Warsaw: a city that disppeared

21 06 2008

[source: Gazeta Wyborcza daily 20. June 2008; author: Dariusz Bartoszewicz. photographer: Aleksander Prugar]

Don’t come to Warsaw! Poland’s capital doesn’t exist any more. Someone has hidden it from us – for good. Here is a unique look at a city covered with a curtain of advertisements.

Ściana Wschodnia

There was no war, that the world forgot to notice, but Warsaw is gone. Adverts ate it. While city council and residents have given up.

There is a battle in Warsaw again: for every house, for every block, for every street corner, for every look. Those attacking and fighting one another are media houses, advertisement agencies and global brands. See, buy, taste – you’ll be happy.

Should the city be reduced to an advertising pillar – and its inhabitants to consumers?

‘They are like cockroaches – you spray them, spray, and they get immune’ – that’s how David Lubars from Omnicom Group talked about consumers and advert.

That’s why it isn’t enough to put adverts to newspapers, on posters, billboards. That’s too little. Too soft. The message needs to be stronger… and best when ad moves through the streets.

That’s why we there are huge tubes of toothpaste, chocolate bars and washing powders driving around the city. Previously these were busses and trams. And you could even see the world through their windows. Now all you can see – more adverts.

Residents are having their windows covered with them. Why would you look out of the window? What could be better to look at then a mega-billboard outside your window in the morning?

There are those who try to protest… They complain they don’t get enough sunlight. The most desperate among them cut holes in huge adverts covering their windows – so that they are able to open windows and let some air in.

But what can an ordinary citizen do confronted with the ultimate argument that “adverts on our building will pay for renovation”…

Warsaw is gone. Instead of coming to Warsaw, you better dig old postcards and photo albums from your closets. Or visit Paris, Berlin. Maybe you can still see something there.

Marszałkowska

Rondo De Gaulle\'a

Marszałkowska

JPII/Solidarności

AVON

Centre

Sezam

Let\'s play

R

Toshiba

Advertisements




We razed a city to ruins. I’m sorry. Would you like more tea?

18 01 2008

Author: Dorota Wodecka-Lasota
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza – January 16th 2008

* * *

Romek, 28-year-old from Poland, goes on a personal quest to Germany to talk to soldiers fighting against the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and hear their story.

28-year-old Romuald lives with his parents near Opole. He’s a children’s stories’ author and gets his works published by a small literary publishing house. On weekends he works part-time in a delivery firm, handling larger parcels.
In 2004 his girlfriend gave him the Chronicle of the Warsaw Uprising as a present. He had never been in Warsaw before. The book gripped him.
‘But what it was missing was the story as Germans see it. I searched in libraries and in internet – but I haven’t found anything. Then I thought – since historians didn’t find anything – I will‘ , says Romek. ‘Why? I don’t know why. I just wanted to know’.

1944In 1989 a small Munich publishing house issued ‘Warschauer Aufstand’, containing a list of German soldiers fighting the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, together with their military rank and, where applicable, date of death. The low circulation publication received much attention from historians, who alarmed that there were many inconsistencies and errors. Germans protested too. Some of those included in the book have never been to Warsaw. Some were declared dead by the book, while they still were alive and well. Under the threat of court action, publisher withdrew the 3000 copies from bookshops.

Romek managed to find the publication with help of a friend in Berlin. Another friend, IT specialist, searched the internet to find out who, from that list, is still alive. In Germany personal information is not protected. After ruling out those who passed away, 42 people were left.

2000sRomek contacted them last summer holiday: six agreed to meet with him. On weekends, as Romek was busy with work on weekdays.

However, he shouldn’t have bothered visiting three of the six.
Johann said he’s never been to Poland. Joseph’s been in Poland twice – to do shopping in a border-town. Heinrich, on the other hand, was talking about the fights on Warsaw’s Triple Crosses Square like he was reciting a story learned by heart. He received Romek in his entrance hall and wouldn’t even let him ask the firt question. ‘I regret I agreed for this meeting. In your country this rising is a national myth, and whatever I’d say your Polish propaganda will transform my words so that Germans seem like pigs. That’s how you do it’, he said, asking Romek to leave.

Erich in Thuringia, next on the list, told Romek he’d arrived in Warsaw after the end of the uprising – on October 4th 1944. We was eighteen. ‘We worked in a brigade, which for seven-eight hours a day walked around with flamethrowers and burned down the ruins’, he recalls.

Old Town Market Square - 1944He was surprised they were ordered to burn what was already burned. The petrol they were supposed to use wasn’t the right quality either. Townhouses woldn’t burn easily. After work they went back to Mokotów district, where they lived several soldiers in one room. They felt safe there: the gates to German-controlled part of the city were guarded by 50 German soldiers.

Yet everyday they drank spirit. One friend of his couldn’t cope with this work. He poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire.

Prudential BuldingWhen Erich watched Polanski’s Pianist on tv, things came back to him. ‘It wasn’t at all as showed in this movie. Many people lived in ruins – not only Szpilman. Several hundred at least’, he convinced. ‘They walked out at night. I saw them, when we went out to the ruins, driven by curiosity, once. We saw how they pull burned potatoes from cellars. There were no orders to shoot at these people’.

Today he is ashamed of what he then called a good fun, ‘We razed a city to ruins. I’m sorry’, he says, ‘would you like more tea’?


First day each month at 10 we received our soldier’s pay. August the 1st wasn’t therefore the best time for an attack, as by 5 pm we were at least a bit drunk‘ – says Romek’s next interlocutor – Dieter. Romek visited him on the outskirts of Berlin. He didn’t want to say much though. He was a marksman near Teatralny Square. He wouldn’t say how many times his shot was well-aimed, but there are diplomas for marksmanship, he received before the war, hanging on the wall. Dieter is not making an effort to be polite, he murmurs… maybe because partisans killed seven of his colleagues? – ‘Eight of us walked, and then these people approached us wearing German uniforms. They started shooting when we were very close. I ran away. I survived this war’.

When Romek wants to know whether Dieter has any souvenirs from Warsaw, Dieter browses through his drawers nervously. Some papers fall on the floor. ‘When you fight for your life you don’t think about souvenirs’, he says nervously, holding postcards in his hands. ‘Have them, take them for historical documentation, it has no worth to me. There were twelve in that series, but I’ve sent four to friends. Good bye’, he cuts the chat short.

Eight postcards feature ruins of Warsaw: Krasiński Square, Królewska St., Piłsudskiego St., Nowy Świat, Krakowskie Przedmieście and Wierzbowa St. Ruins and cinders. One postcard signed “famine” features people in the street, bending over a dead horse’s body trying cut out some meat. This is the only postcard series with ruins of Warsaw issued during the war.
‘I don’t think this German man wanted to pay some historical debt giving me these postcards. He just wanted to get rid of me quick‘, – Romek was unimpressed.

Romek had been meeting up with Germans fighting the Warsaw Uprising for six consecutive weekends. The last meeting was to take place in Munich. He drove there without faith, with the feeling of senseless of what he was doing. ‘No one really wanted to talk. I had met elderly men blundered between memories. Jürgen was the oldest, he was 102, therefore I didn’t expect him to tell me anything of historical value or emotional weight. That he’d help me understand those Germans. And my meeting with him was so surreal. I felt like I found myself within that poem about SS-soldier sipping tea from the last cup left in once piece in Dresden’.
Jürgen received him in his library with oak parquet flooring. Mahogany bar in one corner, samovar with orange-flavoured tea in other. Bookcase covering the whole wall hosting pre-war editions of Goethe, Schiller and atlases. Massive desk stands next to the window. Jürgen, wearing a shirt and a waistcoat, is not sitting behind it – but in an armchair next to the steaming samovar. Romek feels a bit out of place with his T-shirt in this bourgeois interior. He’s comforted when he notices Jürgen’s old fluffy slippers.

Jürgen says he’d been in Warsaw several times. He used to spend his days-off there. He was stationed in Poznan, his friends used to go to the seaside. But he travelled to Warsaw and walked around with a camera.

‘The city was in psychosis. People were terrified of the Germans. They didn’t want to pose to the pictures. When I started making photos, suddenly all people around me were gone. Just a building and nothing more. It was different in Kraków, there was no fear. People made me pictures when I asked them’, Jürgen recalls.

The photos from Kraków were gone. Out of twenty suitcases he packed, only four survived the chaos of war. He’s also lost the photographs he’d made in Warsaw’s ghetto, in Gdynia, Gdańsk and Łódź. Romek finds it hard to sympathise with this high Wehrmacht officer’s, loss. And when he’s asked to pass a beige photoalbum entitled “Reise nach Warschau”, Romek notices “Mein Kampf” from 1939 on a bookshelf.

‘I felt shivers going down my spine when I saw it’, says Romek, ‘then I froze in my armchair’.

Jürgen opened the diary documenting his first stay in Warsaw in August 1st/2nd 1941. Each photo is described, some with personal notes.

Leafing through page by page.. the bridges, Saski Palace, main train station, his portrait with Wierzbowa St. in the background, then some photos from the ghetto – at the sight of which Jürgen raises his voice:

‘Jews perceive themselves as victims of war – but they are not victims, they are perpetrators!’ – he says irritated, and goes on telling a story of how a Jew cheated his father before the war in a real-estate transaction.
Jürgen is so loud, his grandson shows up at the door to check what’s happening. And stays there leaning against door frame, to listen to the rest of the story.

Romek tries to change the subject. They return to uprising. Jürgen was in Warsaw in the moment of outbreak and worked in an administrative building on Krakowskie Przedmieście – and during the three weeks he spent in Warsaw only once he saw young people with white and red armbands.

‘I never walked out in uniform, although it was forbidden. And I never carried weapon. Therefore no one paid attention to me. Because I was afraid. But not when I heard gunshots somewhere – then I knew that since the fights are there, I am safe where I am’, he says.

‘But Poles were barbarians. My friend’s son died during the uprising. His body was found naked, completely naked! How could they deprive him of intimacy like that?’ – Jürgen raises his voice again, while Romek is thinking about the people in Auchwitz and Jews transported from his home-town Opole to Czech Terezin.
Romek explains: ‘I didn’t want to engage in discussion. I didn’t want to persuade him, to convert him. Because this man lived for 102 years and it was unlikely he’d change at the end of his way’, says Romek.

He asked for more tea. Jürgen’s hand was firm, and there was not a sign of shaking. He stood up, and came to the window smoking his pipe. Grandson stood at the door. Romek broke the silence asking if he could buy this photo-album. He was able to pay 250 euro – for which Jürgen agreed, although his grandson thought the photographs are worth 400.

Then he opened a desk drawer and took out a full pack of Warsaw’s gingerbread cookies from 1941, a German eagle with a sign in German “Souvenir from Warsaw”, and five menus from Warsaw’s restaurants. ‘I’d go back to Warsaw for the food – it was absolutely superb’. We talked for three hours, and then he said he was tired.

* * *

Please note that the pictures used in this blog to illustrate this topic are not the ones made by Jurgen.

Interested in Warsaw Uprising? Here are some links
CNN Presents Classroom Edition: Forgotten Soldiers
warsawuprising.com
The Warsaw Rising Museum
Norman Davies Rising ’44


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





Yossi Avni-Levy: ‘My mum didn’t want anyone to see my book’

11 06 2007

Source: Duży Format, June 11th 2007
Interviewer: Katarzyna Bielas (with simultaneous translation from Hebrew by Michał Sobelman)
Translation from Polish for this blog: (beta version) MoPoPressReview

Interview with Yossi Avni-Levy, Deputy Ambassador of Israel in Poland, former intelligence agent, historian, lawyer, and writer. He lived and worked in Berlin, Bonn, Belgrade and Warsaw. He published four books (his début was a collection of short stories in 1995). Ciotka Farhuma nie była dziwką (Auntie Farhuma was’t a whore after all) is his first book published in Poland.
Yossi Avni is his pseudonym.

* * *

Yossi AvniKatarzyna Bielas: In your book there is a scene, in which the main character Jonatan and his partner Arik are purchasing a flat in Tel Aviv. When they haggle its price, Jonatan notices a camp number on the landlady’s arm. Without hesitation, he deciphers it – the date, the transport, the camp. Surprised woman drops the price, he agrees, and then feels distaste.

Yossi Avni-Levy: I still feel it. But it was no manipulation, I just saw the number during the conversation and recited what came to my mind, the first association. I remember that this elderly lady was from Austria.
There is a lot of my biography in that book.

You were born in Israel. Where does that camp knowledge come from?

Even when I was a child I was interested in Holocaust.
My parents didn’t come from Europe, and aren’t Holocaust victims. My mother comes from Iran, father from Afghanistan. Mum used to send me to library, so that I wouldn’t become a thug, but I wasn’t looking there for Verne’s stories or romances, but books about Holocaust. One day the librarian said “Dear child, this isn’t good for you to read things like that, this is difficult even for grown ups” – but I saw in his eyes that he was pleased. I was borrowing the books, and learning everything by heart: the number of murdered in each camp, names of German commanding officers, camp identifications by number. I was like addicted to that evil magic. I became a little expert on Shoah.
Everyone, my non-European family, and that woman from Austria, we constituted a community, and that community made me a boy, who – not literally – was saved from Shoah. Because of that, Holocaust has become maybe the most important thing in my life.

Auntie Farhuma wasn't a whore after allWhat does it mean? When did you first hear about Holocaust?

Holocaust has always been like a magnet for me, that attracted me to pain. I keep asking myself, when did it start.
I remember, when I was eight, teacher standing before our class and explaining what had happened. I heard “those who were saved” came to Israel. In Hebrew “to be saved” has the same core as “to fry on fire”. In my imagination I saw Germans grilling people. Those, who made it to survive, are my neighbours, people I meet in the street.
At school I was one of few Sephardim – Jews from the East – among many Ashkenazim, who have come from Europe. When I was ten, I had this imaginary aunt, her name was Batsheba. She came from Afghanistan to Crimea, where in 1943 like other Jews, she died in boats that were being sunk by the Germans on The Black Sea.
That imaginary aunt was a way I identified myself with European Jewry, I wanted to feel like my friends, whose parents remained in Treblinka.

Ciotka farhuma nie była dziwkąDid you feel you were outside the community? How were you educated?

No, I didn’t feel excluded.
In the sixties and seventies Shoah was constantly present in our lives. On Holocaust Day, I remember, television used to show terrible documents, and pictures. My whole family gathered around the TV set, with mouths open and fright in their eyes. There wasn’t a single noise in the whole neighbourhood, only blue television light visible in every window, and people were like hypnotised with the nightmare. It’s the stamp of suffering we bare. I myself stood there , I gave myself to it, hypnotised.
However, if I am to be frank, this magnet is in my case an issue connected with my psyche. My friends don’t have it.
This pain is something I can hug to, with my private sadness, I need it, it’s like my emotional anchor.
Even now – and I am in my fourties – I have no answer to why it is so.

That reminds me of Arik. When his reltionship with Jonatan collapsed, he said that he doesn’t want to be happy, that he puts up resistance, because he thinks he doesn’t deserve.

There are people who are not looking for happiness. Sadness is their true home. Sometimes I accuse myself, that I adopted sadness as my inner ID, as the most comfortable solution, to live in a dark cloud all the time. I don’t know why.
People, who know me, say ‘Yossi you’re so joyful with us, having fun, telling jokes, but when you write, your pen is dipped in tragedy. Which of these two is the real Yossi?’

Yossi AvniWhich?

I don’t know. Maybe writing is the road to getting to know yourself – and to liberation. I write about things closest to my heart. When after some time, I read what I have written before, I start to know who I was then. I’m changing. I wouldn’t have written now, what I wrote in early nineties in ‘The Garden of Dead Trees’ for instance.

You wouldn’t have written what?

I wouldn’t have written about the inferiority complex as I did then. It’s a very private matter.
My family, like the whole Sephardi community always wanted to be someone else, more beautiful, richer, better, educated, more like the Jews from Europe.
To go on concerts, take taxis, dine in restaurants, eat gefilte fisz, speak low voice.
Recently Israelis are rediscovering their roots, they say “I am Israeli, but I like Tripolitan food and Yemeni music”. In the sixties and seventies we wanted to be homogeneous nation. Israel wiped out immigrants’ ethnic origins. I was ashamed of my Eastern origins. When I think about it now, I’m sad.

Yossi AvniOne of your characters recalls, that when he was child he used to be ashamed of his mother, who desperately haggled a lower price, buying him clothes. Hate towards the poverty driven cleverness remained in him ever since.

There were situations that were more sad than this, about which I was ashamed to write.
We used to live in constant want. Father was a workman, he picked fruit that were later sent to you, to Europe. He also had a second job.
My mother was a domestic help, a maid. In the sixties it was very difficult for a woman with four children to earn for living. One day I noticed that she begun working as a maid in one of my school colleagues’ home. I acted very arrogantly towards her then, I started to blame her for me not having the sort of parents, my friends had, and i told her I was ashamed of her.
Today I am very ashamed of myself for doing that. I ask her for forgiveness for a hundred, a million times.
In my books I portrait, apart from the sense of humiliation, the very intimate relationship between mother and son – this is very important in Jewish people – and a very distant relationship between father and his children. Undoubtedly this has a huge influence on young boy’s soul.
I am one of those people who have a huge hole in their stomach, and it is difficult for me to fill that hole up. Every time when I suspect I am happy – I run away.

This hole is about what? Is it guilt?

Katie, it would have been great, wonderful, if I knew. But I don’t know.
My mother was still blaming herself, I remember her saying “Yossi, I ruined your life, I am guilty, I need to be punished”. But there was no reason for her to say that.

Tell me something more about her. I still see her moaning, talking back her husband, and cooking.

She was born in 1940 in a small town in Iran. Her mother’s marriage was arranged, and she married a 50-year-old man when she was 10. His children from previous marriage were twice her age. They lived in poverty. My mother was a sensitive girl, living with her fantasies. She wanted to educate herself, but she never made to. She came to Israel in 1952. To earn her living, she picked potatoes. Her education was terminated.
Israel of the fifties, was a country full of barracks, tents, metal huts. In several years the number of inhabitants rose from 600.000 by 2 million. Immigrants needed to be given housing, food… New nation had to be built.

She couldn’t study because she couldn’t afford to?

Not only because of that. All the governmental structures, social structures, education, were reserved for Ashkenazi Jews, school headmasters, teachers all were from Europe. They perceived Jews from the East as second category people, as primitives. Access to education was very difficult.
Mum married my dad when she was 22, not for love. It was hard for everyone, my parents were saying “You will have a different life”.

Were Jews in Iran persecuted at that time?

No. Iran was one of few countries mostly tolerant towards Jews. But people found out a Jewish state was formed. Emissaries from the Jewish Agency were coming and encouraging people to return. In Poland and other countries it was the same. The time to go back home has come.
Similarly, like everywhere, many of the rich remained in their countries, and the poor have left for Israel. Half of Jews stayed in Iran. Most of them left that country only in 1980-82, after Khomenei came to power. Now several thousand live there…

Yossi, where are you going?

I have to show you something.

What’s that huge calendar?

My mother showed it to me, when recently I went oin Israel. She started writing, about her childhood in Iran. She writes about the hunger, about the bathhouse, which they used to frequent, and Muslims shouting at them Jood – Jews – causing fear.
Mother said “Yossi I would like this was published one day as a book”. Look at her fancy handwriting. I started reading, and I was amazed, as this is written in rich, literary Hebrew, with great talent.
I was so moved, I closed myself in the toilet and cried. I’m afraid I’ll start crying again now.

What moved you?

A feeling that I have lost something.
My mother always dreamt about different life, she didn’t want to be poor, she didn’t want to be maid, she wanted to speak languages. She wanted to be a “lady”. And she is a lady. She dresses tastefully, wears make-up, she speaks good English, although it’s self-taught. She used to work in a hotel, where guests from Germany used to stay at, so she knows basics of German. From her neighbour Goldica, she learned a bit Romanian. She knows she could have accomplished a lot more.
Although their tough life, my mum and dad never regretted having come to Israel.
I have inherited this sense of loss, of underachievement, from my mother, like her sensitivity, even little hysteria, and a complete, constant lack of complacency.

And your father?

He is one of the biggest mysteries of my life. We lived next to each other, not knowing one another. We lived in the same flat, but I felt he wasn’t there. He was an uneducated, closed man. Years gone by, I can now see how much he loved me, but he could never afford too say that.
He came from a very patriarchal Afghan family, male part thereof couldn’t express feelings. They are difficult, closed people, and when they are angry, they never forgive. My father didn’t speak with his sisters for 37 years, although they lived 2 blocks away. They had a row over inheritance, but in reality, I think it was about whom their parents loved more.

I remember two years ago papers – in Poland Wojciech Jagielski personally – reported about two last Jews of Afghanistan, Izaak Levin and Zabulon Simentov. So quarrelled, and so passionate about it, that even though they were sharing a house, they never spoke with each other. Constantly making pranks, working on each other nerves reporting one another to Talibs and mujahideen. They pursued a private war over who’s in charge of the local synagogue. Only one of them is left now. 80-year-old Levin froze to death in a dirty chamber, in some kind of pallet. “Now only I rule here” – said then the other with satisfaction.

The one who died is my uncle! I also found about his death from a newspaper. I had a business flight from Frankfurt am Main to Warsaw, I grabbed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and there, on the first page, I read my families’ private stories. I felt, how different and distant worlds, which are contained in me, suddenly get into touch.
My uncle Izaak died, whom I have seen only once in my life, when he came to Israel, and I was ten. Father missed him all the time.
These quarrels are a Jewish tragedy.

Who was he? He claimed he was a rabbi, who sent his family to Israel, and stayed in Kabul himself, to have an eye on the synagogue,wrecked by the mujahideen.

Maybe he was a gabbi in a synagogue, maybe he was a faith healer selling herbs to Muslims, who regarded him as a saint, because had been to Jerusalem.. I don’t know.

Strange.

Very strange. This too is a part of me, hidden in a drawer. Not the only one. I know it. I’ve put my childhood there, unhealthy relations with my parents and I engaged in something else – Holocaust, Germany, where I had lived for years. Now I feel closer to Afghan identity. I read a book on Afghanistan and I said surprised ‘Unbelievable! The way they speak, the humour, the food, the way they express anger – that’s me! I am like that! I am an Afghani!’
Look, I even start to look similar, I only need beard.

Maybe you would like to “return” to Kabul?

Only as Israel’s ambassador, that would have been interesting. So far we don’t have diplomatic relations with Kabul. We recognise them, but they don’t recognise us.
I don’t even know if my uncle knew that his brother’s son is a diplomat, our family has had so many turning points.

How did they land in Afghanistan?

There weren’t many Jews in Afghanistan, almost all of them have left for Israel. My father lived in Herat. Most of Afghani Jews came from Iran fearing pogroms, most of them from Mashkhed, after the reputed “Jewish ritual murder” in 1839. Some came from Buchara in Tajikistan.
I don’t know where my grandparents come from, but they were quite wealthy – grandfather was the head of Jewish community. Through my whole childhood I heard my fathers stories about the wonderful lamb meat they used to eat, about the gardens they used to have and about summer house and winter house. Mother stood in the door, and and ridiculed “Yes, yes, summer house and winter house”.

She didn’t believe?

Mother used to call us, when Afghanistan was being shown on TV: ‘Come quick, they’re showing your father’s country’. We looked at primitive houses, people sitting on the floor, women with covered faces.
Later I understood that the stories our father was telling u, weren’t just his individual story, they were also Afghanistan’s history, the mysterious country, which he had missed, in which his family enjoyed a good living standard, where they were respected by their neighbours. And Muslims called them hajiji, showing their respect, like they call Muslims pilgrimaging to Mecca, as his family used to visit Jerusalem.
He also told us about dwarfs, who kidnapped and ate children. Afghanistan is a country of ghosts and thugs, many tribes, and monsters, legends, fantasies, which are still alive in the oral tradition. Father used to add a lot of this magic dust to his tales.
These stories about houses, this anger, this blockage, this lack of harmony within the family, I still carry that on my shoulders through my life. Maybe one day I will write about this, but now I’m not strong enough.

Why is it so hard to open this up?

Katie, I’ll tell you something. My first book was about my mother. She never read it. My second book was about my mother and my father. They never read it. I’m not even sure, if they’ve heard about it. It was written under a pseudonym. The issues I was writing about were very private, intimate – and almost sensational.

You really didn’t tell your parents about your books?

OK. My mum saw my first book, and she hid it under a pillow, so that no one could see it. She’s afraid, that someone will knock to the door, that policemen will enter, ask where is Yossi and take me to prison. She constantly lives in terrible fear.
One day I asked ‘Mum, did you read a bit at least?’. She closed the door, took me to the corner of the room, and said ‘Yossi, our enemies are waiting behind the corner. Don’t say everything about yourself. Everyone plays some game in their lives, and you do similar. Don’t be a loser. Don’t trust people. People are evil like poisonous snakes.’
SoI asked her again: ‘Mum, but nevertheless, did you read a bit?’ She replied ‘Your mother has a concave face, that’s how you see me’, and she smiled sadly.

What was it about?

There was a description of a woman, in that book, a woman with round, and sort of concave face, who spends 10 hours a day cooking food in the kitchen. That’s how I see my mother, among the great flavours and herbs. I think she started reading, but got so scared, that she never finished.

Scared of what? That your characters are gay? Scared that you are gay?

I don’t know.

What do you think?

I never asked her, why she didn’t finish reading that book. I have some of my own boundaries too. For me too, it isn’t easy to talk with my parents. I decided to come back to that issue some other time.

In Auntie Farhuma, in which you write a lot about your family, growing up in Israel, you don’t mention any kind of oppression. What was she so afraid of?

I haven’t experienced any physical oppression – that’s true. But it’s not only about that. You grow up, you see that people around you have families, and you are different. You have a problem. You start to think about loneliness, and no one wants to be alone. No one wants to be different.
Mum was afraid, that if I talk about my leanings, about my life, my pain, my loneliness, my search for love in an open way, I will get hurt in Israel. A country very macho-istic, conservative, a country in which power decides about everything. Israel is a country of many faces. Tel Aviv is the pluralistic pole, liberal, like Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, even more than Warsaw. But there are many conservative faces of Israel, for instance Jerusalem.
Maybe this is the reason, why it is easier for me to write than to speak?
My work as a diplomat also plays a role here. I’m split into two persons: private person, and state person – it’s like having two heads.
Writing is a way to stay free, when I write I sit by myself at a desk surrounded by complete silence. Being very sad. If I wasn’t writing I would have exploded. Writing is a medication. Catharsis.

You needed freedom and you’ve become a diplomat. Why?

I wanted to serve my country. Since I was little I felt I was different than my school friends: I wasn’t interested in money, expensive cars, I wasn’t interested in stock market – the only thing that attracted me, were the big difficult questions, Jewish nation, Zionism. I saw myself as the future leader, I cared about my country.
Some people just have it that way, they feel their life is connected with their homeland.
After having done a degree in law, I worked in a law company. It was the worst, the most boring time in my life. I imagined myself in some sort of political activism, government, but I didn’t know which path to follow. Should I join a political party, or send my CV to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I chose the latter.
I was thinking about leaving the country. I wanted to get out. The charm of foreignness worked on me, new cultures, possibility to breathe different air.
Probably every Ministry of Foreign Affairs applicant will tell you that.

Why, with your obsession with Holocaust, did you come to work in Warsaw? Looking for and apartment you specified you didn’t want it to be within the former Jewish Ghetto.

Probably to light up my biggest secret, the attraction of pain. I’ve been living in Germany for five years, but that wasn’t enough for me. There – this is a paradox – I felt the tragedy of Holocaust much less. In Warsaw I walk the streets of former ghetto.
This was my choice. I’m glad I’ve come here.
Before, I used to be prejudiced like other Israelis. I remember myself ten years ago, talking to my friends in Berlin ‘There are several countries around the world I would never like to be in, for example Poland’. You will ask ‘why?’. Because I thought Poland doesn’t like me. Now I know my views were stupid and unjust. I mean the anti-Semitism, of course, which I have never encountered here. Let’s don’t be naive, Poland has a very unflattering image among Jews in Israel, and outside Israel.
However during the almost three years I have spent here, I have met many people, I saw that for example in a cafe, when I say I’m an Israeli, people say ‘OK, cool’.

What did you expect to happen?

I thought that they would beat me up, spit at me, that I would have to hide my Israelisness, my Jewishness, that I would have to mind what I say – but no. With Poles you only can’t talk about the number of victims, you can’t make comparisons, because their faces instantly cloud over, they take offence, they have to be the world champions in suffering.

How is it in other places?

When in the Western Europe I said I was from Israel, people were scowling, because they are pro-Palestinian. I even felt hostility. My friends-diplomats, for instance, in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Belgium, France, tell me about terrible ordeal they have with local youth. In Cologne, Brussels people were interrupting me during my lectures. Here – never. Palestinians are not sexy in Poland.
In Poland Israelis are much more liked than there. I feel that Poland is hugging me, and I do want to be loved. Poland turned out to be a huge surprise.
It is only a pity people aren’t vaccinated against anti-Semitism. In Frankfurt on Oder you can say things, you wouldn’t be allowed to say in Frankfurt am Main. In Warsaw’s souvenir shops you can buy little figurines of a Jew counting money.
Now I will say something dangerous: I think I’m experiencing rebirth here, I’m shaking off my addiction… Living here, in a place so closely related to Holocaust, made me distance myself from that subject.

What hasn’t still changed about you? You’re going back to Israel soon.

There was a time, when I wanted to run. From my mother’s hugs, from the feeling of suffocating, from the family-intimacy. In my first book I described the desire to escape from my small town to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was my New York. Then I escaped from my country and I started to wander about the world, looking for freedom. My first book was about tearing handcuffs, breaking walls surrounding the body, about escape to Europe.
Europe was the ultimate paradise, beautiful, with red-yellow autumn, an opposite to the heat in the Middle East and colours of the desert. I felt close to my virtual European roots. That was part of my need, my desire to be someone else.

And what do you want now?

I want to go back. Make a circle. I see many young people leaving Łódź, Wrocław, Warsaw, they go to Ireland, to London. I meet them in cafes. I hear them talking about wages, about the need to escape, about the great world that is out there. Sometimes I want to grab their sleeve and stop them. Although you can always return, you can’t turn back time, it may be too late for some things.
I’d like to reach some stability. These are the problems of many embassies’ employees: who travel and have loved ones in every port. But I don’t want it any more. I have an apartment in Tel Aviv with boxes, that haven’t been unpacked for the last ten years.

What happened so suddenly?

I felt that I want to belong to something. I want to be part of something. I want to have a family, I want to be a father. But I don’t know how to do it. Should I have a traditional family? Or make up something different? And isn’t it too late for that?

The wish to have a child, is strongly accented in ‘Auntie Farhuma’. Characters discuss possible mothers. Jonatan even makes a statement: “The experience of death is the strongest for gays (…) There is something left after every person, only gays really die. (…) Fully-fledged fags will deny angrily what I said, and call me a homophobe”.

Many people, mainly gays, were offended by this sentence. They wrote to me outraged. They thought I was cruel. It’s true, this is brutal, but this is the essence of loneliness, you have no extension. My book is full of fear of death, because I’m afraid of it.
Now talking about children, about adoption, is something usual, but when I was writing this several years ago, it wasn’t so. Many gay people adopt children in Israel, they also have children of their own. If they don’t marry women, they arrange it somehow, and children have both parents, although they’re not together. Many children are born in these relationships in Israel.
Two weeks ago I received another letter, author wrote ‘It’s not true that those who don’t have children really die – those, who don’t have children don’t know how to live.’
That sentence from my book really touches people, it disturbs them.

In how many worlds do you live Yossi?

I know that the way I answer you questions, shows how divided I am. I admit to that. I have several passports, sometimes it’s very tiresome. I have my personal passport – my friends know which cafes and clubs I go to. Second is the state passport, my work, my position. There is also my family passport, in which it’s written “be careful”.
We don’t live in an Utopia. Life is more complicated than progressive slogans.
I’m not a gay rights activist. First and foremost I am a Jew and Israeli. This is my prime internal commitment. If I was to choose between pro-Israeli, but very conservative direction, and very liberal, but anti-Israeli – I would have chosen the former.

Mum’s preaching is not wasted then.

The private microphone is not on this table, but it’s plugged to a book. I never lied about myself.

* * *

See also:
Yossi Avni’s review of Aharon Appelfeld’sPoland is a Green Country’ in Haarec
Another interview – with picture. In Polish. in Gazeta Wyborcza


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





New in Warsaw: latex souvernirs

18 03 2007

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza of March 16th
Author: Dariusz Bartoszewicz

* * *

You want to calm your nerves? Buy a tiny Palace of Culture made of latex. Squeeze it in your hand as much as you want. It will go back to its shape anyway. Results of a contest for a contemporary souvenir from Warsaw were announced on Thursday.

z3991054n.jpgWarsaw City Hall, Boom Change Foundation and Academy of Visual Arts, who were the organisers, say that the most interesting designs will be sold as original Warsaw souvenirs. All of the entrants were students of the Applied Art Department of the academy.

‘We have received 27 entry-projects. Their level was good and even.’ – praised Jerzy Porębski, head of the Applied Arts Department and member of the jury.

Palace like frozen food

Most of the projects focussed of the Palace of Culture. It is said, that the weirdest design was a palace-shaped rocket filled with fireworks by Kacper Nurzyński. After you light the fuse, the Palace flies into the air (which the gathered could see on tape). The souvenir would be called “Goodbye Warsaw”. Although it hadn’t impressed the jury, as a similar idea had already been used in video clips.

The grand-prix went to Maja Kaczyńska, and her idea for gadgets made of latex – Palace of Culture, legendary Warszawa car and a simplified Warsaw Mermaid (symbol of the city, featured in its coat of arms). Each of those pressed and packed into a vacuum sealed see-through flat pack. The work is called “Uścisk” (squeeze or hug) and could be sent in an envelope as “hugs from Warsaw”.

‘First came the idea of a catchphrase’ – revealed Maja in an interview for “Gazeta Wyborcza”. – ‘Then I started to squeeze impatiently some advertising gadget. And it suddenly hit me. Latex is a very interesting material – you can do almost everything with it, and when you vaccum the air out, it decreases its volume and becomes flat’ – described the winner.

Asked why she had chosen the palace the symbol of Warsaw, she says without hesitation: – ‘because I love it, although its not very original as a motive’.

Ans then she revealed what she will do with the prize (1,500 zł, around 375 euro). – ‘I will buy shoes. I love shoes even more then the palace.’

Organisers were impressed with the “Squeeze/Hug”. – ‘Its so Warsaw… because in this city you can feel squeezed, its packed with yuppies who come here to make career and money. And suddenly comes the release, when you open the pack, and relaxation’ – laughs Bogna Świątkowska.

We gave a free rein to our imagination: how the energy of Warsaw is suddenly released. Boom! – and the communist skyscraper grows in our eyes. Fantastic.

‘We want to get those projects into production. Its a completely new approach to the capital. There are those souvenirs like mugs, umbrellas, or key rings with ‘Fell in love with Warsaw’ slogan, that sell very well abroad. We invented it. Energetic circles connected with contemporary art demand high artistic level of new souvenirs’ – said Monika Koniecka from City Hall’s Warsaw Promotion Office.

Brainstorming

The audience bursted with laughter every few minutes during the presentation of the designs, as the young people thrive with witty ideas. Agnieszka Mikołajewska proposed colorful jelly candies in the shape of Palace of Culture. Marcela Kawka presented a sleeping bag reaching only to waist, shaped like mermaid’s tail. – ‘We put it on to warm up the feet and body’ – she encouraged. Izabela Cichecka proposed a set of computer icons and cursors, for example with the popular De Gaulle Roundabout Palm Tree. Thrid year student Vu Thu Thuy designed a postcard, which folds into a cube with a little hole, and if you look inside you can ‘see’ Warsaw by night: an outline of the Palace of Culture, Saint Cross Bridge, or The Great Theatre. Maria Róża Szczepańska came up with the idea of stickers in a form of tiny photo albums, featuring for example The Golden Duck.

The abovementioned were ex aequo awarded with second prize. The Boom Change Foundation handed its own awards to Miłosz Dąbrowski for washable tatoos, and Katarzyna Minasowicz for “Wawa view” – Warsaw’s blocks of flats as a pattern motive, that can be used on fabrics or notepad covers et caetera.

* * *


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.





