Jasna 17.

by Angelika Kuźniak, writer, journalistWarsaw, Poland,2012

“Dear Roma,”

This is how Bruno Schulz started his first letters to you, correct?

I have your portrait of 1928 in front of me. Witkacy painted it with pastels. This technique is, apparently, easy only at first sight. Did this portrait hang, among several others, on the wall of your apartment at Jasna 17 in Warsaw? Did Schulz come to Jasna in the winter of 1936? Or was it at Floriańska 10 or Focha 6? Did he come on his own or together with Witkacy, who introduced the two of you?
I know (because Schulz wrote about it in one of his letters) that he saw you that day in “morning shoes on very small feet.” You were also wearing a hat, and suddenly you became “different and younger.” Younger? You were thirty-six, you worked for a company dealing with import and distribution of films (actually, why did you give up studies at the theatrical school in Warsaw?). Schulz was eight years older, and he was preparing The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass for printing. You must have understood each other well; you loved literature. I remember your letter to Schulz in which you compared him to Rilke. He wrote back: “The fact that I can represent the same things for somebody as Rilke represents for me – seems to me - both touching and abashing, as undeserved.”
Your letters. The first one was from 1936. Now I know that they were not only about literature. Were you not tired by all his requests? To get him a passport, because he wanted to go to France, to support his application for a literary award or to help a former student who was arrested abroad. You were very patient. Even now, they say so about you. And they also say that you were always willing to offer help and advice.
The last letter of your correspondence is from 1939.
In October 1940, the governor of the Warsaw District, Ludwig Fischer, signed an order about establishment of a ghetto. Ten days later, it was announced in Warsaw through loudspeakers.
Your last address on the Aryan side was Jasna 17.
In November 1940, the gates of the ghetto were locked behind you, your son Stefan and a crowd of other people. Two years of living with fear began; a sharp, long, every-day experience of fear. How did you manage to escape? You reached Kraków, and before that the Agricultural School near Kielce, where you left your son in a boarding school. The war was going on. It was 1942.
Janina Sokołowska. Was that the day when you took this name? It was good that you knew German, French, English, Russian and shorthand. It was easier to get a job in a German import and export company.
Work. Until September 1944. In the street in Kraków, a woman resettled from Warsaw saw you and she informed the Gestapo. It is sometimes added that she was an agent.
Hitler police prison at Montelupich. This is where you were taken. Interrogation, short sleep (if any) and interrogation again. Apparently very tough. Yet you have never confessed anything about your origin – so says a woman who shared the prison cell with you. You managed to write a goodbye letter to your son. Was it delivered to him? By whom? Today, nobody can tell us.
Your son survived the war. We do not know when and how he found out that before the liberation of Cracow, you were shot by the Gestapo. In February 1945, he went to Jasna 17. Schulz’s letters lay scattered on the floor.
Did you know that Jasna 17 was the only house on this street that did not burn down during the war?

Angelika Kuźniak, June 16, 2012