Published online by Cambridge University Press: 23 November 2019
The title of this volume of miscellany by Julian Tuwim, Utwory nieznane (‘Unknown Works’), is somewhat misleading. The book is largely made up of cabaret pieces that were performed and known to the public; they simply were never published in written form. Still, the book's publication in 1999 was an important event, not only for poetry lovers and historians of literature, but also from a Jewish perspective. Jewish topics appear prominently and in many forms in this collection of poems, facsimiles, juvenilia, cabaret skits and songs, and private letters from various periods of the poet's life. This is in clear contradiction to the stereotype, predominant in Jewish historiography, of the pre-war Polish Jewish intelligentsia as thoroughly assimilated and uprooted. Tuwim's example demonstrates that the opposite was the case. Like many other writers he was in constant dialogue with his Jewishness, defending it when attacked, but also critical of Jewish obscurantism. ‘Far from antisemitism’, he wrote in his Wspomnienia o Łodzi (‘Memoirs from Łódź’, 1934), ‘I was always, and will always be, an enemy of men uniformed in beards with their Hebrew-German hotchpotch and traditional butchering of the Polish tongue. It is high time, gentlemen, to trim your long kaftans and curly sidelocks, and learn respect for the tongue of the nation in whose midst you live.’ (From today's perspective Tuwim's evaluation of Yiddish and traditional garb is questionable, but his appeal to overcome Jewish exclusivity is not.) This is one side of Tuwim's dialogue with Jewishness. The other is represented by one of the finest epigrams published in this book:
I heard this bastard say
I'm a Jewish leech.
Well, I'm a Jewish prince
While he's an Aryan kike.
Many of the poems presented in Utwory nieznane are satirical comments on the political situation of the time. In his response to growing radical nationalism in pre-war Poland, Tuwim resorted to all literary means—including parody, pastiche, and buffoonery—to mock and ridicule the adversary. His irony was sometimes misunderstood, which occasionally left him open to misinterpretation and to the accusation that he was taking an antisemitic stand.
Among the large selection of Tuwim's productions for cabaret presented in the book, the most revelatory are his monologues for the Quid Pro Quo theatre.
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