Artykuły pierwszej potrzeby: Notatki i uwagi (Basic Essentials: Notes and Comments), by Antoni Słonimski (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1959). (Józef Piłsudski Institute of America. All rights reserved.)

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Słonimski, Antoni

(1895–1976), poet, writer, playwright, publicist, and theater and film critic. Antoni Słonimski was the grandson of Ḥayim Zelig Słonimski, a prominent Warsaw maskil, mathematician, astronomer, inventor, and publisher of Ha-Tsefirah; and the great-grandson of Abraham Stern, a mathematician, inventor, and member of the Warsaw Society of Friends of Science.

Educated at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts, Słonimski was a founder of the literary cabaret Pikador and the innovative group of poets Skamander. He wrote regularly for the influential Wiadomości Literackie, which ran his weekly column Kronika tygodniowa (Weekly Chronicle; 1927–1939). Going beyond elitist literary circles, Słonimski enriched popular literature with his political skits, satirical monologues, and sketches for popular theaters and cabarets.

Słonimski spent World War II in France and England, where he edited the monthly Nowa Polska. From 1946 to 1948, he was the director of UNESCO’s literary section. Back in Poland in 1951, he became actively involved in cultural life, serving as chair of the Union of Polish Writers from 1956 to 1959. He defended democratic freedoms (initiating and signing the “Letter of 34” against censorship in 1964, protesting against changes to the Polish constitution in 1975) and criticized the regime-sponsored antisemitic campaign of 1968. This activity made him a leading moral authority in Communist Poland, even as his works became a prime target of censorship.

Słonimski’s publications included numerous volumes of poetry, including Sonety (Sonnets; 1918), Czarna wiosna (Black Spring; 1919), Droga na wschód (Road to the East; 1924), Okno bez krat (Window without Bars; 1935), Alarm (1940), Popiół i wiatr (Ash and Wind; 1942), Wiek klęski (The Age of Defeat; 1945), Rozmowa z gwiazdą (Conversation with a Star; 1961); the novels Teatr w więzieniu (Theater in Prison; 1922), Torpeda czasu (Torpedo of Time; 1924), and Dwa końce świata (Two Ends of the World; 1937); the plays Wieża Babel (Tower of Babel; 1927), Murzyn warszawski (The Warsaw Negro; 1928), and Rodzina (Family; 1933); collections of feuilletons titled Mętne łby (Foggy Minds; 1929), Moje walki nad Bzdurą (My Battles against Foolishness; 1932), Heretyk na ambonie (Heretic at the Pulpit; 1934), and W beczce przez Niagarę (In a Barrel down Niagara Falls; 1936). He also wrote two volumes of autobiographical prose, Wspomnienia warszawskie (Warsaw Memories; 1957) and Alfabet wspomnień (Alphabet of Memory; 1975).

Słonimski’s poetry drew on expressionism, Parnassianism, symbolism, and Polish romantic poetry; and focused on social and historical issues in the 1930s and polemics with avant-garde poetry after 1945. His patriotic lyrical poetry written during the war enjoyed enormous popularity. His prose ranged from a modernist novel about an artist to science fiction and utopian fiction in the style of H. G. Wells, while his plays—mostly social and moral comedies with elements of political satire—were based on juxtaposing conflicting ideological stances. Słonimski was also one of the greatest publicists of his time. His style of feuilletons consisted of an unmatched combination of ideological persuasiveness and playfulness.

Although born into a Polonized and baptized family, Słonimski was a frequent target of antisemitic attacks, but he never denied his Jewish background and took pride in his ancestors’ contributions to Polish culture. Jewish themes appeared in most of the literary genres he practiced from the 1920s. As a lyric poet, he employs sentimental literary conventions (Droga na wschód), as well as descriptions of his personal alienation, a tendency interpreted by interwar critics as manifesting his “Jewish complex.”

Słonimski’s most important statements on Jewish issues are found in his publicistic works, especially his weekly chronicle, and plays. He was a moderate cultural optimist who believed in assimilation, progress, and the Enlightenment. His criticism of the backwardness of traditional Jewish (especially Hasidic) culture and of Polish nationalism embroiled him in sharp conflicts. His provocative article “O drażliwości Żydów” (On the Irritability of the Jews; Wiadomości Literackie 35 [1924]) struck many Jews as antisemitic. As a playwright, Słonimski focused on the clash of contemporary political movements and social trends, satirized cultural snobbery as an engine of assimilation (Murzyn warszawski), and ridiculed racist theories (Rodzina).

After the Holocaust, Słonimski expressed a new attitude toward traditional Jewry in “Elegia miasteczek żydowskich” (Elegy on Small Jewish Towns; 1947). He also refused to permit the staging of his prewar play Murzyn warszawski because of its harsh depictions of Jews. In his memoirs, he portrays some Jewish writers, including Sholem Asch and Itsik Manger.

Suggested Reading

Marian Fuks, Prasa żydowska w Warszawie, 1823–1939 (Warsaw, 1979); Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years, trans. Abe Shenitzer (Syracuse, N.Y., 2003).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski