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Life in a Cemetery

Keywords

Krzysztof Warlikowski TR Warszawa directing collective creation Polish theatre The Tempest William Shakespeare The Dybbuk S. Ansky Hanna Krall Krum Hanoch Levin Holocaust Second World War Jedwabne Ghetto Uprising Warsaw Uprising Polish Jewish culture Polish identity Yiddish theatre Forefathers' Eve Adam Mickiewicz Avignon Anatoli Vassiliev Cleansed sexuality LGBT homosexuality homophobia family minority identities anti-Semitism Polish Catholic Church Kraków Warsaw

Article

Krzysztof Warlikowski is a founder and Artistic Director of the Nowy Teatr (New Theatre) in Warsaw and among the foremost European performance practitioners working today. He has directed more than fifty theatre and opera productions in Poland and internationally, including in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel. Early in his career, Warlikowski was an assistant to Krystian Lupa and to Peter Brook, and he also trained with Ingmar Bergman and Giorgio Strehler, before becoming a directing associate and regular collaborator of TR Warszawa, where his work received widespread critical acclaim. In 2008, along with a group of his long-term collaborators, he co-founded the independent Nowy Teatr, which presented its inaugural production (A)pollonia in 2009. For further biographical and career information and source materials, see ‘Krzysztof Warlikowski: Chronology of life and work’.

Piotr Gruszczyński is a literary director, dramaturg, theatre critic, and author of an important book on recent developments in Polish theatre: Ojcobójcy. Młodsi zdolniejsi w teatrze polskim (The Father-Killers: The Younger, More Talented in Polish Theatre). He was also the editor and interlocutor in an extended series of interviews with Warlikowski published in Polish as Szekspir i uzurpator (Shakespeare and the Usurper, 2007) and in French as Théâtre ecorché (Flayed Theatre, 2007). He has collaborated with the Nowy Theatre since its founding in 2008, and is jointly responsible for its artistic programme.


This text was edited from an extended series of conversations between Krzysztof Warlikowski and Piotr Gruszczyński. The extracts that appear here are from interviews that took place in 2003 and 2005, following Warlikowski’s productions of The Dybbuk and of Krum, respectively.

Two differently edited versions of these conversations were published in Polish and in French (both in 2007); the original transcripts are no longer available.[1] The discussions published here thus constitute a new text, re-edited from the previous publications in dialogue with the authors. Unless otherwise indicated, all footnotes and annotations are by the PTP editors.

(Eds.)

Piotr Gruszczyński: You work with a double version of The Dybbuk: that of Solomon Ansky’s play and an adaptation of Hanna Krall’s short story. In your interpretation of Ansky’s text, the shadow of the Holocaust looms over everything that unfolds in the performance. With Krall, it is explicitly present. When you talked about your 2003 production of The Tempest, you said that it was a production that spoke of the wrongs and the recent apology linked to the Jedwabne affair. When did the issue of the Holocaust become your theme, a question you had to reflect on, that you had to investigate?

Krzysztof Warlikowski: Jedwabne brutally confronted Poles with history, which for us, after the war, was pushed aside to some extent, passed over in silence – above all by my own generation, who wanted to start again from the beginning. But if we do not rethink the situation of the Jews in Poland in a different way, we will never be [at peace] with ourselves. Our words will not be sincere. Our theatre will not be sincere. The Holocaust is certainly a theme I’ve tried to confront. Hanna Krall speaks about the four pillars of my theatre: ancient drama, the Bible, the Holocaust, and Shakespeare.

Gruszczyński: Do you remember when and why this theme became so important for you?

Warlikowski: When I understood that it’s the most important part of Polish history.

Gruszczyński: What provoked such a strong identification with this theme on your part?

Warlikowski: A realisation about the life and the annihilation of the Jews in Poland. It is, in my opinion, the missing link within Polish identity today.

Gruszczyński: Did you know straightaway that you would bring together Ansky’s play and Krall’s story?

Warlikowski: I carried [Ansky’s] Dybbuk with me for a long time. It reminded me of Maeterlinck, of the voices and words pronounced in solitude, in the face of the ‘decomposition’ of a kind of collectiveness. It is a text contaminated by the Holocaust, even though it was written much earlier. Contaminated by the pogroms, by the feeling of non-existence of the Jews, by the fact of the marginalisation of Jewish life.[2] A very old ghost derived from Yiddish theatre that I wanted to make real. Ansky’s Dybbuk acquires a new life in the context of Krall’s story. It poses the question of our spirituality of long ago, which is to say also that of today. Krall’s text removes Ansky’s piece from legend and brings it within history. [...]

The first part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk, after Shimon Ansky. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

The first part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk, after Shimon Ansky. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Gruszczyński: The second part of the performance takes place in the contemporary world. The dybbuk appears as someone who has filled the metaphysical void in a country that is seemingly perfect, but devoid of spirituality. With Ansky, the dybbuk is something evil, a curse. For the contemporary protagonist, would it be something healthy?

Warlikowski: Yes. In a perverse way, something good happens. Hanna Krall says that we like our dybbuks, that they become a way for us to endure the world. In the first part of my production, the dybbuk might appear to be a problem, an evil – but Leah accepts the dybbuk and welcomes it. The tsaddik can’t drive it away. I’m convinced that already in Ansky’s version the dybbuk appeared in all its ambivalence between good and evil. This issue is clearly highlighted in Krall. For me, a question emerges from the connection between these two stories: do we have the moral right to drive out the dybbuk, and what is it [the dybbuk], really? Maybe in the case of Leah, it is a sickness related to love? If so, Ansky’s piece would end with the death of a young girl who is lovesick.

Gruszczyński: In that case, what is the dybbuk?

