Józef Hen

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Józef Hen
Józef Hen byVetulani.JPG
Hen in 2014
Józef Henryk Cukier

(1923-11-08) November 8, 1923 (age 96)
Warsaw, Poland
OccupationWriter, novelist, playwright, screenwriter
Known forWriting

Józef Hen, originally Józef Henryk Cukier (born November 8, 1923 in Warsaw), is a Polish novelist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and reporter of Jewish origin.


Born November 8, 1923 in Warsaw in the family home on Nowolipie Street. He completed gimnazjum at the age of sixteen at M. Krynski's School. As a child he contributed to The Little Review, a Friday supplement to an adult daily, written entirely by children and founded by the great educator Janusz Korczak.

After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, he remained in Warsaw, but fled the capital in November to escape the German occupation. He spent the war in the Soviet Union. He first worked on construction of a highway from Lvov to Kiev, then went to Samarkand in Uzbekistan. Despite his good health, he was not accepted into the Anders' Army in exile.[1] In 1944, he joined the rival Polish People's Army in exile and also published his poem Łódź Wierna (Faithful Łódź) in a magazine Voice of the Soldier. During the war, he lost his father, killed in 1945 in Buchenwald, his brother Moses (b. 1920), who disappeared in the Soviet Union, and his sister Mirka (1917-1942).[2] His mother and sister Stella (b. 1915) survived the war. In 1944 he adopted the pen name "Hen", which in time began to serve as his legal name. Immediately after the war he was editor of the weekly The Polish Soldier. By the end of his military service in 1952, he had attained the rank of Captain.

Already in 1947, he had published his first book, Kiev, Tashkent, Berlin. This history of his wanderings was considered a promising debut. Subsequently, he worked as a reporter and wrote short stories, historical fiction and novels for both adults and adolescents. He also wrote screenplays, which sometimes he directed, including the film Buses Like Turtles. Some of his works were filmed in the 1960s, including The Cross of Valour, No One is Calling, April and Law and the Fist. Later came the film Crimen (TV) and his script for An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God. He also scripted a historical serial Royal Dreams, later published in book form. His articles appeared in the weekly World.

In 1967-69, he was viciously attacked in print by a group called "The Partisans". At that time, he began a collaboration with Kultura, the Parisian journal in exile edited by Jerzy Giedroyc. It published three of Hen's stories under the pen name Korab ("Western", "Dayan's Eye", "The Twin").

He wrote a children's novel The Battle of Goat Court (1955), and a war novel, April (1960). A pair of autobiographical novels, Before the Great Pause and Resistance, formed a series, the "Theatre of Herod", about growing up just before World War II and during the siege of Warsaw in 1939. He also wrote numerous collections of short stories, including The Cross of Valour (1964); a historical novel The Crime, a Folk Tale (1975); a volume of essays, I Fear Not Sleepless Nights (1987); and Nowolipie Street (1991), a memoir. He also wrote belletristic biographies, among them I, Michel de Montaigne (1978) — the French writer, thinker and essayist against a panorama of sixteenth-century Europe; The Clown, A Great Man (1998) — a comprehensive sketch of the character and multilateral activities of Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski, interwoven with reflections about his childhood era; and My Friend the King about Stanisław August Poniatowski.

Portrait of Józef Hen by Zbigniew Kresowaty

Hen has seen several translations of his work, including those into Czech, German, Dutch, French, Italian, Russian, and, more recently (2012) in English.

For years (until 1982) he was an activist in the Polish Writers' Union and is still a member. He was active in the election committee for Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in the 2005 Polish presidential election, and has repeatedly voiced support for the two-term Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

He lives in Warsaw. From his marriage to Irene (née Lebewal) (1922-2010), he has two children, Magdalena (b. 1950) and a writer Maciej Hen (b. 1955).

He was awarded the Cross of Valour and the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1998).

In 2009, he received the City of Warsaw Literary Award for his works "about Warsaw, in Warsaw, and for Warsaw".[3]

Works (selection)[edit]

  • Kiev, Tashkent, Berlin, Wydawnictwo MON, 1958
  • Mist, PIW, 1970
  • Crimen, LSW 1975, Eric 2011
  • Theatre of Herod: Before the Great Pause; Resistance, Czytelnik, 1982 ISBN 83-07-00501-9
  • I Fear Not Sleepless Nights, Czytelnik, 1987, ISBN 83-07-01350-X
  • No One Is Calling, Wyd. Literackie, 1990, ISBN 83-08-02201-4
  • Nowolipie Street, Prospero, Łódź, 1991, ISBN 83-900822-0-9, (English translation, DL Books LLC 2012, ISBN 978-0-9851045-0-4)
  • Departure of Aphrodite, Twój styl, 1995
  • The Clown, a Great Man, Wydawnictwo Iskry, 1998, ISBN 83-207-1611-X
  • I, Michel de Montaigne ..., Prószynski i S-ka, 1999, ISBN 83-7180-341-9
  • April, Nowe Wydawnictwo Polskie Ypsylon, Warsaw 2000
  • My Friend the King, Wydawnictwo Iskry, 2003, ISBN 83-207-1739-6
  • The Silent Among Us, Jeden Świat, 2004, ISBN 978-8389632128
  • Professor T's Notebooks, PIW 2006, ISBN 83-06-03006-0
  • Law and the Fist, Świat Literacki, 2006, ISBN 978-83-86646-17-3
  • The Ping-Pong Player, W.A.B. 2008, ISBN 978-83-7414-426-1
  • Journal for the New Century, W.A.B. 2009, ISBN 978-83-7414-706-4
  • The Sixth, the Youngest and Other Stories, W.A.B. 2012, ISBN 978-83-7747-639-0
  • Powrót do bezsennych nocy. Dzienniki, Sonia Draga, Katowice 2016, Template:ISBN 978-83-7999-740-4


  1. ^ In the late 1950s, Hen described this experience in his autobiographical novel No One is Calling, first published in 1990.
  2. ^ Donata Subbotko, interview with Józef Hen, "Lekkie swędzenie sumienia" ("The Slight Itch of Conscience") in the magazine Duży Format, 2009-11-06
  3. ^ Literary Award of Warsaw of 2009

External links[edit]