Plaque in memory of Leopold Tyrmand at 6 Konopnickiej Street in Warsaw, where he lived in 1946–1955
May 16, 1920,|
|Died||March 15, 1985
Fort Myers, Florida, USA
Leopold Tyrmand was born in an assimilated Jewish family. His paternal grandfather, Zelman Tyrmand, was a member of the Management Board of Warsaw's Nożyk Synagogue. His father Mieczyslaw Tyrmand, had a wholesale leather business. Tyrmand's mother was Maria Oliwenstein. His parents during the war were sent to the Majdanek Concentration Camp, where his father died. His mother survived the war and emigrated to Israel.
In 1938 he graduated from the Warsaw Gymnasium. He went to Paris, where he studied for a year at the faculty of architecture at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the Academy of Fine Arts. There he met for the first time in Western European culture and American jazz. Both of these fascinations left a lasting mark on his work.
During the war Tyrmand was a resistance fighter in Poland, a waiter in Germany (an experience he wrote about in his semi-autobiographical novel "Filip"), and a prisoner in a Norwegian concentration camp. Before he returned to a devastated Poland, he worked with the Norwegian Red Cross.
After World War II
In 1954, he wrote a diary, which he later edited and released in 1980 as "Dziennik 1954"; it has been translated into English to appear in 2014 as "Diary 1954". The book, which gives a unique description of the daily life in Stalinist Poland, is now considered to be one of his greatest achievements.
In 1950, during the years of Stalinism in Poland, Tyrmand was removed from the editorial board of popular Przekrój magazine for his report about a boxing tournament, in which he criticized the Russian judges for their pro-Soviet bias (their unfair decisions spurred protests among the boxing fans leading to police intervention). With the help of an old friend - Stefan Kisielewski, he found work in the Catholic Tygodnik Powszechny magazine. However, in March 1953 Tygodnik Powszechny closed after refusing to print the official obituary of Stalin. Tyrmand then suffered from an unofficial ban on publications.
Due to the frustration associated with forced inactivity Tyrmand transferred his writing to the "Dziennik 1954" which recounts the first three months of 1954. While Tyrmand was perceived as an opponent of communism and the socialist system the diary makes little mention of politics, rather sarcastically condemns civilization, and the cultural and economic backwardness of the Polish People's Republic. The log contains harsh judgments about the many forms of contemporary cultural scene. Tyrmand also spares no descriptions of his own love affairs.
He discontinued writing the diary in April 1954 when he was commissioned to write Zły (published in English as "The Man With White Eyes"), a novel about the post-war Warsaw crime world released in December 1955. It quickly became a bestseller, and was regarded as one of the forerunners of the thaw in Polish literature.
In April 1955 he married an art student Margaret Ruble-Żurowska but their marriage did not last long. Tyrmand second wife was Barbara Hoff. The writer, known for his uncompromising and unconventional lifestyle (he was famous for his colorful socks, Stilyagi ), became the leader of the emerging jazz movement in Poland. He organized festivals and concerts, and released a monograph on jazz.
He published the first part of mini novella "Wędrówki i myśli porucznika Stukułki" (Thoughts and Journeys of Lieutenant Stukułka) and a collection of short stories "Gorzki smak czekolady Lucullus" (The Bitter Taste of Lucullus Chocolate). With the tightening of internal policies by the governments of Władysław Gomułka Tyrmand also suffered repression. Censorship denied the publication of further novels, such as "Siedem dalekich rejsów" (Seven Long Voyages) and renewals of already published work. The last novel that he managed to publish while in Poland was "Filip" (1961). The last permission for a trip abroad was granted in 1959, and after that he was denied a passport. The authorities were critical of his "bourgeois" lifestyle.
Another Tyrmand novel which was never released in Poland was "Życie towarzyskie i uczuciowe" (A Social and Emotional Life), completed in 1964. In the book the author criticized the attitudes and the moral environment of the "creative intelligentsia" of socialist Poland - the writers, journalists and filmmakers - especially those who willingly assumed a subordinate role to the government. The fictional characters in the book could be easily recognized as real life persons from the contemporary Polish cultural world. Excerpts from the book were printed in the weekly Kultura and created a scandal in literary circles.
Tyrmand emigrated to the United States in 1966. In 1971, he married Mary Ellen Fox, a doctoral candidate at Yale University. Mary Ellen Tyrmand co-authored a book, published in Poland in 2012: "Tyrmandowie Romans Amerykanski." The book traces their relationship via the letters to each other beginning with their meeting in 1970 until his death.
In the United States, Tyrmand lived in New York City and New Canaan, Connecticut, until 1976, and regularly published essays in American periodicals such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, Commentary and the The American Scholar. He became the co-founder and vice-president of the Rockford Institute, a conservative foundation critical of American publishing values and their apparent bias toward liberal writers. He served as editor of Chronicles of Culture, an anti-communist journal.
His books include Kultura Essays, Explorations in Freedom, Notebooks of a Dilettante, On the Border of Jazz and Seven Long Voyages. His most famous novel was Zły (published in English as The Man With White Eyes). Tyrmand was instrumental in introducing jazz music to Poland, and is considered the "guru" of the Polish jazz movement. He started the first Polish jazz festival, which he named "Jazz Jamboree," in the 1950s; the festival, whose theme song he picked ("Swanee River") attracted notables of jazz from the West, and continues to this day. To Tyrmand, jazz was a declaration of freedom, and thus a political statement.
Tyrmand died of a heart attack in Fort Myers, Florida. He was 64 years old. He is survived by his wife, Mary Ellen, and his children, Matthew and Rebecca.