“Tribunal defends local council members and mayors”

14 03 2007

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza daily, March 14th 2007.
Original author: Ewa Siedlecka

* * *

The Constitutional Tribunal decided yesterday, that the statue punishing the publicly elected local governments members with reclaiming their seats for not having produced a financial statement in time provided, is against The Constitution Of The Republic Of Poland. Before the sentence was given, the prime minister threatened: ‘We have to seriously consider some new model of functioning of the Tribunal.
Judges Ewa Łętowska (left) and Teresa LiszczDoes this sentence mean they will keep their seats? It is not clear. Probably, however, administrative courts that will deal with local officials’ appeals to Palatines’ decisions regarding taking their mandates away, will take this sentence into account. The sentence affects 765 people of local governments, including the mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz of opposition Citizens Platform Party (PO).

The Tribunal started to give out its verdict at 3 p.m., althouth the tension was rising from the morning. In a radio interview the prime-minister suggested that Gronkiewicz-Waltz is in league with the Tribunal, because in her latter to the Palatine of Masovia ‘she revealed that she knows what legal arguments the Tribunal will take into account‘.

He repeated that suggestion just before the verdict: ‘If the reasoning presented in the letter to the Palatine of Masovia was applied, it would mean that Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz is informed about about Tribunal sentences in advance. That would be another argument for a serious discussion about a new form for the Tribunal’.

The prime-minister also said that he hopes ‘the Tribunal will not use any circus tricks’. However the verdict was not pleasing for him.

Tribunal has decided that it is against The Constitution to punish the members of local councils and mayors with a loss of seat, not only in case when they did not produce their financial statements in time, but also when they did not produce them at all.

‘The sanction of the loss of mandate, applied only to achieve the financial transparency of the people in power is permissible. However applying it to those, who were slightly late with their financial reports, is not necessary to achieve that aim. And it breaches the constitutional rule of proportionality’ – said judge Ewa Łętowska in the name of the Tribunal.

She also pointed out to the unclear procedure of taking away the mandates: – ‘If you use such a drastic sanction, procedures should be very precise’.

The Tribunal has also decided that the obligation of producing financial report of the official’s spouse is unconstitutional. This was the ground, for Palatine of Masovia’s decision to take away Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s seat.

Here, as The Tribunal said in its verdict, the rule of proportionality was also breached. As well as the rule of decent legislation, as the act does not clearly say when is the deadline for producing spouses’ financial report.

The verdict takes effect with the day of being published in The Journal of Laws. However it does not mean that administrative courts or local governments can ignore it until then.

‘As far as local governments are concerned it would have been best if they postponed any decisions in these matters until the verdict comes into effect’ – Ewa Łętowka told journalists after the trial.

‘The Courts however will do as they think is right. However from the moment of this verdict, this act is no longer under the supposition of constitutionality’.

What does that mean? The courts have to obey The Constitution, and therefore they can deny applying the statue which is colliding with it, although the statue was in force in the moment of local elections.

Five judges of the Tribunal have taken part in the trial, two of which – Teresa Liszcz and Zbigniew Cieślak – were chosen for this office by Sejm three months ago with the votes of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS). None of the judges has issued votum separatum.

* * *

Editorial comment of Gazeta Wyborcza.
Author: Jarosław Kurski

This was not the first time, when prime-minister makes disdainful remarks on the Tribunal. We remember his words ‘Disgusting, cowardly opportunists’, ‘unimpressive group of wisemen’, ‘lie-elites‘ of plotters who settle their own interests.
This time prime-minister talked about ‘circus tricks’. He insinuated that the Tribunal is plotting together with Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. He threatened that ‘we need to seriously think about a new form for the the Tribunal’. It all happened an hour before the sentence. You cannot describe prime-minister’s words different, than as an attempt to pressurise an independent constitutional court. Not a first attempt. Prime-mister is making us used to his breachings of legal culture of the state. We cannot agree to that.
Yesterdays sentence is the triumph of the rule of law. If it was up to PiS, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz would have stopped being mayor long ago.
Thankfully the prime-minister does not have enough power to execute his threat and “reforem” the Tribunal. The Tribunal is protected by The Consitution. No one has won with it, and lets hope it stays that way.

Professor Andrzej Zoll, former Ombudsman, comments for Gazeta Wyborcza:
Mr prime-minister has been devaluing the Tribunal for a very long time. Such pressure, threatening is, using his words, anti-Polish. I think that anywhere in Europe such remark would have cost a prime-minister his job. I do not expect such a reaction in Poland.
I know that the Tribunal will not surrender to pressure. independent Tribunal is the only hope, that we will not end up as a totalitarian state.

Professor Marek Safjan, former Chairman of the Constutional Tribunal, comments for Gazeta Wyborcza:
Well, I cannot say I am surprised with these remarks, as they match the tone which we have heard from the prime-minister from a long time. You can see some elements of pressurising the Tribunal in it. I am convinced however, that the judges are immune to that, like thay have been until now.
The fact that the sentence was in accordance with a certain, possible to be foreseen, legal argumentation, means only as much as the actions of the Tribunal are transparent. That there are no ‘circus tricks’ only clear, obvious and predictable argumentation.
However the threat of ‘reshaping the construction of the Tribunal’ it is really dangerous, as a reaction to the fact that Tribunal’s sentences are not in accordance with the wishes of executive power. This is a hit in the basics of the rule of law.

* * *


If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.