Warlikowski: The dybbuk is the continuity of life. We cannot live without the dybbuk without sinking into the banality of existence. It’s proof of the migration of souls, of their reunion. The purpose of life. The dybbuk gives meaning to existence, it gives restitution to the world. Today it is the personification of the memory that we don’t want to let go of, that we want to cultivate within ourselves, the memory that might save us today. It’s this that gives meaning to our lives.

Gruszczyński: What should this dybbuk be for the spectator?

Warlikowski: It gives a sense of order. After the chaos of the Holocaust.

Gruszczyński: Does the dybbuk bring relief?

Warlikowski: It brings about the crisis-point that leads to order.

Gruszczyński: Do you believe in the story as described by Krall? Do you believe this is how it really happened?[3]

Warlikowski: I worry more about the way in which the events impact on the protagonists. I didn’t want to visualise the dybbuk, to represent it, to give it more life than was necessary. The dybbuk is at once the psychological response of a young girl who has lost her fiancé and the response of the second generation of those who escaped the Holocaust. Because it’s only the second generation who reacted to it as such. Here we could cite Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus.[4] Krall also recalls that she had access to the real notes of the father of Adam S., the protagonist of her ‘Dybbuk’ – notes made in the 1940s. She says that they were disabused, impersonal. It’s only with the second generation that something emerged from these atrocities and for whom a form and a meaning began to appear. The first post-war generation was concerned with forgetting; only the second openly cultivated the memory of what happened.

Gruszczyński: So [with Krall’s story], the truth of what actually happened has no importance?

Warlikowski: No. In the case of Leah, what counts is the reality of her death and her painful solitude, linked to the loss of reason. In the second part of the production, what’s important is that the Holocaust has taken place. Here the whole question is focused on the title of Krall’s book: Dowody na istnienie (Proofs of Existence). Together, the two parts are a voyage beyond the search for proofs of existence.

Gruszczyński: You stripped Ansky’s text of its entire folk aspect.[5] Even lexical. For example, when, in the text, it’s said that Sender (the merchant, and father of Leah) will be called before the tribunal of the Torah, you only keep the word ‘tribunal’. Why is this?

Warlikowski: I didn’t want to submit to any particular tradition. I wanted to stage situations and individual choices. Sender’s journey towards wrongdoing is not due to the fact that he was a religious Jew.[6] These are personal questions. His daughter is the engine, the catalyst, a being who does not allow us to remain indifferent, who forces us to respond to the question: who am I? The fates of Leah or of the dybbuk are individual fates. But the issue of Sender’s past wrong, and the need for him to look deep within himself, are additional consequences of these fated individuals, and this is what is most interesting for me. I envisaged this text with its folk Jewish attributes removed. The most important thing was to touch on our wider contemporary awareness today. At a certain stage of work, it became apparent that the second, contemporary Dybbuk should not transport us to the concrete, post-war world – the first part should already take place within our way of thinking and our spirituality today. Ansky’s Sender is a sort of ‘new Jew’, on his way to America. He still lives in the East, but is soon to leave. It’s the beginning of the death of the Jewish world in Europe. I was more concerned with the spirituality of this society and less with its folklore.

Gruszczyński: After having seen the rehearsals for The Dybbuk, I have the impression that you don’t believe at all that modern spirituality might be something positive. In The Dybbuk, we’re dealing with a spirituality of adversity. This spirituality defines our current situation. There seems to be no place for a spirituality of love that offers people different possibilities. Has the spirituality of death replaced it?

Warlikowski: I’m not interested in spirituality along the lines of ‘humans-God’. I occupy myself with spirituality in relations between people, and this is effectively condemned to suffering, like all of our existence. My spirituality will never be an abstraction. It isn’t a path towards what is on high, towards God. In the theatre, I’m interested in the horizontal plane.

Samuel Kerner (Jacek Poniedziałek) in the second part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk, after Hanna Krall. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Samuel Kerner (Jacek Poniedziałek) in the second part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk, after Hanna Krall. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Gruszczyński: Up to now, you gave the spectators some hope. In The Dybbuk, you give them no support, you don’t throw out any life-belts.

Warlikowski: That’s not true. If at the end we arrive at the conviction that we need the dybbuk to save our spirituality, then this gives some hope. The first part, suspended ambivalently between death and the ‘between’, is in a certain sense an exemplification of the exchange between Chonen and Leah, who says that beyond their union grow the souls of their unborn children...[7] At the end, we see a couple who are united and who attest to the meaning of this course.

Gruszczyński: But who don’t allow us to feel a sense of relief...

Warlikowski: Because we can’t forget. Hanna Krall is searching for proofs; she has her own dybbuk from the war, who saved her life. Samuel Kerner, one of the protagonists of her ‘Dybbuk’ has cancer, his legs were crushed in an accident, and yet all his life he has helped people.[8] These are objective facts. The force of spirit of Adam S., of Samuel, or of Krall gives us hope. One of the stories at the beginning [of her book] says that we are increasingly aware of becoming distanced from God but that we continue to distance ourselves all the same. It’s a sad story because she speaks of the loss of God, but also optimistic because she speaks about people who pursue their paths right to the very end. We each have our own language but we speak about a common experience. I’d like to make a performance for people endowed with a certain new awareness, people who understand and gain nourishment from the past, people guided by memory who are anchored in contemporary situations and who have their own dybbuks.

Samuel Kerner and Adam S. in the second part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Samuel Kerner and Adam S. in the second part of Warlikowski’s The Dybbuk. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Gruszczyński: All of this is very Polish. [For us,] all history unfolds in Poland or slants towards Poland. Our traditional spirituality is built on our close links with the dead. We have Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady (Forefathers’ Eve)[9] and the ‘book-invitation’ by Maria Janion: Do Europy, tak, ale razem z naszymi umarłymi (To Europe – Yes, but Together with our Dead).[10] Perhaps then, as you say, ‘The Dybbuk’ addresses itself to people who have a new vision of things, to people of the West, but it’s a text that’s powerfully marked by its provenance: it comes from us, from Poland, from the East.

Warlikowski: It’s true. Perhaps within Europe it’s only the Poles who can speak such a language. Tadeusz Kantor portrayed Polish spirituality, our domestic problem, our defect or our particularity. For my part, I’d like for what I do not to be a particularly Polish trait but our participation in a common spirituality, within the context of a new generation of German, French, and Polish thought.

Gruszczyński: You consider that, for the West, Kantor was an ‘exotic’ attraction?

Warlikowski: Yes. They didn’t understand him very well. It was the period of exotic encounters ‘of the third kind’ with those who’d been ‘contaminated’ by the East – which was perceived then as this vast, unique space. Today, [the festival at] Avignon has become a place of dialogue between our theatre and the Western mentality, a meeting with the voice of the new generation, which speaks a very rational, cold language, which questions the past, which has its own dybbuks but is otherwise in contact with modern society. The time when everyone brought their own language and their own particular form is over – the time when Peter Brook came to Avignon with The Mahabharata, when Kantor came with his world suspended between Wielopole and Kraków, when Krystian Lupa came with his Austro-Hungarian space.[11] Today, regardless of what we say, we do so in a common language. It’s no longer the language of a certain kind of theatrical form that is characteristic of Eastern Europe. We create theatre that seeks to go beyond form. Its particularity doesn’t reside in the form but in the problematic that is highlighted there.

Gruszczyński: The situation of the Jews concerns all of Europe. The situation of the Poles doesn’t have the same resonance. Would it be possible to address contemporary European spirituality through working on a Polish text – Dziady, for example?

Warlikowski: The Dybbuk is a revitalised Dziady! The Holocaust and the literature connected with it opened up new paths to spirituality. Texts that depict the Judeo-Polish situation judge us very harshly. In France, for example, the ‘Warsaw Uprising’ is a different event than it is for the Poles. Most people [who refer to the Warsaw Uprising] are thinking of [what we know as] the Ghetto Uprising, whereas the Poles also rebelled.[12] A tragic dichotomy divides our awareness: the Warsaw Uprising with Krzysztof Baczyński is increasingly left to rot, whereas the Ghetto Uprising of a handful of individuals condemned to extermination is closer to me today.[13]

Gruszczyński: The Warsaw Uprising was also an insurrection of persecuted people...

Warlikowski: In the Ghetto Uprising it was about survival, whereas the Warsaw Uprising was about people fighting to live as they had done before [the Nazi occupation]. Anyway, it’s not objective – it’s about what remains with me today.

Gruszczyński: Polish history, for you, is thus recovered by the history of the Jews?

Warlikowski: It’s enriched by it. The graves of the Jews in Poland ensure that their existence is always with us, that our land is populated by dybbuks.

Gruszczyński: Is it possible for the Poles to accept these dybbuks?

Warlikowski: It is already a reality for the part of society that is aware of the dybbuks that it carries within it, and that discusses them often. There are also Poles who cling to old superstitions or ideology, who do not believe in dybbuks of this kind.

Gruszczyński: In your Dybbuk, you resigned from trying to ‘move’ the spectators, which was something you’d tried to work with in the past. You restricted us to a tense, concentrated, cold, and conscious observation. You didn’t allow us to save ourselves through emotion, to let ourselves off the hook.

Warlikowski: It’s a reflection of the radical tone of contemporary European literature – as in the texts by Krall, for example, who has reached the point where she no longer tries to name the unnameable. Literature has entered an era of phrases ‘between suspension marks’. Krall says that her stories contain more and more empty pages. I’m also confronted with problems of form; at a certain point, I almost stifled myself with it. Today the most important thing for me is what I want to say. The theatre of form is compromised in an imitation of life. This is why I try first of all to speak: I want to theorise for the theatre, to philosophise, not to tell a story but to speak, to keep my distance from ‘beautiful forms’. The theatre has never been closer to thought than today.

(2003)

***

Krum (Jacek Poniedziałek, kneeling) and Cica (Danuta Stenka) in Warlikowski’s Krum. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Krum (Jacek Poniedziałek, kneeling) and Cica (Danuta Stenka) in Warlikowski’s Krum. Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Gruszczyński: Around the time your production of Krum premiered (March 2005), you gave an interview in which you said: ‘I don’t know if, with Krum, I’m turning away from the sacred fires that burned within me for these past five or six years’. It’s a very strong phrase. Does it signify the end of rebellion in your theatre?[14]

Warlikowski: The theatre belongs to young directors, to those who go towards it full of impetuousness and whose stored-up energy comes through in their first productions. The more mature person begins to calculate a little more, to go into the meaning of the thought, to put it in order... Rebellion appears as a scattering, as a dispersal of energy that you expend on a ‘just cause’ – but at a certain age, these causes become more distant and less meaningful for us. Something probably did consume itself within me, but this is all in the normal course of things. You lose the blinkeredness you had as a twenty-year-old. Something has been consumed, but it’s difficult to say if this is good or bad...

I don’t want to generalise, but when I look at the path I took, I see that it led to the second part of The Dybbuk, to the words proferred by Krall. The reduction of the ‘theatrical’ elements in The Dybbuk was a shock, and was received in various ways in different countries. The experience of the second half of The Dybbuk took me towards a particular kind of theatre: one, moreover, that hasn’t usually been accepted in Poland. [In this country] The Dybbuk was criticised for being boring, too talkative, and lacking in mystery and metaphysics. I felt that the theatre within me was exhausting itself – that all that was left for me was the need for a ‘collective confession’ and for self-confrontation. In the theatre this confrontation usually takes place through the intermediary of the characters and the story. But I wanted somehow to reach an absolute sincerity. [...] The Dybbuk wouldn’t have been possible without the clarity brought by the actors and their capacity for taking risks. It wasn’t about working on characters – especially in the second part – but about the most effective ways to act upon a group, to convey ideas and to ask questions in order to prompt the process of thought, without the intermediary provided by the fictional world of the play and the characters. The conviction of our testimonies was all that remained. [...]

Following this production, I found myself facing a wall. The next step would have been a kind of ‘open scenario’, based on notes derived from Arthur Mindell’s method of therapy.[15] After Krall, I felt that this would be already a step beyond theatre, that it was sending me into the domain of therapy – which is, moreover, a very important element in my productions, especially the more recent ones.[16] All of a sudden, I became frightened by this wall: the theatre was no longer my domain, I no longer had any need of form, but of content.

Then Krum appeared like an antidote. When I started working on Krum, I didn’t know if I’d end up leaving the theatre or remaining within it. I had to reveal certain problems that I’d carried within me, which I’d avoided dealing with until now by taking advantage of the ‘masks’ that came with my need for rebellion. Dealing with my everyday life pushed me to say things I wouldn’t have said before. But it wasn’t so much about the radicalism of this kind of statement as trying to see if there was a place for this in the theatre, to see if the theatre needed it. [...] I thought about Jerzy Grotowski, who lost himself and ‘killed’ the theatre within him; he killed the creator and became a kind of shaman. Peter Brook remained within the theatre and became one of its great ideologues. With the text of Krum, I could penetrate within a sort of intimacy and show a young man freed of his hang-ups. The sphere of embarrassing intimacy and the desire to go deep within the person became needs for me. A kind of voyage towards the interior of a person – not someone damaged by their hang-ups but someone who is disarmed – towards the most intimate spheres that remain taboo in the majority of European cultures. The period of my ideological fire, during which I dealt with the corruption and the deviations of the post-communist system (concerning our sexuality for example, I questioned whether we were building a new society or if we remained trapped within old schemas), this battle with intolerance, this time of revolt has passed...

Gruszczyński: So you ran the risk of not ending up back with theatre – this might have been the result of Krum?

Warlikowski: Krum was a process that re-familiarised me with theatre, that brought me back to it. [...] At first I didn’t fully appreciate the life of the material in [Hanoch] Levin’s text. Later, several months after the premiere, I felt it had been pretentious to try to tell these stories in such a radical and uncompromising way, to want to touch on the pain without concealing oneself behind a mask – to express this pain without acting it. This was precisely the pretence of an artist who still hasn’t experienced everything, who hasn’t yet suffered like the characters he’s created in his theatre. I thought to myself that in the end theatre is a game played in complete safety. Even if you want to recreate life on the stage in an uncompromising way, the reality is always more cruel and more painful than you can imagine.

Krum (left) and Truda (Maja Ostaszewska). Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Krum (left) and Truda (Maja Ostaszewska). Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Statements that we formulate at different stages of our lives are always provisional and can be painfully disproven. For example, the story of Truda in Krum is the killing of a being within her that she knows she can never possess. At the same time, it’s a horribly banal story. We must remember that theatre-makers also often take refuge in fiction as a way to avoid living. Life then becomes dependent on the theatre, which is very dangerous. We have to maintain a balance between life itself and the fiction that we keep producing, in order to remain close to life. I have the impression that my recent productions – which I think are continually improving – were the result of the motive force that I’d built up over the last ten years, when I’d decided to put real life to one side. I thought that life could wait, because I had many things I wanted to do in the theatre – many things to say, to change, to fight for, to challenge. But at a certain moment, fiction moved back into second place, and life submerged it brutally.

Gruszczyński: How does this translate into the experience of your spectators? Do you think that the theatre – in a condensed way – can stand in for certain real-life experiences? That it can free us from them, like a kind of psychotherapy?

Warlikowski: Certainly. I remember an excellent production by Anatoli Vassiliev – Medea Material, after Heiner Müller – that I saw in 2002 in Avignon.[17] It was a great collective experience. The actor who played Medea, Valérie Dréville – only by sitting onstage with her legs apart, exposing her vagina – offended all the men in the audience (although there weren’t many...). The men began to walk out or to protest loudly, and the performance, which lasted about an hour, finished with a frenetic ovation by the women, who wanted above all to demonstrate their solidarity with the protagonist, crying out their pain. For all these women of the south of France – divorced, abandoned, unhappy – it was magnificent therapy.

In Poland, people walked out of my production of Cleansed (2001) after the scene in which two men kiss, and not after the one in which a man cuts off another’s feet and tongue. The love between two men touched society more vividly than an act of aggression or murder. Theatre can unexpectedly touch on different subjects with the audience, causing something to change in them.

Gruszczyński: Addressing the theme of homosexuality in your Polish productions, do you feel a social mission, the need for engagement?

Warlikowski: I would like for us to be exposed to what we don’t see in the street, what Western societies see daily – for example, men holding hands and kissing each other. In Poland, faced with this, people would spit or strike out at them. I’d like to open something up for those who live repressed lives here. I’d like to stress the need for Poles to find their sexual identity, this movement that erupted across Europe in the 1980s and ’90s. The first mainstream homosexual films emerged; Philadelphia emerged, which changed so much how AIDS was perceived. Just as Schindler’s List helped Kraków come to terms with the fact that it was a Jewish city, and that it was possible to benefit from this awareness. In the theatre, the fact that it is possible to hear about and see homosexual love is also significant. For those who are already familiar with it too, because at last they can encounter it in a really personal, serious, and genuine way. The actors don’t play homosexuals’, they don’t create roles, they only try to express this love between them.

Gruszczyński: Does this mean that the actor, in order to make these characters believable, has to be homosexual?

Warlikowski: No, but it shouldn’t be a problem for them. The society we’re brought up in is significant. The German actor Thomas Schweiberer suddenly found his mission in life when he was performing in Cleansed: to express the problem of homosexual love, to get through to Polish society, which he is gradually getting to know. He’s a very informed, homosexual activist, who meets Polish society and has a sense of what it needs. He has initiated a dialogue. This was something much bigger than simply playing the role of a homosexual. It was a matter of taking a stance. It’s one of the essential human questions: whether to accept and to be tolerant, or to destroy. And we normally destroy. [...]

Jacek Poniedziałek (left) and Thomas Schweiberer in Warlikowski’s Cleansed (2001). Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Jacek Poniedziałek (left) and Thomas Schweiberer in Warlikowski’s Cleansed (2001). Photograph: Stefan Okołowicz.

Gruszczyński: For you, the war means above all the Holocaust. Tell me, how is it that this theme always returns, that it creeps into your theatre through the smallest breaches, even in works apparently quite distanced from this issue, like Krum?

Warlikowski: When I was working on Krum I went to Israel, where Paweł Łoziński and I shot the footage that was later used for the projections in the performance.[18] With these film sequences shot in the streets in Tel Aviv, I wanted to subdue the theatrical, to bring it closer to life, to establish a counterpoint. At a certain moment, when I was wandering around the streets of the city, I came across a bar mitzvah. In this image, you see a big, extended, close-knit family; you think about what constitutes a family in Europe today, and the extent to which family ties have been eroded. In Germany, there is probably nothing but ‘singles’. In Warsaw too, there is this same tendency [to be alone]. Looking at this, you realise that the people of Israel still stick together precisely because they lived through the Holocaust. This is how I understand the legacy of the Holocaust: it’s an awareness that should teach us something, we shouldn’t forget about it – we should remember in order to understand our own situation better.

In Krum, I had a big problem with the monologue of the protagonist, a monologue about the death of his mother. I didn’t know how to do it. When I tried to say it for myself, I didn’t feel the depth that was there; I didn’t know what to hang on to. It was only in reading Henryk Grynberg’s book Kadisz (Kaddish, 1987) – about his mother, who saved him – when I read his kaddish for his mother, that I understood what ‘mother’ meant for Krum.[19] The Jews who survived, irrespective of whether or not they were directly exposed to danger, identify with the victims.

Gruszczyński: Were there any victims of the Holocaust in your family?

Warlikowski: No. My [Jewish] grandfather was adopted. In fact, we don’t know anything about him apart from the fact that he was taken in by our family, who were Christian and from whom he received his surname.

Gruszczyński: Was he your father’s father or your mother’s?

Warlikowski: My mother’s. There was no other point of contact [with Judaism] apart from the fact that, somewhere, a Jewish child who’d been put up for adoption appeared in the family.

Gruszczyński: I ask you about this because various themes in your theatre derive from personal questions or obsessions. So I wondered if the Jewish theme is a family theme, or if it rather came from the place where you live, from the fact that the Holocaust largely took place here?

Warlikowski: I’m Polish – that’s enough for this theme to be permanently close to me. In Warsaw, I’ve always had the feeling of living in a cemetery... I don’t consider myself a Semophile, I also don’t think of Jewishness as being my obsession. But among everything that’s happened that has influenced my theatre, it certainly occupies a very important place – all the more so because our society simmers with hatred every time the ‘Jewish theme’ appears. The towns are covered in anti-Semitic graffiti. It throws off your whole sense of security or of peace. In a place like Poland, you can very easily find yourself in a persecuted minority – any minority. Even more so when you consider that this society should have drawn conclusions from what has happened in the past, but hasn’t done so. It was an important history lesson, which we haven’t taken onboard. It might be taken on for the first time by my generation, which is free from many past burdens, and which is in a position to compare the past and the present – but this probably won’t happen. It’s a taboo – unfortunately a very strong one – that divides everyone, independently of our social standing. It’s not only a problem among those with little education – there are examples everywhere: in the Church, in schools, in the government. In the same way, with homophobia, you wonder whether you should just get out of here or try to fight to change the nation’s point of view.

Gruszczyński: For you, what are the sources of the current anti-Semitism in Poland? Because we can’t make communism solely responsible, even if it’s contributed considerably to the situation.

Warlikowski: Only in the sense that the nationalists often believed there were more Jews than Poles among the communists and UB agents.[20] Whereas obviously it was the other way around.

Gruszczyński: But this was already after the Holocaust and the wave of anti-Semitism that came before the war.

Warlikowski: We could ask ourselves how all this would have unfolded if the Second World War hadn’t taken place. After the death of Marshal Piłsudski [in 1935], anti-Semitism was already out of control and tragedy was only a hair’s breadth away.[21]

Gruszczyński: What is your opinion about the origins of homophobia in Poland? This is also very strong for a European country. Agnieszka Graff described it using a simple analogy: ‘Gay, that is, Jewish’.[22]

Warlikowski: Both anti-Semitism and homophobia compromised themselves within our political history. Western societies have had the time to reflect on all this, to re-educate themselves. Whereas the barrier of communism with its own particular ideology separated us from the rest of the world; it caused societies to regress, it cut us off completely and imposed entirely different problems. I think that in Poland, after the war, no one undertook such a re-education [as in the West]. It wasn’t a free society. Everything was kept hidden away. Homosexuality was legal but not accepted. In the same way, the Jewish people were acknowledged but with ‘semi-legal’ measures, and everything functioned in a semi-legal way.

Gruszczyński: From a legal perspective, we can say that we’ve always been very tolerant. Previously, Jews were accepted in society, and homosexuals were never locked away in prisons...

Warlikowski: Sadly, that’s not done much good! Perhaps because no one ever set the Holocaust as a lesson for us to consider. At school we were brought up with the idea that it was Poles who died at Auschwitz, or maybe Russians as well.[23] Jews were always spoken about enigmatically; you wouldn’t really be able to tell very much about them from these discussions. Since we didn’t really understand what the Holocaust was, we’ve never looked at it from a contemporary perspective. Besides, when we look at the history of how the Holocaust was perceived after the war, we see that in 1945 no one was keen to discuss it. American Jews financed the Marshall Plan for Germany and then [many] didn’t want to know. It was only after Eichmann’s extradition from South America and his trial in 1961 that this subject re-entered the public space, and that politics and even economics stopped distorting what had happened, for a brief moment. The Poles didn’t go through this process after the war because we were mainly occupied with our own martyrdom, and because our ideology was regulated by someone else, who formulated the questions for us.

It’s only today that we find ourselves facing some fundamental questions: are we capable of being a modern, tolerant society – and how do we get there? We are confronted with homophobia just as we are confronted with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. These issues are connected, and they show how much we still have to mature, despite all of Poland’s recent economic success. The Church is one of the worst culprits, and has always been oblivious to the significance of these problems. Its leadership is totally powerless when confronted with the symptoms of anti-Semitism among its members. Pope John Paul II apologised for this, but it’s not enough. In a parish in Bieszczady a problem arose around the choice of its patron saint – the philosopher Edith Stein – because the people didn’t want a Jewish patron.[24] This is the point where everything comes together ironically. All the Christian teaching about the King of the Jews led to the point where the people of this most Catholic country sincerely hate a Jew beatified by their own Polish Pope... In this situation, in my opinion, the Pope should have gone for a year to this village in Bieszczady to repair what the Polish Church destroyed during hundreds of years of distilled anti-Semitism. He should have taught these underprivileged people, who have received little education, that a Jew is a person.

(2005)


Translated from French and Polish by Duncan Jamieson, Adela Karsznia, and Marie Magneron.


