The first Lviv
He was born in Lviv on September 12, 1921. His father was a doctor, his mother took care of the house. He had no siblings.
— "I matured very slowly and came to my senses quite late," Stanislaw Lem criticizes himself in an interview.
Three years earlier, the restoration of the Polish Republic was proclaimed, which had been divided for more than a century between three empires: German, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian. Two years before that, the bloody Polish-Ukrainian war ended, which killed more than 25,000 people on both sides. The result of that conflict was the fall of the Western Ukrainian People's Republic and the surrender of its territories to Poland, including Lem's hometown.
Between the two world wars, Lviv was Polish not just formally. More than half of the city's population were Poles. There were also two influential minorities, the Jewish and Ukrainian people.
Lem's family had Jewish roots. However, they professed the Roman Catholic faith and spoke Polish. They lived in a six-room apartment on Brayerivska Street (now Bohdan Lepky Street).
Lem describes his childhood and adolescence in the book "Highcastle", first published in 1966. This is a psychological novel in which the author discussed memory problems and personality development. However, modern Lviv residents are primarily interested in the detailed descriptions of their city during the period between two wars.
Stanislaw remembers walks in parks and avenues, which since those times have changed only their names. The key point is the High Castle, a hill overlooking the city, decorated with the remains of a medieval castle.
— "The High Castle was for us what heaven was for a Christians," the author remarks in a somewhat glorifying way.
He also recounts colorful details, which are little-known to the next generations.
This included the Eastern Trade Fair - an international fair on the upper terrace of Stryj Park, "Grand Prix de Leopolis" - car races, the route of which passed around the modern Park of Culture, or Raclawice Panorama - a giant panel depicting the battle between Polish rebels, led by Tadeusz Kościuszko, and the Russians in 1794.
One of the most quoted fragments of the novel is the description of the window in Ludwig Zalewski's confectionery, which was located on Akademichna Street (now Taras Shevchenko Avenue, where Puzata Hata is located). Researchers often present this paragraph as an epitome of romantic nostalgia for the "that lost Lviv":
"These were actually tableaux in metal frames, changed several times a year, backdrops for mighty statues and allegorical figures made of marzipan. Sugar Santa Clauses, their sacks overflowing with goodies, pulled on the reins of sleighs, and hams and fish in aspic sat on plates, all made of icing with marzipan inside - and here my information is not secondhand. Even the lemon slices in the aspic were the work of confectionery sculpture. I remember pink pigs with chocolate eyes, and every variety of fruit, mushroom, meat, plant; and there were forests and fields, too, as if Zalewski could reproduce the whole cosmos in sugar and chocolate, using shelled almonds for the sun and icing for the stars"
Another vivid memory is a visit to the city of the "fly-man". Acrobat Stefan Polinsky had a plan to arrange a spectacular performance - to climb up the wall onto the roof of a building without any gear. When he was almost at the top, he lost his balance and fell onto the ground. The result was fatal. Newspapers published photos of the poor man - his skull cracked and it appeared as if a giant spider was sitting on his face.
Stanislaw went to the Karol Szajnocha 2nd Gymnasium (now "School № 8" on Pidvalna Street). Most of his classmates were Poles. Ukrainians did not stand out, as they also spoke Polish. The only difference is that they did not attend the Greek Catholic religion classes. There was a joke among the students about four prophets of Ukrainian literature:
— The first one lived and died, the second one did not exist, the third one was Taras Shevchenko and Ivan Franko, and the fourth has yet to appear.
Once they took a vacation to the Carpathian mountains. There the young man saw Hutsuls for the first time. What shocked him the most was not the style of these Ukrainian mountaineers, not their clothes or decorations. Instead, the terrible poverty in which they lived remained in his memory.
The Second Lviv
The storyline in "Highcastle" ends the moment Lem turns 18 years old. This is reasonable, as the book is about his childhood and youth experiences.
However, there is one more nuance. World War II begins 11 days before Stanislaw becomes an adult. And 10 days after his birthday, Lviv is occupied by the Red Army.
Around that time, Lem witnesses a symbolic event. Polish Horse Artillery descended from the slopes of the Citadel. Suddenly, Soviet soldiers appeared from the side streets and rode directly at them. They were of Asian descent. Each person held a revolver in one hand and a grenade in the other. They commanded the Poles to surrender their horses, wallets, weapons, and leave. There was no point in resisting, so the shooters surrendered without firing a single shot.
— "Get out of here!" said the "Mongols".
— "I saw how Poland fell!" Stanislaw recalled that moment, "They were not even taken prisoners, they were simply let go."
A monument to the "Stalin Constitution" was built next to the John III Sobieski Monument. On a wooden pedestal now stood concrete figures of a Red Army soldier, a worker, a mother with a child, a female student, and an old Hutsul with a boy. The writing underneath glorified the Soviet leader in three languages - Polish, Ukrainian, and Hebrew.
There were jokes about the foolish occupants who took the apartments of former "bourgeois". Some said that one commander washed his head in the toilet. And the officers' wives went to the theater in nightgowns, which they found in their new houses because they thought they were evening dresses.
Stanislaw was almost the same age as the Second Polish Republic. His childhood and youth coincided with the formation of this state, and the beginning of his maturity coincided with its collapse.
Ordinary citizens know almost nothing about the arrests and repressions launched by the new government. The Lems were not disturbed. During the war, doctors were not to be interfered with.
The only discomfort they experienced was that an NKVD officer named Smirnov
settled in one of the rooms of their apartment. Everyone knows what he does for work. Besides, he gives the impression of an intelligent man, all his notebooks are filled with poetry. An announcement now hangs on the apartment door, confirming that it has been requisitioned by the military headquarters. This serves as a way of protection.
To avoid being drafted into the Red Army, Stanislaw enrolls in a medical university.
The Polish staff didn't change for a long time. Students who came from the east (and there were many of them) did not understand anything. Only some classes were conducted in Russian or Ukrainian.
Lem recalls a demonstration on Workers' Solidarity Day on May 1, 1940. The police blocked not only the main street but also all the surrounding lanes. Walking down an empty avenue inspires a feeling of fear.
He rejects the offer to join the Komsomol.
"This is my long-time dream," he said to the party secretary, "However, I feel that I am not spiritually ready yet. I have to grow more personally to do this."
His wit also helped him in Marxism-Leninism classes.
"I read Karl Marx, but only his original version," said Lem to the teacher, "I'm ready to discuss it with you in German."
Of course, the professor did not understand German. The student could say anything he wants.
The Third Lviv
In the Summer of 1941, the government changed again in the city. The giant, sand-colored Soviet tanks retreated down the Horodotska Street. Because of the soldiers' cries, who are in despair, it is called "Let's retreat!" They were replaced with German tanks, which are small and dark blue.
"I was no hero," he said, "the war was raging all around, and I was sniffing if my neighbor was frying pancakes with cheese and marmalade."
The Nazis are greeted with bread and salt. An outraged crowd destroyed the Stalin Constitution Monument in a few minutes. Prisons are filled with thousands of corpses of tortured political prisoners. They organized a massacre of Jewish people, who were considered the most loyal to the previous government, and therefore responsible for the killings. Later, a ghetto and a concentration camp were set up for the Jewish people.
Lem has little interest in these events. Due to his "Aryan" appearance and neutral last name, he avoids attention, disrespect on the streets, and the Nazi administration. He got a job as an assistant mechanic in a car workshop. Among the workers, there are several Jewish people. They get no credit for their work. Moreover, they pay themselves just to have a formal job.
Stanislaw handed over explosive devices to members of the Polish underground, which he took from abandoned Soviet tanks. He wrote anti-Nazi flyers in German. He hid his Jewish acquaintance, who had escaped from the ghetto, in his attic for several days. He would later claim that he did all this without any patriotic feelings, he did this solely because of the circumstances.
The Nazis ruled Lviv for three years. During this time, they managed to exterminate almost the entire Jewish population of the city.
Towards the end of the occupation, Stanislaw again finds himself in a situation that is very symbolic. He was walking along Horodotska Street when suddenly a German Panther tank came out to meet him. There was not a single soul around, the gates of all the houses were locked. The tank was moving straight at the young man.
Suddenly an anti-tank projectile flies out of the bushes. The Panther began to burn, twisting its turret so that the soldiers cannot get out and burn alive. A few days later he saw the same tank and looked inside. There were charred skulls of Nazis.
The Fourth Lviv
After the end of World War II, the Polish state was restored. However, there were new borders. Lviv was now part of the Ukrainian SSR. Most of the local Poles left the city.
— There are no other Lems in Lviv, he thought.
"The Germans considered themselves a higher race, and we, Jewish people, were doomed to be exterminated by parasites," Stanislaw wrote in a letter to the American translator Michael Kendall, "On the other hand, the Russians were mean and vile. They defecated everywhere, clogging and filling the destroyed salons, hospital halls, bidets, toilets with their excrement. They defecated on books, carpets, altars. They saw joy in defecating the world! They would kick, pound, defecate, and even rape and kill everything."
In 1946 the Lem family left Lviv. They were allowed to take only the most valuable things with them. Stanislaw packs his father's desk, typewriter, and several books in two wooden boxes. He signed them by last name, without indicating the first name.
only stone remainders
Already at the station, he sees the same boxes signed by "Vladislav Lem".
The train brought them to Krakow. They rented two rooms there together with his father's colleague. Firstly, the head of the family tears to pieces the documents certifying his ownership of two Lviv tenements.
"It was a page already turned," he explains, "There is no way back now."
Stanislaw Lem claims that before moving from Lviv he hardly thought about literary work. His only hobby was football. He wrote some poems, but he left all of his writings in the old apartment. He also managed to create one novel, "The Man from Mars", which he considered quite mediocre.
Five years later, the novel "The Astronauts" was published, which made the writer first locally and later globally famous. The novels "Eden", "The Invincible", "The Chain of Chance", series of stories "Fables for Robots", "The Cyberiad", and "The Star Diaries" confirm his status as a beloved science fiction writer.
In total, he wrote 17 novels and about a hundred short stories. These works have been translated into more than 40 languages, with a total of 30 million copies.
The novel "Solaris" was screened by a Russian Andrei Tarkovsky and American Steven Sodenberg, and these productions were 30 years apart. Critics approve of both films. However, the author himself did not like them. He publicly called the first director a "fool" and the second an "idiot."
In many of Lem's works, biographical moments can be deciphered. The novel "Hospital of the Transfiguration" takes place in a psychiatric hospital with a Mauritanian-style tower, which is an evident allusion to the Jewish hospital three hundred meters from Brayerivska Street, which is now a maternity hospital. And the hero of "Return from the Stars" arrives to Earth after a space expedition and cannot recognize the planet. Undoubtedly, this is an allusion to Lviv, which after several wars lost almost its entire indigenous population?
For more than 60 years, until he died on March 27, 2006, Stanislaw Lem had never visited his hometown. However, he supported the proclamation of Ukraine's independence and even gave the publishing company Kamenyar permission to publish his translated works for free.
Written by:
Denis Mandzyuk
© LEM Station. 2019