Jerzy Andrzejewski: Life and Times

By Tighe, Carl | Journal of European Studies, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Jerzy Andrzejewski: Life and Times

Tighe, Carl, Journal of European Studies

Jerzy Andrzejewski is probably Poland's best known modern novelist. His lifetime and professional career spanned the entire postwar 'communist' period and virtually the whole Polish experience of the twentieth century: partition, independence, abbreviated democratic rule, military government, Nazi occupation, 'communism', opposition, Solidarnosc, martial law: only the collapse of 'communism' and the start of the new democracy are missing. His life, his novel Popiol i diament (Ashes and Diamonds, 1948) and his trajectory as a Polish intellectual are important on a number of levels and essential to any attempt to understand the massive cultural, political, economic and intellectual changes that have taken place in eastern Europe since 1945. In 1993 the tenth anniversary of his death passed unnoticed outside Poland: in Poland what little comment there was proved guarded and cautious. Not everybody loved his writing, and many felt that the path he had chosen in the immediate pre-war years set him apart from what has become acceptable since 1989. As with most writers from east-central Europe, their professional career cannot be separated from their personal biography, and from the political activities of the creative intelligentsia, and in order to understand something of the importance of his literary works it is necessary to see him not only as a powerful and original writer, but as an active and influential political figure in a very particular and difficult climate.

Andrzejewski was born in Warsaw on 19 August 1909 and died there on 19 April 1983. He had been a student of the Jan Zamoyski Gymnazjum, and later of Polish Philology at Warsaw University in the years 1927-30. He was also associated with small and frequently unpleasant right-wing Catholic-nationalist magazines. He made his literary debut with a story called 'Klamstwa' (Lying) in the right-wing anti-Semitic Warsaw daily ABC, for which, though he was no anti-Semite, he worked as a theatre and book critic. However, he was particularly associated with the right-wing, pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic weekly paper Prosto Z Mostu (Straight Out), which was edited by Piasecki, leader of the ONR-Falangist Party.(1) Andrzejewski's literary career really began when ABC collected his short stories in a volume called Drogi Nieuniknione (Unavoidable Roads, 1936). Two years later his novel Lad Serca (Mode of the Heart, 1938), which had appeared as a magazine serial, was taken up and published to wide acclaim. The novel set an impressive moral conflict against a solemn and rather grand night-time backdrop. The central character of the novel was a priest and the 'action' was his late-night conversation with a murderer. Almost inevitably Andrzejewski was labelled a Conradian moralist, a conservative and a 'Catholic Writer', which, as Milosz has said, in Catholic Poland is no small thing. Andrzejewski's period as a 'religious Catholic' was short but very intense, but the novel established him as a writer of considerable talent. In 1939, among other awards, Andrzejewski received the Polish Academy of Literature's Young Writers' Prize, and by public poll was also awarded the Wiadomosci Literackie Readers' Prize. However, the war disturbed what was clearly a promising literary career. During the German occupation Andrzejewski became a member of the AK, ran a small underground magazine and was widely regarded as a moral authority in the unwritten patriotic code of relations with Germans and the conduct of the underground. Andrzejewski became an important part of the culture of conspiracy.

Andrzejewski threw himself into the reconstruction of post-war Poland. In the years 1946-7 he worked in Krakow and was elected president of the Krakow ZZLP.(2) His first post-war book appeared under conditions that were absolutely different from anything that Andrzejewski and millions of other Poles could have predicted in 1938. Noc (Night, 1946), a series of short stories written during the war, was not particularly adventurous in terms of style or political content and told simply and effectively of the horrors of the Occupation. …

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