Article

22 September 2013

Varsovians, but not from this realm. Foreign inhabitants of the capital 1945-1989

Category: New publications, XXw, Regional history, Editorial note, News, Social history

Varsovians, but not from this realm. Foreign Inhabitants of the Capital 1945-1989, edited by Jerzy Kochanowski, is a passionate, colorfully racy story about Varsovians from different parts of the world - Finland, Hungary, Serbia, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Tanzania, Japan, Mexico - who arrived in Poland in days of People’s Republic and linked their lives with Warsaw. The book consists of 36 biographical fragments of these Varsovians who live close to us: writing books, documenting reality, professional educators. They relate stories about their lives and ours in the People's Republic: queues, kitchens, traditions, language, politics… About how it is desiring to understand a verse, or to be surprised by the color of leaves. Testimonies are grouped in thematic chapters - First Impressions; Warsaw, Poland and Poles; Politics and Opposition;  Local or Foreign; Who Am I? - preceded by an introduction: historical and methodological. 


Jerzy Kochanowski, editor of Varsovians, says: "We are not suprised to know there are foreigners living today in Warsaw. We like to recall the long Warsaw multi-ethnic tradition and multi-national nature so brutally destroyed by the Second World War. Only after 1989 did the capital started recovering this multi-ethnic facet, although different than the one from before the wartime cataclysm. We can’t say that in years 1945-1989 Warsaw was a nationally monolithic city, there was always a band of foreigners who – more or less consciously – chose it as their place of living, sometimes forever.”

The book  includes a one-hour DVD – a collection of stories from chosen interviews - Tessa Capponi-Borawska, Szabolcs Esztenyi, Hatif Janabi - together with some interviews not published in the book, by Mario Galdámez Muñoz and Mahmoud El-Tayeb, who relate their dramatic, unusual adventures as well as humorous situations in Poland. The book will be available as audiobook read by Danuta Stenka and Adam Ferency. 

The stories were recorded by Archiwum Historii Mówionej DSH i Ośrodek KARTA (Archive of Oral History of the History Meeting House - DSH - and KARTA Centre), the biggest archive that gathers biographical testimonies, in audio and video. As part of that project, recollections of 50 foreigners coming from 20 countries and still living in Warsaw were recorded and documented. Varsovians was prepared as part of the Project Multiethnic Warsaw 1945-1989 ("Warszawa Wielonarodowa 1945-1989") conducted by the History Meeting House in collaboration with the Historical Institute of the University of Warsaw. 


Branko Čirlić (born 1916, Jugoslavia, now Serbia):

"Polish is the most difficult language of the Slavic group to learn. At least for me and the people I know. They could absorb other Slavic languages but they were always complaining about Polish. I could speak all the Slavic languages except for Polish. At the university in Belgrad we […] organized an evening dedicated to Polish culture and a poem by Tuwim was read, Piotr Płaskin. I could feel it contains so much sadness… but I couldn’t understand it. I decided I had to learn Polish to understand this song."  

Na stacji Chandra Unyńska,/Przy samym płocie cmentarnym

Jest grób z tabliczką drewnianą,/Z krzyżykiem małym i czarnym…

A na tabliczce jest napis:?”Duszo pobożna i czysta,

Pomódl się… Leży w tym grobie/Piotr Płaskin, telegrafista.


Hatif Janabi, poet, translator (born 1951, Iraq)

"On 24 August 1976 I get off the train at the Central Station and everybody was speaking Polish and I didn’t understood anything. When I was trying to use English, nobody reacted. But I looked like a foreigner so people started helping me. I recall one thing – Poles were very cordial. They were nice, everybody wanted to treat me with vodka and sausage. This was my first impression. The very first days I learned what is “pięćdziesiątka” (50 ml) and “setka” (100 ml). I say: “Moment, I can’t exaggerate. I drink a bit but I can’t too much”. "Oh, here we are drinking… Winter is coming.” “How is it going to be in winter?” "It’s going to be a fucking winter.” Indeed. The winter was not only cold but also fucking." 

Ttile: Warszawiacy nie z tej ziemi. Cudzoziemscy mieszkańcy stolicy 1945-1989
Concept and editing: Prof. Jerzy Kochanowski
Collaboration: Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner
Graphic design: Katarzyna Godyń-Skoczylas
Publisher: DSH, Warszawa 2013

Source of information: DSH

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