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Julian Tuwim

TUWIM, JULIAN (1894–1953), Polish poet. Tuwim, who was born in Lodz, was one of the outstanding Polish poets of the first half of the 20th century. His family background on his father's side was strongly Jewish; and, in fact, his father's relatives included several Zionists prominent in Russia and later in Ereẓ Israel. His mother, an assimilationist, educated him in a staunchly Polish spirit. Tuwim studied in Warsaw and was one of the founders of the literary group associated with the Skamander monthly. His early verse collections – Czyhanie na Boga ("Lying in wait for God," 1918), Sokrates tańczący ("Socrates the Dancer," 1920), and Siódma jesień ("The Seventh Autumn," 1922) – were full of youthful enthusiasm and vigor, expressing the poet's faith in the newly liberated Poland. Harsh realities soon disillusioned him, provoking his angry criticism of the rich and the "profiteers" in the epics Słowa we krwi ("Words in Blood," 1926) and Rzecz czarnoleska ("The Czarnolesie Affair," 1929). Here his hero was the ordinary man suffering from poverty and oppression. Tuwim eventually turned to socio-political themes, vehemently attacking Poland's militarist and capitalist regime in Biblia cygańska ("The Vagabonds' Bible," 1933), Treść gorejąca ("Burning Contents," 1936; Heb. tr., Tokhen Lohet, 1954), and Bal w operze ("The Opera Party," published in part in 1936). The last work appeared in full ten years later in 1946. Despite his clearly expressed sympathy for the poor, Tuwim was remote from the proletarian revolutionary movement at this period, his poems merely voicing an isolated intellectual's protest against the grim effects of the capitalist system.

Tuwim never attempted to conceal his Jewish identity and upbringing, and was subjected to vicious attacks by extreme Polish nationalists during the years preceding World War II. As an exile in France, South America, and the United States during the Nazi era, he was an active anti-Fascist and his outspoken declarations about the fate of European Jewry were heard throughout the free world. During the war years he wrote the epic Kwiaty polskie ("Flowers of Poland," 1940–44), one section of which, "Modlitwa" ("A Prayer"), became the anthem of the Polish resistance movement. In April 1944, Tuwim published a manifesto entitled My, Żydzi polscy ("We Polish Jews"), the sheer fury, power, and irony of which it would be hard to match in any nation's literature. After his return to Poland in 1946, he mainly devoted himself to literature, journalism, and the training of young poets. A literary craftsman and acknowledged master of the Polish language, Tuwim was one of the great revolutionary innovators in the history of Polish verse. He was also a prolific translator, particularly from Russian (e.g., Pushkin), and he published many delightful children's books (e.g., Lokomotywa, 1938), as well as satires, philological research papers, and various anthologies. A selection of his works was published in English (1942).

During the last years of his life, Tuwim supported the State of Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His family relationships and his Jewish loyalties find reflection in the correspondence with his cousin, Immanuel Tuwim, a Haifa engineer, and with the Zionist leader and poet Leib *Jaffe, a close friend of his, which was published in the Israeli press by Moshe Altbauer. His sister, the poet and translator IRENA TUWIM (1900–1987), described her brother and family in Lódzkie pory roku ("Lodz Years," 19582).


R. Matuszewski, Literatura po wojnie (19502); idem, Literatura polska w latach 19181955 (1958); P. Dembowski, in: Canadian Slavonic Papers, 1 (1958); J. Stradecki, Julian Tuwim: Bibliografia (1959), 609; W. Jedlicka and M. Toporowski (eds.), Wspomnienia o Julianie Tuwimie (1963), 467.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.