Ficowski, Jerzy

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Nationality: Polish. Born: Warsaw, 4 September 1924. Education: Studied sociology and philosophy at the University of Warsaw, 1946-50. Military Service: Polish underground Home Army during World War II; fought in the Warsaw Uprising, 1944; imprisoned, 1944-45. Family: Married 1) Wanda Komala in 1951 (divorced), two daughters; 2) married Elzbieta Bussold in 1968, one daughter. Career: Traveled with Gypsy caravans, 1948-50; worked with Mazowsze (Polish national song and dance ensemble), 1951. Awards: Polish PEN Club award, 1977, for translation work; Poets' and Painters' Press award (London), 1981; Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation award (New York), 1984; K. Tzetnik award in Holocaust literature (Jerusalem), 1986; Jan Karski award, YIVO Institute, 1994; Sejny Borderlands award, 1999. Member: Stowarzyszenie Pisarzy Polskich (Polish Writers' Association).



Olowiana zolnierze [Tin Soldiers]. 1948.

Zwierzenia. 1952.

Popolsku. 1955.

Wiersze wybrane (selections). 1956.

Moje strony świata [My Parts of the World]. 1957.

Makowskie bajki, with Tadeusza Makowskiego. 1959.

Amulety i definicje [Amulets and Definitions]. 1960.

Pismo obrazkowe. 1962.

Maciupinka. 1968.

Ptak poza ptakiem. 1968.

Wiersze niektóre [Some Poems]. 1971.

Odczytanie popiołów. 1979; as A Reading of Ashes: Poems, 1981.

Smierc jednorozca [Death of a Unicorn]. 1981.

Errata: wiersze. 1981.

Gryps i Errata [A Coded Message and an Erratum]. 1982.

Poezje wybrane (selections). 1982.

Wskazówki dla poczatkujacych zegarów: Wybór poezji 1945-1985 (selections). 1993.

Inicjal. 1994.

Short Stories

Czekanie na sen psa [Waiting for the Dog to Fall Asleep].1970.


Cyganie polscy. 1953; as Cyganie na polskich drogach, 1965; as The Gypsies in Poland: History and Customs, 1989.

Wspominki starowarszawskie: Karty z raptularza. 1959.

Galazka z drzewa slonca (folklore). 1961; selections translated as Sisters of the Bird and Other Gypsy Tales, 1976.

Denerwujek (poetry for children). 1961.

Kolorowy kalendarzyk (poetry for children). 1964.

Regiony wielkiej herezji; Szkice o zyciu i twórczosci Brunona Schulza. 1967.

Maciupinka (poetry for children). 1968.

Tecza na niedziele (for children). 1971.

Demony cudzego strachu: Wspominki cyganskie. 1986.

Okolice sklepów cynamonowych: szkice, przyczynki, impresje (on Bruno Schulz). 1986.

Wisla wpadla do Baltyku (for children). 1987.

List do Marc Chagalla. 1988.

Cyganie w Polsce: Dzieje i obyczaje. 1989.

Pod berlem krola pikowego: Sekrety cyga 'nskich wrozb. 1990.

Witold Wojtkiewicz (biography). 1996.

Bajedy z augustowskich lasów. 1998.

Wszystko to czego nie wiem. 1999.

Editor, Druga jesien. 1973.

Editor, Bruno Schulz, Ksiega listów (correspondence). 1975.

Editor, Bruno Schulz, Listy, fragmenty: Wspomnienia o pisarzu (correspondence). 1984.

Editor, Xiega balwochwalcza, by Bruno Schulz. 1988; as The Book of Idolatry, 1988.

Editor, Letters and Drawings of Bruno Schulz. 1990.

Editor, Bruno Schulz: Ilustracje do wlasnych utworów. 1992.

Editor, Republika marzen: Utwory rozproszone, opowiadania, fragmenty, eseje, rysunki. 1993.

Editor, Z listów odnalezionych (correspondence). 1993.

Editor, The Collected Works of Bruno Schulz. 1998.

Translator, Piesn o zamordowanym zydowskim narodzie [Song of the Murdered Jewish Nation], by Yitzhak Katzenelson. 1983.

Translator, Piesni (Papušakre gila); wiersze w jezyku cyganskim, by Papusza. 1956.

Translator, Piesni mówione, by Papusza. 1973.

