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Janina Katz

Photo from the Archives of Danish Cultural Insitute

Janina Katz

Pucka

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Read by Wojciech Barczyński, recorded by Radiofonia Association.
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English translation: Paulina Ohar-Zima
She takes a final glance at the house where she has lived and raises her hand, greeting prostitutes getting some rest under the gate. It is a solid house, built in the thirties. But on the right of the exit one great squalor outstretches: an old Jewish quarter with dilapidated houses standing around a big square, which transforms into a market three times a week.  You can buy sour cream there – yellowish and rich, not the kind that they thin down with water in state-owned dairies – cauliflowers, quark and sometimes even chickens. It is countrywomen from nearby villages who come here to sell everything they have for sale. Pucka would most of all want to turn back and run to the market; she really likes that rural odour, or rather stench, which lingers above the square on market days. Afterwards she could go and see the old Jewish cemetery by that small synagogue, lie down in the thick grass that has never been mown and that almost hides the matzevahs caving in, and say hello to the shadow of a lonely goat, which used to be tied to a different stone every day and which on one day disappeared.

The square looks as if nothing connected it to the rest of the city, it lives its own life. One house is so ruined that the staircase rises from it and overlooks the yard like a tower, as if it were from a surrealist painting. You can enter that house, which like all other local houses reeks of urine and boiled cabbage, you can carefully ascend the stairs (there are no banisters) and stand on the highest step. Looking straight ahead you can see a renaissance synagogue, where a number of painters set up their ateliers. Pucka knows some of them.
English translation: Paulina Ohar-Zima
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Janina Katz

(1939–2013) – a prose writer, poet, translator and literary critic. Born on 2 March 1939 to a Jewish family in Krakow. She studied Polish philology and sociology at the Jagiellonian University, published in the Życie Literackie and Twórczość literary magazines. Due to an anti-Semitic witch-hunt, she left Poland in 1969 and settled in Copenhagen. She wrote in Danish, published five novels, twelve collections of poems and two volumes of short stories. She translated into the Danish language the poetry of Wisława Szymborska, Zbigniew Herbert, Ewa Lipska and the prose of Sławomir Mrożek and Tadeusz Konwicki. She was the laureate of many prestigious literary awards in Denmark. In her autobiographic novel Pucka, she depicted Krakow of the 1960s with affection and nostalgia. She died on 18 October 2013 in Copenhagen. At the new Jewish cemetery at the Miodowa Street in Krakow, there is a memorial board dedicated to Maria and Stefan Kapłański, who had been hiding Janina Katz for over three years in their house in Dobczyce near Krakow during the World War II.  
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