Archive for the ‘John Guzlowski’ Category

borowski competition update

Friday, July 30th, 2010

here in our aushwitzThe deadline for our Book Cover Design Contest No. 4 on Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is exactly one month away! We have assembled an impressive list of jurors, some of whom will be familiars to frequenters of this site: Alicia Nitecki, John Guzlowski, Jae Rossman, Barbara Girs, and Marco Sonzogni.  For a little inspiration here is the working cover design for the forthcoming Yale University Press London translation of Borowski’s stories (translated by Madeline Levine, Professor of Slavic Literatures, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill). It’s worth noting that this translation contains twenty stories in addition to the twelve that comprise This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (incidentally, the title story is here translated as “Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Come to the Gas.”). I have my doubts that this will be the actual cover, since YUP London used that image on last year’s The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak.

9780300116908Yale University Press New Haven shows a different and I’d say less interesting cover on their website (left), although something tells me this won’t be the actual cover either.

We are grateful to the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles for their partnership in this important competition!

A complete list of rules is here (in English) and here (polski tekst).

recovered land, alicia nitecki

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

recovered land 1

Perhaps central to apprehending the experience of those who endured and bore witness to the myriad horrors of the German occupation of Poland during World War II is acknowledging its persistent influence on those sons, daughters and grandchildren, whose daily lives today, sixty five years on, remain infused with the bitter distillate of loss, trauma, despair and anger, and on whom still rests the burden to comprehend what for most of their lives has been shadowy, elusive, and incomprehensible. John Guzlowski, born in a Displaced Persons camp in 1948 to parents who met in a slave labor camp, has spent his life using his stark and powerful verse to peer through his parents’ eyes, wringing poignant beauty from their terrors. Alicia Nitecki, who was two years old when she and her family were arrested and deported to a labor camp in Lauterbach in 1944, has spent the latter part of her professional life immersed in the literature of the Holocaust, translating the work of Tadeusz Borowski, Mieczyslaw Lurczynski, Henryk Grynberg, and other survivors. As if that weren’t enough, she has given us yet another gift, Recovered Land, a collection of intelligent and discerning essays detailing her return to the places of her early childhood, specifically Warsaw and Lauterbach, but also the slave labor camps of Buchenwald and Flossenburg where her maternal grandfather was imprisoned. These essays articulate beautifully the struggle to come to terms with the past, especially amidst the heavy psychological burdens with which specific places are weighted down. What results is an exploration both fascinating and enriching, and one close to what I feel the Greeks meant by νοσταλγία.  With prodigious grace and quiet unassuming wisdom she writes of trying to reconcile her fragmentary memories and the constructed images in her mind with the realities of these places. Of Warsaw she writes, paraphrasing Eliot, “the footfalls that echoed down the passage of my memory led always to a door that opened not into the rose garden but into the city” likening being in Warzaw to “peering at a landscape I knew well late at night when the darkness has hidden all the familiar details.” In Lautenberg she is “searching the pages of a book I’d read looking for a half-remembered passage that would illuminate some half-formulated question.”  She is also searching for the father she has not seen since 1946 who is “as shadowy and as solid as the city itself.” Upon their first meeting she expresses her yearning eloquently:

“I wanted only that first immediate recognition and to trace with my finger the familiar geography of my father’s face: the high forehead, the hooded eyes, the hollow of his cheeks; to hug him as I must have hugged him as a child, and in this thoughtless way to confirm the reality of this man to whom I was connected by birth.”

Inevitably, perhaps, and with the sense of sorrow and loss threaded throughout all of the essays, she ends her discussion of her father by saying: “We never did connect, my father and I. The distance between Warsaw and Boston, between the man that he was and the woman I had become, proved in the end too great.”

In the final essay, “Border Country”, Nitecki mentions another loss. Once, upon questioning her mother about a photograph of her grandfather in striped prison garb, her mother snatches it from her and immediately rips it up. Years later her mother offers to let her read her grandfather’s Flossenburg memoir.

“After my mother had died, her dying breath closing the door to my childhood, I searched for the memoir but did not find it, and I regretted our inarticulateness: what my mother, in her desire not to force an obligation on me, had not said, which was that she wanted her father’s memories preserved; what I had never been able to say to her, which was that I was afraid to read them and reluctant to reveal an interest in the horrors he had lived, because such an interest seemed perverse.”

When we spoke recently, Professor Nitecki told me:

“My mother was very fond of my grandfather and was profoundly troubled by his incarceration. She never talked to me about his war experience, she also somehow assumed I knew it, which I didn’t. When I asked her when I was a teenager what he’d done during the war, she responded with rageAs you know he was in a concentration camp.’ (which I didn’t know, nor did I really know at the time what those places were like). She ripped the photo up probably because it enraged her to see him like that. I am very sorry that I was never able to locate his memoir. Since I had been born in the middle of the war, she tried when the war was over for me to live a normal, happy life, and, essentially never referred to the past. I decided to visit Flossenburg in order to understand/see what my grandfather had lived through.”

She writes that she “drove there with an uneasy conscience, afraid of appropriating for myself my grandfather’s experience.” Perhaps, as the title Recovered Land seems to suggest, Nitecki finds that she is the sole custodian and bearer of that experience, which is her birthright and her lot. As she notes in “Pictures From Germany”: “those of us who were born in Eastern Europe during the war are exiles from hell, not paradise. War was the first world I knew, and it is as much a part of me as the color of my skin and eyes, my disposition to migraine. I know that winter is the end and the beginning, the chain on which that brilliant gift, spring, is strung as a bead. Perhaps that is why today, chaos, fear, and death are more familiar to me than peace, confidence, and life.”

lightning and ashes, john guzlowski

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

LightingAshesIn researching Tadeusz Borowski, I encountered this slim volume of remarkable poems by John Guzlowski based upon his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in the Nazi death camps during WWII. Like the writings of Borowski, these poems are understated, clear, unflinching and, ultimately, utterly heartbreaking in their depiction of the intense cruelty and immense suffering that ordinary people (in this case Tekla Hanczarek and Jan Guzlowski) endured. Guzlowski, who was himself born in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1948, and emigrated to America with his parents in 1951, is a retired literature and poetry teacher and a seemingly tireless blogger. Of his numerous blogs I recommend Lighting and Ashes ,  Writing the Polish Diaspora and Writing the Holocaust.

“In terms of my treatment of their lives, I’ve tried to use language free of emotions. When my parents told me many of the stories that became my poems, they spoke in plain, straightforward language. They didn’t try to emphasize the emotional aspect of their experience; rather, they told their stories in a matter-of-fact way. This happened, they’d say, and then this happened: The soldier kicked her, and then he shot her, and we moved on to the next room. I’ve also tried to make the poems story-like, strong in narrative drive to convey the way they were first told to me.”

“After my dad died, my mom started talking about her experiences in the war. She had never done that before except in the most general terms. I remember her saying how hard the war was. When I was a kid and would ask her about the war, she would say, “If they beat you, you run. If they give you bread, you eat it.” And then she’d wave me away, tell me to do something, leave her alone. I wrote about this in my poem “Here’s What My Mother Won’t Talk About.”



Just a girl of nineteen

with the grace of flowers

in her hair


coming home

from the pastures

beyond the woods

where the cows drift

slowly, through a twilight

of dust, warm and still

as August


She finds her mother

a bullet in her throat

her sister’s severed breasts

in the dust by her feet

the dead baby

still in its blanket


It all ends there

not in the camps

but there


Ask her


She’ll wave her hand

tell you you’re a fool

tell you


if they give you bread

eat it


if they beat you