Jerzy Ficowski, Poet and Translator


New York, May 26, 2006

Jerzy Ficowski, a peerless advocate for the arts and letters of a decimated Polish Jewry, died in Warsaw on May 9, at the age of 82.

Following World War II, during which he served in the Home Army and participated in the Warsaw Uprising, Ficowski published nearly 20 volumes of poetry, including the acclaimed "A Reading of Ashes." However, it was his work as an archivist that marked him for greatness: Having witnessed the genocide, and the ongoing oppression of the Roma, Ficowski became one of the few translators from their languages, producing renditions of folktales lauded for their whisper-weight mastery.
Translations from Yiddish followed, as well as from Russian. Ficowski humbled his gifts, too, in the shadow of Bruno Schulz, perhaps the greatest Polish Jewish writer of modernity, murdered by the Gestapo in 1942. If not for Ficowski, who was not Jewish, Schulz's work would have been lost. Ficowski later published a seminal "biographical portrait" of Schulz called "Regions of the Great Heresy."
Ficowski would produce only one book of his own fiction, a set of stories that extend Schulz's preoccupation with estrangement, and with dreaming as escape, into new worlds of isolation - muted by violence, beset by the politics of catastrophe. Only this month did that book, "Waiting for the Dog To Sleep," find its way into the English language; copies arrived at Ficowski's house two weeks before his death. A riddling, forbidding colloquy of fantasies fevered by war and privation, it offers only the grayest of consolation: the pleasures of a last cigarette, the aroma of a cup of coffee, the quiescence of hiding. "The dead things are glad," Ficowski writes. "I have descended to be one of them, from this moment on."

Renowned Polish poet and author Jerzy Ficowski dies at 82
Copyright 2006 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH: Tuesday, May. 9, 2006 - 9:20 AM

Warsaw (dpa) - The leading biographer of Poland's literary legend Bruno Schulz, Polish poet and author Jerzy Ficowski died in Warsaw Tuesday aged 82, Poland's Writers' Guild confirmed.

A Polish anti-Nazi resistance fighter during the World War II Ficowski was also renowned for his tomes of poetry touching on the tragic fate of Polish Jews in the Holocaust.

He was the foremost expert author on the art and culture of Polish Roma, or gypsies, and the leading biographer of renowned Polish- Jewish graphic artist and author Bruno Schulz, who was gunned down by a German officer in his hometown of Drohobycz during the war.

Ficowski's biography of Schulz, entitled The Realms of the Grand Heresy, received rave reviews in both Poland and the United States.
Born in 1924, Ficowski also penned the foremost work on Polish Roma, The

Gypsies in Poland: History and Customs. Among his other books was The Vicinity of the Street of Crocodiles, in homage to Schulz.

Ficowski also penned dozens of tomes of poetry, much of it reflecting on human suffering during the Holocaust. His work has been widely translated into English, French, Hebrew and German.