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Wiadomości Literackie

An extremely influential literary journal, Wiadomości Literackie (Literary News) appeared in Warsaw between January 1924 and September 1939 under the editorship of its founder, Mieczysław Grydzewski. Quickly outgrowing its French prototype Les Nouvelles littéraires, and evolving from a narrowly literary journal into a periodical covering a wide range of cultural, social, and political issues, both domestic and international, Wiadomości Literackie established itself as one of the most prestigious cultural institutions of interwar Poland. Although its circulation never exceeded 15,000 copies, its impact on the country’s literary, artistic, and intellectual elites can hardly be overestimated. Its standing was also enhanced by its annual literary awards, which successfully competed with state-sponsored prizes.

Brilliantly edited and using innovative strategies to attract readers, Wiadomości Literackie conducted campaigns ranging from promoting birth control to challenging traditional literary stereotypes; published satirical supplements and special issues on selected topics (such as Soviet literature); and conducted surveys, sponsored competitions, and held literary contests. Among its most hilarious features were Julian Tuwim’s column “Camera obscura” and reviews of “the worst book of the month.”

For a decade, Wiadomości Literackie was Poland’s only literary journal with a national circulation. This monopoly ended in the mid-1930s with the radicalization of Polish politics, which produced a new generation of literary journals (Pion, Prosto z Mostu, and Kultura). Sponsored by the political right, these journals sought to reduce Wiadomości Literackie’s influence. Responding to such pressures, Wiadomości Literackie abandoned its original line supporting Marshal Jósef Piłsudski and became a vocal opponent of Poland’s increasingly authoritarian regime. This internal evolution of the journal’s liberal-democratic, cosmopolitan, secular, pacifist, and anti-fascist agenda is well reflected in Antoni Słonimski’s famous column “Kronika Tygodniowa” (Weekly Chronicle; 1927–1939).

Wiadomości Literackie’s situation was shaped by its widespread perception as a “Jewish” periodical. This was reflected in its popular nickname “Jado-moski literackie” (“Here come the literary Moskis”; i.e., Jews) and substantiated by the prominent role of Polonized Jews among its editors, regular contributors, and readers. In addition to Grydzewski, its contributors included Słonimski, Tuwim, and Antoni Borman (the journal’s copublisher and financial manager); poets and prose writers Józef Wittlin, Marian Hemar, Leo Belmont, Bruno Schulz, Stefan Eiger-Napierski, Emil Breiter, Wanda Melcer, Henryk Adler, Irena Krzywicka, and Bruno Winawer; and leading historians Szymon Askenazy, Marceli Handelsman, and Józef Feldman.

The prominence of these thoroughly Polonized Jewish intellectuals and artists made the journal a potent symbol for right-wing accusations of Jewish “infiltration” and “subversion” of Polish culture, as well as a favorite target of antisemitic attacks. While Wiadomości Literackie responded by fiercely defending Jewish artists’ place in Polish culture, its overall record of fighting antisemitism was mixed. In fact, its polemical stance on the “Jewish Question” consisted of wars on two fronts, namely, against both Polish and Jewish nationalisms. In the first decade of its existence, Wiadomości Literackie’s assaults on Jewish “separatism” and “backwardness” outweighed and outnumbered its direct confrontations with antisemitism. However, following Hitler’s assumption of power in 1933, Grydzewski’s journal became more articulate in condemning fascism, racism, and anti-Jewish violence at home.

At the same time, this bastion of assimilationist ideology became a constant irritant in the eyes of nationally minded Jews, who, as Słonimski ironically observed, “depended on [the] Polish language to spread Jewish nationalism.” Not shy to promote acculturated Jewish artists acclaimed in the gentile world, Wiadomości Literackie tended to ignore Yiddish and Hebrew writers, as well as Polish authors, who identified themselves with Jewish culture.

Suggested Reading

Magdalena Opalski, “Wiadomosci Literackie: Polemics on the Jewish Question, 1924–1939,” in The Jews of Poland between Two World Wars, ed. Yisrael Gutman et al. (Hanover, N.H., 1989); Andrzej Paczkowski, Prasa polska w latach 1918–1939 (Warsaw, 1980); Janusz Stradecki, “Wiadomosci Literackie,” in Literatura polska: Przewodnik encyklopedyczny, ed. Julian Krzyżanowski et al., vol. 2 (Warsaw, 1985).