Publication of 'The City of Shadows' in Poland today, 4 March, from Kraków publishers SQN (Sine Qua Non).
Kraków is one one of the great centres of publishing in Poland. I don't know whether that's simply because it's one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe, which it is, or whether its history is the major factor, but Polish publishers seem to have made it their capital (it was once Poland's real capital).
On a cold, sunny morning like this morning, with more than a hint of spring in the air, it would be no bad thing to be sitting in the Market Square (Europe's largest medieval town square) having a coffee and looking out at the extraordinary and vast Cloth Hall, St Mary's Basilica, and all the life of the city going by. It is a wonderful place to visit. It is a city that presents the new face of Poland while maintaining a deep and powerful sense of the past.
It's sometimes easy to allow the events of the Second World War to hang too heavily on Eastern Europe, but there's no question that they do hang in Kraków still, especially in the old Jewish district of Kazimierz, which was for 500 years one of Europe's most thriving Jewish communities. What happened to it and its people is too well known to need repeating, yet it is important that it isn't simply a memorial to a dead past, but is again a vibrant and distinctive part of a vibrant and distinctive city - Kraków. It's Jewish character has been reestablished in part with enormous vitality, but it is a more mixed district than it was as well. It has come alive out of the time-frozen wreckage that was all that remained of it through forty years of Communist rule in Poland. It's a place not to miss. A place to pay homage to the past, and to get some real sense of that past, and of a rich and important way of life that has gone from Europe forever, under circumstances we should not flatter ourselves into believing could not arise again, because of hatreds that are arising again all around us.
One of the reasons we should pay homage to the past of Kraków and Kazimierz is also because for a time, in the wake of the Enlightenment, they were places of tolerance and intellectual freedom, of art, music, literature, science, medicince, philosophy, free-thinking, hope. The city played a part in the rise of European democracy, even if the light was to be extinguished. But Kraków and Kazimierz are also places that belong vigorously in this century, not only because of the vitality they have built on the back of an appallingly destructive war (for all Poles, whatever their heritage) but also on a subsequent history of totalitarian repression.
I still remember in the 1980's in Leeds, occasionally drinking at the Polish Club off Harehills Lane, talking to old men who had left their country after the Nazi invasion to fight (and see their friends die) not only for their country but for Britain. At the end of the war they saw their country handed over to the Russians, the Russians Poland had only gained its freedom from twenty-five years earlier (freedom from the Czars - but Stalin was as close to a Csar as made no difference and considerably more brutal in the end). The war the men I met had fought, 'for freedom', had no care for Polish freedom, or for hundreds of thousands of Poles the Soviets added to the heap of Nazi dead.
Of course Danzig, Gdańsk, the city Stefan Gillespie visits in search of Hannah Rosen, in 'The City of Shadows, in 1935, is another beautiful city that has now found new vitality in a new Poland. But the war hangs there too, and for reasons that are even more complex and ambiguous, since Danzig was a German city and is now Polish. History isn't easy, which is why we need to know something about it in order to navigate our present, which isn't easy either. For now, my thanks to SQN for publishing 'Miasto Cieni'. Poland is a part of the story of 'The City of Shadows' and I hope to revisit it, as WWII ends, in a later Stefan Gillespie story.
Naturally enough 'The City of Shadows' is still available in English, and for most of us a lot easier to read that way!
So find it here: http://goo.gl/dAIw6Z
But just in case...
'Ciemne zaułki Dublina, pełne tajemnic Wolne Miasto Gdańsk, zakazane uczucia i prawda zakopana w zbyt płytkim grobie...
Susan Field znika nagle bez śladu. Zaniepokojona tym wydarzeniem Żydówka Hannah Rosen zrobi wszystko, żeby odkryć, jaki los spotkał jej przyjaciółkę. Pomaga jej Stefan Gillespie – bezkompromisowy policjant i ojciec rozpaczliwie walczący o prawo do dziecka. Każdy możliwy trop zdaje się prowadzić donikąd, a osoba, która ostatni raz mogła widzieć Susan, w pośpiechu opuszcza miasto. Dopiero kiedy w górach nieopodal Dublina odkryte zostają ciała kobiety i mężczyzny, prywatne śledztwo nabiera tempa. Rodzi się również uczucie – zakazana w katolickiej Irlandii miłość Żydówki i protestanta.'