We have received a letter from three scientists: Piotr J. Flatau, Ph.D. from University of California in San Diego and Katarzyna Zimek, Ph.D. and Tomasz Lerski, Ph.D., from the University of Warsaw and in which they informed us about their recent findings on Władysław Szlengel, popular pre-war poet, author and cabaret artist. Below we are presenting in its entirety.
Year of birth of Wladyslaw Szlengel
We would like to draw your attention to the document which indicates that the year of birth of Wladyslaw Szlengel, the Warsaw Ghetto Poet, is 1912 — not 1914 as it has been generally assumed until now.
In addition, we present some findings related to Wladyslaw Szlengel parents’ names, dates of their deaths and information indicating that the poet had a brother or brothers [see Attachments 4 and 5]. We note that his father cooperated with the Kaminski Theater in Warsaw. We enclose part of a correspondence that sheds some light on the activities of Szlengel during the first years of the war, between him staying in Bialystok and his ultimate return to Warsaw to his apartment on Walicow 14 Street.
Until now, most biographical notes about Wladyslaw Szlengel [Maciejewska1979] [Gutman1990] [Prokop-Janiec2001] [Borzymińska-Naimska2003] [Lerski2008] [Stańczuk2013] mention as the year of his birth 1914.
There are several exceptions. The Israeli scholar Ruth Shenfeld indicates 1910–1914 [Shenfeld1987] as a possible range of his birthday. Another one is the testimony of Halina Birenbaum, made at the Yad Vashem on April 27, 2007 [see Appendix 1] where she states that Szlengel was born in 1911.
One interesting clue is Szlengel’s poem „Obrachunek z Bogiem”, most probably written in 1943, in which he states I’m 32 years old. This poem has
survived in one copy after the war and it is not known how faithful it is. However, it would indicate that he was born in 1911 and this was the basis of testimony given at Yad Vashem by Halina Birenbaum [Halina Birenbaum, personal communication May 2015].
To the best of our knowledge, Szlengel’s birth certificate or any other document confirming the poet’s birthday have not been found until now.
The State Archive of Social Organizations of Grodno Oblast in Grodno (Belarus) has a document, (f. 6195, o. 1, dz. 395; record group M. 41, file number 3070) a copy of which is available in the Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority). This document was drawn up in 1940, commissioned by the Soviet authorities, and contains a list of writers, painters and actors in the Bialystok region (Spisok pisateley, khudoznikov, artistov i aktorow bielostotskoy oblasti). This document will be called the „List” in what follows.
The List is divided into two columns. The left column provides the surname, first name and father’s name (otechestvo) of the person, and the right column some brief information. On page 5 of the List (page 11 of the document), in the 5th row from the top in the left column we have: Szlengel Wladyslaw Moyseyevich, and in the right — hand column: born in 1912 in Warsaw, in the family of a painter, Jew, author of screenplays, arrived from Warsaw (original text: rod. 1912 g. v Varshavie v semyi khudoznika, Yevriey, avtor postanavok, pribil iz Varshavy) [Appendix 2].
Entries below and above describe members of a theater group, presumably the „Białostocki Teatr Miniatur” (Kleynkunst Theater in Bialystok). For example, above are listed Borunski Leon Grigorievich and Borunski Wlodzimierz (Vladimir) Grigorievich, while below we have Goldwasser Alexander Mendeleyevich and Lewin Srul Moyseyevich. The „List” includes a list of members of various art organizations operating in the region of eastern Poland, at that time under the Soviet occupation.
On page 5 of the „List” (page 11 of the document), 5th line from the top is listed Wladyslaw Szlengel. We are convinced that this is a Warsaw Ghetto Poet. This is supported by several facts. Władyslaw Szlengel was in Bialystok since October 1939 and certainly in the early part of 1940 [see, among others, Śleszyński1999]. He came to Bialystok from Warsaw after the German invasion in September of 1939 and after Warsaw’s capitulation. He was connected to „Białostocki Teatr Miniatur” (Kleynkunst Theater in Bialystok). Together with this theater he traveled around the region (Grodno, Lida, Baranowicze, Nowogrodek, Brześć and Wolkowysk). Eventually the group broke up and some members returned to Warsaw in 1940.
Until now it was assumed that among those who returned was Wladyslaw Szlengel. However, the letter written from Munich on November 2, 1995 by Alfred Schütz, the well-known composer, to Dr. Tomasz Lerski (see Appendix 6) contains information that Szlengel stayed in Lviv and worked there in the „Lviv Teatr Miniatur” (Kleynkunst Theater in Lviv), whose musical director was Schütz himself. The poet moved there, most probably
after the Kleynkunst Theater in Bialystok had suspended its activities. Furthermore, the letter shows that Szlengel and his wife were definitely in Lviv in May of 1941 and returned to Warsaw after the German attack on the USSR [see Lerski2008].
In the „List” it is mentioned that Wladyslaw Szlengel was Jewish. There is also mention about the occupation of his father. His „otechestvo” is Moyseyevich; thus, his father’s name was Moses/Moshe. To date, biographies of Wladyslaw Szlengel do not discuss the names of his parents. However, we have found in the Warsaw telephone directory of 1930 on the Waliców 14 Street the name Maurycy Szlengel [Telefony1930] [see Appendix 3]. We have also located an obituary published in the newspaper „Nasz Przegląd” (“Our Review”) on December 9, 1934, stating that: Maurycy Szlengel, artist-painter, died after long and severe sufferings on December 7, 1934 at the age of 50. The body will be moved from the funeral home today, on Sunday, 9 of this month at 2pm, from the funeral home. This notice is given by a sorrowful wife, sons, and the family [see Appendix 4].
Most probably his father (Maurycy Szlengel) worked as a set decorator for the Kaminski Theatre in Warsaw (at least between 1925–1929) [see Appendix 7 and 8]. His father’s obituary, published in 1934, mentions that he was an artist and this agrees with the information from other sources. It is also consistent with his father’s profession (khudoznik) given in the „List”. According to the frequently practiced dual-language use in Jewish families, one can also assume that Moshe Szlengel and Maurycy Szlengel is the same person. In addition, we know that Leon and Wlodzimierz Borunski who are
listed in the „List”, were friends of Wladyslaw Szlengel. Therefore, there is no doubt this is Wladyslaw Szlengel, the „Warsaw Ghetto Poet”.
Most probably the information that he was born in 1912 comes directly from Wladyslaw Szlengel. Therefore, it is likely the most reliable of the existing sources.
Moreover, we have examined „Akta stanu cywilnego wyznania mojżeszowego w Warszawie” in Archiwum Państwowe (State Archives) and searched the indexes of birth certificates drawn up in the years 1913–1915 at the Cyrkuł VI (Police Station VI) which covers the address Waliców 14. However, Wladyslaw Szlengel’s birth certificate has not been found there.
Unfortunately, birth records from the VIth Cyrkuł from several previous years, including 1911–1912, are not preserved. The „księgi meldunkowe” (registration books) for the Waliców 14 Street before 1945 are also not available. We have not found any personal files from the professional organizations to which Wladyslaw Szlengel might have belonged (e.g. ZAiKS).
We also note that his poem „Cjankali”, with which he made his debut in 1930, deals with the subject of abortion. He would have been 16 years old in that year. In April 2015 we interviewed professor Marian Fuks, who graduated from the same school as Wladyslaw Szlengel (”Szkoła Handlowa Zgromadzenia Kupców”, i.e. School of Commerce of the Warsaw’s Merchants). Marian Fuks, who was born in 1914, graduated from that
school in 1933, while Wladyslaw Szlengel completed his three years there earlier — in 1930, which further support the earlier date of his birth.
We would like to thank Krystyna Grochowska-Iwańska of Plock for her help in Russian translation and Dr. med. Philip Marcinowski for his help in finding the 1934 obituary of Maurycy Szlengel.
[Borzymińska2003] Zofia Borzymińska, Władysław Szlengel [w:] Polski słownik judaistyczny, oprac. Z. Borzymińska, R. Żebrowski, t. 2, Warszawa 2003.
[Gutman1990] Israel Gutman, Szlengel, Władysław, [w:] Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, red. I. Gutman, New york 1990, t. 4, s. 1448–1449.
[Lerski2008] Tomasz Lerski, Encyklopedia Kultury Polskiej XX Wieku. Muzyka-Teatr-Film. Warszawa: Polskie Wydawnictwo Naukowo-Encyklopedyczne, 2008, s. 767. ISBN 83–917189–9–9.
[Maciejewska1979] Irena Maciejewska, Wstęp. W: Władysław Szlengel: Co czytałem umarłym. Warszawa: PIW, 1979, s. 6. ISBN 8306002881.
[Shenfeld1987] Ruth Shenfeld, Wladyslaw Szlengel we-szirato be-geto Warsza, „Gal-Ed” 10 (1987), s. 247–279.
[Stańczuk2013] Magdalena Stańczuk, Władysław Szlengel: poeta nieznany: wybór tekstów. Warszawa: Bellona, 2013, s. 310. ISBN 97883111127197.
[Śleszynski1999] Wojciech Śleszyński, Sowieckie teatry, zespoły estradowe i filharmonia w obwodzie białostockim w latach 1939–1941,
„Białostocczyzna” 4/56/1999, Białystok, Białostockie Towarzystwo Naukowe 1999, ISSN 0860–4096, s. 82–89.
[Telefony1930] Książka Informacyjno-Adresowa Cała Warszawa, Dział XV, str. 397, Towarzystwo Wydawnicze P.I.K.A. „Polskie Informacyjne Książki Adresowe” 1930.
List of Appendices
Appendix 1 — Halina Birenbaum testimony in Yad Vashem, on Wladyslaw Szlengel
Appendix 2 — List of writers, painters, actors and artists of the Bialystok district (1940)
Appendix 3 — Excerpt from the Warsaw’s phone book of 1930
Appendix 4 — Obituary of Wladyslaw Szlengel’s father, Maurycy Szlengel, painter, 1934
Appendix 5 — Wladyslaw Szlengel mother’s obituary, Mala Szlengel de domo Wermus, 1936
Appendix 6 – Excerpt from Alfred Schutz’s letter to Tomasz Lerski (2 November 1995)
Appendix 7 – Nasz Przegląd 13 November 1925
Appendix 8 – Nasz Przegląd 13 October 1929
Piotr J. Flatau, Ph.D.
Katarzyna Zimek, Ph.D.
Tomasz Lerski, Ph.D.