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Brandstaetter, Roman

(1906–1987), poet, playwright, prose writer, and translator. Roman Brandstaetter studied philosophy and Polish literature in Kraków, earning a doctorate for a thesis on Adam Mickiewicz in 1932. Two years of research in Paris (1929–1931) resulted in the publication of Legion żydowski Adama Mickiewicza (Adam Mickiewicz’s Jewish Legion; 1932). Initially, Brandstaetter actively participated in Polish literary life, publishing, among other things, literary guidelines for the generation of Polish poets entering the literary scene during the interwar period. In the early 1930s, however, he became more closely associated with Jewish national circles, joining the editorial board of Opinia, a Zionist weekly where he published his manifesto on Polish Jewish poetry.

In the early days of World War II, Brandstaetter fled Vilna, eventually making his way to Jerusalem. In 1946, he left Palestine for Rome, where he served as cultural attaché at the Polish embassy and was baptized. He returned to Poland in 1948. From the late 1950s he wrote extensively on religious subjects for the Polish Catholic press, including the newspaper Tygodnik powszechny, consolidating his reputation as one of Poland’s leading religious writers.

During the interwar period, Brandstaetter published volumes of poetry, including Jarzma (The Yokes; 1928), Królestwo trzeciej świątyni (Kingdom of the Third Temple; 1934), Jerozolima światła i mroku (Jerusalem of Light and Darkness; 1935), and a collection of essays, Zmowa eunuchów (Pact of the Eunuchs; 1936). After the war, he wrote other volumes of poems, including Pieśń o moim Chrystusie (Song about My Christ; 1960); plays, Powrót syna marnotrawnego (Return of the Prodigal Son; 1948), Noce narodowe (National Nights; 1948), Teatr Świętego Franciszka (The Theater of St. Francis; 1958); novels Jezus z Nazarethu (Jesus of Nazareth; 1967–1973), Prorok Jonasz (Prophet Jonah; 1983); translations of Shakespeare’s plays, and, above all, selections from the Bible: Book of Psalms, Book of Job, and Song of Songs, followed by the Gospels of saints John, Luke, and Mark; and autobiographical prose: Krąg biblijny (Biblical Circle; 1975), Przypadki mojego życia (My Life; 1988).

Brandstaetter’s biography reflects the dramatic experiences and radical ideological choices facing twentieth-century Jewish intelligentsia. His life was shaped by Zionism and, later, Catholicism, while his literary output synthesized Jewish, Polish, Christian, and Greek and Roman traditions. His program for Polish Jewish literature called on writers to serve the cause of Zionism, while his interwar poetry relied on classical poetics to address universal and national Jewish themes, especially biblical ones. Cross-fertilization between Judaism and Christianity is central to Brandstaetter’s postwar works, including his best-known novel, Jezus z Nazarethu—an epic about Christ written in biblical style, exegetic in approach. The figure of Christ, shown against the background of first-century Palestine, is presented in historical context, while the Gospels are interpreted as continuing the tradition of the Old Testament. The novel’s language is rooted in biblical imagery, symbols, and parables, and uses biblical literary techniques.

Critics have praised Brandstaetter’s lyric poetry for its function of “hermeneutics of the Judeo-Christian tradition,” as Wojciech Gutowski has termed it, while autobiographical works portray the writer as a bicultural artist, scion of a family rooted in Haskalah. His grandfather, the writer Mordekhai Brandstetter (1844–1928), often appears in Roman Brandstaetter’s work offering insights into values underlying Jewish life.

Suggested Reading

Jan Kanty Pytel, ed., Świat Biblii Romana Brandstaettera (Szczecin, Pol., 1999); Alicja Mazan-Mazurkiewicz, Inspiracje biblijne w utworach Romana Brandstaettera (Łódź, 2003); Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, Polish-Jewish Literature in the Interwar Years, trans. Abe Shenitzer (Syracuse, N.Y., 2003); Anna Rzymska, Kamienny most. Tradycja judaistyczna w twórczości Romana Brandstaettera (Olsztyn, 2005).



Translated from Polish by Christina Manetti; revised by Magda Opalski