Stanisław Jerzy Lec

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Stanisław Jerzy Lec

Stanisław Jerzy Lec (Polish pronunciation: [staˈniswaf ˈjɛʐɨ lɛts]; 6 March 1909 – 7 May 1966) (born Baron Stanisław Jerzy de Tusch-Letz) was a Polish poet and aphorist. Often mentioned among the greatest writers of post-WW2 Poland, he was one of the most influential aphorists on the 20th century, known for lyrical poetry and sceptical philosophical-moral aphorisms, often with a political subtext.[1]


He was born on 6 March 1909 in Lviv (then Lemberg, Austro-Hungarian Empire), the son of the Baron Benon de Tusch-Letz and Adela Safrin; both were Jewish eccentrics who converted to Protestantism. The family moved to Vienna at the onset of First World War, and Lec received his early education there. After the war the family returned to Lviv-Lemberg to continue his schooling at the Lemberg Evangelical School. In 1927 he matriculated at Lviv's Jan Kazimir University in jurisprudence and Polish.

As a result of his political activities – writing articles for socialist revolutionary periodicals, making speeches in the Technological Institute’s Yellow Hall – Lec had to leave his hometown Lviv for Warsaw. There his works quickly became popular, but the "literary cabaret" he founded in collaboration with Leon Pasternak (cousin to Boris Pasternak) was closed by the authorities after eight performances. Nor did his law-abiding image improve after he took part in a congress of cultural workers initiated by the Antifascist Popular Front.

After Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union he was imprisoned in a German work camp in Ternopol, from which he made several attempts to escape. He received a death sentence for his second attempt to escape, but managed to escape again after killing his guard with a shovel when taken to dig his own grave. This became the subject of his most famous poem. After that he participated in partisan warfare within the communist formations of the Gwardia Ludowa and the Armia Ludowa, and eventually served in regular units of Polish army until the end of the war, which he finished in the rank of major[2] and was awarded the order of "Polonia Restituta".[3]

According to Clifton Fadiman's introduction to Lec's book Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane):

Lec has led the strange (to us), hunted, haunted life of thousands of Central European intellectuals, their experience inexorably shaped by war and revolution. At the outbreak of the war he was imprisoned in a German concentration camp. There he stayed until July 1943 when the camp was liquidated by mass executions. Escaping in a German uniform, he succeeded in reaching Warsaw where he joined the underground fighters. After the war he continued his writing, varying his career by brief service as cultural attache of the Polish Embassy in Vienna. He has also spent two years in Israel.

Lec's wartime service allowed him to obtain a diplomatic post as a cultural attaché in Vienna, where his first two children were born.[3] After disagreeing with the Communist government he defected to Israel with his wife, son and daughter. Lec couldn't adapt to the life in Israel and returned to Poland with his son after two years there. His wife and daughter remained in Israel. He moved to a small town where he was in underground during the war and remarried there before returning to Warsaw. The Polish authorities punished him by taking away any rights to write or publish until the late 1950s. He was immensely popular and despite his anti-Communist and anti-totalitarian aphorisms he was given an official state funeral in Warsaw when he died in 1966.


Lec was married twice, first with Elżbieta Rusiewicz, with whom he had a son Jan (1949) and a daughter Małgorzata (1950), and second with Krystyna Świętońska, with whom he had a son Tomasz.[4][5][6]

Lec's aphorisms[edit]

  • Beyond each corner new directions lie in wait.
  • The exit is usually where the entrance was.
  • He who limps is still walking.
  • In a war of ideas it is people who get killed.
  • The mob shouts with one big mouth and eats with a thousand little ones.
  • Even a glass eye can see its blindness.
  • To whom should we marry Freedom, to make it multiply?
  • I am against using death as a punishment. I am also against using it as a reward.
  • You can close your eyes to reality but not to memories.
  • Optimists and pessimists differ only on the date of the end of the world.
  • Is it a progress if a cannibal is using knife and fork?
  • If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he lucky?
  • No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
  • All is in the hands of man. Therefore wash them often.
  • Do not ask God the way to heaven; he will show you the hardest one.
  • If you are not a psychiatrist, stay away from idiots. They are too stupid to pay a layman for his company.
  • Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody.
  • The first condition of immortality is death.
  • Suppose you succeed in breaking the wall with your head. And what, then, will you do in the next cell?
  • When smashing monuments, save the pedestals—they always come in handy.

