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Różewicz’s Testament: Two Texts and an Enigma

By Blog Admin, on 6 May 2015

Barbara Bogoczek considers the last will and testament of the great Polish poet Tadeusz Różewicz, who died one year ago.

Tadeusz Różewicz in 2006 by Michał Kobyliński (Photo: Wikicommons)

 

God created man

in His image

 

the sequence is

was 

different

 

it was man who created God

in his image

 

and later when he

could no longer bear the presence of

God – he erased Him

from his life

 

and suffers because that was

his greatest creation

 

Already a year has passed since Tadeusz Różewicz unexpectedly died on the morning of the 24th of April 2014. The previous day, with his wife Wiesława and son Kamil, he was still enjoying the sight of the cherry tree blossoming in their garden. He was 92 but apparently in good shape, still receiving visitors, answering phone calls, writing. The next morning – as he might have put it himself – his life went missing somewhere…

He left a short note, a wry ‘Last Will and Request’, which baffled at least some of his friends. Didn’t this great writer – author of volumes of poetry, drama, prose and screenplays spanning almost eight decades – confess his loss of faith in God at the very onset of his career? In a conversation just a couple of months before his death he said, ”I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. Because there is nowhere to go.” And yet in this testament, jotted down in his unmistakable handwriting, dated ”Karpacz, 5.III.2003”, he asked for an ecumenical burial:

”It is my wish that the urn with my ashes be buried at the Augsburg Evangelical cemetery by the Vang Church in Upper Karpacz. I also request the local pastor to say the appropriate prayers, together with a priest of the Roman Catholic Church (of which I am a member through the sacrament of baptism and confirmation). I wish to be buried in the soil which has become close to my heart like the soil on which I was born. Perhaps this will contribute to good relations between two divided faiths and bring closer the cultures and nations which lived and are still living on this land. Perhaps the dream of the poet who prophesied ‘All people shall be brothers’ will come true. Amen.”

And signed: ”Tadeusz Różewicz (born 9.X.1921 in Radomsko)”.

The document was stored and read out at the funeral by Zbigniew Kulik, the director of the Museum of Sport and Tourism in Karpacz, who for many years accompanied and photographed the poet on trips around the local Karkonosze mountains in the Sudetenland. Różewicz’s initial interest in Karpacz was sparked in 1991 by Maria Dębicz (an expert on Różewicz’s work) who suggested he visit the Toy Museum established by Henryk Tomaszewski, the famous choreographer and founder of the Wrocław Mime Theatre.

Everything happened as Różewicz wished. The Catholic Archbishop Alfons Nossol and the Protestant Pastor Edwin Pech conducted the funeral. Archbishop Nossol described the process of loss of faith in Różewicz’s poetry, which – paradoxically – at the same time constituted its religious dimension (the full text of the homily is available on the internet). He reminded us that Różewicz’s statement, ”I don’t believe”, is not only the result of his traumatic experiences during the Second World War (equally, he finds no trace of God or codes of transcendence in the contemporary world…) and that “[t]he birth and death of God, the state of having or losing faith, are the greatest events in human life.”

Pastor Edwin Pech pointed out that the wooden Vang Church stands by a walking track used every year by two hundred thousand people. In his address he quoted a fragment from Saint Luke’s gospel, about the journey to Emaus where the travellers fail to recognise Christ beside them. Pastor Pech told how Tadeusz Różewicz fell in love with the mountains at the age of 75, and often visited the Vang Church and paused by Henryk Tomaszewski’s grave. He said, “The poet started walking with God at quite an old age. He was guided here by Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed in Flossenburg in April 1945 for his part in the conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. […] Christianity should not be defined solely by the expression of faith but also by the imitation of Christ. […] Tadeusz Różewicz and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer teach us respect for others, living with dignity in a godless world. We should not count on punishment or reward. We are to experience the fact that life without God is possible, but also that life without God is impossible.”

Tadeusz Różewicz’s grave (Photo: Wikicommons).

Perhaps the key to understanding Różewicz’s decision regarding his burial is the date of his Last Will and Request – the spring of 2003, when the Treaty of Athens was signed, confirming Poland’s accession to the European Union. After all, those words, “All people shall be brothers”, come from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”, which Beethoven set to music, creating the 9th Symphony and the great final movement that has become the European anthem. So it may be that Różewicz’s last will is a political rather than a religious act, one which expresses his idealistic faith and hope in the brotherhood of nations, for which – in both the cultural and the personal dimensions –  he had striven all his life. His work was and still is particularly admired in Germany; it has contributed to the transformation of the two nations’ traumatised mutual perception.

Tadeusz Różewicz rests in a place of outstanding beauty in the Sudety mountains, by the stone track leading to the Samotnia shelter which he so liked to visit. It’s no wonder that his friends chose to gather there on the first anniversary of the Poet’s passing.

 

This blog entry previously appeared on the emigrating landscapes blog

Barbara Bogoczek (aka Basia Howard) is a translator and interpreter based in London. She has worked closely with the poet Ewa Lipska,  translating three collections of poetry and the novel Sefer (AU Press, 2012). She also had a strong working relationship with Tadeusz Różewicz, publishing his poetry (ARC), drama (Marion Boyars) and – most recently – his memoir Mother Departs (Stork Press, 2013). These books were collaborations with Tony Howard, with whom Barbara has also translated the work of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska (Wydawnictwo Literackie) and other Polish poets. Her current projects include Polish classic children’s poetry, Polish fiction, and new work by Ewa Lipska. Her translations have appeared in the New York Times and on the London Underground.

Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL