Janina Ludawska

I was born in Warsaw. My mother tongue is Polish. Why should I talk about myself as being assimilated? Simply, I am both a Pole and also a Jew.

In 2018, forty -seven years will have passed since Janina Ludawska settled in the Stockholm district of Tensta. Together with her son, she moves into her apartment on 2nd February 1971. The modern complex of high-rise apartments was opened barely a few months prior to their arrival. Tensta was created as part of the Miljonprogrammet project, a Swedish plan, implemented in 1965-1975, to construct one million apartments which were intended to solving problems of housing and which were supposed to level out the social status of citizens in post-War Sweden.

The social revolution of the 1960’s and the beginning of the 1970’s, the modernization of society and the creation of an extensive social system were favoured by the political background of the ruling Social Democratic bloc and of the career of Olaf Palme, a member of the Swedish Social Democratic Workers Party and who, in October 1969, became Prime Minister. Palme became famous when he was sharply critical of US foreign policy and of the Vietnam War.

He moves from the prosperous and representative district of Stockholm, Östermalm, to an apartment block built as part of miljonprogrammet. Fifty years before, the Tensta district was part of the “great modernist narrative” and a project of social engineering, in the hope of creating an egalitarian society. Today, Tensta and the other estates built as part of the million apartments program, “generate various social issues” – which is a euphemistic term for the “immigration problems” faced by modern Sweden. The majority of those living in Tensta are not Swedes who moved there in order to break down social classes and inequalities, but by immigrant communities. Janina Ludawska describes her relationship with the residents of Tensta:

“Fortunately, in Sweden, I have neighbours from Eretria with whom I’m on good terms. Xenophobia is something alien to me. Social issues are close to my heart. Of course, I’ve long understood that communism leads to adversity, but social situations around the world still affect me.”

Recently, Janina gave an interview to a local, neighbourhood newspaper. She was interviewed by fourteen-year-old Fatma Qureshi. To her, this ninety-six-year-old Jewish emigrant from Poland is an “indigenous” resident of Tensta. But it is perhaps something more profound that Fatma wants to convey in her story about Janina. Her article carries the headline “Everyone Has the Right to Their Own Identity”.

Janina Ludawska knows the problems of Swedish society “from the inside”. Another six years need to be added to the forty-seven years spent in Sweden. Those six years take in the period of World War II. It is no accident that this country became the destination for her emigration in 1968. Her interest and infatuation with Sweden and Scandinavian democracy meant that, at the age of eighteen, on 6th August 1939, Janina left, on a monthly language scholarship to Lund. The scholarship had been provided by the trade department of the Swedish Embassy in Warsaw. At that time, her name was Janka Chalperson. War breaks out and Janina remains in neutral Sweden. She tries to help her family which has remained in Poland. She sends parcels with her hard-earned money. Almost all of Janina’s family, before the War, lived on ul. Dzielnej in Warsaw. They perish in the Holocaust. The surname “Ludawska” is an anagram, linking the first two syllables of her parents’ names – Luba and Dawid. On 1st August 1945, Janina returns to Warsaw.

“When I returned to Poland after 1945, I thought that I would never want to be an emigrant – not because things went badly for me in Sweden or that I didn’t have a job or that I didn’t have a roof over my head. I could study. I could eat, I could read. Because, around me, I wanted to hear my own language, I never thought that I would emigrate for a second time.”

After returning, Janina resumes her interest in the theatre, an interest which began back in high school. In 1938, Janina passes the entrance examination for the acting faculty of the Institute of Theatrical Arts in Warsaw. However, she was not admitted due to the numerus clausus. After the War, she completes her theatre studies in Moscow, returns to Warsaw and becomes a translator in the Scandinavian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (she translates for Osóbka-Morawskiego, Bieruta, Gomułka). She works in the State Higher Theatre School, in the State Arts Institute PAN, in the Drama Theatre and in the Central Amateur Artistic Movement.

When the Six Day War broke out, Janina Ludawska is Director of the Ministry of Culture’s Central Amateur Artistic Movement. She belongs to the Party.

“I was at this meeting at which Gomułka told the Congress about a fifth column. I heard it with my own ears, and with my own ears I heard the entire hall applaud Gomułka’s speech. Of course, there were conversations on the topic. As far as the theatre environment was concerned, I know a little about how people reacted in the theatre school. They said openly that it was a Nazi manner of proceeding. There was absolutely no applause there for such a disgusting story. When I went into my office, there was a discussion on that subject underway. It subsided as I entered and so I said, “Well, I agree with everything that is happening now – on the basis of the Nuremberg Laws”. However, one day when I returned to work, there was a Star of David drawn on my office door. So, now it was absolutely clear. I assume that this was done by one of my Party co-workers. As I left the Ministry, the caretaker said, ‘Madam Director, may I kiss your hand? You know that I was incarcerated in Pawiak and survived. It’s not worth worrying about’. Those not in the Party said nothing about that Star of David on my door. They only sat with their heads bowed. They were simply ashamed of it, but said nothing. No one said anything. But I already knew what was going on.”

In 1967 and 1968, for the first time Janina encountered “full-frontal” antisemitism, even though she had experienced it indirectly in pre-War times.

“When I returned from Sweden, I have to admit that, in Poland, I didn’t know about Kielce. I didn’t know about Kielce. I found out about Kielce much later. I returned to Poland from Sweden because I personally didn’t suffer from the War. I mean I lost everyone, but I didn’t suffer personally and I wanted to help rebuild Poland. That’s why I returned. And it seemed to me that it would be impossible and so when I heard Gomułka talk about that fifth column, something snapped in my head.”

In April 1968, Janina and Tomek obtained travel passports and, at the invitation of friends, leave for France. It was only to be for a holiday, even though, from the outset, Janina was full of doubt.

“I didn’t know whether I should go. Maybe when I return they’ll say that I was engaged in espionage. My son and I travelled to Paris with two suitcases. We left on 1st April. I even thought – April Fool’s Day. Who knows what they’ll do to me for going abroad. But, no – they wanted to get rid of the Jews.”

In France, she receives a telegram informing Janina that she had been dismissed from her job.  Together with Tomek, she decides to remain in the West. Friends help her to arrange property left behind in Poland. A huge collection of books left in Poland is sent by post in two-kilogram packages.

For the next two years, Janina works in positions as a domestic and studies in the Chemistry Faculty. She finds employment in the archives of the Theatrical Institute of Stockholm University where, in 1991and already retired, she obtains her doctorate for her work on Witold Gombrowicz’s “The Marriage”. She also publishes a collection of essays on the subject of the adaption of Polish romantic drama in Poland.

In 1986, after contracting the HIV virus, Tomek, Janina’s son, died. From that time, over almost thirty years, Janina becomes actively involved in helping those infected with the virus and in raising public awareness in both Scandinavian countries and in Poland. She volunteers in the Guest House in Stockholm. In the early 1990’s, she comes to Poland and lectures on the subject of HIV and AIDS to medical personnel in hospitals. She wrote about her experiences in the book entitled Z doświadczeń wolontariuszki (Warsaw 2014). In 2001, in recognition of her humanitarian work, she receives the Bancos Humanpris award.

Thank you to Marta Prochwicz and the Swedish Support Committee of the POLIN Museum for its assistance in preparing this article.

Józef Markiewicz

Translation by Andrew Rajcher 




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