Wojdowski, Bogdan 1930-1994
WOJDOWSKI, Bogdan 1930-1994
PERSONAL: Born November 16, 1930, in Warsaw, Poland; committed suicide, 1994. Education: Clandestine secondary school in Warsaw during Nazi occupation; Secondary Agricultural School, Lubartów; Electromechanical School in Lublin and school in Karpacz; completed secondary school at Warsaw University, 1954.
CAREER: Novelist and essayist. Reporter, Wieś weekly, 1951-54; reporter, columnist, and literary critic for Przegląd Kulturalny weekly, 1954-56; primary school teacher in Olsztyn, 1957-58; staff writer and head of theater and film section, Wspólczesność biweekly, Warsaw, 1960-65.
MEMBER: Polish Writers Union (ZLP).
AWARDS, HONORS: Kościelski Foundation prize, Geneva, 1964.
Chleb rzucony umarlym, Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1978, translation by Madeline G. Levine published as Bread for the Departed, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1997).
Siedem opowiadań, (Title means "Seven Stories") Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1978.
Wybor opowiadan, Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy (Warsaw, Poland), 1981.
Konotop, Czytelnik (Warsaw, Poland), 1982.
Tamta strona, Dolnoslaskie (Wroclaw, Poland: Wydawn), 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Bogdan Wojdowski, a Polish novelist with a background in journalism and teaching, wrote several books in his native language, publishing his first literary work in 1956. He is known to English-speaking readers for his fictional memoir of life in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, Chleb rzucony umarlym, published in the United States in 1997 as "Bread for the Departed." The bread for which ghetto inhabitants fight daily is the central metaphor. Wojdowski, himself a ghetto survivor, writes a chilling story of how Jews fought for survival there, mostly to no avail. Some critics believe the horrendous ghetto life contributed to Wojdowski's 1994 suicide.
What a Kirkus Reviews writer called "this shapeless yet powerful documentary novel" begins when the ghetto is established in 1940 and ends when nearly the entire population of 350,000 is shipped to the Treblinka death camp in 1942. The book is written in ungrammatical Polish (in translation), probably taken directly from the Yiddish that ghetto residents spoke. Abraham Brumberg, in the New York Times Book Review, noted Wojdowski's "absence of moral judgment" in his matter-of-fact accounts. In what Brumberg calls Wojdowski's "[playwright Bertolt] Brechtian" mode, many of the young characters have names linking them with a characteristic: Egg Yolk, Five-Fingers Mundek and Chaim the Orphan, for example. Haunting images pervade the novel—a teenager snatching bread from an elderly woman who waited for it all day, children digging up the dead to retrieve gold from their dental work and starving people slicing up a dead horse or finding lice in their watery soup.
As the story ended, the Jews are rounded up and taken to a deportation point. Brumberg wrote, "There is talk about resistance, about acquiring weapons, about reaching the woods near Warsaw and joining partisan groups. Yet true to reality, and true to the spirit of the book, the deportation goes on." Many try to escape, but even their Jewish guards can't avoid the death camp. The German troops discover the young protagonist David and others, sending them to their doom.
Brumberg wrote that Wojdowski won only second prize in a Polish national literary contest when the book first appeared in Polish in 1971, citing its uncompromising portrayal of rampant anti-Semitism. According to Brumberg, Wojdowski paints some characters positively, such as David and his parents, and Dr. Obuchowski, who continues treating those he knew would die. Yet he "depicts his characters' behavior with the detachment of a surgeon performing a disagreeable operation." The Kirkus Reviews writer found the novel "deeply flawed" but nevertheless impressed by its "raw, emotional impressionistic scenes." Molly Abramowitz in Library Journal said the descriptions in the book were "excruciating," but that they "[add] immeasurably to the canon of Holocaust literature."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Juliusz Stroynowski, editor, Who's Who in the Socialist Countries of Europe, K.G Saur Publishing, Munich, Germany, 1989.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997, p. 1670.
Library Journal, December, 1997, p. 157.
New York Times Book Review, September 20, 1998, p. 36.*