies of it and handed them over to the Soviet repatriation people, but it appears 2000 copies got distributed among the DPs (Displaced Persons) first”. In the same letter Orwell told Koestler that he had given Szewczenko his address and added: “I have been saying ever since 1945 that the DPs were a godsent opportunity for breaking down the wall between Russia and the West”. Shortly before that, in his review of James Burnham’s book The Struggle for the World (London, 1947; 8011.ee.32.), he expressed a similar thought even more directly: “one of the most important problems at this moment is to find a way of speaking to the Russian people over the heads of their rulers” (CWGO, vol. 19, p. 105).

It was precisely the plan to send Animal Farm into the Soviet Union that made Orwell agree to fund the publication of Gleb Struve’s translation into Russian by the DP publisher Possev. Approached by Possev six months before his death, Orwell immediately supported the idea of publishing the translation in a book form (it had already been serialized in the publisher’s weekly magazine of the same name (no. 7-32, 1949) and smuggling it into the USSR, but he still wanted to know for sure who he was dealing with. “I suppose the editors of this paper are bona fide people and also not Whites?” – he asked his recent acquaintance, a German communist Ruth Fischer in a letter of 15 July 1949 (CWGO, vol. 20, p.146). The first part of his question could easily be confirmed, but it was more complicated with the second. As Orwell had feared Possev, unlike the Ukrainian publishers of Animal Farm, were indeed “Whites”. They enjoyed Orwell’s satire of the Soviet regime, but could not stomach him satirising the church and religion and the role they played in society. That is why – as it became known much later, in the 1980s – they censored Orwell and cut out from Animal Farm two paragraphs describing the role of Moses, the tame raven, who tells the animals about “Sugarcandy Mountain, to which all animals went when they died.”

Animal Farm Russian

Title-page of the  Russian translation. Skotskii khutor. ([Frankfurt am Main], 1950). 12654.de.12.

This was of course only the beginning. Eventually Animal Farm was translated into at least 70 languages, including Esperanto, but it is worth stressing that the Slavic languages (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian) were among the first. The French publication appeared later than expected, only in October 1947, because, as Orwell wrote to Koestler in January 1946, “The French publisher, who had signed a contract to translate Animal Farm, has got cold feet and says it is impossible «for political reasons»” (CWGO, vol. 18. p.28) – this no doubt was the result of the 1945 elections in France, when the Communists became the largest party in the French National Assembly. But those whose countries were directly under the Communist rule continued publishing the book abroad – in 1952 Animal Farm came out in Lithuanian and in 1955 in Serbian.

Animal Farm Lithuanian

Cover of the  Lithuanian translation. Gyvulių ūkis. Fantastině apysaka. (London, 1952). X.950/31145

Masha Karp, editor of The Orwell Society Journal and author of a forthcoming  Russian biography of George Orwell

References/Further reading

The Complete Works of George Orwell edited by Peter Davison (London, 2000-2002). Vols. 17 (YC.2001.a.13719), 18 (YC.2001.a.16202), 19 (YC.2002.a.23095) and 20 (YC.2002.a.23177)

Masha Karp. ‘The Raven Vanishes’. The Orwell Society Journal. No. 9, December 2016, pp. 16-19

Ksenya Kiebuzinski. ‘Not Lost in Translation: Orwell’s Animal Farm Among Refugees and Beyond the Iron Curtain’, The Halcyon: Newsletter of the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, no. 59, June 2017.  

15 August 2017

Miracle on the Vistula

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The present British Library exhibition on the Russian Revolution also touches upon the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. The war started over the disputed territory of Ukraine between Soviet Russia and the newly -created independent Polish state (1918), following the Polish-Ukrainian combats. Poland’s independence was threatened by the advance of the Red Army into Europe, the aim of which was to spread the Bolshevik revolution in the West. The military conflict escalated when Józef Piłsudski, Poland’s Chief of State, formed an alliance against Soviet Russia with the Ukrainian leader Symon Petlyura in April 1920. Following the initial successful offensive in Ukraine by their combined forces the Polish troops were pushed back by the Red Army towards Warsaw, the Polish capital. The turning-point of the war was the Battle of Warsaw, which took place on the outskirts of the capital between 12 and 25 August 1920.

Polish-Soviet War poster LF.37.b.277

Polish poster from Soviet-Polish war, reproduced in Rok 1920 : plakaty ze zbiorów Centralnej Biblioteki Wojskowej im. Marszałka Józefa Piłsudskiego. (Warsaw, [ca. 2011]), LF.37.b.277

The Soviets planned to take Warsaw by enveloping the city from the north and south, and attacking it from the northwest. The Polish plan assumed the concentration of the Polish troops on the North and South Fronts to counterattack an anticipated Soviet advance. The forces of the third Central Front were to attack Soviet’s weakest positions. The Soviet intelligence discovered the Polish plan but because of its simplicity they considered it a trick to mislead the Red Army.

