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Stryjkowski, Julian

(1905–1996), writer, playwright, and translator. Born Pesaḥ Stark to an Orthodox family in the town of Stryj, Julian Stryjkowski studied Polish literature in Lwów, earning a doctorate in 1932. He later worked as a teacher in Płock and as a canvasser in Warsaw. Initially associated with the Zionist youth movement Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir, he joined the Communist Party in 1934 and was briefly jailed for political activism in 1935–1936.

In Lwów at the outbreak of World War II, Stryjkowski fled east after the Nazis invaded the USSR in 1941. Back in Poland in 1946, he worked for the Polish Press Agency, heading its Rome bureau from 1949 to 1952. After he was expelled from Italy for publishing his procommunist novel Bieg do Fragalà (Race to Fragala; 1951), which praised communism, he was appointed coeditor of the literary monthly Twórczość (1954–1978). He quit the Communist Party in 1966. In the 1970s, his writings appeared in the underground press.

Stryjkowski made his literary debut in 1927 and then published translations (including from Hebrew) in the Lwów-based Polish-language Chwila, a Zionist daily. His first Polish stories appeared in the late 1930s. Postwar novels, in addition to Bieg do Fragalà, include Głosy w ciemności (Voices in the Dark; 1957), Czarna róża (Black Rose; 1962), Austeria (The Inn; 1966), Sen Azrila (Azril’s Dream; 1975), Przybysz z Narbony (Stranger from Narbonne; 1978), Wielki strach (Great Fear; 1980), and Echo (1988); the volumes of stories Imię własne (One’s Own Name; 1961) and Na wierzbach . . . nasze skrzypce (Our Violin on the Willows; 1974); an autobiography, To samo, ale inaczej (The Same but Differently; 1990); the morality play Sarna albo Rozmowa Szatana z chłopcem, aniołem i Lucyferem (The Doe, or Conversation between a Boy, an Angel, and Lucifer; 1992); the biblical trilogy Odpowiedź (Answer; 1982), Król Dawid żyje! (King David is Alive!; 1984), and Juda Makabi (Judah Maccabee; 1986); and a play, Sodoma (Sodom; 1963).

Stryjkowski was a leading representative of the “Jewish school” in Polish postwar literature. One of his recurring themes is the decline of the East European shtetl, a process that acquired massive proportions as modernity seeped into provincial Jewish life and secular ideologies displaced ancient religious rituals. This process provided the background for Głosy w ciemności, Austeria, Sen Azrila and Echo, novels set in Galicia, written between 1943 and 1988. Symbolically, two of these books narrate the history of a boy named Aronek, beginning with the child’s initiation into Jewish life and ending as he enters the Polish world, dreaming of becoming a Polish writer. In focusing on the shtetl, a key theme of modern Yiddish literature, Stryjkowski sought to render the spirit of Yiddish by employing imperfect Polish. The critic Artur Sandauer strongly criticized that approach.

The Holocaust is indirectly present in Stryjkowski’s postwar works. In his Galician stories, the subject appears in his questioning of God’s responsibility for evil and the suffering of innocent people. In time, Stryjkowski’s rebellion against a world in which evil is present and the righteous suffer yielded to a Hasidic interpretation of suffering as participating in an act of tikun ‘olam (“restoring the world”; an act that benefits society or humankind). Some of Stryjkowski’s works contain references to the Book of Job and are modeled on kabbalistic parables (Sarna albo Rozmowa Szatana z chłopcem, aniołem i Lucyferem). In the historical novel Przybysz z Narbony, dedicated to the memory of the Warsaw ghetto insurgents, the Holocaust is universalized as a parable about a mortal danger hanging over the Jewish community, and about the dignity, heroism, and sacrifice of individual rebels. Stryjkowski’s biblical trilogy features stories about the prophets, kings, and heroes of Israel and also probes the question of “the two faces” of God—simultaneously the source of good and evil.

Another important theme in Stryjkowski’s works is communism (as in Czarna róża) and his own involvement in it, born out of a sense of exclusion and antisemitic pressure. Stryjkowski’s prose is artistically modern, combining personal narration, techniques of oneiric literature and polyphonic novels and merging documentary prose with symbolism. Moreover, it combines the values of documentary prose with symbolism. When it came to his personal identity and identification of the literary and cultural tradition of his creativity, Stryjkowski always claimed to be a Polish writer as well as a Jew. “My language is my homeland”—he states in Imię własne—“my language is the one in which I’m writing. One can speak many languages.”

Suggested Reading

Wiesław Kot, Julian Stryjkowski (Poznań, Pol., 1997); Jan Pacławski, Powieści i eseje Juliana Stryjkowskiego (Kielce, Pol., 1999); Anna Sobolewska, “Ostatnia nitka wiary: O poszukiwaniach religijnych w twórczości Juliana Stryjkowskiego,” in Mistyka dnia powszedniego, pp. 161–188 (Warsaw, 1992); Anna Sobolewska, “Dwa moralitety Juliana Stryjkowskiego,” in Sporne postaci polskiej literatury współczesnej: Kontynuacje, ed. Alina Brodzka and Lidia Burska, pp. 67–87 (Warsaw, 1996); Julian Stryjkowski, Ocalony na Wschodzie: Z Julianem Stryjkowskim rozmawia Piotr Szewc (Montricher, Switz., 1991).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski