Anna Płockier

author: Anna Kaszuba-Dębska, 2012


translated by Scotia Gilroy

Anna Płockier was born on April 15th, 1915, in Geneva, Switzerland. She was the daughter of Ewa Kon and Leon Kazimierz Płockier. Her father, Leon Płockier (1895-1965), was an eminent doctor, professor, gastrologist and member of the MOPR (The International Red Aid), which was founded in 1922. Ewa's mother was a music teacher.

Anna lived with her parents at 25/2 Leszno Street. Their telephone number was 11-14-00. Her father's family was related to the Lewinson and Fryszman families, also eminent physicians, such as Szymon Lewinson (1896-1940), a urologist and officer of the Polish Army murdered in Katyń. His daughter, Anna's younger cousin, Janina Bauman neé Lewinson, survived World War II in the Warsaw ghetto, and lived on Leszno Street in the apartment belonging to her uncle, Leon Płockier. After the war she became a writer, translator, and scriptwriter, and married Zygmunt Bauman.

In 1934 Anna Płockier graduated from the A. Warecka High School in Warsaw, which specialized in mathematics and environmental sciences. She received her high school diploma on June 18th. At the same time, she was attending the Konrad Krzyżanowski School of Painting. On October 1st, 1935, she began studies in the Faculty of Painting at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. Evaluations of her drawings and paintings reveal that she was inspired more by the avant-garde works popular among the young artists of the time, rather than by academic masters. She belonged to the original Krakow Group along with one of her peers who became her friend during that year, Marek Zwillich, nicknamed Maciek by his friends after Father Fleischer, and Marek's older brother Maurycy, who was a painting student at the art academy and a graduate of the Jagiellonian University. The brothers came from the oil basin in Borysław, near Drohobych.

The Krakow Group was a group of artists established in 1933 by long-distance students of the Art Academy with somewhat radical, communist convictions, who created works derived from Cubism. The members of the group were: Blima Berta Grünberg, Maria Jarema, Leopold Lewicki, Aleksander Sasza Blonder, A. Marczyński, Stanisław Osostowicz, Jonasz Stern, Szymon Piasecki, Bolesław Stawiński, Henryk Wiciński, Aleksander Winnicki, and Franciszek Jaźwiecki. Other young art and literature students sympathized with the group, such as Jadwiga Maziarska, Erna Rosenstain, Kornel Filipowicz, Andrzej Stopka, and Artur Sandauer, who reactivated the Second Krakow Group after the war.

The artists were involved in underground political activities, which is what eventually led to the break-up of the group in 1937 and the expulsion of several students from the art academy who were suspected of communist views and activities. The Zwillich brothers, along with other students, were expelled for their communist views and activities. Anna, for unknown reasons that were perhaps connected with the situation of her friends at the academy, interrupted her studies in Kraków and applied to the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. An older friend from the Krakow Group, Jonasz Stern, was evicted from the Artists' Union and spent a few years in Bereza Kartuska. In 1938, after three years of studies in Kraków, Anna Płockier returned to Warsaw, where she had grown up, and in June a portfolio of her work was approved by the commission responsible for admitting people to the entrance exam for the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Her work was returned to her on June 2nd. On September 13th she applied for the following academic year. She filled in a questionnaire in which she marked: faith – Jewish, nationality – Polish, national affiliation – Poland, native language – Polish. She attached a photograph, a certificate proving she had left the Krakow Academy of Art, and a certificate of morality. On September 15th she took the entrance exam, but a decision was made on September 23rd not to accept her into the academy, most likely due to a shortage of space.

After an unsuccessful attempt to continue her studies, she spent the summer vacation with her fiancé, Marek Zwillich, in Borysław, a town south-west of Drohobych with rich oil deposits. It was a place where wealth and poverty met. In Borysław she painted and created various works of art with her fiancé, who was a painter fascinated by the avant-garde and Władysław Strzemiński's concept of Unism.

She spent February 1939 in Warsaw, which is shown by a letter sent to Marian Jachimowicz. In this letter it can also be seen that she was not in the best condition psychologically or artistically.
She wrote: I felt very lonely while Maciej was gone. (…) Not much is new with me – I'm not pleased with myself in any way. I would like to "build" myself from scratch according to my own "design."

In September 1939 she experienced the siege of Warsaw in her family home on Leszno Street. She decided to escape from the capital, and managed to reach Borysław by crossing the border of the General Government into areas occupied by the Soviet army. In the years 1940-41 Marek Zwillich taught drawing in a junior high school in Borysław. Anna also gave drawing lessons. They probably legalized their union at this time, and during the German occupation they planned to escape to Warsaw.

