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  • Hayim Nahman Bialik and Shlomo DykmanPolish–Jewish Literary Encounters in the Inter-War Period
  • Marzena Zawanowska (bio)

We—the sad children of history's turning point, swaddled in abysmal darkness—

Stand in silent reflection at the edge of a wilderness of two powers.

'Do Achad Ha'ama', ll. 274–51

In his book The Jews in Polish Culture Aleksander Hertz lamented that Poles of Jewish origin who wished to be active in the field of culture were deeply tragic characters. They had to choose whether to do so within the confines of the culture of the Jewish minority, and thus remain completely unknown to the broader Polish public, or to leave their Jewishness behind them by disavowing their distinct tradition, religion, and language—in fact, to cease being Jews altogether—so as to be understood and accepted by the Polish majority, who often perceived Jewish culture as alien if not contemptible.2 Therefore, the author contends, although the participation of people of Jewish origin in upper-class Polish culture and in its development can hardly be disputed, scarcely any of them could still be considered Jewisḥ3 Indeed, this observation seems true of many famous Polish Jewish writers and poets (Bolesław Leśmian, Julian Tuwim, Jan Brzechwa, Antoni Słonimski, [End Page 187] Józef Wittlin, Adam Ważyk, or Mieczysław Jastrun, to mention just a few),4 of whom the average Pole does not even know that they were of Jewish origin. Yet there are a few notable exceptions to this rule.

One of them is Shlomo (Salomon) Dykman (1917–65), an excellent translator into Polish, who managed not only to avoid choosing between Polish and Jewish cultures, but even fruitfully to combine them in his extensive literary output. Born in Warsaw into a Polish Jewish family, he grew up amidst three different languages—Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish—and was equally well versed in both cultures. His education too was double, as he studied simultaneously at the Department for Classical Studies at Warsaw University and at the Department for Rabbinic Studies in the Institute for Jewish Studies. Hence, it is of little wonder that his artistic drive found its most salient expression somewhere in the meeting point between these two broadly defined cultures—European (be it Polish or Classical) and Jewish—in translations he initially prepared from Hebrew and Yiddish into Polish, and later from Latin and Greek into Hebrew.5

Undoubtedly, Polish literature was an important part of Dykman's formative cultural experience, and his translations reflect a spiritual kinship with it. His deep engagement with the literary legacy of Polish culture is well attested to, for example, by the fact that in order to describe Jewish poets and their oeuvre, he made use of classical Polish literary works, especially from the Romantic period—whether quoting them directly, paraphrasing them, or referring to them obliquely—by such famous poets as Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Słowacki.6

Hence, for instance, in his introduction to Polish translations of Hayim Nahman Bialik's poems, Dykman calls Bialik a 'national poet' (wieszcz narodowy)7 and overtly states that 'Bialik is for the Jews what Mickiewicz is for the Poles'.8 In fact, he opens this introduction with a direct citation from Mickiewicz's magnum opus Pan Tadeusz, asserting that Bialik, just like the Polish author, was born in captivity, fettered in its cradle (urodzony w niewoli, okuty w powiciu).9 In this way Dykman [End Page 188] draws a parallel between the two 'national poets'. He also asserts that Bialik 'blended with' his nation10 or that 'his self merged with Israel', and thus that 'Bialik and his nation are one', which echoes the assertion expressed by Konrad—the main character of Mickiewicz's Dziady ('Forefathers' Eve') and an alter ego of the Polish poet—that he and his homeland are one (ja i ojczyzna to jedno).11 Indeed, in the same introduction, Dykman explicitly admits that Bialik is 'like the solitary Konrad in Dziady',12 and compares his folk songs to 'the anonymous folk song of the quiet wajdelota' (pieśni gminnej cichego wajdeloty) from Konrad Wallenrod—another famous poem by Mickiewicz—that 'is passed...


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