Aleksander Wat und "sein" Jahrhundertby Matthias Freise; Andreas Lawaty

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  • Aleksander Wat und "sein" Jahrhundert by Matthias Freise; Andreas LawatyReview by: Joachim T. BaerSlavic Review, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Autumn, 2004), pp. 630-631Published by:Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1520357 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 19:57

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  • Slavic Review Slavic Review

    realities by rearranging categories of scholarly scrutiny. The appearance of this work is one more indication that the "aspects of a writer" routine in Slavic scholarship may have out- lived its usefulness.

    EWA THOMPSON Rice University

    Aleksander Wat und "sein"Jahrhundert. Ed. Matthias Freise and Andreas Lawaty. Ver6f- fentlichungen des Deutschen Polen-Instituts Darmstadt, no. 15. Wiesbaden: Harras- sowitz Verlag, 2002. 300 pp. Notes. Index. C24.80, paper.

    The present volume is a tribute not only to Aleksander Wat (1900-1967) but to the edi- tors and the German Institute of Polish Studies as well. Foundation support (Robert Bosch Stiftung) and the University of Leipzig Center for the History and Culture of East Central Europe aided in the publication of this volume. A number of texts had to be translated from Polish into German, and one text from Russian into German. This first-class publi- cation was assembled from presentations given at a conference on the one hundredth an- niversary of Wat's birth (2000) and on the occasion of the German edition of his "spoken memoir"-Jenseits von Wahrheit und Liige (Beyond truth and falsehood), M6j wiek in Polish (1977), My Century in English (1988)-and was prepared to coincide with the annual Frankfurt International Book Fair in October 2000, where Poland and Polish literature were given central focus.

    Collections of scholarly presentations of this type are difficult to review. It is impos- sible to mention and comment on each of the sixteen presentations, yet mentioning only a few has the appearance of bias. Even listing all the authors and the titles of their contri- butions would appear impractical. Some general observations will have to suffice. Follow- ing the preface by the editors (Matthias Freise and Andreas Lawaty), the essays are grouped into four sections: history, religion, poetry and identity, and avant-garde and modernism.

    One cannot say that Wat lived a very long life (he died a self-inflicted death at the age of 67, in 1967), yet a rich life it certainly was, richer in events than any person could have wished. The intensity and concentration of horror in Wat's life paralleled that of millions of human beings in central and eastern Europe in the twentieth century. Contributions to the section on history by Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, Witold Kosny, Leonid Luks, German Ritz, Walter Koschmal, and Hans-Christian Trepte open the reader's eyes to Wat's life and times.

    Born into a Polish-Jewish family, Wat (originally Szymon Chwat) was drawn toward the communists in his youth. As for many others, the communists in the early twentieth cen- tury seemed to have the answers to society's problems. Wat speaks of this in his memoirs. In November 1918, when Poland regained her national independence, Wat was young and impressionable, very gifted, with a pronounced literary interest; and the future to him seemed to be with the Russians who had just gone through their October revolution. Fu- turism was the new wave in literature, and Wat started writing in that vein. Somewhat later, he became the editor of a communist literaryjournal and lived as a litterateur up until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

    Escaping from the Germans with his family, he ended up in eastern Poland, as did many of his countrymen, then under Russian occupation. With his arrest in L'viv some months later began his odyssey and passage through hell. The reader will find detailed commentary and analysis in this section of the collected contributions. For a time, Wat was held in Soviet prisons, then he was released and allowed to live in exile in Central Asia (Alma-Ata). When he received permission to return to Poland after 1945, his faith in com- munism having been shattered, Wat believed in a new beginning for his country and the promise of a free and democratically run Poland. Iosif Stalin's plans for Poland, however, did not include democracy and personal freedom for its citizens. While in prison in the Soviet Union, Wat had had a mystical experience and had converted to Roman Catholi- cism, his Judaic beliefs never having been very strong. He resisted the required subordi- nation and the doctrine of socialist realism that the Polish communist state imposed on its writers after 1949. His health already ruined as a result of the deprivations suffered during

    realities by rearranging categories of scholarly scrutiny. The appearance of this work is one more indication that the "aspects of a writer" routine in Slavic scholarship may have out- lived its usefulness.

    EWA THOMPSON Rice University

    Aleksander Wat und "sein"Jahrhundert. Ed. Matthias Freise and Andreas Lawaty. Ver6f- fentlichungen des Deutschen Polen-Instituts Darmstadt, no. 15. Wiesbaden: Harras- sowitz Verlag, 2002. 300 pp. Notes. Index. C24.80, paper.

    The present volume is a tribute not only to Aleksander Wat (1900-1967) but to the edi- tors and the German Institute of Polish Studies as well. Foundation support (Robert Bosch Stiftung) and the University of Leipzig Center for the History and Culture of East Central Europe aided in the publication of this volume. A number of texts had to be translated from Polish into German, and one text from Russian into German. This first-class publi- cation was assembled from presentations given at a conference on the one hundredth an- niversary of Wat's birth (2000) and on the occasion of the German edition of his "spoken memoir"-Jenseits von Wahrheit und Liige (Beyond truth and falsehood), M6j wiek in Polish (1977), My Century in English (1988)-and was prepared to coincide with the annual Frankfurt International Book Fair in October 2000, where Poland and Polish literature were given central focus.

    Collections of scholarly presentations of this type are difficult to review. It is impos- sible to mention and comment on each of the sixteen presentations, yet mentioning only a few has the appearance of bias. Even listing all the authors and the titles of their contri- butions would appear impractical. Some general observations will have to suffice. Follow- ing the preface by the editors (Matthias Freise and Andreas Lawaty), the essays are grouped into four sections: history, religion, poetry and identity, and avant-garde and modernism.

    One cannot say that Wat lived a very long life (he died a self-inflicted death at the age of 67, in 1967), yet a rich life it certainly was, richer in events than any person could have wished. The intensity and concentration of horror in Wat's life paralleled that of millions of human beings in central and eastern Europe in the twentieth century. Contributions to the section on history by Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, Witold Kosny, Leonid Luks, German Ritz, Walter Koschmal, and Hans-Christian Trepte open the reader's eyes to Wat's life and times.

    Born into a Polish-Jewish family, Wat (originally Szymon Chwat) was drawn toward the communists in his youth. As for many others, the communists in the early twentieth cen- tury seemed to have the answers to society's problems. Wat speaks of this in his memoirs. In November 1918, when Poland regained her national independence, Wat was young and impressionable, very gifted, with a pronounced literary interest; and the future to him seemed to be with the Russians who had just gone through their October revolution. Fu- turism was the new wave in literature, and Wat started writing in that vein. Somewhat later, he became the editor of a communist literaryjournal and lived as a litterateur up until the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.

    Escaping from the Germans with his family, he ended up in eastern Poland, as did many of his countrymen, then under Russian occupation. With his arrest in L'viv some months later began his odyssey and passage through hell. The reader will find detailed commentary and analysis in this section of the collected contributions. For a time, Wat was held in Soviet prisons, then he was released and allowed to live in exile in Central Asia (Alma-Ata). When he received permission to return to Poland after 1945, his faith in com- munism having been shattered, Wat believed in a new beginning for his country and the promise of a free and democratically run Poland. Iosif Stalin's plans for Poland, however, did not include democracy and personal freedom for its citizens. While in prison in the Soviet Union, Wat had had a mystical experience and had converted to Roman Catholi- cism, his Judaic beliefs never having been very strong. He resisted the required subordi- nation and the doctrine of socialist realism that the Polish comm