In the Zwillich family's wooden house at 30 Mazepa Street (previously 30 Szczorosa Street and 30 Mościckiego Street), meetings were organized of people interested in culture, literature and art. Her circle of close friends included young artists and writers such as Marek Holzman-Singer, a photographer who worked in the Borysław library, Marian Jachimowicz, a very promising poet and insect-collector, and Artur Rzeczyca.
Bruno Schulz came to these meetings from Drohobych with his friend Laura Wurzberg, a writer who had just made a literary debut with her story The Fire, and the poet Juliusz Wit (1901-42), who was the author of four books of poetry and had known Bruno Schulz for 20 years.
This circle of friends also included Alina Dawidowiczowa, a young mathematics teacher from Lwów and daughter of Leon Chwistek, whom Schulz had known in pre-war days when he had visited the Chwistek family in Lwów. Alina had moved to Borysław, the hometown of her husband, Stanisław Dawidowicz, where she gave birth to a daughter in 1940. Years later she recalled Anna Płockier's art with delight, writing the following comments in her memoirs: Her paintings enchanted me. It was as if she was painting some famous picture for the second time, but giving the faces new expressions. She gave them psychological meaning.

Anna Płockier was the last woman whom Bruno Schulz was in love with and fascinated by. She was 23 years younger than him. He wrote letters to her in which he expressed his thoughts, ideas, spiritual experiences and psychological states.
Fascinated by this acquaintance, he wrote the following words to her: For the first time I have managed to encounter such a wealth of nature that it does not fit within the confines of a single person (…)
He entrusted his unpublished story written in German, "Die Heimkehr," to Anna with a request for her commentary. She was the last person to read this lost work. They were connected by similar spirits and undefined feelings. Schulz wrote in a letter: Here I am bitterly reproaching myself that I left you without a word of explanation, giving the impression that my silence is connected with the scene you made. To tell the truth, that scene was not without the poetic charm that emanates from your whole being and all of your caprices. I experienced it as a gusty blast of wind and rain – in April, when those bursts of rain slapping one's face can't help smelling like spring.

Anna did not answer the last letter that Schulz sent to her from Drohobych. She was murdered along with Marek Zwillich's entire family during a mass execution of Borysław Jews on November 27th, 1941, in a forest near Truskawiec, carried out by Ukrainian fascists with the approval of the German Gestapo. The letters from Bruno to Anna survived the war thanks to her friend Marian Jachimowicz, who found the letters and a few photographs in the Zwillich family's abandoned and pillaged home. Years later he recalled her as follows: Her beautifully manicured hands had some kind of plant-like quality. The lines of her drawings flowed with that same gentleness.

Anna's family experienced the war in the occupied capital. Leon and his wife Ewa lived in a pre-war apartment in the Warsaw ghetto, together with Anna's sister-in-law and two adult nieces, who moved into their uncle's apartment at 25 Leszno Street with their fiancés. Two pianists were already living there – students of Ewa, Anna's mother. The apartment seems to have been a shelter for many people during that terrible time, revealed by Janina Bauman's description in her book Winter in the Morning: A Young Girl's Life in the Warsaw Ghetto and Beyond, 1939-1945. According to her, on August 14th, 1942, a cousin named Maryla came to 25 Leszno Street with her mother, as well as a young married couple with their three-month-old baby. Leon Płockier and his wife Ewa decided to leave their apartment, which had become more and more cramped, and started living in the hospital where Leon worked. Edward Reicher, in his book Country of Ash: A Jewish Doctor in Poland, 1939-1945, recalls Płockier as a famous Jewish gastrologist, a trusted doctor who did circumcisions in the hospital in Piastów. According to an account by Juliusz Salon, he was employed by the Binder firm. Józef Dąb helped the Płockiers leave the ghetto, and they managed to hide in Warsaw until the end of the occupation.

They survived, but their daughter, Anna, did not. After the war, by a decree made by the Presiding Committee of the National Council on January 2nd, 1946, Dr. Leon Płockier was decorated with an Order of the Rebirth of Poland (4th Class) for his heroic deeds in the fight against the Germans, and for dedicated and self-sacrificing work in the building of order and safety in Democratic Poland. In the 1960s he was the personal physician of Bolesław Bierut, the President of Poland after the Soviet takeover of the country in the aftermath of World War II. At this time he lived on Kazimierzowska Street in Warsaw.