Jerzy Ficowski was a poet, writer, columnist, and translator. He was born in 1924 in Warsaw, and died there in 2006.
Poeta, pisarz, publicysta, tłumacz.
From his birth, Jerzy Ficowski’s life was connected to Warsaw, where he was born on 4th September 1925. His family were members of the intelligentsia: his father was a lawyer and his mother Halina was an office worker. Ficowski went to primary school and secondary school in Warsaw. At first, he studied at Stanisław Staszic Secondary School, then at the famous Jan Zamoyski School. Ficowski’s education stopped when the war began in 1939. During the occupation he managed to continue schooling in underground education system. In 1941 he moved to Włochy, near Warsaw. Interestingly, several other Polish writers lived there as well as Ficowski, such as Marek Nowakowski and Wojciech Albiński.
Ficowski’s peers introduced him to the Polish resistance movement during World War II. Soon after, he joined the Home Army (Armia Krajowa). In his underground activities he used the pseudonym ‘Wrak’ (Wreck). In 1943 he was arrested by the Nazis and detained in Pawiak prison. He got out before the start Warsaw Uprising, and when it broke out he fought in Mokotów, for which he was awarded the Cross of Valour, a Polish military decoration.
After the Warsaw Uprising Ficowski became a German prisoner of war on Nazi territory. He returned to Poland in 1945 and again took up residence in Włochy. Between 1946 and 1950 he studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Warsaw.
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In 1946 Ficowski debuted in Dziś I Jutro (Today and Tomorrow) magazine, with a poem called Ptakom Niebieskim (For the Birds in the Sky). Starting in 1946, he wrote and published not only his poems but also reviews and articles about literature and culture. He also worked as a translator, and translated Federico García Lorca’s poems from Spanish. In 1948 Ficowski published his debut book of poetry Ołowiani Żołnierze (The Tin Soldiers, trans. OT). In the same year he became part of the Polish Professional Writers’ Union (Związek Zawodowy Literatów Polskich). In 1950 he married Wanda Komala.
From the very start of his work as a writer, Ficowski saw the process of writing itself as something special and extraordinary. He believed that poetry is written in a solemn, celebratory moment and that poets can make use of that special moment in their work. His literary career, which began in the late 40s and was part of dramatic changes that Poland and its culture went through, was original from its beginning, mainly due to Ficowski’s fascination with the culture of the Romani people.
Hecatomb of the Polish Archives in the Uprising
During the 40s and 50s he travelled with the Roma people in vardo wagons. There he learnt the language, customs and everyday life of this colourful community. Ficowski felt safe, as it wasn’t possible for the Department of Security to keep track of him there. In 1949 he became part of the Gypsy Lore Society.
Ficowski researched and wrote a lot about the Romani people, who were mostly destroyed during the communist regime in Poland. In 1954 he travelled to Hungary to meet the Romani people who lived there, and Ficowski’s poetry is clearly inspired by this community. He also translated Romani poetry into Polish and published books about the Roma people’s life, history, lore, and legends. Ficowski was also a friend of the poet Papusza (Bronisława Wajs), who wrote in the Roma language. In 1956, Ficowski published his translations of poems by Papusza.
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During the 50s and the 60s Ficowski collaborated with many literary journals such as Twórczość (Creative Output), Nowa Kultura (New Culture), Współczesność (Modernity) and magazines for children such Płomyczek (Little Flame) and Płomyk (Flame). In 1956 he was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit.
After witnessing the horrors of World War II, Ficowski was involved with attempts to save Jewish culture from being forgotten. He wrote a narrative poem entitled List Do Marka Chagalla (Letter for Marc Chagall) published in 1957. Ficowski was enamoured with Bruno Schulz’s Sklepy Cynamonowe (The Street of Crocodiles), which he read during World War II. When he learned about the tragic death of Schulz, Ficowski decided to commemorate him by researching his art. In 1967, Ficowski wrote the definitive biography of him, entitled Regions of the Great Heresy. In 1968 Jerzy Ficowski married again, this time fellow writer Elżbieta Bussold. Two years later he became a member of Polish Pen Club, and was part of its directorate from 1972. In December of 1975 Ficowski signed the famous Memoriał 59 (Memorandum of 59), a letter signed by Polish intellectuals who protested against the changes of the Polish constitution. It was the beginning of his involvement with the anti-communist opposition. From then on his writings weren’t officially published until the 1980s. In 1977, the PEN Club gave the writer an award for his works as a translator. Starting in 1977, Ficowski was published in the underground publishing house Zapis (Record). He became a member of the Workers' Defence Committee in 1978, and was also involved in protests and demonstrations in Radom. In 1979 he published a collection of poems entitled Gryps in the underground NOWA publishing house.
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When martial law was introduced in Poland, Ficowski still collaborated with underground movements in attempt to crush political opposition. He always emphasised how important freedom was for him, and he wanted to live in a free and pacifistic world. Perhaps that is why in his writings reality often underwent fairy-tale like changes, as Ficowski was interested in what is between reality and the world of dreams.
In 1981 and 1984 he travelled to Israel and Great Britain due to his research on Jewish literature. In 1984 he was awarded the Army Medal for War. In the same year he won a prize from the A. Jurzykowski Foundation. In 1988 he helped with the commemoration of 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
In 1989 he became a member of the Polish Writers’ Association. In 1992 he coordinated the celebration for 100th birthday of Bruno Schulz and the commemorations of the 50th anniversary Schulz’s death.
Ficowski died in Warsaw on 9th May 2006 and is interred in Powązki Cemetery.
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