Henryka Karmel was born in 1922, Ilona Karmel in 1925, so when the war started the first one was 14, and the latter 17. After the war, Henryka was 23 and Ilona 20. They had already experienced a nightmare (but fortunately they had long and quite interesting lives in the United States ahead of them). Tuwim was 51 and still had a few years of life in front of .
In poetry of both sisters, Tuwim’s influence is obvious. You can find in it: his rhythms, tones, rhymes, the kind of poetic energy characteristic for him, though its context is of course different. The poem To Julian Tuwimtalks about how Julian Tuwim’s poetry became part of the sisters’ lives. Their childhood — filled with Tuwim’s characters and admiration for his poetry. Poems for children, which Tuwim was writing, were dazzling novelties, but very quickly became classics throughout the sisters’ childhood. During the period of youthful crushes and loves, the girls could think and talk about them using Tuwim’s texts, written in various pseudonyms, and sometimes even without them. It was similar with attitudes of the young readers — Tuwim was to them a teacher of egalitarianism and democracy. „The Dancing Socrates” from an eponymous 1920 volume could have been a good patron of the beginning of her creative life, but, as the author writes „life has just spit on my face.” Now it was time for Tuwim’s „Christ of the City”, a character of a martyr among the harmed. Every stage of their lives was accompanied by characters from Tuwim’s poetry.
An Open letter to Julian Tuwim, in which the poet (hand-signed „Ila”) asks for evaluation, and what is more a rigorous one, of what she wrote during the war, includes a series of rather complex feelings. On one hand, it is a latter to a master, to a great poet who, as we know, was the patron of her development, literary sensitivity, poetic hearing. Ilona asks for evaluation, but she also evaluates her work herself. „Please, remember one thing,” she writes. „These poems are real”. It is a reassurance, but also an admonition. What she wrote, was written in terrible conditions and in a terrible time. In such terrible conditions there was no place for „scribbling”, as she says. So she understands scribbling as making up things, as writing things bearing little-to-no resemblance to reality, as creating something unreal. She, as everyman (she speaks of herself, impersonally „a person now no longer a person”, she writes, „as a person matures, she constantly learns something new”) has experienced the worst, the most tragic things and let’s admit it, she is preaching Tuwim, knowing that the poet was staying in a safe place during the war.
„Perhaps you wonder if I am exaggerating? How I could have survived you may ask? If so, sir, you know nothing of life (...)”
writes 20-year-old author to 51-year old Tuwim, who died a few years later. She knows that she has experienced something extreme, and she has. She also feels that it makes her somehow initiated, on the contrary to Tuwim. And it is the dignity of this initiation that she preaches about rather than sharing her experiences with the poet. In other place, while writing about signing administrative forms, she emphasises that „Each of these pastel-coloured cards, my dear sir, conjured deportation, selection” as if Tuwim was not capable of imagining a pastel piece of paper with ominous function. In short, Ila treats Tuwim as the oracle on poetry, but she also informs the oracle that his competence, due to the tragedy that had taken place, was limited and the criteria that he would like to use may not be adequate to the new circumstances. He is an expert on poetry, but she has gone through a nightmare and is still bearing the scars and as a result it gives her some kind of advantage. One way or another, they have to define criteria. „Songs of the Damned”, as she refers to her works, simply nees other measure than poetry.
She is very young, awfully treated by history and terribly and cruelly by fate. As it usually is, she unloads her anger in a letter to a man who is not guilty and who would know on his own which criteria should be applied. However, the tone of the letter suggests that Ilona is reproaching Tuwim; somehow their paths have drifted apart, their experiences even more. Now, she is 6-years-of-war „older” than him, and admittedly she still respects him, but she demands such criteria that will include her experience.
She is right, but it seems that she wrongly chose and interpreted the role of the recipient.
And she has the right to do so, bearing in mind that she is only 20.
And it is highly probable that, in a twinkling of an eye, Tuwim forgave her the gaffes of a young poet.