However, essential to the success of the Battle of Warsaw was the monitoring of Soviet communications which started as early as September 1919. The Polish Army Cipher Bureau (Biuro Szyfrów) was set up in May 1919 and its first head was Jan Kowalewski, a polyglot and cryptologist. With the help of a group of university mathematicians – Stanisław Leśniewski, Stefan Mazurkiewicz and Wacław Sierpiński – Polish cryptologists broke practically all the Red Army ciphers and codes. During the course of the war they deciphered a few thousand Soviet military messages. This significantly contributed to the victory of the Polish Army as the Poles became aware of gaps in the Soviet lines and the manoeuvres of the Red Army.

Zanim zlamano ZF.9.a.3584
Cover of Grzegorz Nowik, Zanim złamano “Enigmę” -: polski radiowywiad podczas wojny z bolszewicką Rosją 1918-1920 (Warsaw, 2004-2010).  ZF.9.a.3584

In the critical days of the Battle of Warsaw Polish radio-telegraphers blocked Soviet commander Mikhail Tuchachevsky’s orders to his troops by reading Bible excerpts on the same frequency as that used by the Soviet radio station. As a result the commander lost contact with his headquarters and the troops marched north instead of following the order to turn south. The decisive moment of the Battle was the recapture of Radzymin, a small town 23 km from the capital, by the Polish forces on 15 August. It halted the Soviet advance on Warsaw, also boosting Polish morale. After the war the Battle of Warsaw was known as the “Miracle on the Vistula”. As we know now it was no miracle; it was down to the Polish military intelligence.

Miracle on the Vistula painting by Jerzy Kossak
Miracle on the Vistula. Painting by Jerzy Kossak (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The Feast of the Polish Armed Forces is celebrated in Poland annually on 15 August to commemorate the anniversary of the 1920 victory over Soviet Russia at the Battle of Warsaw.

The Battle of Warsaw has been regarded as one of the most decisive battles in world history, since it saved Europe from the spread of communism at the time.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Edgar Vincent, The Eighteenth decisive battle of the world. Warsaw, 1920, (London, 1931).  9100.aaa.20

Adam Zamoyski, Warsaw 1920. Lenin’s failed conquest of Europe. (London, 2008).  YC.2008.a.8810

Grzegorz Nowik, Wojna swiatów 1920: Bitwa Warszawska, (Poznań, 2011).  ZF.2013.a.26243

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

29 June 2017

Dispersed Polish collections abroad

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Due to the country’s turbulent history Polish collections are spread across libraries, archives and research institutes all over the world. The programme called The Registration of Polish Collections Abroad, carried out at the initiative of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in the years 2006-2014, included work on the registration and documentation of Polish material in foreign libraries. To summarise the results of the complex research undertaken by librarians and scholars in various European, American and Australian institutions holding Polish book and manuscript collections, an international conference was organised by Warsaw University and the Ministry in Warsaw on 25-26 May 2017. The papers covered a wide range of issues, from cultural heritage in dissolved monasteries to the looted collections in Germany and Sweden, as well as the Polonica holdings of national libraries such as the Library of Congress, Bibliothèeque nationale de France and the British Library.

Conference Warsaw

The programme for the conference (Designed by Katarzyna Seroka, University of Warsaw)

A significant proportion of Polish material can be found in Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania – once part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Speakers discussed the problems related to the Polish book and manuscript collections scattered in public, academic and monastery libraries and archives. The focus was on the historical perspective of these collections and their use in current research. Many Nazi-looted objects of Poland’s cultural heritage are still in the possession of a few German institutions and are now the subject of provenance research and consequently their restitution. For example, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has so far returned about 10,000 items to their legal owners. In Sweden there are innumerable Polish cultural artefacts, including printed material and manuscripts, which were looted during the Swedish invasion of Poland in the mid-17th century. The Swedish plunder resulted in the worst cultural losses in the entire history of the country. However in the 18th century Poland renounced any claims to its treasures in Sweden, so they cannot now be the subject of restitution negotiations. A separate paper discussed restitution issues in the light of international regulations.

The collection of Józef Ossoliński  founded in Lwów (nowadays Lviv) in the 19th century is a different case. It is an example of private property donated by the collector to the Polish nation and as such is part of the country’s heritage. After the border changes in 1945, only a part of the collection returned to Poland. Since the 1990s it has been the topic of recurring discussions between the Polish and Ukrainian authorities. The German collection of books and manuscripts removed from the Prussian State Library for safe keeping during the Second World War was found in Silesia, the former German territory incorporated into Poland after the war. The collection is considered by the Polish authorities only as a “deposit” against cultural losses inflicted on Poland by Germany.

The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage coordinates the projects with the aim of producing online databases of the dispersed Polish collections – either in digitised form, in the case of printed material, or as a source of information on other cultural objects. These include Polonijna Biblioteka Cyfrowa (‘Poles Abroad Digital Library’)  containing 7,500 titles, and the recently launched portal Polonika  which provides information on objects of cultural heritage abroad.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections

13 March 2017

Polish Noir on the Rise

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This year Poland is the guest of honour at the London Book Fair. Consequently there will be a series of cultural events featuring Polish writers at the Fair and other locations. Within its rich programme the British Library is hosting the Crime Writing from Poland event on Tuesday 14th March with two outstanding writers, Olga Tokarczuk and Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

Crime fiction is one of the most popular and widespread literary genres in Poland. It has recently followed in the footsteps of Nordic Noir and includes some excellent writers whose novels are well received both at home and abroad. They represent all forms of crime writing from period drama through thrillers to modern crime addressing contemporary social issues. In 2003, only four thrillers were published, while ten years later over a hundred crime novels made their way into bookshops.

What makes Polish crime writing distinctive? It is inevitably the excellent use of Poland’s diverse and tumultuous 20th century history as a background, exhaustive research and credible characters – all combine in the attractive form of a crime story. The first recognised crime fiction writer of that generation is Marek Krajewski. He made his name with a retro series of four novels featuring Inspector Eberhard Mock masterfully solving criminal mysteries in pre-war Breslau, a German town, which in 1945 became Wrocław in Poland. Krajewski, a fan of the city, superbly recreated the spirit of Breslau, making it the second character in his series. As early as 2005 Krajewski received a literary reward for his crime novel The End of the World in Breslau (London, 2009; NOV.2010/950). This was the turning point – crime fiction, previously regarded as lowbrow literature, was now accepted as a distinct literary genre.

Polish Noir Krajewski

Cover of Dżuma w Breslau by Marek Krajewski. (Warsaw, 2007). YF.2008.a.704

One of the best-selling authors is Zygmunt Miłoszewski, famous for his trilogy with the phlegmatic Teodor Szacki, State Prosecutor, as the main character. He successfully investigates a murder case in modern Warsaw, Uwikłanie (‘Entanglement’; Warsaw, 2007; YF.2007.a.16937), and he next moves to Sandomierz, a provincial town in south-east Poland, to face the sensitive issue of Polish anti-Semitism Ziarno prawdy (‘A grain of truth’).  Miłoszewski also tackles Polish-German relations in Gniew (‘Rage’; Warsaw, 2014; YF.2015.a.6087), the last in the series, setting the plot in the provincial town of Olsztyn in north-east Poland, formerly a German territory.

Polish Noir Miloszewski
Cover of Ziarno prawdy by Zygmunt Miłoszewski (Warsaw, 2011). YF.2012.a.26350.

A rising star in the genre of crime fiction is Katarzyna Bonda, named the ‘Queen of Crime’ by Miłoszewski. She has so far published four crime novels featuring the Silesian police psychologist Hubert Meyer and the female profiler Sasza Załuska as the main protagonists. Bonda touches upon various social issues in her novels such as alcoholism in women, the trauma caused by the loss of a child, or problems concerning ethnic minorities. Her meticulously- researched books make use of police criminal records and the expert knowledge of consultants. She also wrote a non-fiction book, Polskie morderczynie (‘Polish female murderers’; Warsaw, 2013; YF.2015.a.8534), portraying women sentenced for heinous crimes.

Crime fiction appeals not only to readers but also to writers. Olga Tokarczuk, the most popular Polish author of her generation whose literary output includes over a dozen highly acclaimed books, applied crime conventions in Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych (‘Drive your plough over the bones of the dead’). As in her other novels she mixes mythology with reality to convey important messages about the condition of modern society.

Polish Noir Tokarczuk

Cover of  Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych by Olga Tokarczuk (Kraków, 2009) YF.2010.a.22348.

Crime writing, which explores all facets of human nature together with historical and social issues, is a very interesting and diverse form of Polish modern literature. So it is not surprising that some of the novels were made into films, e.g. Agnieszka Holland’s latest Pokot (Spoor), inspired by Tokarczuk’s book mentioned above. For the same reason a significant number of Polish crime novels have been translated into other languages, including English.

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections