Stanisław Jerzy Lec

Original name: de Tusch-Letz. Born on 6 March 1909 in Lvov in a Jewish gentry family, as the son of Baron Benon de Tusch-Letz and Adela from the Safrin family. According to Jan Śpiewak's account, Lec had never hid his roots, and his name was supposed to have originated from refugees from Spain and indicated “a joker” or “a satirist” in Hebrew.

He received his education in Lvov and Vienna. He completed the Evangelical Elementary School. Then, for some time he learned in a Polish gymnasium. He continued his education in a German-language gymnasium of Józefa Goldblatt Kamerling in Lvov. In 1927, he passed his secondary school-leaving examination and started his Polish studies at Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov. After one year, he changed his field of study to law; he completed it in 1933.

He debuted in press in 1929, when his poem entitled “Wiosna” was published in “The Literary and Scientific Herald” (no 13). He was associated with the social Left and belonged to the circle of the co-founders of the “Tryby” magazine, which was almost immediately closed by the authorities after its first issue was published (1931, no 1). He collaborated with the communist “Dziennik Popularny" between 1933 and 1936, in the pages of which he published under the pseudonym of “Stach”; he wrote a regular every-day feature article entitled “Przed sądem nieostatecznym” and a Sunday feature article titled “Przed sądem ostatecznym”. In 1936, he took part in the Convention of Culture Workers, which took place in Lvov, and was organized by Front Ludowy/The Popular Front. The same year, he created with Leon Pasternak a literary cabaret, „Teatr Pętaków”, which was closed after a few performances. After “Dziennik Popularny" had been closed by the authorities, in fear of being arrested, he went away to Romania for a short period of time. Then, he stayed at his mother’s place in Podole, where he worked as a legal trainee in Czortków. Then he came back to Warsaw and continued his literary activity. Between 1936 and 1937, he collaborated with “Lewar"– magazine established by Pasternak (the title came from a pun on words: “Lewar” – Lewi Artyści/Left Artists), and between 1936 and 1938 – with the “Sygnały” weekly. He also collaborated with such satiric magazines as “Cyrulik Warszawski” (since 1931) ,„Szpilki”” (since 1937) and „Czarno na białem” (1938-39).

After the outbreak of World War II, he went to Lvov, which was occupied by the Soviet Army and invaded by the USSR. He participated in the literary life organized by the Ukrainian Republic authorities. He also collaborated with “New Horizons”. His poems, satires ad articles, as well as translations from Russian were published in ”The Red Flag” (between 1939 and 1941). In 1940, he joined the Union of Soviet Writers of Ukraine and soon, he became a member of the editorial section of “The Literary Almanac” issued by the Lvov Organization of the Union. He started to collaborate with the State Publishing House of National Minorities of USRR.

After the Germans had invaded the country, he was settled in the concentration camp in Tarnopol, from which he managed to escape in 1943 disguised as a Wermacht soldier. He went to Warsaw, where he got engaged in the underground activity, at first in the ranks of Gwardia Ludowa/People’s Guard (GL) and then in Armia Ludowa/ People’s Army (AL). He used the pseudonym of “Łukasz’. Up until January 1944, he was a member of the editorial section of the local GL organ, „Żołnierz w Boju”. As an officer, he participated in guerrilla fights in the Lublin Region (in Parczew woods; he participated in the battle of Rąblów, among other things). A literary document of the guerrilla times is a poetic "Notatnik Polowy". Since May till July, he was one of the editors of the Polska Partia Robotnicza/Polish Labor Party magazine “Wolny Lud”. After the Red Army encroached, he joined the Polish army formed on the strength of the Sikorski-Majski pact and he received the rank of major.

After the war was over, he resumed the satirical weekly “Szpilki” with J.Zaruba and L.Pasternak, which they edited together at first. Between 1946 and 1950, he stayed in Vienna as a press attaché of Polska Misja Polityczna/ The Polish Political Mission (later Polskie Przedstawicielstwo Polityczne/Polish Political Agency). In 1950, after his contract ended, he did not come back to the country but went to Israel. He was crossed off the members list of ZLP (Związek Literatów Polskich/ Polish Writers’ Union).

In 1952, he came back to Poland and settled in Warsaw. He worked as a translator of German literature. Then, after 1955, when his rights as a member of ZLP were reactivated, he started to publish his own literary and satirical works. Also at that time, a new genre appeared in his works - aphorisms (the "Myśli Nieuczesane"/”Unkempt Thoughts” series), which he published in numerous magazines: “Nowa Kultura” (1954-62), „Przegląd Kulturalny” (1954-63), „Szpilki” (since 1955), “Twórczość” (since 1955), "Świat” (since 1957), „Dialog” (since 1957).

As far as genre is concerned, Lec’s works can be divided into: lyric ( „Barwy” 1933; „Notatnik Polowy” 1946; „Rękopis jerozolimski” 1956; „Do Abla i Kaina” 1961; „List gończy” 1963; „Poema gotowe do skoku” 1964), satires and epigrams (before the war published in the collection entitled „Spacer cynika”, 1946; „Z tysiąca i jednej fraszki”, 1959; „Kpię i pytam o drogę”, 1959; „Fraszkobranie”, 1966) and aphoristic works.

Lec’s aphorisms are the most original and at the same time the most well-known part of his writing output. “Unkmpt Thoughts” where published for the first time as one volume in 1957. It is resumed in Poland regularly. It was also translated into foreign languages (some selections where translated into German by K. Dedecius; apart from that Lec’s aphorisms were translated into English, Slovak, Dutch, Italian, Serbian, Croatian, Swedish, Czech, Finnish, Bulgarian ad Spanish). The time when “Thoughts” was written created favorable conditions for philosophical and political revisions, thus the aphorisms in the work express a protest against dogmatic thinking, against foreign forms of authority and against the threat to the individual posed by the community. In his work, Lec opposed passive acceptance of patterns and conventions. He ironically commented on the presence of convention and its influence on the life of a man, on its moral, social and erotic plane. As a poet and a satirist, he knew how to link social, psychological and moral observations with a mocking and sometimes melancholic reflection. His aphorisms are characterized by the artistry of linguistic conceptualism and sophisticated syntactic forms.

In 1961, Lec received from ZAIKS (Związek Autorów i Kompozytorów Scenicznych/The Association of Authors and Composers) an award for his satiric work. In 1966, he was awarded Krzyż Oficerski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski./ Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

According to his friend’s accounts, poet Jan Śpiewak, Lec kept his distance to the reality till the very end. When he was in the hospital, he was brought his book for proofreading. Lec is supposed to have said: "I can’t do the proofreading. I am occupied only with dying.” He died on 7 May 1966 in Warsaw.
 

The text comes from the Diapozytyw Portal, formerly owned by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.