Notes

  1. ^ The previously published versions are in: Szekspir i uzurpator. Z Krzysztofem Warlikowskim rozmawia Piotr Gruszczyński (Shakespeare and the Usurper: Krzysztof Warlikowski in conversation with Piotr Gruszczyński) (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo WAB, 2007), and in Krzysztof Warlikowski, Théâtre écorché (Flayed Theatre), ed. by Piotr Gruszczyński, afterword by Georges Banu, trans. by Marie-Thérèse Vido-Rzewuska (Arles: Actes Sud, 2007).
  2. ^ For example, at the opening of Act II of Ansky’s The Dybbuk, the Second Idler discusses with the Wedding Guest one of the pogroms perpetrated by the Ukrainian Cossack hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595-1657), noting that Khmelnytsky ‘slaughtered half the Jews – including a bride and groom, just as they were being led to the wedding canopy. Afterwards, the two of them were buried in one grave and in the very spot where they’d been murdered. Ever since, it’s been known as the Holy Grave. [...] Now, whenever the rabbi marries a couple, he hears sighs coming from the grave... And so we have an old custom here: After a wedding ceremony, we dance around the grave and entertain the buried couple’ (Ansky, ‘The Dybbuk’, p. 23). As Steven J. Zipperstein indicates, ‘One clear influence on the play, as An-sky himself acknowledges, was that in the Ukrainian shtetls visited by his pre-war [ethnographic] expedition perhaps the only recurring folkloristic motif, told in town after town, was of a bride and groom murdered by Khmielnitsky’s marauders in the region’s mid-seventeeth-century pogroms. Their gravesites were shown to An-sky in numerous cemeteries’. See Zipperstein, ‘Introduction: An-sky and the Guises of Modern Jewish Culture’, in The Worlds of S. An-sky, pp. 1-30 (p. 21). Ansky was also influenced in his turn to Yiddish culture and ethnography – which formed much of the basis for The Dybbuk – partly by the impact of the Russian pogroms of 1903 to 1904 and of 1905 to 1906.
  3. ^ Krall’s ‘The Dybbuk’ tells the story of an American of Polish descent born after the war: Adam S., who is inhabited by the spirit of his half-brother, who had been lost as a child in the ghetto. Krall describes the symptoms of Adam S.’s experience of living with his brother’s ‘presence’, including the varying moods and outbursts of Polish speech that appear to be visited upon him by his dybbuk.
  4. ^ In the autobiographical graphic novel Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (initially published in two parts, in 1986 and 1991), Art Spiegelman documents his Polish-Jewish father’s recollections of the period leading up to and during the Holocaust, including his captivity in Auschwitz.
  5. ^ The ‘folk aspect’ to which Gruszczyński refers relates to the extensive ethnographic research undertaken by Ansky, which strongly influenced his play. The Yiddish critic Shmuel Niger reportedly considered The Dybbuk an ‘anthology of folklore’, while Ansky’s Hebrew translator Hayim Nahman Bialik confided to the playwright that ‘I have the impression that [you] picked out your little fragments of folklore and pieced together the remnants of all sorts of clothing into patches, and took those patches and sewed them together into a sort of crazy quilt’. These fragments are cited from Yiddish and Hebrew sources documenting the initial reception of The Dybbuk, by Naomi Seidman in ‘The Ghost of Queer Loves Past: Ansky’s “Dybbuk” and the Sexual Transformation of Ashkenaz’, in Queer Theory and the Jewish Question, ed. by Daniel Boyarin, Daniel Itzkovitz, and Ann Pellegrini (New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 2003), pp. 228-245 (p. 243, n. 11). As noted by another, modern translator of Ansky’s work, ‘The author splices Hasidic tales and parables into the action almost as if they were arias; these narratives are cases of hearsay rather than straight depiction. Like the words of the messenger in a Greek play, they describe what has happened offstage, mediating instead of showing, keeping us at arm’s length from vital (spiritual) action’. See Neugroschel, ‘Introduction’, in The Dybbuk and the Yiddish Imagination, pp. xi-xix (p. xiii).
  6. ^ In Act IV of Ansky’s The Dybbuk, Sender is revealed to have pledged many years before, along with his friend Nissen ben Rivke, that if one of them should bear a daughter and the other a son, the two children would marry. Sender is accused of having renounced his promise later in order to seek a more favourable match. As Seidman suggests, for Sender, his subsequent trial before the rabbinic court ‘serves simultaneously as an indictment of his failure of memory and an exposure of what has been forgotten’. See Seidman, ‘The Ghost of Queer Loves Past’, p. 240.
  7. ^ During the final union of Chonen and Leah, the latter says, tenderly: ‘Come back to me, my bridegroom, my husband.../I’ll carry you in my heart as a dead man,/and in dreams at night we’ll cradle our unborn babies’ (Ansky, ‘The Dybbuk’, p. 51).
  8. ^ In her ‘Dybbuk’, Krall describes one of her own meetings with Samuel Kerner: ‘Eight months before I saw him an automobile had crushed both of Samuel’s legs. The doctors said he would learn to walk in two years. He went for intensive therapy sessions every day, and after he got back I would sit on his bed and torment him with questions. [...] We broke off our conversations whenever Samuel’s voice showed signs of hoarseness. The first time, I thought he was hoarse because of a cold, but he explained that it was a tumor’ (p. 152). In Krall’s story, Kerner is described as having searched in Jewish and Buddhist spiritual traditions ‘with the goal of perfecting mind and character in peace and quiet’ (p. 146). He then ‘returned to the world from his mountain seclusion to help those who suffer. He settled in Boston, in the Back Bay, a district of drug addicts, homosexuals, students, and underappreciated artists. He helped sufferers through Chinese methods: by touch, herbs, and acupuncture’. Kerner’s focus is on therapy associated with memory: ‘Healing through touch is based on drawing out memory. Memory is concealed in the human body, in muscle tissue. It is uncovered by touching the head, the back of the neck, the feet. Things that have been shoved deep into non-memory are recalled anew and lose the power to torment’ (pp. 149-150). Kerner encounters Adam S. as a patient who comes to him for help with his dybbuk.
  9. ^ As Harold B. Segel explains, ‘The Polish title [of Mickiewicz’s Dziady] refers to the pre-Christian Belorussian rite of ancestor worship. Twice a year peasants would come together in cemeteries or chapels, summon the spirits of the dead, and regale them with food and drink to ease their life into the next world. Since it was pagan in origin, the ceremony was officially frowned on by the Church but was not totally suppressed because of the ease with which it could be related to the Christian celebration of the deceased on All Souls’ Day’. See Segel’s ‘Introduction’, in Polish Romantic Drama: Three Plays in English Translation, ed. by Harold B. Segel (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 21-71 (p. 36).
  10. ^ Maria Janion, Do Europy – tak, ale z naszymi umarłymi (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Sic!, 2000). Janion’s book is a seminal collection of essays and interviews published in anticipation of Poland’s membership of the EU (in 2004), in which the author interrogates and attempts to re-frame contemporary Polish identity, drawing on the rite presented in part II of Mickiewicz’s Dziady (see above, n. 9). The dziady legacy is conceived as a counter to the processes of collective forgetting and destruction associated with Poland’s history, through the communion of the living and the dead – conceived as a work of mourning. The ‘dead’ in Do Europy... are above all the Polish Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and Janion’s call to remember is principally a response to the loss of Poland’s Jewish heritage.
  11. ^ For more on Lupa’s work, see the interview ‘Returning to the Garden of Childhood’, elsewhere in this volume (pp. 272-317 of print edition).
  12. ^ The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place from 18 January to 16 May 1943; the Warsaw Uprising took place from 1 August to 2 October 1944.
  13. ^ Krzysztof K. Baczyński was a Polish poet who fought and died in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, at the age of twenty-three. (P. G.).
  14. ^ Warlikowski’s Krum was based on the homonymous 1975 play by the Israeli playwright, director, and author Hanoch Levin (1943-1999). The play’s anti-hero Krum (played by Jacek Poniedziałek) returns home from a long absence abroad to a banal, uneventful existence; his relations with family and friends are characterised by apathy, and Krum begins to lose himself in the monotonous rhythm of everyday interactions and occurrences. Krum has been characterised as one of a series of ‘domestic comedies’ or ‘neighborhood plays’ by Levin in which he ‘takes an everyday situation and, by peeling off every particle of paint and ornamentation, lays bare the nakedness of human existence: the wounds, the humiliation, the pain, and the shame’. See Nurit Yaari, ‘Life as a Lost Battle: The Theater of Hanoch Levin’, in Theater in Israel, ed. by Linda Ben-Zvi (Michigan: University of Michigan, 1996), pp. 151-171 (citations from pp. 158 and 164). Warlikowski’s performance was documented on film and is available on DVD with English subtitles, published by Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny (2007).
  15. ^ On the application of Mindell’s work to theatre, see also Lupa, ‘Returning to the Garden of Childhood’ (p. 290).
  16. ^ For further discussion of therapeutic elements in Warlikowski’s work, see Justyna Drobnik-Rogers, ‘Krzysztof Warlikowski: Theatre as a Collective (Auto)Therapy’, Theatre Forum, 35 (2009), 10-16, and Grzegorz Niziołek, ‘Theatre for Neurotics’, elsewhere in this volume (pp. 52-62 of print edition).
  17. ^ For more on Vassiliev’s work, see ‘The Solitude of Theatre’ elsewhere in this volume (pp. 257-271 of print edition).
  18. ^ As noted by Dominika Bennacer, in her review of Krum published in TDR, ‘From time to time, above the live action, film images by Paweł Łoziński indexing Israeli street scenes are projected onto a large screen. This procedure functions as a portal adding another layer to the palimpsest of diasporic departures, alluding to Levin’s connection to Poland through his parents who in 1935 emigrated to Israel [Palestine] from Łódź. Complex histories are hinted at but the correlations are oblique and unspoken, never directly addressed’. See Bennacer, ‘Not Your Father’s Poor Theatre’, TDR: The Drama Review, 53.2 (2009), 145-150 (p. 148) <http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/dram.2009.53.2.145>.
  19. ^ Henryk Grynberg (b. 1936) is a Polish-Jewish author of fiction and poetry, a playwright, essayist, and formerly an actor at the State Jewish Theatre in Warsaw. He survived the Holocaust in hiding with his mother, but many of his family were killed, including his father and brother. As Grynberg states, ‘I was deprived of the time to really know my close blood relatives, whom I miss very much to this day. In most cases, I don’t even know the dates of their birth and death, as I have emphasized in Kadisz. I know nothing about my great-grandparents’. See Joanna B. Michlic, ‘Bearing Witness: Henryk Grynberg’s Path from Child Survivor to Artist. An interview with Henryk Grynberg’, Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, 20 (2008), 324-335 (p. 331). Grynberg emigrated to the United States in 1967 in protest at the censorship of his work in Poland and at the administration’s anti-Semitic policies. In 1968 his writings were banned in Poland as part of the government’s ‘anti-Zionist’ campaign of the late 1960s. Grynberg later published a companion book to a film by Paweł Łoziński, who collaborated with Warlikowski on Krum: the film was entitled Miejsce urodzenia (Birthplace, 1992) and the book Dziedzictwo (The Inheritance, 1993).
  20. ^ The UB (Urząd Bezpieczeństwa; Department of Security) was a secret police force established in communist Poland after 1945. Warlikowski is referring to the long-time, anti-Semitic stereotype of identifying Jews as procommunist and anti-Polish, and often as collaborators of and key participants in the Polish and Soviet communist regimes. For a discussion of this trend in relation to Jedwabne and contemporary Polish historiography, see Joanna B. Michlic, ‘The Soviet Occupation of Poland, 1939-41, and the Stereotype of the Anti-Polish and Pro-Soviet Jew’, Jewish Social Studies, 13.3 (2007), 135-176 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/jss.2008.0001>.
  21. ^ Following the First World War, the Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy, popularly known as Endecja) – a nationalist party established at the turn of the century – became a major political force in Poland. However, it failed to gain a parliamentary majority, and in 1922 the ND candidate lost in the presidential election. The elected president, Gabriel Narutowicz was subsequently assassinated by a nationalist activist associated with the ND on 16 December 1922, five days after being sworn into office.
    In 1926, Marshal Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), the commander of the Polish forces in the Polish-Soviet war (1919-1921) and a leading political figure, took power following the przewrót majowy (May Coup) of 1926. Piłsudski’s ruling party, the BBWR: Bezpartyjny Blok Współpracy z Rządem (Non-partisan Bloc for Co-operation with the Government, popularly known as Sanacja after its stated intention to ‘heal the state’: sanacja państwa) took certain measures to protect the rights of Jewish citizens. As the historian Emanuel Melzer notes, ‘Under [Piłsudski’s] authoritarian rule, widespread outbreaks of antisemitic violence did not occur, nor did the struggle against Endecja induce the state to issue formal and explicit anti-Jewish decrees’.
    However, from the early 1930s, nationalist movements associated with Endecja escalated their anti-Semitic activity, and following the death of Piłsudski in May 1935, ‘Endecja [moved] from a policy of simply expressing antipathy towards Jews to one of anti-Jewish violence. This shift, in turn, pulled Sanacja in its wake, forcing the governing camp to change its attitude toward Jews from one of tolerance to one of enmity’. For a detailed discussion of the economic, political, educational, and press campaigns that were subsequently conducted against Polish Jews from 1935 onwards, as well as anti-Jewish violence and the issue of Jewish emigration from Poland, see Melzer’s No Way Out: The Politics of Polish Jewry 1935-1939 (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1997); the above quotations are from pp. 7 and 20, respectively.
  22. ^ Agnieszka Graff (b. 1970) is a Polish scholar, commentator, and human rights activist. She is based at Warsaw University, where she lectures primarily on gender studies, and she has written extensively on gender and sexuality – notably Świat bez kobiet. Płeć w polskim życiu publicznym (A World without Women: Gender in Polish Public Life) (Warsaw: W.A.B., 2001). For further discussion of her analogy between Jewishness and homosexuality in Poland, see Graff’s ‘Gej, czyli Żyd’ (Gay, that is, Jewish), Gazeta Wyborcza (24-25 June 2006); ‘We are (Not All) Homophobes: A Report from Poland’, Feminist Studies, 32.2 (2006), 434-449; and Rykoszetem: rzecz o płci, seksualności i narodzie (By Ricochet: On Gender, Sexuality, and Nation) (Warsaw: W.A.B., 2008).
  23. ^ For further discussion of Holocaust education in pre- and post-1989 Poland, see for example: Jolanta Ambrosewicz-Jacobs, ‘So Many Questions: The Development of Holocaust Education in Post-Communist Poland’, and Robert Szuchta, ‘From Silence to Recognition: The Holocaust in Polish Education since 1989’, both in Polin, 20 (2008), 271- 304 and 305-317, respectively. Ambrosewicz-Jacobs argues that, ‘Active eradication of the memory of the Holocaust before 1989 was related mainly to the Polonization of Auschwitz and depiction of the Warsaw ghetto uprising as an action of the Polish underground against the Nazis. The silence was partly the effect of communist ideology, partly the result of the painful memory of helplessness experienced by many Poles in the face of mass murder, partly a consequence of the shame of witnessing the often barbarous behaviour of one’s own people’ (p. 272).
  24. ^ Edith Stein (1891-1942) was a German-Jewish philosopher who became a nun following her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1922, and who later died at Auschwitz. She was canonised as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross by Pope John Paul II in 1998.

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