Nationality: Polish. Career: Poet and songwriter; wrote and read for Sztuka Café, a social club in the Warsaw Ghetto; contributor to various periodicals, including Szpilki, Przegląd Polski, and Żywy Dziennik.Died: Killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1943.
Co czytalem umarlym [What I Read to the Dead]. 1977.* * *
Wladyslaw Szlengel spoke in two kinds of verse—in satire and in lyrical poetry. He commenced his literary career by creating occasional texts to serve the needs of various stage shows as well as verse and satirical prose that was published in the periodical Szpilki (Pins). During the same period, before the outbreak of World War II, some of his pieces were also published in Przegląd Polski (Polish Review). In works such as "Nie kupujcie nowych kalendarzy" ("Don't Buy New Calendars") and "Przerazone pokolenie" ("The Fearful Generation") the poet focused on the approaching catastrophe and attempted to examine the threats looming over the Jewish community in Poland. Szlengel was a singer as well as a poet, and he appeared in the shows of the Sztuka Café and published the texts from these performances in Żywy Dziennik (Living Daily). Jokes and satire served as a form of collective therapy in the Warsaw Ghetto, for they integrated the community and allowed it to be prepared for the hour of doom. A series of humorous poems dedicated to the fictitious character Majer Mlinczyk enjoyed great popularity. The majority of Szlengel's satirical works, however, did not survive the war. Szlengel shared the fate of other Jewish writers who were murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto, including Franciszka Arnsztajnowa, Gustawa Jarocka, Henryka Lazowertówna, and Janusz Korczak . Szlengel was killed in the April uprising of 1943. His testimony of the resistance of the ghetto has the unique quality of a literary document.
Some of Szlengel's literary output was collected in the volume entitled Co czytalem umarlym ("What I Read to the Dead"), published in 1977. His lyrical writing in this volume is closely connected to his autobiography. The poet becomes a spokesman for the Jewish community condemned to death and a witness to the extermination of Jews. This experience opens up new ways of expression and contributes to the shaping of the poet as a witness. The deep force of Szlengel's poems is based on their authentic quality. The poet does not refrain from describing the most extreme details; it is as if the truth of the inconceivable suffering of the people trapped in the ghetto must be conveyed in its entirety. Szlengel avoids the lofty and the pathetic, resorting instead to colloquial Polish, with obvious references to local speech. The unmasking of the system of evil, which comprises both the world of the torturers and the world of the victims, the crisis of human values, the descriptions of the daily doomsday reality, the antiheroic attitude, and the rejection of moralistic comments have led many to compare Szlengel's poetry to the prose of Tadeusz Borowski . The events presented in the works included in Co czytalem umarlym, whose heroes are common people, form a synthesis of the tragic history of the ghetto.
The poet purposefully introduces a prosaic quality into his texts, exploiting meaningful concealment through short, broken sentences that imitate the speech of a hunted-down, chased man. The factuality of the documentary is overcome, however, through the use of parables and literary and cultural allusions that refer to Jewish and Polish traditions as well as through metaphoric images that represent the degradation of the human being in the world of routine, everyday crime.
See the essay on Co czytalem umarlym.