1945 Warsaw: They laughed to keep from cryin’

The vintage of Polish songs I’ve been researching has been strictly pre-WWII (and mostly pre-WWI), but the story of A tu jest Warszawa! (But Warsaw Is Here!), from 1939, is too unusual and poignant not to discuss –

In 1863, at the same time as the American Civil War, Eastern areas of Poland in the Russian Partition (comprising ethnic Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, many Jews in all regions) rebelled against the Russian Empire in what is now known as the January Uprising.  The guerilla-style rebellion lasted in various regions of Poland until 1865.

Satirist Artur Bartels(1818-1885) wrote the text of the song A tu jest Warszawa! at that time as a response to rumors of the complete destruction of Warsaw after the Uprising. My translation is at the end of this post.  I welcome any suggestions for corrections.

After reading the translation below, fast-forward to 1945:  near total destruction has actually come to pass.  A singer, Mieczysław Fogg (real last name:  Fogiel*) opens up the first cafe in postwar Warsaw, and records his own version of a song using these lyrics which was included in what happened to be the last film released before the Nazi invasion, 1940’s Żołnierz królowej Madagaskaru (The Soldier of the Queen of Madagascar).

Please have a look at this YouTube clip of Mr. Fogg’s hit – appropriately juxtaposed with images of Warsaw at that time:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIfZvAvV9oI&w=420&h=345]

Not my cup of tea stylistically, but when one realizes the subject matter, it’s simultaneously heartbreaking and puzzling.

Mr. Fogg’s song was a big hit, and he went on to a very long and distinguished singing career.  The fact that it was a hit demonstrates an enormous acceptance of irony in place of explanations.  Laughing?  Crying?  Which is more productive with the mountainous task of rebuilding ahead?

Niedowiarki, czcze umysły plotą nam rozprawy,
że na lewym brzegu Wisły nie ma już Warszawy.
Że zdziczała, jak nieswoja, wszędy chwast i trawy,
że “nec locus ubi Troia” z tej dawnej Warszawy.
Unbelievers, their minds idly gossiping their treatises to us,
that Warsaw no longer exists on the left bank of theVistula.
That it’s become savage, not itself, with weeds and grass everywhere,
That “there’s no trace ofTroy” – of the old Warsaw.

Że o los biednego miasta pełni są obawy,
że pleśnią i mchem porasta każdy gmach Warszawy.
Ale byłem, sam widziałem, choć tęskniejsza, łzawa,
choć nie taka, jaką znałem, ale jest Warszawa!
That fears for the fate of the poor city are everywhere,
that every building in Warsaw is overgrown with mold and moss.
But I was there – I saw it myself, though with longing and tears,
although not exactly as you knew it, Warsaw is there!

Czy w powszedni dzień, czy w święta, na ulicach wrzawa,
i choć biedna, choć ściśnięta, zawsze to Warszawa.
Krzepkiej młodzi grono liczne na każdej zabawie,
a kobiety takie śliczne, jak zawsze w Warszawie!
Whether on weekday or holiday, on the streets of turmoil,
and whether poor, oppressed, it’s ever Warsaw.
Numerous vigorous young groups amusing themselves everywhere,
And women are as beautiful as ever in Warsaw!

Nieraz słyszeć się zdarzyło: plotkarska, ciekawa,
lecz gdyby plotek nie było, byłabyż Warszawa?
Jednak z pewnych nieba znaków sto za jeden stawię:
za sześć wieków mniej próżniaków będzie już w Warszawie!
You hear it happening all the time: gossiping, plotting,
but if there weren’t rumors, would it be Warsaw?
Nevertheless, with certainty from above, you can bet a hundred-to-one:
In the past six centuries, there have been fewer idlers than there will be now!

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