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March 28, 2017 | History


About the Book

“Meticulously researched, innovative and challenging, as well as written in a pleasant style, it is a trustworthy, really indispensable, guide to the great writer, and his writings. In her objective scholarly base of sources, and in her unique subjective perspective on the writer she knew and admired, Ziółkowska-Boehm gets it right.
- Charles S. Kraszewski, Kings College

Dr. Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm has written an excellent book on her master and guru, Melchior Wankowicz. Generally recognized as an unsurpassed master of literary journalism, he had set high standards for that type of writing, distinguishing himself with his 3 vols. study "Monte Cassino" (1945), dealing with a major victory of Polish troops in WW II. Serving as Wankowicz's associate for two plus years, she has become an expert on her subject, and aptly demonstrated how much she has learned from her master. The book, written with her elegant style, sparkled with anecdotes and humor, may very well serve as a perfect example of a modern Polish contribution to American literary studies.
- Jerzy Krzyzanowski, Ohio State University

I found this book fascinating and delightful. Ziolkowska-Boehm recorded with freshness and directness her memories of one of Poland's greatest writers. This is clearly a great book.
- Karl Maramorosch, Rutgers University
Wankowicz combined first class literary writing with outstanding reportage. He was a free spirit, going against the tide of émigré opinion by returning to then communist Poland for good in 1958. But he also protested publicly, with other writers, against communist repression of Polish culture in March 1964 — after which he was briefly imprisoned and put on trial on rigged charges. Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm, a prolific author herself, and Wankowicz’s secretary in the last years of his life, has written a fine, documented account of this extraordinary individual and his writings.
-Anna M. Cienciala, University of Kansas

An intimate portrait of Wankowicz, the writer, public figure, family man, and one-time prisoner of the Communist regime. Important documents accompany the narrative.
- Piotr Wandycz, Yale University
Melchior Wańkowicz was a prominent journalist and reporter, but he was more than that. Whether writing about Polish revolutionaries at the end of the nineteenth century, Polonia in America, or armed struggles during the Second World War by partisans at home and Anders army at Monte Casinno, Wańkowicz gave the reader unique insides into Polish recent past. His cicle of books has been compared to a vast panorama.
-Piotr S. Wandycz, Professor of History Yale University
“I met Wańkowicz at one point in his career and I was certainly a very youthful reader of his account of the battle of Monte Cassino. Every since then, his ability to capture the nuances, sounds, and emotions of wartime have been etched in my memory”.
-Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington, D.C., John Hopkins University and Center for Strategic and International Studies

I have read your good book Melchior Wankowicz with much interest. It is my opinion that you have repaid him very well for any debt that you may owe him.
Bob Ackerman, New Alexandria, PA, August 4, 2013
“Great book! I just finished reading the chapter on the 1964 trial, and the primary sources are wonderful. It’s a wonderful sketch of the tension between the writer and the Party (e.g. Poles vs. Russians).
The most outstanding quote, in my opinion, is from Wankowicz, on p. 145:
I dislike people who hate a nation. When in the September days I was walking through a field with my daughter and a German pilot came shooting at the defenseless shepherds from the sky, my daughter told me: “It unsettles me that I cannot hate the Germans. I then felt rewarded for the years dedicated to her nurturing”.
Your part in the story is also very interesting.
Bruce E. Johansen, August 5, 2013
“Ziolkowska-Boehm had the distinct advantage of being a literary collaborator and secretary to Wankowicz, resulting in a broad portrait of his life. The book contains sources, eyewitnesses, interviews, and conversations Melchior Wankowicz had with his wife, friends and co-authors. He is considered to be the father of Polish reportage, developing his own style of reporting as a war correspondent during the Second World War under General Wladyslaw Anders. His ability to capture the nuances, sights, sounds and emotions of the common soldier in the field made him a favorite with the population for the rest of his life. His writings included culture, optimism and old fashioned Polish humor.
A section of his three volume book, “Battle of Monte Cassino”, considered one of the best of that battle, is included here, translated by Charles K.Kraszewski.
In 1924 he co-founded a publishing house, Roy Publishing and introduced Polish readers to American and English writers, as well as Soviet literature in addition to Polish writers. In Sept. 1949 he was evacuated to Palestine. With the Nazis determined to obliterate the Polish race, he became interested in studying how the Jews maintained their national identity through the twenty years of dispersal in a way that helped Polish society understand Jewish culture. As a war correspondent attached to the Polish army he moved with them to Egypt, Italy, Cypress and other countries. The end of the war found him exiled in England, and later lived in America for ten years. Unhappy there, he returned to Poland in 1958. His writing helped shape the Polish national conscience, giving citizens the strength and comfort to withstand the Communist regime.
He didn’t belong to any political group, always independent and love by the public for his independence and view of life. In 1964 he was put on trial by the Communist regime for signing a letter of defiance along with 33 other writers, which was broadcast on Radio Free Europe. The U.S. Embassy offered assistance, because Wankowicz was an American citizen, which he refused. The trial ended with imprisonment of three years, suspended because of his age. He died ten years later, in 1974.
A chapter on the author’s association with Wankowicz explains the insight she had and her ability to gather his works and letters from others. She edited his selected works, providing extensive notes at the end of each chapter, in addition to the bibliography. His fascinating life will be of great interest to all writers.
Florence Waszkelewicz Clowes, Books in Brief, Polish American Journal, October 2013

