A recipe for simplicity of life

“To marvel at the streets through windows, to count crows and swallow today,
to cast all thoughts aside and keep only the smallest,
not to name anything in words, not to weave definitions from emotions,
not to enter observations into notebooks, not to distill definitions from passions.”. – Zuzanna Ginczanka

Zuzanna Ginczanka is one of the most outstanding poets writing in Polish, a star of pre-war Warsaw, a Jewess, an artist and a provocateur. She died in 1944. At the age of 27 in Krakow – murdered after being denounced by a Polish woman. Unlike the texts of authors from the “Columbus Generation,” however, Zuzanna Ginczanka’s poems are not about dying – we can find in them the essence of life.

Young talent, companion of the Skamandrites, friend of Tuwim

Zuzanna Ginczanka (born Susanna Polina Gincburg) was born in 1917. in Kiev, but grew up in Rivne, a small town in the Borderlands, raised by her grandmother, the owner of a drugstore. Her family left Russia shortly after the outbreak of the October Revolution, fleeing the Bolsheviks. Susanna’s father abandoned his relatives and went to Hollywood, where he pursued an acting career. The mother left for Cordoba with her second husband.

At the time, Rivne was a true cultural melting pot, with Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Jews and Armenians living there. Although Russian was spoken in her home, Ginczanka went to a Polish middle school, which provided a higher level of education. Little Sanka (as she was called by her relatives) soon began to manifest literary talent and decided that she would become a poet. Even as a little girl she wrote poems, which she published in the school newspaper. When she was 17, she won her first “serious” poetry contest organized by “Literary News” – a magazine associated with Skamandrit circles.

From the beginning, she wrote in Polish and felt connected to Poland – although she never received Polish citizenship. Before the outbreak of war, she only had a Nansen passport issued to stateless persons. Susanna’s mother was not very interested in the girl, but she was the one who took her daughter’s poems to Julian Tuwim.

Zuzanna Ginczanka – unruly poet, Semitic beauty

After high school graduation, Ginczanka moved to Warsaw, where cultural life was flourishing and where she had the best opportunities for creative development. She studied pedagogy at the University of Warsaw, at the same time she quickly joined the literary circles: she established close relations with the Skamandrites, she is friends with Tuwim, Przybos, Iwaszkiewicz, Lechon, Slonimski. He publishes in “Wiadomosci Literackie” and “Szpilki”. He writes poems and sharp social satires, and bravely bounces the ball in numerous polemics against rising anti-Semitism.

Susanna Ginczanka About the centaurs
“Betrayal”, Poem from the volume O centaurach by Zuzanna Ginczanka, Warsaw 1939, National Library, PD license, source: Polona

At the age of 19, he publishes his first – and only in his lifetime – volume “On the Centaurs,” which receives an enthusiastic reception. She writes very mature poems for such a young girl – including sexually. She lives alone, is independent, full of energy and eager to please. In Warsaw, legends circulate about her beauty, it is told that all men from the circle of “Skamandrites” are supposed to be interested in her (except perhaps Gombrowicz, who had other preferences). 20 years older than the girl and happily married to Stefania Marchew, Tuwim jokingly refers to their group as “Susanna and the old men.”

Susanna Ginchanka was indeed a very beautiful woman, but her Semitic beauty soon became a curse. In the tense atmosphere of the 1930s capital. The girl already attracted attention at first glance. She had dark skin, prominent lips and nose, eyes of different colors: one bright blue-green and the other brown. When attacks by All-Polish Youth militias begin at Warsaw University, Ginczanka is forced to miss more and more classes.

He has a distance from himself and tries to turn the whole situation into a joke. He brings a suitcase to one of the festive dinners, joking that – in line with the demands of the extreme right – he is going to Madagascar. It is bold and provocative. It attracts attention.

10 zdrada o centaurachgentlewoman -
Zuzanna Ginczanka - Tuwim in a Skirt, Jewish Poet, Rebel 5

Jaroslaw Mikolajewski wrote very interestingly about the attitude of men towards Zuzanna Ginczanka in his biography of the poet, “Shadow for Shadow,” pointing out that very often they wanted to see in her a showy phenomenon, meanwhile they failed to see the fleeing woman, who often just had to die of fear:

“Ginczanka is a mystery, her femininity too. It’s a kind of beauty against which you can’t do anything, you are completely helpless. I see a reflection of this in the poems of my beloved poet, Pavesego, who speaks of women as the earth, the smell of the sea and the mystery, and portrays man as one who completely fails to pay for his actions. Woman, on the other hand, suffers all the consequences, because she pays with her body, with devastation. Everything she does has a price.”

The fullness of life in the poems of Susanna Ginczanka

With Tuwim, Ginczanka was brought together not only by her Jewish roots, but also by a similar approach to creativity. In her poems you can see “claw”, vitalism, lowering of tone and colloquial vocabulary. From Lesmian the poet took numerous neologisms. Ginczanka’s early poems are highly sensual, sensual, with references to carnality.

Although catastrophism is evident in Ginczanka’s recent works, unlike the poets of the Columbus generation, her poems are not about death – we find in them a fullness of life, even a “heroic joy” in the very fact of existence, even if it is marked by anxiety and fear. The poet is definitely closer to the Skamandrites – she experiments with form, plays with words, tempts and provokes, breaks stereotypes. She is uncompromising in describing her experiences – as a woman and as a Jew. This makes her poems far ahead of their time and can be extremely relevant to read today as well.

Zuzanna Ginczanka May 1939
Zuzanna Ginczanka, May 1939, “Literary News”, 1939, no. 28, Jagiellonian University, CC BY license, source: Malopolska Digital Library

Here is a beautiful poem, unable to contain the horror

When World War II breaks out, Zuzanna Ginczanka is in Rowne in Volhynia. He does not decide to return to the capital, instead going to Lvov, where many literati were found at the time and a façade cultural life still existed for some time after the Soviet takeover. In 1940, the girl marries the much older lawyer and art critic Michael Weinzieher. This marriage is controversial – especially since Susanna is not faithful to him. At the same time, she continues her affair with the painter Janusz Wozniak. It is very likely that Susanna Ginczanka decided to marry simply seeking care and protection from an influential man, also for the sake of her grandmother.

The situation changes dramatically after the Third Reich invades the USSR. Since then, Zuzanna Ginczanka, who did not enter the ghetto, has been forced into hiding. Every day is a struggle for survival. During the pogrom of 1941. Her grandmother dies – she dies of a heart attack. Ginczanka flees to Krakow. In August 1942, when the Gestapo knocks on the door of the apartment building where she lives, the poet miraculously avoids arrest. As it turns out, the denunciation of Ginchanka was made by Chominova, the owner of the tenement where the girl lived. This event is described by the poet in her bitter poem “Non omnis moriar.”

After more denunciations, the Gestapo arrests Ginczanka in an apartment on ul. Mikolajewska in Cracow. She is taken to prison, and a few months later – in 1944 – she is executed, most likely in the courtyard of the Plaszow concentration camp.

Zuzanna Ginczanka in Rivne, 1934
Zuzanna Ginczanka in Rivne, 1934, the Ginczanka Museum of Literature. Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw, CC BY license, source: Culture.pl


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