Main works[edit]

  • Barwy, poems (1933)
  • Spacer cynika, satire and epigrams (1946)
  • Notatnik polowy, poems (1946)
  • Życie jest fraszką, satire and epigrams (1948)
  • Nowe wiersze (1950)
  • Rękopis jerozolimski (1956)
  • Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane) (1957)
  • Z tysiąca i jednej fraszki (1959)
  • Kpię i pytam o drogę (1959)
  • Do Abla i Kaina (1961)
  • List gonczy (1963)
  • More Unkempt Thoughts (Myśli nieuczesane nowe) (1964)
  • Poema gotowe do skoku (1964)
  • Fraszkobranie (1966)


  1. ^ "YIVO | Lec, Stanisław". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  2. ^ "Мальков М. Гуманист без страха и упрека — биография С. Е. Леца". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  3. ^ a b Станислав Ежи Лец. "Станислав Ежи Лец". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  4. ^ Томаш Лєц: «Я ще пам'ятаю, як батько водив мене у кафе Жорж» (відео) // «Вечір з Миколою Княжицьким» на ТВі 05.IV.2012., 6.IV.2012 04:20
  5. ^ Tomasz Lec. Personal profile //
  6. ^ "Tomasz de Tusch-Lec". Retrieved 2013-09-15. 

External links[edit]


  • Mirosław Nowakowski, Lexical Expectations: Lexical Operations in "Myśli nieuczesane" (Unkempt thoughts), Poznań, The Adam Mickiewicz University, 1986.
  • Jacek Trznadel [see Jacek Trznadel], Kolaboranci: Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński i grupa komunistycznych pisarzy we Lwowie, 1939–1941 ("The Collaborators"), Komorów, Fundacja Pomocy Antyk/Wydawnictwo Antyk Marcin Dybowski, 1998. ISBN 8387809012.
  • Jerzy Robert Nowak, Przemilczane zbrodnie: Żydzi i Polacy na Kresach w latach 1939–1941 ("Crimes Passed Over in Silence"), Warsaw, Wydawnictwo Von Borowiecky, 1999. ISBN 8387689157.
  • Polska–Ukraina: trudna odpowiedź: dokumentacja spotkań historyków (1994–2001): kronika wydarzeń na Wołyniu i w Galicji Wschodniej (1939–1945), ed. R. Niedzielko, Warsaw, Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych [Central Directorate of State Archives] & Ośrodek Karta, 2003. ISBN 8389115360, ISBN 8388288563.
  • Konrad Kołodziejski, "Elita niewolników Stalina" (The Elite of Stalin's Lackeys), Wprost, No. 38 (1086), 2003. (See online.)
  • Karl Dedecius, Stanisław Jerzy Lec: Pole, Jew, European, tr. & ed. M. Jacobs, Kraków, The Judaica Foundation/Center for Jewish Culture, 2004. ISBN 8391629341. (Bilingual edition: text in Polish and English.)
  • Mark Paul, Neighbours on the Eve of the Holocaust: Polish-Jewish Relations in Soviet-Occupied Eastern Poland, 1939–1941, Toronto, Pefina Press, 2008. (See online.)
  • Marta Kijowska, Die Tinte ist ein Zündstoff: Stanisław Jerzy Lec — der Meister des unfrisierten Denkens, Munich, Carl Hanser, 2009. ISBN 9783446232754. (See esp. pp. 43ff.)
  • Dorota Szczęśniak, "Jewish Inspirations in the Literary Work of Stanisław Jerzy Lec"; in: Poles & Jews: History, Culture, Education, ed. M. Misztal & P. Trojański, Kraków, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Pedagogicznego, 2011. ISBN 9788372716521.
  • Katarzyna Węglicka, "Literatura okupacyjna na Kresach" (Literature during the Occupation of the Eastern Bordelands) ((online text).
  • "Stanisław Jerzy Lec" (in English) on the Wirtualny Sztetl portal (see online).