"I was eleven years old when I witnessed a lively and rather agitated conversation that my parents had during supper. With a lot of excitement in her voice my mother recounted how she went to a bookstore after work and came across a famous Polish writer, Melchior Wańkowicz, who had just been released from prison by the communist regime in Poland.
Bookstores in Poland have always been and still are full of readers and the writer was literally encircled by them as soon as he entered the bookstore. Everybody wanted to shake his hand, ask a question or just look at him from a close distance.
I sensed that there was something unusual about this encounter and I could appreciate the thrill of meeting a famous writer but it took me a couple more years to fully comprehend the magnitude of arresting and putting on trial one of the most prominent and most popular contemporary Polish writers just for sending abroad a paper – “Speech-Project” – that was then broadcast by Radio Free Europe. The paper contained material that in the eyes of the communist regime slandered social and political relations in Poland. The “Speech Project” prepared by Wańkowicz followed “Letter 34,” a protest signed by thirty four writers (including Wańkowicz) against a government decision to limit the amount of paper allotted for printing books and newspapers. (At that time book production in Poland was already at the lowest level among the socialist countries.)
The trial of Melchior Wańkowicz became a cause célèbre. Eleven years after the death of Stalin, arresting and prosecuting a seventy-two-year old prominent Polish writer and public favorite was highly odd practice, even by the communist standards of justice. Virtually all western newspapers, including Time Magazine, published extensive commentary about the regime’s ridiculous prosecution of Wańkowicz.
The defense called some renowned and respected Polish writers and intellectuals as witnesses. Alas, one of them, Kazimierz Kozniewski, whom Wańkowicz considered a close friend since before the war, also a friend of the writer’s two daughters, testified against him. Kozniewski was not only a traitor but also a secret agent and one of the most devoted employees of the Security Office and then Security Service in the history of Communist Poland.
The trial lasted three days and ended with a sentence of three years in prison. Facing harsh criticism in Poland and abroad and numerous interventions by famous writers and intellectuals as well as prominent politicians such as Robert Kennedy, the communist regime in Warsaw backed off and freed Wańkowicz.
Obviously, when I listened to my parents’ conversation about the writer, forty years ago, a lot of these facts were unknown since the trial was held in camera and only very general information was provided to the public by the Polish mass media. Many years after Wańkowicz’s death, new evidence and testimonies began emerging and thanks to meticulous work and painstaking efforts by the independent scholar and writer Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm, both Polish and English readers can now appreciate the most recent book about one of Poland’s greatest writers.
Published by Lexington Books, Melchior Wańkowicz – Poland’s Master of the Written Word, is not merely a well documented account of Wańkowicz’s struggle with communist justice system. (Ziolkowska-Bohem had already written a separate book on this subject in 1990 available in Polish only.) It is a captivating although somehow eclectic portrait of a great humanist with a pragmatic approach to life, a prolific hard working writer, bon vivant, thinker, husband, father and most of all a fabulous reporter and storyteller.
The book is not, however, a biography. Each of its eleven chapters can be read separately. I devoured it in no time as I did almost all of Wańkowicz’s books. Yet, when the editors of CR asked me if I could write a review of Ziolkowska-Boehm’s “Poland’s Master of the Written Word” I initially hesitated. Some time ago, while teaching a course, “Introduction to Polish Studies,” at McGill University I asked students (some of them of Polish origin) if they had read or at least heard of the most famous Polish writers: Stanisław Lem, Sławomir Mrozek or Nobel Prize laureates Henryk Sienkiewicz and Władysław Reymont whose books were translated into most modern languages and published in many countries, the answers were not very encouraging.
I decided to read some of Wańkowicz’s books again before sharing my humble opinion with readers of CR on Ziolkowska-Boehm’s latest work and try to assess if the contemporary generation of Polish literature aficionados could relate to them. I firmly believe that both young and older readers would find most of Wańkowicz’s works not only fascinating but probably more appealing (particularly to the Polish diaspora in the USA and Canada), than the books of his famous predecessors.
It suffice to open “Tworzywo” (“Matter”) – Wańkowicz’s reportage from Canada where he travelled 18,000 miles to write stories about Polish immigrants who succeeded in their new country despite numerous setbacks, severe hardship and misery. It almost reads like a fiction but as most of his writings, “Tworzywo” is based on facts. As Ziolkowska-Boehm writes in Poland’s Master of Written Word: “Tworzywo” includes many real events, statistical data, and human histories; in this book, even the cited letters of one protagonist – Bombik – are authentic. We find real conversations, facts, and people at every step.
Aleksandra-Ziolkowska-Boehm is an unrivalled connoisseur of Wańkowicz’s works. During the last two years of the writer’s life she was his secretary and ultimately became his friend and associate. She had unlimited access to his personal archives but also the privilege to participate in his private everyday life. She took full advantage of this extremely rare opportunity that she now shares with us in her excellent book full of interesting, sometimes hilarious sometimes heartbreaking details about Wańkowicz’s life, his entourage and, last but not least, about the origin of some his works.
Here is one example, explaining where the title of my favourite Wańkowicz book comes from: “He also gave the book a final title “La Fontaine’s Carafe.” He chose it to emphasize the diversity and objectivism of his views and opinions. The title came from an anecdote. La Fontaine was once asked to settle a dispute arisen among the revelers gathered in the inn. In the middle of the table there stood a crystal decanter with wine. Sunrays were coming through the window and reflecting off the carafe. One of the revelers said they were reflected red. Another denied, saying they were blue. The third one said they were pink. When asked, La Fontaine went around the table and said that each of the men was right: depending on the side you were looking from, as the sun refracted in the carafe, it showed different colors. What was most important, as he said, was to see all the colors together, to understand there wasn’t just one.”
Melchior Wańkowicz – Poland’s Master of the Written Word comes at a good time. The author of Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most famous Polish writers in the last century. I am convinced that thanks to Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm latest book, Melchior Wańkowicz will always have plenty of readers."
Leszek Adamczyk , COSMOPOLITAN Review 2013 Vol. 5 No. 3 / Books
“A biography of a popular Polish writer who is generally considered to be partuclarly skillful in writing reportages and columns”.
“Sarmatian Review”, January 2014

