tadeuscz

In January 2015, the world commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz, 70 years before, by the Russian Red Army. To mark the occasion, there was a week of articles and tv documentaries. I was watching one of these one night, a program that traced the lives of six Auschwitz survivors, after that day of liberation. One of these was Dr Tadeuscz Smerczynski, a Polish national interned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner.

On leaving Auschwitz, Tadeuscz vowed to devote his life to a career in medicine and particularly, medical research. He excelled in college and was well on his way when he was approached by the Polish Communist Party and asked to join. When he refused, his life became a nightmare. Separated from his family, he served for five years in the Polish army and all his subsequent efforts to become involved in medical research were to no avail. Undeterred, indeed, determined, he became a GP except the only place he could find to develop a practice was within a ten minute drive of Auschwitz.

In the documentary, Dr Smerczynski told of how there were two things that revived the nightmares of those years in the German concentration camp. One, was passing the former Camp and he lived only ten minutes drive from it. The other was an aria from Puccini’s opera, Tosca, which he heard an inmate sing, one day and to this day, he could not listen to that aria.

His story moved me because, as ephemeral as it may seem, the thought that something as beautiful as a Tosca aria could be turned in to an inadvertent symbol of oppression, both angered and depressed me.

So I wrote this poem, Tosca’s Tale. Then I sent it to my friend, Anna Zak in Poland, a post graduate student of translation. She introduced the poem to her classmates and together, as a lesson, they set out to translate the poem.

Then they went a step further. Anna contacted the family of Dr Smerczynski and though he’s long since retired from his GP practice, his son has continued in his place. After Anna and Dr Smerczynski’s daughter in law exchanged a couple of emails, she forwarded the translated poem and it was shown to Dr Smerczynski.

This is the message he sent me.

Szanowny Panie Detmott,

Niesamowitym przeżyciem było dla mnie usłyszeć ten piękny śpiew w scenerii obozu koncentracyjnego. Emocje tenora który stracił rodzinę w komorach gazowych i równocześnie został pozostawiony przy życiu żeby służyć SSMan’om. Człowieka mającego świadomość że jest to ostatnia pieśń jego życia i chcącego wyrazić swój dramat. Siła tych uczuć odcisnęła się w mojej pamięci bardziej niż jakiekolwiek przeżycie ostatnich 70 lat.
Wiersz “Opowieść o Tosce” niezwykle trafnie oddaje te emocje.

Z wyrazami szacunku,
Tadeusz Smreczyński

Dear Dermott,

It was a striking experience to hear this wonderful song in the scenerry of the concentration camp. The tenor’s emotions, who lost all his family in gas chambers and simultaneously was left alive to serve SSmen – SCHUTZSTAFFEL. 
the man who was aware that it was his last song in his life, who wanted to express his tragedy. The strength / power of these feelings has left a deeper mark in my memory than any other experience fir the last 70 years in my life.
 
the poem “Tosca’s Tale” remarkably accurately  expresses those emotions
 
Best regards
Tadeusz Smerczynski
This is the poem.
Tosca’s tale
of love and loss
sung aloud, forlornly
in Auschwitz,
the charnel house
of tyranny,
rang true and clear
without breath of fear,
set free by willing
and defiant spirit,
to relate the story
of love’s contentious struggle
against bitter hate
and treachery
and though
suddenly snuffed
and silenced,
its defiant message
rings true today
as in the words
of Edmund Burke,
paraphrased,
sing now
and defy
all tyrants
and here is the Polish version, translated by Anna Zak and her fellow students.
OPOWIEŚĆ O TOSCE

Opowieść o Tosce
o miłości i stracie
wyśpiewana w Auschwitz
głośno i z rozpaczą
w grobowcu ofiar tyranii
brzmiała czysto i wyraźnie
odważnie
wyzwolona przez ducha
niezłomnego, niepokornego
aby znów przypomnieć opowieść
o zażartej walce
miłości z zaciekłą nienawiścią
i zdradą
i choć tak nagle zdławiona
i uciszona
to jej wyzywające przesłanie
dziś brzmi prawdziwie
tak jak słowa
co od słów Edmunda Burke’a pochodzą
śpiewaj na przekór
wszystkim tyranom.

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