Stephanie Kraft on Wojciech Żukrowski (1916-2000), author of Stone Tablets:
Wojciech Żukrowski was born in Krakow, Poland in 1916, in the middle of World War I. He was studying Polish language and literature at Jagiellonian University at the outbreak of War II. Żukrowski then served in the horse artillery and within a short time he was wounded. After Hitler’s forces occupied Poland, he joined the Polish resistance as a specialist in sabotage.
From late 1939 until 1945, Żukrowski worked in the Solvay limestone quarry with his friend Karol Wojtyla, who would become Pope John Paul II. The quarry was a haven for Polish intellectuals because it was not closely watched by the Germans. Acting on a shared passion for "cultural resistance" to the detested Nazi occupation, Żukrowski and Wojtyla helped form an underground acting group, the Rhapsodic Theater—an enterprise that could have brought severe punishment if they had been discovered. The two corresponded until Żukrowski's death in 2000.
Żukrowski married Maria Woltersdorf in 1945 and had a daughter, Katarzyna. He first gained recognition for From the Land of Silence, a book about life in an occupied country, and Kidnapping in Tiutiurlistan, an animal fable critical of war, which became an enduringly popular children’s book. In 1953 he became a war correspondent in Vietnam and China and traveled in Laos and Cambodia. The death of Stalin that year eventually led to the "thaw," a relaxation of political discipline that revived hopes for increased autonomy within member nations of the Warsaw Pact. In 1956, as Poles watched the deepening rebellion against the communist regime in Hungary, Zukrowski embarked on a three-year tour as cultural attaché with the Polish diplomatic mission in India.
In 1966 Żukrowski published Stone Tablets, one of the first Polish language literary works to offer trenchant criticisms of Stalinism. The book had been finished a year and a half earlier, but the censors held up publication until Wladyslaw Gomulka, then head of the Polish state, personally ordered its release. Shortly thereafter, a new print run was delayed due to political pressure from Hungary, whose leaders resented the novel’s sympathetic depiction of the revolt of 1956. Renowned film director Andrzej Wajda was refused permission to make a motion picture of the book. A Czech translation was printed but banned from distribution by the government; when the ban was lifted, nothing remained to sell because workers in the warehouse where the copies were stored had smuggled all of them out to readers.
Stone Tablets remained a favorite with the Polish reading public and eventually, like several other Żukrowski novels, became a film. Its popularity continued after 1989, when the seventy-three-year-old author once again found himself in a free Poland. In 1996, Żukrowski won the Reymont Prize for lifetime literary achievement.
Żukrowski died in 2000. He had written forty-four books and won twenty literary awards, including the prestigious Pietrzak Prize for Stone Tablets. He was buried with military honors in Powazki Cemetery, the resting place of many notable Poles. The Pope organized a special mass for him in Rome.
Photos of the author courtesy of Katarzyna Żukrowska