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  • The "demonic forces" at Auschwitz:T. S. Eliot reads Jerzy Andrzejewski's Roll Call
  • Joanna Rzepa (bio)

On November 2, 1944, T. S. Eliot received a letter from Douglas Woodruff, the editor of The Tablet, written on behalf of his "Polish friend" Adam Żółtowski. Eliot was asked to write a foreword to "a little publication about the German Concentration Camp at Oświȩcim [Auschwitz]."1 He replied in the affirmative, adding that though as a rule he wrote prefaces only to books published by Faber, in this case he might be ready to make an exception. This is how the correspondence between Eliot and Żółtowski, Director of the Polish Research Centre in London, began.2

This article traces the origin of the Auschwitz text, which I have identified as Jerzy Andrzejewski's Roll Call (Apel), and the journey it made from Nazi-occupied Warsaw to Eliot's desk in London. Since Eliot's preface to Roll Call did not appear in print in 1945, as originally planned, and remained unknown to the scholarly community for over seventy years, its recent publication in volume 6 of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, edited by David Chinitz and Ronald Schuchard, gives rise to a number of questions.3 One of them, which is discussed in this article, is the absence of any references to Jews and Jewish suffering in both Andrzejewski's text and Eliot's preface.4 I also address the question of why the English edition of Roll Call with Eliot's preface was not published in 1945. To answer these questions, I examine unpublished correspondence between Eliot and Żółtowski within a wider context of wartime publishing and journalism. More specifically, I focus on Christian debates on the meaning of totalitarianism and religious narratives of World War II that [End Page 329] dominated the political discourse of the 1940s. Thus, this article aims to shed light on what Marina Mackay has referred to as "the submerged relationships between modernism and political culture, where 'political' . . . conveys its old meanings of parliamentary, journalistic and diplomatic discourses."5 To contextualize the unpublished translation of Roll Call and Eliot's preface within these discourses, I combine the examination of archival material with a review of historical documents, brochures, pamphlets, magazines, and newspapers. By historicizing the story behind Roll Call, this article offers an interesting case study of wartime publishing. It raises important questions about the relationship between literary culture, religion, politics, and censorship in wartime Britain, and contributes to a better understanding of how the Holocaust was perceived and understood during World War II and in its immediate aftermath.

Jerzy Andrzejewski's Roll Call and its Journey to England

When Eliot was writing the preface to Roll Call, he asked Żółtowski to give him more information about the author of the text and the circumstances in which it was written. Żółtowski responded that he did not know the name of the author, but confirmed that the text had come "from Poland by the usual channels," adding that he himself knew nothing about them and could not "ask to be told anything since human lives depend upon it being kept as secret as possible" (December 8 and 12, 1944). While their letters do not contain any more detail about the origin of the text, they do reveal its English title: Roll Call. This and the timeline of the correspondence, together with the general summary of the text in Eliot's preface, make it possible to identify it as Jerzy Andrzejewski's Apel, written in 1942 in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

In 1942, Andrzejewski was already an established writer, which Eliot recognized, remarking that the author of Roll Call was "a man who knew how to write" ("Preface to Roll Call," 6:582). He began publishing short stories in 1932, and his first novel, Ład serca (The Heart's Harmony), won him the Polish Academy of Literature young writers' award in 1939. During the war, Andrzejewski took an active part in the resistance movement, distributing financial support among writers and artists on behalf of the Government Delegation for Poland (which was an agency of the Polish government-in-exile in London). In 1940, together with...


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