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Vol 3, No 1
8 January 2001
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Księga rodzaju
[Book of Genesis]
Twój styl (Warsaw), 2000
ISBN 8371632487

Christina Manetti

Henryk Grynberg's poetry anthology, Księga rodzaju (Book of Genesis), which appeared this past autumn, is a collection of poems from the past four decades that up to now had only been published abroad, with a few newer poems included that had previously appeared in Polish periodicals.

Księga rodzaju is in many ways the lyrical twin of Grynberg's Memorbuch (see CER's review), as it treats the same themes in a different form. In these poems, the main focus is Grynberg's subjective experience of the past 50 years as a Polish Jew, first in Poland and then as an émigré.

This aspect is absent from Memorbuch, simply because of the book's nature: though Grynberg calls it a "novel," he is really telling someone else's life story, based on Adam Bromberg's autobiographical material. Bromberg's own personality limits Grynberg even further; Bromberg, unlike Grynberg, was not an introspective poet but rather a man who eagerly took every opportunity for action in his beloved field of publishing.

Though Grynberg's poetry collection and his biographical "novel" about Bromberg seem at first to show precisely how different the Polish-Jewish experience could be after the war, depending on the individual, there are several common themes that serve as a basis for comparison.

The loneliness of survival

Reading Grynberg's poems, we come away with a sense of overwhelming loneliness: "that loneliness that is living / for the dead" ("Synowie" ["Sons"] p 9). It is not merely the loneliness of someone who lost much of his family during the Holocaust or, like Bromberg, who lost every single member of his family except for one niece. Rather, it is the existential loneliness of the Jews who survived, living out their lives knowing that six million others did not—a magnification of the feeling that, ever since the Middle Ages, has prompted Jews to commemorate their martyrs in Memorbücher.

In many of Grynberg's poems, the absence of others is painfully palpable. In a poem from the collection Wśród nieobecnych (Among the Absent), he writes:

na piersiach naszych wciąż tlą się
pomordowane imiona
nad głowami łopocą nam miasta
i szukamy nieustannie szukamy
w tłumie nieobecnych (p 55)

in our breasts
the murdered names
still smolder
overhead we hear the sound
of cities of ashes
and we are searching always searching
in the crowd of those who are not here

At the same time, however, those who are gone still always remain:

Są z nami
w nas
ich ciepło i chłód
w sobie czuję

uciekam błądzę daleko
lecz wszędzie z nimi
jestem ich
do nich należę

dobrze ż nie jestem sam
że zostali
nie w grobach
w nas pochowani
("Komentarz," ["Commentary"] no 19, pp 125-126)


they are with us
inside us
their warmth and coldness
I feel inside me

I flee far away, am lost
but am with them everywhere
I am theirs
I belong to them

it is good that they have not abandoned me
that I am not alone
that they have stayed
not in graves
but buried within us

Living with memory

Though the deceased are always present, the problem of living with one's own memory of the past remains and is part of the general, difficult question of how survivors of the Holocaust—or of the war in general—can go on with their lives after such an experience.

As for Grynberg, though he is consumed by this memory, he tells children to "have more fun than I / and do not ask me about anything" ("Do dzieci" ["To Children"] p 52).

In Memorbuch, Grynberg recounts that when Bromberg and his future wife Hanka were reunited after the war, she showed him stacks of notebooks in which she had written down everything that had happened every day. Then she threw them into the fire; she did not want to remember, or to inflict her memory on him.(p 195)

It has often been said that after the war, the main feeling among those who survived—whether Jewish or Polish—was one of joy and that those who survived did so in part thanks to an unusually strong will to live. A common sight on the streets of Warsaw just after the war were joyful chance reunions between friends and relatives who survived.

Jews, too, searched for survivors, but their search most often just reinforced their sense of loneliness. One of Grynberg's poems was inspired by a meeting of survivors at a kibbutz in 1981, where people held up signs identifying their hometown, everyone searching for someone—anyone at all—from their past life ("Singularis" ["Singular"] pp 60-61).

Although it might seem that the suicide rate in the general population should have gone up substantially after the war, after the devastating experiences that so many people in Europe lived through, the general consensus is that it did not, because people, for the most part, were just happy to be alive.


Grynberg addresses the question of life "after the resurrection" in a poem of that title. Here, it becomes clear that in the Jewish context survival had a more profound meaning, one that was at once both moral and religious, according to which suicide would not be merely a self-destructive act but one directed against the whole Jewish nation and even God himself. Grynberg writes:

podpalamy znicze pamięci
bo historia się wcale nie kończy
na zmartwychwstaniu
i niesiemy ciężar nasz dalej... my najtwardsi i najwytrwalsi
bo nikt więcej od nas nie wytrwał
wybierani sami wybrańcy
i najwięksi zwycięzcy bo nikt
takiej bitwy nieprawdopodobnej
nigdy nie wygrał z losem... my się już nie boimy
nie mamy już siły się bać"
("Po zmartwychwstaniu" ["After Resurrection"] pp 56-57)

we light memorial candles
because history does not end
with the resurrection
we keep carrying our burden... we the toughest and most enduring
because no one has endured more than we
the chosen from among the Chosen
and the greatest winners because no one
has ever won such an unbelievable battle with fate... we are no longer afraid
we no longer have strength to be afraid

The question of faith

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Like many others who have pondered the human condition after the Second World War, Grynberg also reflects upon the nature of God and the role of religion in the modern world. This is a theme that resounds throughout the collection. Though one cannot say that Grynberg is exactly an optimist, by no means does he reject God and religion, as some were prone to do.

In a poem dedicated to the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, he states:

Bóg jest angielską królową
jest ale nie ma władzy
można być Mu posłusznym lub nie
kochać Go albo nie
można Go nawet zabić
w sobie

bo nie jest nad nami lecz w nas
i tylko od nas zależy co z Nim uczynimy
tak jak od nas zależy co uczynimy z sobą
bez żadnych złudzeń że On
zechce nas w tym wyręczyć
("Bóg jest..." ["God is..."] p 48)


God is the Queen of England
He is, but has no power
you can obey Him or not
love Him or not
you can even kill Him
within yourself

because He is not above us, but inside us
and it is entirely up to us what we do with Him
just like it is up to us what we do with ourselves
without any illusions that He
might want to help us out in some way

Grynberg concludes that faith in God is not only still possible today but absolutely necessary. In "Fear," he writes that humans had already conquered darkness, fire, animals and hunger, when God, whom they had also feared, also left them—of his own accord. "Now," he writes, "that we have been left all to ourselves— / never has our fear been greater."

The view of faith expressed in Księga rodzaju is perhaps best summed up in the following lines:

są wojny głód katastrofy
i najbardziej wciąż cierpią niewinni
a sprawiedliwość jak bezludna wyspa
na oceanie krzywd
i umieramy umieramy umieramy
zamiast naprawdę żyć

dobrze jest wierzyć bo wiara
jest naszym jedynym zbawieniem
("Dobrze jest wierzyć" ["It is Good to Have Faith"] p 47)


there are wars famines catastrophes
and the innocent still suffer most of all
and justice is like a desert island
in an ocean of injustice
and we are dying dying dying
instead of truly living

it is good to have faith because faith
is our only salvation

Christina Manetti, 8 January 2001

Moving on:


Ivana Gogova

Bernhard Seliger
Ten Years After

Mel Huang
Lithuania Fumbles

Sam Vaknin
Dirty Diplomats

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Caring for Your Own

Slavko Živanov
A Lesson in Democracy

Gerhard Jochem
Paying for the Past

CzTV Crisis:
James Partridge
Getting Ahead in TV

Jan Čulík
Taking Them to
the Streets

Robert M Kokta
More of the Same?

Andrew Stroehlein
A Revolution in Television

Jan Čulík
Dead Air

Jana Dědečková

Miloš Zeman

Steven Saxonberg
Social Costs of Transformation

Henryk Grynberg:
Christina Manetti
Ksiega rodzaju

Christina Manetti

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

Press Reviews:
Andrea Mrozek
Who's the Boss?

Oliver Craske
Zoran and Göran


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