The latest book on Melchior Wankowicz (1892-1974) by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm introduces the reader to the father of Polish reportage and master of the word. In the foreword, Charles S. Kraszewski acknowledges the importance of the book and its contribution to understanding Wankowicz and his lace in Polish culture. In the Preface: Melchior Wankowicz- Polish Hemingway" Ziolkowska-Boehm stresses that he "played a huge part in shaping Polish consciousness".(...) Chapter 2."The Trial of Melchior Wankowicz - 1964" is the most important and fascinating section of the book. The trail was occasioned by the action taken by the Communist regime during the last years of Wladyslaw Gomulka's tenure as General Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR). It as directed against the intelligentsia, especially the writers, to force them to conform to communist ideology. (...)The final chapter is replete with anecdotes from the period when the author was a member of the Wankowicz household during the last years of his life, comments about her work as his secretary, and recognition and acknowledgement that is was his work ethic and his encouragement and belief in her that formed her as a writer in her own right. The book is a tribute to Wankowicz, the writer.
Review by Danuta Batorska, University of Houston,
The Polish Review, New York, Vol. 62, No.1, 2017, pg 121-124

1 edition First published in 2013

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2013, Lexington Books
Hardcover in English


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March 28, 2017 Edited by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Edited without comment.
March 28, 2017 Edited by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Edited without comment.
August 30, 2015 Edited by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Edited without comment.
December 27, 2013 Edited by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Edited without comment.
July 2, 2013 Created by Aleksandra Ziolkowska-Boehm Added new book.