- December 5, 2014
Walking around Vilnius: the amazing biography of Oskar Miłosz
The street is named after Oskar Miłosz, the relative of the poet and the essayist, a Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz. It is a little bit untypical in Vilnius conditions: a wide, four-lane street divided in many places with hedge.
The length of it is 1.3 km. It runs from the Niemenczyńska Road to the Wołokumpski Bridge. On the right side are hidden amongst pine forest houses on Wołokump streets. On the left, if you go towards the Žirmūnai district, impressive buildings of the Lithuanian Central National Archives. It is located in two buildings next to each other. This is the largest archive in Lithuania. It was established in 2002 from the merging of National Lithuanian Archive and the Lithuanian Archive of the Image and Sound. Paper and audio-visual archive materials are being stored here. These materials are placed on 33 000 meters of shelves.
Thanks to this institution the Oskar Miłosz street is well-known in many countries of world. Foreign enquirers come to Vilnius and visit the archive in order to find documents. At this street a petrol station “Orlen” and modern residential apartment buildings are located.
Who was Oskar Miłosz? The encyclopedia of Kresy says: “Oskar Władysław Miłosz (1877-1939), poet, writer, diplomat. At the age of 12 he went to Paris, where after finishing high school he studied Hebrew and Assyrian epigraphy. From 1896 he had travelled all over Europe and French Africa, next in years 1919-28 served as the ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania in France. He was a French-speaking poet and a writer (among others Seven solitudes, 1906; Love initiations, 1910), and at the end of his life he published his own translations of Lithuanian songs and fairy tales “.
He wrote in French, but considered himself a Lithuanian which he proved after the World War I, when he committed himself to the work for the independence of Lithuania. He accepted the Lithuanian citizenship in 1919, and returned to the French one in 1931. It is important to add that he didn’t neglect the Polish language, an example of which is his outstanding translation of the ballade “Lilies” of Adam Mickiewicz to French.
Oskar Miłosz (Oskar Vladislas de Lubicz Milosz) was born in a family of landed gentry in Czereja.
The above mentioned encyclopedia states: “Czereja —the former Połock Voivodeship (today Belarus). In 1475 Bohdan Sapieha, while marrying Theodora Drucka-Sokolińska, received the extensive Czereja lands as her dowry. In 1800 they sold the wealth to Józef Miłosz, kowień swordfish, Oskar Miłosz’s grandfather. Oscar sold Czereja to the Russian bank after his father’s death. After 1920 the land was within the limits of the Soviet Union. The manor house was destroyed probably in 1917. Oskar Miłosz visited those lands for the last time in 1922”.
In his veins flowed Polish-Italian-Jewish blood. His grandfather Artur Miłosz was an officer of the regiment of uhlans of the Polish-Lithuanian army. He was part of the entire campaign of 1831 against Russians. A cannon bullet tore off his left leg near Ostrołęka. He married Natalia Tassistro – an Italian, very beautiful and talented singer, daughter of the conductor of Milan’s La Scala, from the ancient, though impoverished Genoese family. They formed an exceptionally beautiful and harmonious couple. Their son Władysław Miłosz – Oscar’s father – was born in Vilnius, in 1838. He was completely different from his parents.
Czesław Miłosz recalled: “A person who has his legend in gossip columns of the 19th century thanks to his exotic looks, power, the unruliness and the philandering. He brought a poor Jewish girl, who he met by a chance, to Czereja. Her name was Miriam Rosenthal and she became Oscar’s mother. Born in Staniszów in 1858, she was twenty years younger than him “.
Oskar Miłosz wrote about his parents:
“I could never show my affection towards my parents. My father was a temperamental and ill man. My mother’s materialistic and uncomprehending care was so tiring, that early on I had developed a habit to hide in the most inaccessible places in parks and gardens in order to get rid of emotions which aroused around her”.
Parents baptized Oskar Miłosz only in 1886. He was baptized in the Roman-Catholic rite in the St Aleksander church in Warsaw. A year later they took the 12 year old boy to Paris, to a boarding high school and left him there alone. After her husband’s death, Oscar’s mother moved to Warsaw. She met with her son, who was living in Paris, from time to time in the Czech Marienbad.
Parallel to the literary work Miłosz conducted vigorous political activity for the creation of independent Lithuanian. After retirement he settled in Fontainebleau, in France. There he died suddenly on March 2nd, 1939.
In 1966 in Paris a society called “Les Amis de Milosz” was formed, and thanks to their effort a commemorative plaque was put on the poet’s house in Fontainebleau. Members of the society are gathering every year on the anniversary of his death. The society also publishes a periodical “Cahiers de L’Association Amis desec. de Milosz”, which includes documents, biographical notes and scientific studies of his artistic work. The poet’s manuscripts, his letters and first editions of his works are stored at the St Genevieve Library in the Latin District in Paris.
Translated by Anna Wójcik within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.