THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

6 posts from May 2020

27 May 2020

Libraries and librarians from Southeast Europe during the pandemic in 2020

The British Library is very fortunate to have 12 library partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia, where colleagues are always prepared to help us obtain material for our users. This is usually hard-to-find material: local, regional, small press or rare books. There’s no enquiry about this European region that our colleagues there have not been able to assist us with, their expertise or information adding value to our services to the public. Today we come together to celebrate our partnership and to share experiences of living and working in the pandemic.

Covers of two volumes of Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik

Rechnik na tsurkovnoslavianskiia ezik (‘The Dictionary of Church Slavonic language’) (Sofia, 2002-2012) ZF.9.b.748.

Sofia University Library “St. Kliment Ohridski” is the biggest research library in Bulgaria. These days are hard for us. We closed in March and when we returned in May we celebrated a special day for Bulgarian librarians, which is also a national holiday. We commemorated the memory of the saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the Cyrillic alphabet, our alphabet.

The cooperation between Sofia University Library and the British Library began in the early 20th century, only 20 years after the establishment of the first Bulgarian university – the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”.

Two series in particular represent our historic cooperation, the Godishnik – Sofiiski universitet (‘Yearbook of Sofia University’; Ac.1137.) and the journal Sapostavitelno ezikoznanie (‘Contrastive Linguistics’; ZA.9.a.3462.). We really appreciate the relationship between our libraries.

Bilyana Yavrukova, Deputy Director of Sofia University Library

 

Two drawings of ships by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia

Drawings by Ivan Variklechkov in Voennomorska istoriia (‘A naval history’) (Varna, 2018) Facsimile edition of Variklechkov’s manuscript. ZF.9.b.2414

The partnership with the British Library, which began in 1961, has played a significant role in the development of our collections.

The National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius” in Sofia has responded swiftly to the COVID-19 challenge by adapting to new realities. The library has introduced a wide range of free online services on its website. Our cultural events are now virtual events and online exhibitions.

The Library hosted a national online forum, “COVID-19: the response of libraries”, with representatives of public libraries and affiliated institutions. We have widely shared experiences of working in a pandemic.

While working in an emergency, the National Library of Bulgaria was temporarily closed to reorganize our activities into teamwork on site and remotely. We used the time to complete the disinfection of the premises, public catalogues and storage areas in the library. We have adapted new areas for our users.

Mihail Valov, Librarian at the National Library “St. Cyril and Methodius”

 

Cover of Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore

Pavle Mijović, Umjetnicko blago Crne Gore (‘Artistic treasure of Montenegro’) (Cetinje, 2018) LF.31.b.14221.

The National Library of Montenegro enjoys international partnerships with some 50 libraries with Slavonic collections. The British Library has been our most valuable partner since the 1970s, when we started supplying several long-running Montenegrin journals in exchange for English books and serials for our ‘Montenegrina’ collection.

Librarians are never bored; virtual collections are just a click away. Exchange is an area with vast possibilities and need not be confined to exchanging surplus titles twice a year.

Librarians are used to working from home. I have been doing that for decades. Time spent in isolation has been precious to me and made me contemplate what can be done to improve the service. Yet I am so happy to be back among ‘tangible’ books after several weeks of working online, gardening and dog-walking. Stay healthy and happy, librarians and library users!

Vesna Vučković, Acquisitions and Exchange Librarian at the National Library of Montenegro

 

Cover of Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung...

Milutin Milanković, Kanon der Erdbestrahlung und seine Anwendung das Eisenten problem (‘Earth radiation canon and its application to the ice age problem’) (Belgrade, 1941). Ac.1131 This very rare book was printed in 500 copies of which a few were saved during the Wehrmacht bombing of Belgrade on 6 April 1941.

The Serbian Academy Library is closed to users, and staff are working from home on reduced hours. The librarians continue to correspond with foreign colleagues during the pandemic. We have evoked some memories from the past.

