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Archive for Sunday, July 24, 1994

KU PROF RETURNS TO POLAND TO LECTURE ON HONORED POET

July 24, 1994

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A Holocaust survivor and KU professor from Poland recently returned to that country for the first time in more than 40 years.

In the 1940s a young, Jewish woman and her family living in Nazi-occupied Poland managed to avoid the death trains of the Holocaust.

The family obtained "Aryan" papers, and the girl was sent to a religious convent, where she was able to avoid Nazi capture.

Later, when the Nazis were defeated and the Soviet Union installed a communist regime in Poland, the family left while it was still able, in 1946.

The daughter, 15-year-old Jadwiga Graubard Maurer, spent the next 10 years in Germany, where she earned a doctorate in Slavic languages.

She married an American, came to the United States and landed a teaching position in 1970 at Kansas University, where she has worked since.

Maurer, now a professor of Russian and East European studies and of Slavic languages and literatures, returned to Poland for the first time in May.

"It was wonderful, it was fantastic," she said. "I kept telling people it was really the first time I was there because ... when I was there before and I was really very young.

"I had very positive experiences ... but I wasn't there as a tourist."

Maurer was invited to her native land to lecture by the University of Poznan, the University of Warsaw and the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Poland has undergone democratic and economic reforms since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Maurer, along with her Western experience, also brought a taste of historical revisionism that has become common in the West.

She recently completed a book on poet Adam Mickiewicz (pronounced mis-ke-vitch), a giant among European writers whose works are considered on par with those of Shakespeare and Goethe.

Mickiewicz, who lived from 1798 to 1855, is regarded as the national poet of Poland.

His works are considered extremely patriotic, and they became so while Poland was partitioned among Russia, Austria and Prussia from 1795 to 1918.

But Maurer's book addresses aspects of the poet that change his patriotic, "monolithic" and pure Polish image, she said.

The book addresses the poet's Jewish connections and his travels to other countries.

The revisionism, Maurer said, would be somewhat like saying Mark Twain didn't really spend a lot of time in the Mississippi River delta, but preferred Hawaii.

"Many people ... are very reluctant to confront this mythology," she said. "Works like mine are considered controversial because they rattle that image."

Maurer spent about a month in Poland lecturing about the book and other topics in Slavic languages.

"Anybody who's interested in poetry would be interested in Mickiewicz," she said.

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