Translator, Lesie, ojcze mój, by Papusza. 1990.


Critical Study:

"Jerzy Ficowski's Notes from Prison" by J. Frank Corliss Jr. and Grazyna Sandel, in Cross Currents, 3, 1984, pp. 245-58.

* * *

In the work of Jerzy Ficowski the issue of the Holocaust belongs to a larger whole. The unsubmissive writer, whose writing used to be forbidden by official censorship, speaks up about the injustice suffered by the representatives of national minorities and also tries to preserve the heritage of the multicultural Second Republic of Poland (1918-39). He voices his determined protest against extermination as well as against all forms of persecutions and of destroying human dignity. The inconceivable crimes committed during World War II led to the collapse of the order of the world in which various ethnic communities used to coexist in harmony. The ghastly heritage of intolerance also loomed over the postwar reality. In Ficowski's writing the same fundamental objection also concerns the oblivion to the fate of the Jews, Ukrainians, and Gypsies. In moral terms those crimes have not been paid for sufficiently. In one case history is the source of threat. On the one hand, in a series of drastic images, Ficowski uncovers the truth about the twentieth-century history, but on the other he embarks on a search for a poetic Arcadia.

Ficowski focuses on the Holocaust issue both in his poetry and in prose. Particularly worth noticing are his two short stories "Osada przejezdna" ("A Settlement on the Way") and "Że głupi i że Abraham" ("Not Only Stupid, But Also an Abraham") from the volume entitled Czekanie na sen psa (Waiting for the Dog to Fall Asleep ). In the former the narrator speaks of a village appearing in a glimpse in which the dead (victims of extermination) spend their vacations. The topography of that place is precarious and the status of that ephemeral world is unclear. The phantasms connected with the childhood memories appear in a dream aura. The construction of time and space, as well as the language of metaphors and discursive comments, makes it possible to juxtapose that eminent short story with Bruno Schultz's prose. In "Not Only Stupid, But Also an Abraham" the mad protagonist enthusiastically welcomes the deportation of the Jews to the execution place that he perceives as a journey to the Promised Land. In the face of the crime that achieves unification through death the categories of wisdom and stupidity are no longer valid. This work also constitutes a penetrating study of fear and uncertainty.

In Ficowski's volume entitled Odczytanie popiołów (1979; A Reading of Ashes ) the poem "List do Marc Chagalla" ("A Letter to Marc Chagall") has a prominent place. It has been translated into many languages. It was written in the years 1950-56. Published in the Po prostu weekly, it was also reprinted in two other collections—Moje strony świata (1957; My Parts of the World ) and Wiersze niektóre (1971; Some Poems ). It also had two special bibliophile editions—in French and in Polish—illustrated by Chagall himself. The French painter and Polish poet exchanged some letters in connection with the poem. In "A Letter to Marc Chagall" Ficowski includes some excerpts from a book by Maria Hochberg-Mariańska and Noe Grüss, Dzieci oskarżają (1947; The Children Accuse ). In the introduction he writes: "No word of poetry is capable of matching the shocking power of children's statements."

A splendid sequel to A Reading of Ashes is the series of poems in the collection Gryps i Errata (A Coded Message and an Erratum )—poems from the years 1968-80, published in 1982. The dialogue with the dead is particularly worth noticing. The erratum is nothing else but the correction of the state of consciousness. Ficowski touches upon the issue of the painful memory—the posthumous scream of the dead comes to us from the pages covered with writing (the poem entitled "Archiwum Ringelbluma [Oneg Szabat]," or "Ringelblum Archive [Oneg Shabath]"). Bitter irony points to a relationship between the practice of covering people's corpses with newspapers and a contemporary newspaper whose purpose is to cover "the truth lying on its back" ("Z prasoznawstwa" ["Of the Press Studies"]). The disappearance of the traces of the Jews in small Polish towns is paralleled by the erosion of hope ("Kolejka" ["A Line"]). The psychical comfort of the deliberate ignorance of the Holocaust is decidedly condemned ("Tomasze" ["Thomases"]). The events connected with the forced exodus of the meritorious people of Jewish descent from the People's Republic of Poland are the subject matter of the poem entitled "Dworzec Gdański 1968" ("Gdański Railway Station 1968").

—Wojciech Ligęza

See the essay on A Reading of Ashes: Poems.

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Ficowski, Jerzy

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