Jozef Wittlin: Renowned Polish Jewish Writer, with Elizabeth Wittlin Lipton
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What was the name of the poem that Wittlin wrote in 1919, which gave rise to his novel Salt of the Earth?
Jozef Wittlin was a Polish poet, novelist, essayist and translator of Jewish origin. He was born in 1896 and published his first poem in 1912. He later studied in Vienna, where he met Joseph Roth and Rainer Maria Rilke, whose works he later translated into Polish. With Austrian writer Karl Kraus he enlisted to fight in the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, and they soon discovered what they called the “unbearable atmosphere” in that multicultural army, the brutality, psychological and physical cruelty and rigid stupidity of the officers. Like many other writers of his generation he was deeply affected by the war and antiwar sentiment was often expressed in his work.
This is especially reflected in his classic pacifist novel Salt of the Earth. In 1936 the book was awarded the Polish «Literary News» prize and a year later it received the Gold Laurel Wreath from the Polish Academy of Literature. Most importantly, it was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1939.
Salt of the Earth has been translated into many languages and holds an important place in European pacifist literature. The first English translation, published in New York in 1941, won the awards of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.
In 1946, Wittlin published My Lvov («City of Lions«), a heart-warming book of recollections of his native city. The book looks back to his youth and childhood, to the world he knew before World War II forced him to emigrate.
Elizabeth Wittlin Lipton is Jozef Wittlin’s daughter. She is an interior designer who also does scenic and costume design for the theatre. We spoke with her in 2012 on the occasion of the publication of her memoir From One Day to Another, and this week she is speaking with us about her father’ life and work, and new translations of his books that have recently been published in English and Spanish.