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Wojdowski, Bohdan

(1930–1994), prose writer, publicist, and critic. Bohdan (originally Dawid) Wojdowski was the founder, in 1991, of the Masada Cultural Foundation for Jewish culture and editor of its journal, Masada (its only issue appeared in 1991). A member of the editorial boards of Przegląd Kulturalny and Współczesność, he also wrote for Teatr. After studying Polish literature in postwar Warsaw, Wojdowski made his literary debut in the 1950s. A Warsaw ghetto survivor, he committed suicide in 1994.

Wojdowski’s published works include collections of stories, titled Wakacje Hioba (Job’s Vacation; 1962), Mały człowieczek, nieme ptaszę, klatka i świat (Little Man, Mute Bird, Cage and the World; 1975), Maniuś Bany (1980), Krzywe drogi (Crooked Roads; 1987); the novels Konotop ([the title is the name of a village]; 1966), Chleb rzucony umarłym (Bread for the Departed; 1971), Tamta strona (The Other Side; 1997); and volumes of theatrical and literary essays titled Próba bez kostiumu (Rehearsal without a Costume; 1966) and Mit Szigalewa (Shigalev’s Myth; 1982).

A leading Polish writer of the Holocaust generation, Wojdowski made the Shoah and the fate of survivors his fundamental theme. He felt a deep affinity with such Polish writers as Tadeusz Różewicz and Tadeusz Borowski, the artists who “after Auschwitz” formulated “the most radical distrust of literature.” Borowski, whom Wojdowski considered one of the greatest European writers, was the author of powerful concentration camp stories; he called the death camps a product of European culture and in his works expressed “tragic cynicism” and rejection of the “moral self-justification of witnesses to a crime.”

The greatest artistic achievement of Wojdowski is his novel Chleb rzucony umarłym, which was translated into several languages. It records Warsaw ghetto life as seen through a child’s eyes and recounts the coming of age in an extreme and spiritually draining existential situation. The protagonist, David Fremde, observes the behavior of people trapped behind ghetto walls who cope with religious and secular crises that subvert their worldviews and values. The hero is guided by his religious grandfather as well as by a teacher with secular, liberal ideals who is both rationalist and agnostic. The loosely structured novel combines various literary styles, mixing the poetics of individual episodes with those of an epic narrative.

In discussing the fate of survivors (e.g., in Krzywe drogi, Tamta strona, and Judaizm jako los [Judaism As Fate; 1993]), Wojdowski inquires about the source, nature, and meaning of evil. For him surviving means taking on a tragic burden of solitude, memory, devastation, and a sense of guilt toward those who perished. In “List otwarty do pisarzy pokolenia Shoah” (Open Letter to the Writers of the Shoah Generation) Wojdowski put forward the idea of organizing an international conference of writers of the Shoah generation.

Suggested Reading

Jan Błoński, “Autoportret żydowski, czyli o żydowskiej szkole w literaturze polskiej,” in Biedni Polacy patrzą na getto, pp. 58–117 (Kraków, 1994); Alina Molisak, “Chleb rzucony umarłym: Żydowski Bildungsroman?” in Literatura polska wobec Zagłady, ed. Alina Brodzka-Wald, Dorota Krawczyńska, and Jacek Leociak, pp. 223–241 (Warsaw, 2000); Alina Molisak, Judaizm jako los. Rzecz o Bogdanie Wojdowskim (Warsaw, 2004).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski