Archive for June, 2010

stanislaus polonus, anatol girs, aloys ruppel

Friday, June 25th, 2010

girs ruppel polonus frontAlicia Nitecki recently informed me of the existence of a wonderful book designed by Anatol Girs and published by his Oficyna Warzawska im Ausland in 1946, its sixth postwar publication (We Were in Auschwitz, by Tadeusz Borowski, et al, was the third), and dedicated to Boleslaw Barcz (with whom he founded Oficyna Warzawska in 1938 and who was subsequently killed in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944). Entitled Stanislaus Polonus, Ein Polnischer Frühdrucker in Spanien (Stanislaus Polonus, An Early Polish Printer in Spain) this gorgeous book written by German librarian, archivist and historian Aloys Ruppel (1882 – 1977) is an overview of the work of the late fifteenth century printer Stanislaus Polonus who arrived in Seville in 1490 and over the course of fourteen years published 111 titles there. Beautifully printed in an edition of 1600 (of which my copy, purchased from a bookseller in Germany, and not in the best condition is No. 1190) it highlights not only the work of Polonus, but of Girs himself. The letterpress front and back covers printed with brown and orange-red ink on beige paper is absolutely stunning. Inside are lovely examples of Polonus’ work including fantastic woodcuts printed on Japan paper.

Interestingly, a much expanded version of this book was published in Krakow in 1970 by Państwowe Wydawn with the Ruppel text translated into Polish by Tadeusz Zapiór.

[To truly appreciate them click on the thumbnails for larger images.]

girs ruppel polonus back

anatol girs and “we were in auschwitz” by siedlecki, olszewski, borowski

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Written by Janusz Nel Siedlecki, Krystyn Olszewski, and Tadeusz Borowski but widely attributed to Borowski (a note in Postal indiscretions: The Correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski, edited by Tadeusz Drewnowski and translated by Alicia Nitecki states that Borowski became “not only the author of the few stories for which he is known, but also the author of texts based on the other people’s accounts, co-author of most of the other stories, and also of the editing work (preface, dictionary, forewords to the stories, etc.)”), We Were in Auschwitz (also translated by Nitecki) was largely the brainchild of Anatol Girs, a graphic artist and publisher who Borowski met in 1945 while both were imprisoned in Dachau (Prior to being moved to Dachau, Girs, like Borowski, was also imprisoned in Auschwitz) and with whom Borowski worked at the Polish Red Cross in Munich immediately after the war. It was Girs who encouraged Borowski, known primarily as a poet, to write prose (his stark and wrenching poems, many of which were written at Auschwitz, unfortunately remain unpublished in an English translation although some can be found online).

we were in auschwitzWe Were in Auschwitz (Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu) was published in 1946 in Munich by Girs’ Oficyna Warszawska na Obczyznie. His evocative design for the cover reproduced the prison stripes of the camp uniforms and, incredibly, some unknown quantity of copies were actually bound with fabric from concentration camp uniforms themselves (a 2002 exhibit at Yale University on the work of Girs curated by Jae Jennifer Rossman displayed two such copies owned by Girs’ daughter Barbara). The copy on the left is in the collection on Professor Nitecki.  The red triangle denotes, in the classification system used at Auschwitz and elsewhere, a “political” prisoner, (meaning almost certainly a Polish national); the number 6643 was the actual camp number of Janusz Siedlecki. The title page prominently lists the camp number of each author next to his name, Borowski’s, 119198, being the highest. Incidentally, the English translation by Nitecki published by Welcome Rain in 2000 faithfully reproduces the original cover. But, perhaps even more gut-wrenching than the copies bound in fabric from camp uniforms is Girs’ personal copy, also in the Yale exhibit (from the collection of Barbara Girs), hand bound in leather cut from an SS officer’s coat and embellished front and back with a strand of barbed wire and embossed on the spine with the image of a cracked skull. DSC00099



















Very special thanks to Alicia Nitecki, Jae Jennifer Rossman and Barbara Girs.

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