28 October 2016 One does not become different at once – landscapes at Conrad Festival

In his life, Geza Röhrig travelled from Hungary, through Poland, to the United States, with several short and longer breaks on the way.

Some places, where he stayed just for a short while had such a strong impact on him, that he could not free himself from their influence for the rest of his life. Oświęcim and Krakow were two such places.

Despite the fact that two halls in Czeczotka House were filled to the brim, the atmosphere remained very cosy as Geza Röhrig told Grzegorz Janowicz about the orphanage, moving in with his foster family and his rebellious phase at university. “There were some strict rules in the orphanage, we were not allowed to decorate the walls. The fact that we could not adopt the space for ourselves was difficult, just as not being able to find a place where we could be alone. As for me, I could spend time alone only on my father’s grave, which was my hermitage. I put stickers all over the gravestone to personalise it”, he said. Living with his foster family in Hungary, at first he felt very strange, because one does not change by moving alone. Then it was the time for his meetings with Poland and experiencing political opposition in a very intense way. “After coming to Poland, it took me three seconds to realise it was a better place, as in Poland the resistance against the system was far deeper”. In Poland, the artist also had to face the truth about Auschwitz: “My grandfather apologised to me on his death bed for telling me this story. No one in my family wanted to talk to me. Then it all started flowing out, like pus from an infected wound; I started soaking up the mythology, stories about my grandfather’s mother and father, about the pregnant sister and brother. These stories went beyond the family, I learned that the grocer had been a kapo in the camp, and that was why we never got our groceries from him. I assured my grandfather that I would go to Poland and leave a stone in the crematorium”. Geza Röhrig admitted that after coming to Poland, he went to Auschwitz almost every single day for a month. He also rented a room in Oświęcim, so that he could be closer. It was not, however, a time of mourning, but a time of renewal. “One cannot ever get lost in mourning”, he explained.

Another meeting was dedicated to the landscape of young Ukrainian literature. The invited guests – Sofia Andrukhovych, Maria Nikitiuk, Natalka Sniadanko and Haśka Shyjan – discussed the changes in young writing with Iryna Vikyrchak. The authors agreed that everything that is going on in Ukrainian literature reflects the processes occurring in any other literature, but in Ukraine, it is happening twice as fast. It absorbs the new languages used for describing the world twice as quickly, absorbs the social and philosophical changes. Until recently, women’s prose, political books and children’s literature did not exist in Ukraine, now it is all happening. According to the authors, the universal dimension of books plays an important role in that process. For creators, the fact whether someone in for example Japan will understand their book becomes important. Ukrainian literature is coming out to the world, it wants to be published – but not at the price of losing its idiomatic nature and individual character. All good literature – according to the authors – is somehow distinct, because in the community one loses their critical approach, ideas and beliefs become distorted.

fot. Hasenien Dousery | www.blackshadowstudio.com
fot. Wojciech Wandzel, www.wandzelphoto.com

For another meeting, which inaugurated the “Book Industries” series we were joined by the representatives of bookshops: PIO Kaliński (Lokator), Adam Strzeboński (Księgarnia Pod Globusem), Marek Szczepaniak (De Revolutionibus. Books&Cafe). Marek Wilk asked them about their motivations to become book sellers, as well as the conditions and market environment faced by independent bookshops. The very notion of independence was immediately deconstructed by PIO Kaliński, who noted that it is somehow strange to speak about being independent in a business context, since even the so-called independent bookshops are dependent on their readers, publishers, the city and its festivals. According to him, it would be better to refer to them as “author bookshops”, where good books are recommended and the offer is personalised. The guests discussed their relations with the readers and publishers, as well as literature, which can be found in their stores.

The Thursday meetings were characterised by their diversity. All of them showed the strong influence of the space, which shapes personality and impacts our world view, helps or stifles development.

Today, we are waiting for the meeting with Richard Flanagan, hosted by Michał Nogaś, reading and a discussion with Szczepan Twardoch, a meeting with critics, taking place as part of the “Book Industries” series and a screening of The Hours with introduction by Michael Cunningham.


The Festival is supported by EDF Poland – the patron of the KBF, Volvo Wadowscy, PZU SA and the John Paul II International Airport Krakow Balice Ltd.