The Serbian Academy Library has a long-standing cooperation with the British Library and its predecessor, the British Museum Library. Letters from the 1880s have been preserved in which the principal librarian of the British Museum, Edward Bond, thanked the secretary of the Serbian Learned Society for issues of Glasnik (Herald).

After the Second World War, during the period of the systematic exchange of publications between our libraries, one of the first books sent to the British Museum Library in 1949 was the work of the great Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković, which deals with palaeoclimatic problems.

As a result of this partnership, the British Library has full sets of the most important series of the Serbian Academy.

Sanja Stepanović Todorović, Exchange Librarian at the Library of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

 

Cover of Javne biblioteke i demokratija

Vesna Crnogorac, Javne biblioteke i demokratija (‘Public libraries and democracy’) (Belgrade, 2018). YF.2020.a.4038.

The National Library of Serbia cherishes its long-standing cooperation with the British Library for more than 50 years. This cooperation is based on good will, mutual support and understanding.

The National Library of Serbia has always been very grateful for many beautiful and useful titles, which have enriched our collections and provided our users with the opportunity to read English books and research without leaving the country.

In the pandemic our library was forced to close, but our services have been maintained remotely.

Faced with various obstacles and attitudes during the pandemic in relation to their work, the librarians have managed to provide support to their communities. We hope that we will remember only solidarity, commitment to work and to our institutions and readers, and the humour with which we encouraged and supported each other throughout this period.

Dragana Milunović, Deputy Director of the National Library of Serbia, and Magdalena Kostić, Acquisitions Librarian

 

Cover of a facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik

Facsimile edition of Studenicki tipik (‘The Studenica Typikon’) (Studenica Monastery, 2018). Awaiting shelfmark. Acquired for the British Library thanks to The Matica srpska library.

The Matica srpska library in Novi Sad, Serbia is open again after several weeks of closure. Now most of the work is done from home: creating CIP records, answering enquiries, bibliographic and project work, preparing materials for press, editorial work for our annual yearbook, and so on.

For me personally, working from home is quite hard as I have always separated work from home, quite apart from the general anxiety caused by potential infection with the COVID-19 virus. The atmosphere of working in the library is something completely different from the home environment. However, we all try to give our best in these circumstances. Shipments have been suspended, and it is especially hard to be away from the collections.

In Serbia we are used to emergencies but it is fascinating that now practically the whole world is in eager anticipation for life to return to normality. Best regards to all colleagues and readers at the British Library!

Olivera Krivošić, Senior Acquisition and Exchange Librarian

 

1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A 1958 letter from Richard Bancroft, Assistant Keeper for Yugoslav, Ukrainian and Modern Greek collections 1946-1959, to Mirko Rupel, Director of the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

When we received the news that the National and University Library in Ljubljana, Slovenia was closing for two weeks, everyone took something to work on from home. In the end it turned out to be eight weeks working from home.

We never thought about how much work can be done from home, from processing books and editing bibliographic records to processing articles for the Slovenian National Bibliography to translating regulations and making new ones, having meetings, coordinating various projects, making CIP records for the publishers who worked tirelessly, and much more all online.

We really missed our users and they missed us even more, according to the web statistics.

The relationship with the British Library dates back to the time of the British Museum Library, and this continuity can be traced in two letters from 1958 and 1974 held in the National and University Library Archives.

A 1974 letter from Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975, to Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia

A 1974 letter from Jaro Dolar, Director of the National and University Library of Slovenia, to Michael Atkins, Assistant Keeper in charge of the Yugoslav section in the Slavonic and East European Branch, 1960-1975.

We are especially happy that the British Library independently selects books from Slovenia, which reflects expert knowledge and a clear collection profile.

Vali Žagar, Librarian at the National and University Library in Ljubljana

22 May 2020

“City of exiles”: Trieste and its authors

Trieste is a city of writers, and it celebrates them loudly. It was writers who developed the current mythology and image of the city, and it is profoundly grateful to them for creating an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy and regret that draws a certain kind of visitor to the place and fuels an endless series of newspaper articles about an Italian city that is not quite Italian, but which would be much less noticed if it were.

