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Rudnicki, Adolf

(Aron Hirszhorn; 1909–1990), prose writer and essayist. Born into a Hasidic family, Adolf Rudnicki rebelled against his father and the Orthodox community. Settling in Warsaw in the early 1930s, Rudnicki joined a circle of young writers. In 1939, he fought the invading Nazis as a soldier in the Polish army, and after escaping German captivity, he went to Soviet-occupied Lwów, and later, in 1942, to Warsaw, where he lived on the Aryan side and took part in underground literary life and efforts to assist Jews.

After World War II, Rudnicki endorsed the new regime, joining the Communist Party and the editorial board of Kuźnica (1945–1949), a journal promoting a new style of literature. In 1964, he signed “The Letter of 34,” a manifesto protesting the abuses of censorship. From 1956 on, he frequently visited Paris, settling there in 1972 but returning to Warsaw in 1987.

Rudnicki’s published works include the novels Szczury (Rats; 1932), Żołnierze (Soldiers; 1933), Niekochana (Unloved; 1937), and Lato (Summer; 1938); the series of short stories Epoka pieców (Epoch of the Ovens [i.e., crematoriums]; 1948–1952), Szekspir (Shakespeare; 1948), Ucieczka z Jasnej Polany (Escape from Jasnaya Polyana; 1949), and Żywe i martwe morze (The Dead and the Living Sea; 1952); stories and sketches titled Ślepe lustro tych lat (Blind Mirror of Those Years; 1956), Narzeczony Beaty (Beata’s Fiancé; 1961), Kupiec łódzki (Merchant of Łódź; 1963), Złote okna (Golden Windows; 1963), Weiss wpada do morza (Weiss Falls into the Sea; 1965), and Wspólne zdjęcie (Joint Photograph; 1967). He also wrote an autobiographical volume, Krakowskie Przedmieście pełne deserów (Krakowskie Przedmieście, Full of Desserts; 1986), and a biography of Antoni Słonimski (Rogaty Warszawiak [The Proud Warsovian]; 1981).

Rudnicki’s early writings, inspired by naturalism, expressionism, and contemporary psychological prose, featured an original combination of fiction, documentary, and autobiography. His postwar works were dominated by a search for a new style—a synthesis of lyricism, essays, parables, and autobiographical documents.

Rudnicki is considered the leading representative of the “Jewish School” in postwar Polish prose. He described himself as a “Judeo-Polish” writer and stressed the originality of contributions to Polish literature by writers rooted in Jewish tradition. In the late 1930s, Rudnicki spoke openly against total assimilation, sympathetically depicted the Hasidic world, and described how, under the pressure of antisemitism, assimilated Jews were reembracing Jewishness.

Jewish fate during and after World War II became an important theme in Rudnicki’s later writings. The title Epoka pieców, given to his Holocaust stories saturated with biblical symbolism, entered the Polish vocabulary, with an image of the ovens as a metaphorical name for World War II. Lament and pathos permeated Rudnicki’s prose commemorating the victims of the Holocaust; he focused on ethical choices made in extreme situations and on wartime antisemitism.

For Rudnicki, the Holocaust threw into question the fundamental values of European culture and the role of literature as a tool of commemoration. He explored these issues in “Piękna sztuka pisania” (The Beautiful Art of Writing; 1948) and “Kartka znaleziona pod murem straceń” (Note Found at the Execution Wall; 1948). His best Holocaust works are “Kupiec łódzki” (1963) and “Złote okna” (1952), the first devoted to Khayim Rumkowski, leader of the Łódź ghetto, the second to the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Rudnicki regarded survivors as people irreversibly marked by the Holocaust, tormented by a profound sense of guilt and ambivalence toward assimilation, as reflected in the twin themes of betrayal and eventual return to the Jewish community.

In his essays and autobiographical prose, Rudnicki wrote about Polish–Jewish relations, the coexistence of the two cultures, and dilemmas facing Polish Jewish writers. He stressed the value of Yiddish culture (e.g., the significance of Y. L. Peretz), and the lack of its appreciation by Poles. Rudnicki also portrayed Yiddish writers (“Spalony świat Efraima Kaganowskiego” [The Scorched World of Efraim Kaganovski]; 1960), and leading Yiddish artists such as Ida Kamińska, in Teatr zawsze grany (Theater Always Played; 1987).

Rudnicki’s vision of the world was deeply rooted in Judaism. Religious motifs and symbols, biblical metaphors, sayings and idioms play an important role in his work. Realistic depictions of Jewish traditions, rituals, and holidays abound, including that of Yom Kippur celebrations at the house of the tsadik of Ger. Some stories allude to Hasidic storytelling, midrash tradition, and to Jewish folk culture. Rudnicki sometimes reworked motifs from Yiddish literature, including from Peretz’s “Bontshe shvayg” (Bontshe the Silent; 1894) and Nawet wyżej (Even Higher), in “Abel” (1960) and “Stara ściana” (The Old Wall; 1967).

Suggested Reading

Jan Błoński, “Autoportret żydowski, czyli o żydowskiej szkole w literaturze polskiej,” in Biedni Polacy patrzą na getto, pp. 58–117 (Kraków, 1994); Ruth Shenfeld, Adolf Rudnitski: Sofer ben shete ‘olamot (Jerusalem, 1991); Ruth Shenfeld, “Korzenie kulturowe Adolfa Rudnickiego,” in Literackie portrety Żydów, ed. Eugenia Łoch, pp. 31–43 (Lublin, Pol., 1996); Anna Wal, Twórczość w cieniu menory: O prozie Adolfa Rudnickiego (Rzeszów, Pol., 2002); Józef Wróbel, Miara cierpienia: O pisarstwie Adolfa Rudnickiego (Kraków, 2004); Helena Zaworska, “Proza Adolfa Rudnickiego, czyli ‘Hołd każdemu, na miarę jego cierpień,’” in Prozaicy dwudziestolecia międzywojennego: Sylwetki, ed. Bolesław Faron, pp. 555–591 (Warsaw, 1972).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski