Jerzy Andrzejewski (ahn-jay-YEW-skee) is representative of the group of writers who evolved in postwar Poland. Andrzejewski was born into a middle-class family in Warsaw in 1909. He started a career as a journalist but was writing fiction by the time he was thirty. His first book was a collection of short stories published in 1936 under the title Drogi nieuniknione (unavoidable roads). In 1938 he published his first novel, ad serca (mode of the heart). The main character of the work is a priest, and the work showed Andrzejewski’s early Catholic influence. This novel set the tone for his later work, which presented individual characters with moral dramatic conflicts. He was given two literary honors for ad serca, including the designation “best young writer” from the Polish Academy of Literature.
The advent of World War II and the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany interrupted Andrzejewski’s early writing career. He stayed in Poland during the war and recorded his experiences and those of his friends in a series of short stories: “Przed sadem” (1941; on trial), “Apel” (1942; roll call), and “Wielki tydzen” (1943; holy week). These stories were published after the war under the title Noc (the night). They deal with life under the Nazi Occupation, whether as an underground fighter or as an inmate at the death camp in Auschwitz. In these stories Andrzejewski began to show a dislike for the Polish trait of romantic heroism, which encouraged people to do heroic deeds without thought to their success or failure. A deed was done for the sake of honor alone.
The end of World War II did not bring peace to Poland or to Andrzejewski. With the arrival of the Soviet army in Poland, a Communist government was imposed on the country. A civil war between Communist and anti-Communist forces ravaged the country for four years. By using as a backdrop this civil war, Andrzejewski continued his criticism of romantic heroism and created his most memorable work, Ashes and Diamonds, first published in 1948. The central figure of the story is Mathew, a member of the underground army who fought against the Nazis and now fights the Communists. He is given one final order: to assassinate the local Party chief. He agonizes over the order because...
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