Photograph of the James Joyce statue in Trieste

James Joyce statue in Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton 

At first glance, it seems to be foreign writers who define Trieste. James Joyce is perhaps the most physically obvious, his statue overlooking the Grand Canal and his name emblazoned on the cafes he drank in. But it may be Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, who has contributed most to perceptions of Trieste itself in the Anglophone world. It is Morris for whom the city’s name evokes the word “tristesse” and whose travelogue fuses impressions of the gentle backwater that is modern Trieste with the angry, beleaguered city she first visited in the immediate post-war period, and with the grand, cosmopolitan port of the Habsburgs.

View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste, at night.

Habsburg Trieste. View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton

That foreign writers loom large tallies well with Trieste’s cosmopolitan demeanour: it is, after all, a port, a “city of exiles”, as Morris calls it, and one famously situated at the crossing point between Germanic, Slavic and Romance cultures as well.

Yet when it comes to its own native authors, Trieste long seemed to be under the sway of Italian nationalism. Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba – Italophone writers like these were the most noted literary offspring of the city. It was as if the city’s multiculturalism was more a boast than an integrated element of its own identity, and as it drew exiles from other nations it simultaneously exiled many of its own offspring in either a spiritual or a physical sense.

Trieste – along with Trento – was one of the Austrian cities symbolically most coveted by Italy in the years before the first world war. After its annexation in 1918, it became a living memorial to this fact, complete with museums of irredentism and the inevitable array of squares and street names commemorating dates or individuals important to the Italian state. A policy of suppression was adopted towards the German and Slovene languages.

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015. © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

The best known of the writers who grew up in those years may currently be Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old Triestine Slovene, who is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a concentration camp. Pahor is also undoubtedly the only person alive who can recall the burning of the Slovene National Hall in Trieste in 1920, an event which now seems to mark the beginning of the Fascist period. For his own resistance to fascism, he was sent to internal exile in the city’s grim Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp, and from there to the several death camps he managed to survive. In 1946, Pahor returned to his native city and has remained there for most of his life since, but it is only in the last few years that it has begun to celebrate him as it does its Italian-speaking writers, holding public ceremonies in his honour and flagging his works in bookshops as those of a local author. Pahor is even beginning to be better known in the English-speaking world since appearing in a BBC documentary, though few of his works beside his renowned concentration camp memoir, Nekropola, known in English as Necropolis or Pilgrim among shadows, have yet been translated.

Photograph of Trieste from the karst

Trieste from the karst. Photograph: Janet Ashton

Jan Morris ruminates on the city’s relationship with the karst that surrounds it, characterising that harsh and stony territory where Slovene is the dominant language as a symbol of the “Slavic” wildness threatening the orderly Habsburg city. Even in the later visits she explores in her book, a border lay between town and countryside – not as impermeable as the Iron Curtain borders further east, but a border with troops and a different ideology on the far side nevertheless. But the image she evokes seems to me almost a reverse of the genuine relationship, in which the neat little farm houses and wineries of the karst provide a calm and safe retreat from the traffic noise and the mildly grubby streets below.

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926. From the Digital Library of Slovenia 

Be this as it may, the city and countryside, with their topographical and linguistic contrasts, have always had an intense relationship that lends itself to literary metaphor. Srečko Kosovel, one of Slovenia’s most treasured national poets, was born in nearby Sežana in 1904 and received his cultural education at the doomed Slovene National Hall in Trieste. During the First World War trenches surrounded his home village Tomaj, marking his mental landscape as indelibly as did the natural features of the karst. After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo assigned the whole area to Italy. Kosovel moved to Ljubljana, now part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he could at least speak his own language without repression, yet he soon felt alienated from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia as well. His poetry used the harsh scenery of the karst as a metaphor for his own loneliness and disorientation. His celebrated poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) is often read as a rumination on his need for a specifically Slovenian identity. He was actively associated with the earliest expressions of resistance of fascism, and this too appears in his work.

Kosovel died in 1926 from meningitis at the age of only 22. He has long been honoured in Slovenia, but it took until events marking the 90th anniversary of his death for him to gain much attention in Trieste. In 2019, there was much excitement and pleasure in the Slovene-speaking press when Patti Smith quoted him during her concert there, evoking him alongside Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies are one of the most famous works created there, as an emblem and child of the city.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager 

Further reading:

Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (London, 2010). YC.2001.a.15891

Srečko Kosovel, Stano Kosovel, Boris Pahor, Milko Bambič, Srečko Kosovel v Trstu ([Trieste], 1970) YF.2011.a.3347

Boris Pahor, Nekropola (Ljubljana, 2009) YD.2012.a.4385

Necropolis (Edinburgh, 2020) ELD.DS.496000

Tržaški mozaik: izbor občasnih zapiskov (Ljubljana, 1983) YA.1987.a.2951

Trg Oberdan (Ljubljana, 2006) YF.2007.a.34744

Srečko Kosovel, The golden boat: selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated by Bert Pribac & David Brooks with the assistance of Teja Brooks Pribac (Cambridge, 2008) YC.2010.a.8821

Srečko Kosovel, Pesmi (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2005.a.15513

Ana Jelnikar, Universalist hopes in India and Europe: the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Srečko Kosovel (New Delhi, 2006) YC.2017.a.6504

19 May 2020

Esperanto and Endangered Languages

Esperanto can be described as the language of hope, peace, and solidarity as Professor Renato Corsetti, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto has discussed in his previous posts for the European Studies blog. Hope remains the governing principle, as the name of the language attests (espero in Esperanto).

Driven by hope for enhancing linguistic diversity, dedicated Esperantists have been translating minority language literatures into Esperanto, ranging from local stories to epic poems.

Local stories of the Pyrenees are featured in Christian Lavarenne’s translations from Occitan: Kvar mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneoj and Mirindaj rakontoj el la Pireneo (Balagué, 1998; YF.2019.a.18502 and YF.2019.a.18517).

Portrait of Federic Mistral

Portrait of Federic Mistral from La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988) YF.2011.a.10850. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The gem of classic Provençal literature, Mirèio by Federic Mistral was translated into Esperanto (Mirejo) by Paul Champion and Eugène Noël in 1909. At the time Mistral was still active and Esperanto was still a new language.

Mistral’s other masterpiece, the pensive Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants (Paris 1897; 11498.b.64.), translated into Esperanto as La poemo de Rodano (Laroque Timbaut, 1988; YF.2011.a.10850) by Rajmundo Laval or Valo has a particular resonance for us now as it tells the story of the end of an era.

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of Le Poème du Rhône en XII. Chants 

Cover of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

Cover of La poemo de Rodano. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

While the title implies the poem is about the river Rhône, it is actually about the river’s people, the bargemen, the Coundriéulen (Provençal), Condrillots (French). Fitting to a monumental opus, the bargemen are portrayed in the opening stanza as giants who can only be described by the beauty and strength of their natural environment, the river, the sun and the trees:

From Lyons at the blush of early dawn
The bargemen, masters of the Rhône, depart,
A robust band and brave, the Condrillots.
Upright upon their crafts of planks of fir,
The tan of sun and glint from glassy wave
Their visages have bronzed as with gold.
And in that day colossuses they were,
Big, corpulent, and strong as living oaks,
And moving beams about as we would straws.

Translation: K. Katzner

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône

First stanza of the Esperanto translation of Le Poème du Rhône. Image courtesy of the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, Vienna. A digitised copy is also available.

