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A humanities man through and through

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Family life prior to the outbreak of war
Adam Zagajewski Poet
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I have no memory of anyone reading to me. If anyone did, it would have been my mother, most definitely. I remember that I read the books, not that someone read them to me. I probably learned to read quite quickly and I'm sure I was very proud of being able to read and I didn't want anyone to help me with that. I don't recall any lengthy reading sessions. I mean, if there were any, it would have been with my mother because my father was exceptionally busy. He worked, he prepared his lectures for the following day, he had his room which was partially out of bounds to the rest of the family, it was a room – my father's study. It was very modest. I always remember that in the beginning, my father obviously needed something that would serve as his desk. He couldn't afford a proper desk, although in a town like Gliwice there would have been post-German furniture available in second-hand shops; my father could only dream about having a brand new desk and there were very few around. But is Silesia, in these Reclaimed Lands, there would have been a lively trade in the significant material wealth the Germans had left behind. So we lived surrounded by post-German furniture – that was one of my earliest experiences, that the entire material world was post-German. Even the radio was post-German. I remember that it was made by NordMende which I believe still exists today. My mother had a Singer sewing machine. Singer is an American brand, but perhaps it's German-American. But these were German traces.

That's where we lived, my parents hadn't been able to bring much with them from Lwów although to be honest, they didn't have much in Lwów since until the outbreak of the war, they had lived in Warsaw and they lost... my father's first job was in a factory in Warsaw, a factory that made radio transmitters. This business of radio transmitters seems to have been accompanying my family for some considerable time. My parents lived in Saska Kępa, but they didn't have their own apartment. Instead, they rented two rooms or something like that. They told me that they'd had a few items of their own furniture which they'd had to leave behind later when they were fleeing Warsaw. They came back to Lwów because that's where the rest of their family was living.

Ja w ogóle nie pamiętam, żeby mi ktoś czytał książki. Jeżeli, to mama, na pewno mama. W mojej pamięci to ja czytam książki, nie to, że ktoś mnie czyta książki. Chyba się dość szybko nauczyłem czytać i zapewne byłem bardzo dumny, że umiem czytać. Nie chciałem, żeby ktoś mnie wyręczał w tym. Jakichś takich dłuższych seansów czytania nie pamiętam. To znaczy jeżeli... to musiała być mama, bo ojciec był jednak bardzo zajęty. Pracował, przygotowywał swoje wykłady na następny dzień, miał swój pokój, który był częściowo zamknięty dla rodziny, bo to był pokój – gabinet ojca. Bardzo zresztą skromny. Zawsze pamiętam o tym, że na samym początku ojciec oczywiście potrzebował czegoś w rodzaju biurka, nie stać go było na prawdziwe buirko, chociaż w takim mieście jak Gliwice były w obiegu w jakichś komisach takie poniemieckie meble, prawda, bo nowe biurko to zapewne było marzenie i mało tego było, ale na Śląsku na tych wszystkich Ziemiach Odzyskanych musiał się odbywać handel tym ogromnym majątkiem materialnym, który pozostawili Niemcy, wyjeżdżając. No, mieszkało się w meblach poniemieckich – to jest jedno z moich doświadczeń wczesnych, że cały świat materialny był właściwie poniemiecki. I radio było poniemieckie nawet. Pamiętam, że to była marka Nordmende, która istnieje – wydaje mi się – istnieje do dzisiaj. A mama miała jakąś maszynę do szycia też Zingera, to znaczy Zinger był amerykański, ale nie wiem, czy amerykańsko-niemiecki. Ale to były niemieckie zapachy. Tam myśmy mieszkali, z tego Lwowa rodzice nie mogli dużo przywieźć, zresztą, prawdę mówiąc, nic nie mieli we Lwowie, bo tuż... do wybuchu wojny mieszkali w Warszawie i stracili... to, co ojciec miał pierwszą posadę w Warszawie, w fabryce, nota bene, nadajników radiowych. Zresztą ten element nadajnika radiowego towarzyszy... towarzyszy mojej rodzinie od bardzo dawna i mieszkali na Saskiej Kępie, ale nie mieli własnego mieszkania, tylko wynajmowali dwa pokoje czy coś w tym rodzaju. I mieli – z tego co mi opowiadali – mieli trochę własnych mebli, ale je porzucili, uciekając potem w Warszawy. Wracając do Lwowa, bo tam była cała rodzina.

Adam Zagajewski (b. 1945 in Lwów) is a Polish poet, novelist, translator and essayist. He was awarded the 2004 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award and the 2017 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature. He is considered as one of the leading poets of the Generation of '68 or the Polish New Wave (Polish: Nowa fala) and is one of Poland's most prominent contemporary poets.

Listeners: Andrzej Wolski

Film director and documentary maker, Andrzej Wolski has made around 40 films since 1982 for French television, the BBC, TVP and other TV networks. He specializes in portraits and in historical films. Films that he has directed or written the screenplay for include Kultura, which he co-directed with Agnieszka Holland, and KOR which presents the history of the Worker’s Defence Committee as told by its members. Andrzej Wolski has received many awards for his work, including the UNESCO Grand Prix at the Festival du Film d’Art.

Tags: Silesia, Warsaw, Lwów

Duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2018

Date story went live: 25 April 2019