But I wanted to say something – the contradiction lay in that my father had status in the local community; when he was present, everyone knew
that Professor Zagajewski was there. He wasn’t a professor straight away, but it wasn’t long before he became one. On the other hand, we lived in poverty. I mean, we weren’t destitute, but we were poor. My father never owned a car,
the thought never even entered his head that he might own one. In fact, our one luxury were the summer holidays we spent either by the sea or in the mountains. My father preferred going to the
mountains, my mother to the sea. In this, I’ve inherited my mother’s taste because even after all these years, I still prefer the sea. All of this was happening against
a backdrop of the communist system. I, of course, as a child understood little of that. Once, when I was still a very young poet, I wrote a poem with a line saying that, ‘I wept at Stalin’s death’. I no longer know if I did or not. Stalin died in ’50… was it is in March ’53? Maybe – maybe not. But it was definitely very difficult as a small child attending the younger classes at school not to have been thoroughly subjected to propaganda. Bolesław Bierut seemed like a very good person because he was constantly meeting children and giving them sweets while the children gave him flowers. It was absolutely idyllic. Stalin, too, spent most of his time with children. So for a long time… perhaps my parents made a mistake, but of course… I mean, of course they were decidedly anti-communist, rejecting all of that business, but they said nothing of this to me. I don’t know, perhaps they were afraid that I’d blab about it or maybe they just wanted to
spare me any emotional complications. In any case, for a while at the very beginning, I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what this political system was. And now, when I think about it, I believe I had a very happy childhood although it was quite some time later that I realised that I’d been born not just on 21 June, the longest day of the year, but also after the greatest massacre in
the history of the world – the Shoah. My family is not Jewish so no one suffered directly, yet my parents gradually began to tell me about what they’d witnessed in Lwów. No one could have lived through the occupation in Lwów without occasionally seeing signs of this massacre. My mother told me how she’s once seen a lorry loaded with the bodies of Jews; I didn’t know about this for a very long time despite which, objectively, I was born in its shadow and later, much later, I began to understand it and somehow it entered my… the things I write about. This moment of awakening to life in the shadow of this dreadful catastrophe. Communism was much less visible. There was no mention of trucks loaded with human bodies. There was cruelty, but it was almost invisible.