The building of Lviv branch of the Union of Soviet Writers of Ukraine at vul. Kopernika, 42, had been humming with different languages for the whole day. Some writers came here early in the morning, they had their breakfasts, lunches and dinners here. They had their discussions, some of them were even composing their poems and articles here. There was an editorial office of the publishing matter of the Union, a monthly "Literatura i mystetstvo" (Literature and Art). The editors arranged with authors about the required materials.
There were plenty of newly arrived Polish writers, so Boy [Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński] did not feel lonely. But it could be felt he did not belong there, he would usually keep silent at the meetings, and try to make friends.
One spring day in 1940, I was surprised when in the building of the Union, he approached me [Mykhaylo Rudnytskyi] and asked whether I could give him lessons of Ukrainian language. He explained that he was reading a lot, but could not understand everything and it was still difficult for him to speak.
Boy was a very hard-working and a very busy person, so he suggested 9 a.m. when there were no meetings or conventions in the building yet. On a nice day, when we had no lectures, we would get out of the city, often to Stryiskyi park.
I wondered how a Polish writer who hitherto considered himself a progressive person, but never attempted to clarify the main ideas of his world view, perceived his current work as a Soviet writer.
He answered frankly that he had been thinking about the matter and that it was not easy to settle it. As to Marxism, he only started learning about it, while Soviet literature was not known to him at all. Could anything he read in translation give him any idea of great literature? Boy started learning Russian. He shrugged his shoulders in despair to regret about no large Russian-Polish dictionary available so far! He had to use a Russian-French dictionary and add every day dozens of words that were not there.
He was not satisfied to be writing reviews on the performances of the Polish theater. His days were long, and he tried to fill them with some more systematic work. In Poland, he often spoke in public with his articles on various social and literary phenomena. The life and literature he knew well would always prompt some new topics to him. He was an arduous polemicist and pamphleteer. He had not found any such opportunities in Lviv as yet. Boy did not certainly imply his age, but his tone was very evident to claim he was not able to catch up with the young writers.
He would be saying that the Lviv he used to know for many years, vanished into thin air, like smoke dissipating after a battle, while its new horizons were not yet surmountable. He compared himself to those suddenly thrown into the front and who had to forget all about their past. He expressed bitter reproaches about the Polish ministers and public figures, blinded by their pride, certain that the Nazi Germany would not dare to start a war against Poland.
— When a person has lost his homeland — he said with a restrained pain — what remains of his world? All previous views must be turned over, as dusty masquerade clothes.
Boy did not want to rely on the optimism of those who claimed that after the war it would all be "normal."
— Nothing will remain the same. We, the Poles must learn to think in new ways. We will not manage without the help of the Soviet Union. But will I be able to learn thinking in Marxist?
And then he asked himself aloud whether his materialism was close to Marxism. He inherited this materialism from the French freethinking writers who did not recognize any secrets of the soul, independent of the body, and no secrets, independent of human needs. Boy wondered whether it was enough that he fought against the church and religion, against the hardened corrupted aristocracy and spoiled bourgeoisie, against all arrogant attempts to portray Poland either as a martyr, or as a chosen one among the nations, that would miraculously resurrect...
It occurred to me that Boy could take up writing the history of Polish literature. However, he did not feel prepared for such a task.
— I have no wish to, — he said — to reread the works of Polish writers again and again. I'd better use this time to get acquainted with Russian literature and Marxist criticism.
He was not happy about never belonging to those authors who ignored the broad mass of readers, and he supported that literature was a means of promoting social ideas, and the struggle for a better form of social order...
— But this is not enough — he added, wrapped in his thought, — important formula can be replicated, but how do we apply them... Here, specific conditions shall be met... You see, the greatest tragedy of such newcomers in the Soviet reality, as I am, is that while writing, we do not see clearly our readers.
For a moment, Boy would imagine himself back in Warsaw after the war, then he returned again to the present day — to the Soviet Lviv. He did not want to wait until the war was over, but with his combative temper he sought to take part in the fight in full swing on the literary front ...
Boy came back to his thoughts about the massive Soviet readers:
— But you have millions of people you can write for.
I was having doubts whether the whole idea of a separate literature for Western Ukrainian lands was relevant when the border posts at Zbruch fell down. It put Boy on a further alert. He spoke of an inevitable process that would cover Western Ukraine. He could not imagine his role of a Polish writer under the complex transformations mentioned in various meetings and sessions.
— Not that I can sit back — he
concluded. — Those
are not the phenomena of temporary or local nature which can be ignored. — New Lviv must remind me that new Warsaw and
new Cracow will follow. Visual history lessons must be learned even in
old age …
— But you aren't old ! — I replied sincerely.
— The sooner we get older, the more frequently others reassure us that we are still young.
The Board of the Union of Soviet Writers of Ukraine resolved to establish in Lviv an organizing committee of writers. At the meeting, Oleksandr Korniychuk announced a list of candidates recommended by the board and said:
— If you like, you can add some of yours. Twelve persons must be chosen.
The hall started buzzing in Polish, Ukrainian, German, Czech, Hebrew, but only two candidates were replaced. It was one Ukrainian and one Pole. The additional candidates included Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, a well-known Balzaс expert. During the occupation of Lviv, he was shot down by the German fascists.
As a chairman of the Organizing Committee, I once asked him:
do you feel under the new conditions?
— Comrade Chairman, I am not Soviet as yet, — Boy-Żeleński said, looking me in the eye. "But I am trying hard!"