The Victory (Zwyciestow)

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THE VICTORY (Zwyciestow)

Novel by Henryk Grynberg, 1969

The Victory by Henryk Grynberg was published in 1969 by the Paris Literary Institute two years after the writer's emigration to the United States. The novel is a sequel to Child of the Shadows , which tells about the author's life until 1947. The Victory is divided into two parts. In the first part the protagonist and his mother return to their home village where they learn about the murder of the father. The new owners of Jewish houses are astonished to see the eight-ear-old protagonist and his mother alive. "'Abramkova you're alive?' they say. 'My mother didn't like that question."' The second part begins after the early success of the Soviet winter offensive. With Warsaw ruined many survivors commence their new lives in Lodz. Among them are but a few Jews who had survived the Holocaust in Poland and some Jewish repatriates from Russia. One of them is the author's stepfather, Asker Usher Powazek, a pre-war Communist, now a survivor of the Mauthausen camp. His wife and the younger daughter died in Treblinka. The older girl got to the Aryan side and was never heard of again.

The book was published after the Polish Communist anti-Semitic campaign of 1968. Because the book was published abroad Grynberg could write freely about the fate of the Polish Jews in the early post-war years, when the Communist dictatorship was being established. Although the authentic and autobiographical character of the book is strongly emphasized by the author, The Victory is not a memoir. It is a well-composed novel whose main autobiographical framework is authentic. As in Child of the Shadows Grynberg introduces the clash between the narrative conducted form the child's perspective and the actual author's knowledge. The created tension results in paradoxes that define the post-war reality. In the second part of the novel the narrator and the writer are one. Also important are the stories of other characters, which strengthen the authenticity of the presented world. The historical background is widened. Usher's story, as well as the stories of the people coming from Soviet Russia, cast light on the fates of the Jews who fell prey to the other totalitarian state.

The Victory significantly complements the descriptions of the Polish post-war reality as presented in Ashes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski and Seizure of Power by Czeslaw Milosz. Grynberg describes Poland from the perspective of the Jews experiencing anti-Semitism even after the Holocaust. They feel there is no room for them in Poland, where they still fear for their lives. They fear to claim their property back or to have their sons circumcised because they would become recognizable. These Jews think of emigrating. Others, involved in communism, become corrupted by the Soviet terror, and they either seek revenge or pay in the future for being naive.

The word "victory" in the title is empty and meaningless, compromised by the vision of the presented world. This fact is additionally stressed by the last sentence of the novel: "The war was over, but who had won?" The reader is prepared for such a conclusion from the first scene in the novel, when the protagonist and his mother watch the Red Army marching in. The declarative optimism of the woman who promises the boy that people would be good to them is contrasted with his demand not to be a Jew any more.

Thus the war is perceived as won by the evil that exists in human nature. It was anti-Semitism and Nazism that rewarded evil and punished goodness. It was the system that annihilated the Jews and carried out the destruction of human values. Never in Dobre were the Polish inhabitants better off than during the war, when they traded with the starving people in the ghettos of Lodz and Warsaw and when the hiding Jews paid for their lives.

The fear of the few survivors does not end with the war; they become unnecessary witnesses of human wickedness. They seek protection of the Red Army and of the new Communist authorities, who in turn look for supporters. This makes the Jews estranged again. As Communists they are killed by the Polish underground movement and because people "got used to killing the Jews."

Grynberg does not create a one-dimensional world. The Jewish survivors portrayed in his novel are victims of inhuman systems. Their children hunt for Germans while the adults support Communism or carry out provocations against their brothers. But above all the novel focuses on the Holocaust and its effects, on anti-Semitism that can be exploited by any ideology, and on the wrong done to the Jews by other people.

The writer consistently objects to the universalization of the Holocaust experience. He also argues with a stereotype popular among Polish immigrants, according to whom the support of Communism by the Polish Jews was a mass phenomenon. It is notable because immigrants were the first audience of that book.

—Kazimierz Adamczyk