• January 9, 2015
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Tadeusz Konwicki In Memoriam

Taduesz Konwicki (1926-2015), a Polish writer, script-writer and film director, passed away on the 7th of January.

-‘The Polish culture suffered a great loss, because he was one of the most significant prose writers in the post-war literature, who followed the modern trends in artistic expression (e.g. in ‘A Dreambook for Our Time’/ ‘Sennik współczesny’) and also used a grotesque style (e.g. in ‘A Minor Apocalypse’ / ‘Mała apokalipsa’)’, said Halina Turkiewicz, a docent and doctor, a historian of contemporary Polish literature, a lecturer of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences. As she emphasises, Konwicki’s death is a great loss also for Lithuania.

-‘ Nowa Wilejka (Naujoji Vilnia) and Kolonia Wileńska (Pavilnys) constituted Konwicki’s little homeland. There he spent his childhood and youth. Over his whole life, Konwicki was reminding this place, glorifying and giving them a mythological meaning. He saved their unique multinational atmosphere for next generations’, said the scientist.

The words often repeated by Konwicki – ‘I am the last, who remembers the beginning of the 20th century’ – reflect the symbolism of his figure in a very terse way. Konwicki also frequently referred to his family home in his works.

‘Our home is strange. There is a lot of unnecessary doors and windows’, he mentioned in his book ‘A Hole in the Sky’.

A literary historian, poet and Vilnius guide, Józef Szostakowski, regrets that there are not visible traces of that magnificent artist in Kolonia Wileńska, although this ‘strange home’ of his uncle and aunt, Przemysław and Małgorzata Blinstrub, is still present. The young Konwicki began to live there after his father’s death.

-‘Living there, he attended a prestigious men’s Sigismund Augustus High School in Vilnius, which two Nobel laureates graduated from – Czesław Miłosz and Andrew Schally (Andrzej Wiktor Schally – an American biochemist and doctor of Polish origin). Konwicki was very attached to this area, that is why his further works are full of regionalism, but also catastrophism of the approaching Second World War’, says Józef Szostakowski.

When the war began, Konwicki was only 13 years old. He continued schooling with underground education, and he worked at the same time. After passing matura (a high school exit exam)  in 1944, he fought as a member of the Home Army (in Polish: Armia Krajowa) and he participated in the ‘Tempest’ (in Polish: ‘Burza’) operation. After the Second World War, Konwicki left the Vilnius region and moved to the Polish People’s Republic, where he studied Polish philology at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and the University of Warsaw.

-‘In 1947, Konwicki settled in Warsaw. Then he also started to cooperate with magazines and became famous as the writer of very popular books. In these books, the motif of Vinius and Lithuania often occurs, for example in such works as ‘Rojsty’, ‘A Hole in the Sky’, ‘Kronika wypadków miłosnych’ (in English, literally: ‘The Chronicles of Love Accidents’), ‘Bohin Manor’. The landscape of Kolonia Wileńska became an indispensable part of his works, even Konwicki’s obsession. The valley of his childhood, rivers Willa and Wilenka, a forest, railway tracks – these are only a few examples of images making his works more vivid. Similarly to Czesław Miłosz, Konwicki glorified the Vilnius region also in his essays (‘The Calendar and the Hourglass’, ‘Moonrise, Moonset’, ‘New World Avenue and Vicinity’). He focused especially on the landscape, people and pre-war customs of this region’, said Halina Turkiewicz. She also notices that Konwicki exhibited such a tendency also in his screenplays and directed films.

-‘it was not an accident that he adapted ‘Dziady’ by Adam Mickiewicz (the film called ‘Lava’) and ‘The Issa Valley’ by Czesław Miłosz’, explains the historian of the Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences.

Konwicki’s literary works were published for the first time in 1946 roku, but his novel ‘From a Besieged City’, issued in 1956, revealed his full potential. This is also his first work in which he presented the image of the Vilnius region of his childhood. This image is read also nowadays by the young people from this region.

-‘In Kolonia Wileńska and Nowa Wilejka, where I come from, we feel closely related to Konwicki, not only because of his literary works, but also his films.  I remember that we had to read ‘Kronika wypadków miłosnych’ and ‘Mała Apokalipsa’ as the obligatory reading in school. Their plots absorbed us from the very first pages. These books were so absorbing, because their actions took place near our homes with a hero who is familiar to us. So that is not surprising that our Polish teacher repeated that this reading is basic for us. Konwicki promoted the culture of our region and his books are classic. They will not see the apocalypse, because: ‘The world cannot die. Many generations thought that the world dies. But it was their own world which was about to die’. Konwicki will survive centuries in our culture’, said a young Vilnius poet, Marzena Mackojć from ‘New Vilnius Avant-garde’. The artist regrets that she got familiarised with Konwicki’s internal world from his books and films, but not by meeting him live.

-‘I followed his memories of childhood spent in the Vilnius region, his feelings and conscience. Unfortunately, I did not meet him live, although there was an occasion to do that’, says the poet.

Tadeusz Konwicki hardly ever visited his Lithuanian homeland.

-‘He visited Vilnius in 1980s, for the world premiere of his film ‘Lava’. At that time, that was a cultural shock for Vilnius’, emphasises Szostakowski.

Szostakowski claims that Konwicki’s works, translated also into Lithuanian, is not only well known, but also highly valued by a Lithuanian reader. The Vilnius guide hopes that the memory of this great artist will be kept alive in Lithuania, especially in Nowa Wilejka and Kolonia Wileńska, where Konwicki came from and spent his youth. These places stayed forever in his works:

‘Vilnius is a world of my memory, imagination and attitude to life. It is obvious that one learns life and understanding of the world mainly during childhood. Childhood learns us some thinking habits. The Vilnius region is my companion all the time, it hangs over me.’

-‘Let the landscapes of valley from childhood cheer the Writer even in the Valley of Jehosaphat and let’s express our gratitude by reading His works more often and remembering in our prayers about about the one of Polish-Lithuanian kings-ghosts, the great Compatriot and Artist’, says Halina Turkiewicz.

Translated by Joanna Stępińska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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