The beginning, however, foreshadows the end: the strength of these natural giants succumbs to a new era’s unnatural giants, the steamboats of industrialisation. It is a tragic story not only of the lovers on board but also for lovers of the past. Although the bargemen lose their barge, hauling horses and people on board, they keep their dignity. After an epic journey, literally and metaphorically, we can see them on the shore, saying not a word about their loss, but moving forward. A digitised copy of the original Provençal and French text is available via Project Gutenberg.

Bargemen on the river Rhône

Bargemen on the river Rhône. From Joannès Drevet, Aux Environs de Lyon: préface de M. Coste-Labaume. Édition illustrée de 250 dessins de J. Drevet, etc. (Lyon, 1892.) 10172.g.9. 

Mistral was more than a storyteller. His ambition was to revitalise Provençal, the language of southern France, particularly Provence. With his magnificent poetry Mistral connected the rough 19th-century bargemen and the better-known refined Provençal singers, the troubadours of the 12th and 14th centuries, and expressed his hope that the language would thrive, whoever its speakers came to be.

Illustration of Troubadours

The Troubadours of the 12th-14th centuries were the best-known Provençal singers. Image from J.B.M. Challamel, La France et les Français à travers les siècles (Paris, 1882.) 9226.m.1.

Today the surviving variants of Occitan and Provençal are designated as ‘definitely’ and ‘severely’ endangered languages according to UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

Map of Occitan dialects speaking regions

Map of Provençal dialects speaking regions

Maps of Occitan (above) and Provençal (below) dialects speaking regions (yellow: definitely endangered; orange: severely endangered) UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger 2010 © UNESCO

Inter-generational transmission is the most prominent of the nine factors considered in the designation.

Definitely endangered means ‘children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home’.

Severely endangered refers to a language which is ‘spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves’.

Keeping a language alive can take many forms, even in translation. For example, Jomo (Jean-Marc Leclerq), a French Esperantist promotes Occitan in songs.

The British Library’s Esperanto collection contains works translated from over 50 languages, including some in anthologies. The most translated languages, not surprisingly, are the larger ones: English, Russian, French, German and Polish, followed by Chinese, Czech, Hungarian, Italian, Dutch and Spanish, Swedish, Japanese, Bulgarian, Portuguese, Croatian, Serbian, Danish, and Romanian. The list is indicative of the languages spoken by the most active Esperantists. However, within the collection a special corpus is dedicated to translations of minority language literatures including Occitan, Provencal, Basque, Walloon, and Welsh. 

In addition to books, Esperanto journals, most importantly Literatura Mondo (1922-1949; ZF.9.b.266), La Nica Literatura Revuo (1955-1962; ZF.9.a.7040) and Beletra Almanako (2007- ; ZF.9.a.7847) have also regularly published translations, both poetry and prose, from various languages.

Etnismo, an international organisation with an online newsletter, connects Esperantists who are interested in minority issues including minority languages.

Translators of minority and endangered language literatures into Esperanto often publish dictionaries as well. These are either embedded in the translated book as addendum or constitute stand-alone titles, for example: Basque-Esperanto dictionary (Bilbao, 2015; YF.2016.a.2481), and Catalan-Esperanto dictionary (Barcelona, 2014; YF.2015.a.22072).

So, why is it important to translate endangered language literature into Esperanto? By raising awareness of endangered languages and making their literature accessible to a larger readership through translations, Esperantists promote linguistic diversity. As Professor Renato Corsetti explains: ‘Esperantists think that all languages, large and small, are equally valuable, and Esperanto wants to contribute to the revitalization of all languages.’

Andrea Deri, Cataloguer

With contributions from:

Olga Kerziouk, former Curator, British Library Esperanto Collections

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, Former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto

Acknowledgement

We would like to thank Professor Corsetti for his generous assistance in acquiring images from La poemo del Rodano from the Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library, and Candide Simard and Phil Hatfield for their helpful suggestions.

Further reading:

Moseley, Christopher (ed.), Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. (Paris, 2010).

Reinhard Haupenthal, La unuaj libroj de Schleyer (1880) kaj de Zamenhof (1887): pri la lanĉo de du plan-lingvoj (Schliengen, 2000) YF.2008.a.12642

15 May 2020

Fairytales across borders

As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has launched a fairytale-inspired campaign called #LoveOverVirus. Members of the theatre company, as well as a number of famous figures including Stephen Fry and Juliet Stevenson, are reading extracts from their favourite fairytales and short stories every evening at 6pm until the end of May. In addition, BFT has opened up its archive to stream 24 productions between April and June. Each show can be accessed for 24 hours and English subtitles are available for performances in Russian and Belarusian. The theatre company is banned in Belarus; its co-founding artistic directors, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, came to the UK as political refugees in 2010, and rehearse its underground performances in Minsk via Skype.

Stephen Fry’s contribution to the Love Over Virus project is a reading of The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde. First published in 1888, the tale is part of Wilde’s collection of short stories for children and adults, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (a free digitised copy is available to download from Project Gutenburg). Influenced by traditional fairytales, the seemingly whimsical stories offer an astute social commentary on Victorian society, depicting poverty, suffering and cruelty, but also love, kindness and sacrifice.

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the swallow and Egyptian pyramids

Cover of Shchasʹlivy Prynts (The Happy Prince) translated by L. Khvalʹko (Watenstadt, 1947) 12256.dd.8.

The title-story from the collection, The Happy Prince, similarly aimed to bring solace to children and adults when it was translated into Belarusian as part of Displaced Persons (DP) camp publishing activities in 1947. At the end of the Second World War, approximately 11 million people had been displaced from their home countries, with seven million in Allied-occupied Germany. They included concentration camp survivors, and former forced labourers and prisoners of war. DP camps were set up in Western Germany, Austria and Italy, and largely organised by nationality.

Double page from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with a drawing of the statue of the Happy Prince

Final pages from Shchasʹlivy Prynts with drawings of an angel and the swallow

Pages from Shchasʹ livy Prynts with illustrations

During the German occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944, approximately 380,000 Belarusians were deported to Germany as labourers. Thousands more subsequently fled the returning Soviet regime in 1944 (Silitski and Zaprudnik, pp. 135–136). Following the end of the war, Belarusian refugees lived in DP camps throughout Western Germany before they were resettled.

This translation of The Happy Prince (Shchasʹ livy Prynts in Belarusian) was reproduced from a typewritten copy and translated from the English by L. Khvalʹko. The text is accompanied by simple yet powerful pen and ink illustrations throughout. It was published in a camp in Watenstedt in the British zone (now incorporated into the city of Salzgitter) in Lower Saxony, Germany, by the Belarusian Relief Committee (Belaruski dapamahovy Kamitėt).

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946

Photograph of a series of buildings at the A1 Heerte displaced persons camp in the Salzgitter region of Germany, 1946. Museums Victoria Collections [Accessed 11 May 2020]

Salzgitter had been the site of Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned iron and steel complex that used slave labour during the war. Prisoners were housed in concentration camps in the area. After the war, DP camps were established for the some 37,000 (mostly Polish) displaced persons in the city (Neumann, p. 28). Many DP camps were set up on the sites of former German concentration camps and conditions were extremely difficult. Nevertheless, political, educational, religious and cultural activities, including publishing, flourished.

The British Library holds a handful of other Belarusian publications produced in Watenstedt between 1946 and 1948. These include a collection of poems by Maksim Bahdanovich, considered to be one of the founders of modern Belarusian literature (011586.pp.27.); a religious book ‘for the Belarusian family and school’ (4385.c.13.); and copies of the periodical Shliakham zhytsʹtsia (P.P.7615.yh.). To find more items published in Watenstedt, search by place of publication in our online catalogue in Cyrillic and using transliteration. The Library also has a growing collection of other DP camp publications in Belarusian and a number of other languages, including Russian, Yiddish, Latvian, Ukrainian and Polish.

Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

Further reading and references:

Jan-Hinnerk Antons, “Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 92–114

Marc Buggeln, Slave Labour in Nazi Concentration Camps, translated by Paul Cohen (Oxford, 2014). YC.2016.a.2083

Klaus Neumann, Shifting Memories: the Nazi past in the new Germany (Ann Arbor, 2000). YC.2001.a.17690

Vitali Silitski and Jan Zaprudnik, The A to Z of Belarus (Lanham, MD., 2010).

https://www.yadvashem.org/articles/general/displaced-persons-camps.html

https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/holocaust-refugees-displaced-persons-immediate-post-war-years/

12 May 2020

General Władysław Anders – A soldier, politician and patron of culture

Born in 1892 in the Russian partition of Poland, to parents of Baltic-German origin, Władysław Anders completed his secondary education in Warsaw and studied civil engineering at Riga Technical University. After graduating, he joined the Russian Army and served as an officer during the First World War. For his outstanding service in the war, he received Russian military decorations, including the Cross of St. George.

Photograph of Władysław Anders taken pre-1939

Photograph of Władysław Anders taken pre-1939. Author unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

After the war, in a newly-independent Poland, Anders continued his military career and rose through the ranks to become a general in 1934. At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, he initially fought against the Germans and then against the Red Army after its invasion of Poland on 17 September. He was taken prisoner by the Soviet forces and was subsequently transferred to the notorious Lubyanka prison in Moscow. Released as a result of the Polish-Soviet agreement signed in July 1941, Anders played the key role in forming a Polish army in the USSR from thousands of former Polish prisoners-of-war held in Soviet camps. Following the evacuation of the Polish troops to the Middle East in 1942, he created the Polish Second Corps, which was an amalgamation of his army with Polish units fighting alongside the Allies in all theatres of war. The Polish Corps passed under British command and fought with valour and distinction in the Italian Campaign in 1944-1945. It culminated in the capture of Monte Cassino in May 1944, considered one of the most heroic military achievements in Polish history.

Official mug shot of Anders made by the Soviet NKVD

Official mug shot made by the Soviet NKVD after Anders's arrest in 1940. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Polish forces were evacuated from Italy to Great Britain in 1946. This followed the Western Allies’ recognition in July 1945 of a government installed by Stalin in Warsaw a year earlier. The fate of Poland was sealed at the Yalta Conference in February that year. Anders never agreed to the post-war division of Europe with Poland being a satellite country of the Soviet Union. Seen by the communist government as an enemy of the State he was deprived of his Polish citizenship as early as in 1946.

Anders was a charismatic commander and a remarkable politician and above all a broad-minded man. The establishment of an education system and cultural programme for young soldiers and civilians (also rescued from Soviet gulags) would not have been possible without his support. Schools of all levels and varying specifications sprang up around the army camps. On his order, books and textbooks were published in places such as Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv or Baghdad to facilitate his educational programme. The task was carried out with the help of professionals as the Army took under its wing intellectuals, university students, academics and even scientists. General Anders appointed distinguished figures to the chief offices in the education and culture departments of the Army. Józef Czapski, Jerzy Giedroyc and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński, just to name a few, had played a crucial role in the Polish intellectual life during wartime.

Cover of the 1959 edition of Anders's memoir, Bez ostatniego rozdziału

Cover of the 1959 edition of Anders's memoir, Bez ostatniego rozdziału (London; 8840.g.20.)

In the post-war period the General and his demobilised soldiers were challenged with rebuilding their civilian lives in exile. He became the unquestioned leader of the Polish émigré community in the UK, continuing his political struggle for a free Poland and his engagement in cultural activities until his last days. Anders was either the chairman or patron of numerous organisations and institutions such as the National Council of the Polish Educational Society Abroad, The Polish Scouting Association or the Polish Cultural Foundation.

Anders published his war memoirs, Bez ostatniego rozdziału in 1949 (9102.aa.19) followed in the same year by an English translation An Army in Exile (09101.cc.4).

General Władysław Anders died in London on 12 May 1970, the 26th anniversary of his Army’s first assault on Monte Cassino. At his request he was buried alongside his soldiers in the Polish Cemetery there.

Magda Szkuta, Curator East European Collections 

Further reading:

Harvey Sarner, General Anders and the soldiers of the Second Polish Corps (Cathedral City, 1997) 99/12883

Joanna Pyłat, Jan Ciechanowski, Andrzej Suchcitz, General Władysław Anders: soldier and leader of the free Poles in exile (London, 2007) YK.2009.a.26355

Evan McGilvray, Ander’s army: General Wladyslaw Anders and the Polish Second Corps 1941-46 (Barnsley, 2018) YC.2018.a.16865

04 May 2020

Alfons Mucha and his Art Nouveau books

There is nothing more frustrating than being constantly told how successful you are, while deep inside you feel that you’ve never fulfilled your potential. At least, that’s how Alfons Mucha felt about himself.

Having been rejected by the Prague Academy of Arts (with the well-meant advice that he should look for a different career), Mucha persisted in his wish to become an artist. His resilience paid off: after his first poster of Sarah Bernhardt’s theatre performance was hung all over Paris, he became famous overnight. New commissions came in profusion, and brought a considerable income to Mucha, who spent his time designing beer, biscuit and cigarette adverts, theatre posters, and book and magazine illustrations.

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha featuring a woman drinking beer

Beer advert by Alfons Mucha. Wikimedia Commons 

He worked constantly. When the Parisian publisher Henri Piazza commissioned Robert de Flers to write L’Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli for Sarah Bernhardt, Mucha had only three months to prepare 134 illustrations before the date set for printing. He had to work on four lithographs at a time in order to meet the deadline. The edition turned out to be a great success and was subsequently reprinted in Czech and German.

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská by Robert de Flers (Prague, 1901) Cup.410.c.305. Wikimedia Commons 

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská with Art Nouveau illustrations by Alfons Mucha

A page from Ilséa, princezna tripolisská

But while Mucha managed to achieve financial success and become a well-known figure within Art Nouveau, he felt that he was wasting his talent on trifling jobs carried out in a style for which he did not have much respect: “(…) I am crushed almost to blood by the cogwheels of this life, by this torrent which has got hold of me, robbing me of my time and forcing me to do things that are so alien to those I dream about.”

While his professional life revolved around commercial advertising, Mucha turned to mysticism. He joined the Parisian Masonic Lodge, became involved in conducting séances, and, just as he did in his personal life, he longed to devote himself to a spiritual task in his work. In 1899 Mucha embarked on a project that he considered worthy of him: being a devout Catholic, he set out to publish his own edition of the Lord’s Prayer, Otčenáš, in which every line of text was accompanied by a whole-page illustration and Mucha’s commentary. In Mucha’s edition, God is presented as a protective, maternal force and the whole work abounded in Masonic and cabalistic symbols. By rendering the content of each line of the prayer in the form of an image, he aimed to present humanity’s struggle to achieve a higher spiritual state.

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Lead us not into temptation” from Otčenáš (Prague, 1902) Cup.410.g.427. Wikimedia Commons 

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš

Illustration to “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” from Otčenáš Wikimedia Commons 

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Page with “Hallowed be thy name” verse from Otčenáš

Mucha issued the book in only 510 copies and expressed a wish for it never to be published again. As he saw Otčenáš as his greatest printed masterpiece and an embodiment of his religious credo, he did not want it to become yet another mass-produced commercial enterprise.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections 

References:

Jiří Mucha, Alphonse Maria Mucha: His Life and Art (New York, 1989) f89/0298

“Alphonse Mucha and Ilsee, Princess of Tripoli”, available at https://davidbarnettgallery.com/experience-the-story-of-ilsee-princess-of-tripoli

Peter Davison, “Alphonse Mucha: Art, Music And Spirituality”, available at: https://corymbus.co.uk/alphonse-mucha-art-music-and-spirituality/

http://www.muchafoundation.org/