Between myth and history - Professor Stefan Chwin's 75th birthday jubilee


Between myth and history - Professor Stefan Chwin's 75th birthday jubilee

The celebrations of the 75th birthday of prof. Stefan Chwin, the most Gdańsk-based writer and authority of the day, took place on 7 May 2024 in the Burghers' Hall of the Old Town Hall (Baltic Sea Cultural Centre).

The writer's birthday was marked with the highest honours: by the City of Gdańsk with the President's Medal of the City of Gdańsk and the Pomeranian Voivodeship with the Pomeranian Griffin statuette on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the self-government of the Pomeranian Voivodeship 'for commitment to work for the common good and the region'. The Gdańsk City Council honoured the professor with a painting by Gdańsk painter Magda Beneda. It was also announced that the writer had been awarded the Medal for Merit to Culture Gloria Artis by the Minister of Culture and National Heritage. The University of Gdańsk was represented at the ceremony by the Rector, prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski.

The Mayor of Gdańsk, Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, who attended the ceremony, said:

‘You beautifully, wisely tell us about Gdańsk, which is no longer here. And you tell us about us as we are. This does not mean that you do not set traps for us, the readers. You are a master of doubt, you make us witness borderline events.’

The conversation with the jubilarian was led by Basil Kerski, Director of the European Solidarity Centre. The discussion centred around the Danzig-ness of Stefan Chwin's prose, around this 'community of imagination', which, as the jubilarian confided, grew in him from a rebellion against his family home and school (prof. Stefan Chwin graduated from the Secondary Art School in Orłowo, the strangest school in the world, as he said, because Sputniks flew overhead while its students learned to write in Gothic):

'I was brought up by my parents, refugees from Vilnius and Warsaw, with a cool attitude to Gdańsk and hatred of Germans,' he said. 'Having read Hanemann, my mother, who had lost everything in wartime Warsaw, was silent for a long time and then said in an accusatory tone: "You write too well about the Germans, they don't deserve it".'

In his prose, the author of Hanemann presented Gdańsk as a city of double exile, inhabited after the war by the victims of Yalta and abandoned by its German citizens, to which a section of his most recent book was devoted, speaking of the erasing of traces of the previous inhabitants in the 'city by the bay of the cold sea'.

The writer's enthusiasm for Gdańsk did not, therefore, grow out of his delight, as the speaker suggested, in the myth of multicultural Vilnius:

'In my home, there was absolutely no talk of this idealised image of Vilnius, and the source of my admiration for old Gdańsk was a horror of Przymorze, the antithesis of the city, a city that was untrue, and the direct impulse to turn to the distant history of old Gdańsk was the ugliness of the so-called Stalinist blocks (Lenigrad blocks),' said Stefan Chwin.

This inspiring conversation was interspersed with excerpts from the book My Gdańsk, painstakingly assembled by Krystyna Lars from a selection of unpublished texts from the writer's private archive: interviews, memoirs, testimonies of moments important to the history of Gdańsk, and mini-essays. Excerpts from prof. Stefan Chwin's latest publication, published on the occasion of the jubilee by the Publishers of the Voivodeship and City Public Library in Gdańsk, were presented to readers in the masterful interpretation of the outstanding actors Katarzyna Figura and Mirosław Baka. The audience was transfixed by Katarzyna Figura's reading of the writer's reflection contained in the text 'The Flash of the Knife in Gdańsk', written on the day of the assassination of Mayor Paweł Adamowicz in Gdańsk:

'Doesn't God get bored with all that we do on this earth? How many times has he seen equally horrible crimes in our world? And how many more will he see? I am overwhelmed by the monotony of existence. The eternal repetition of the same thing. The cursed Factory of the Universe stubbornly produces the same events over and over again.'

The writer also shared a reflection on the fundamental role of the University of Gdańsk in his scientific and writing path. At the university, a group of future eminent intellectuals gathered in his student days, who, he said with some bitterness, created a certain intellectual or spiritual minority on whose side he stands today, but for whom he sees a threat in the tide of life and the inevitable obliteration of the traces of memory. Finally, Professor Chwin talked about his own internal writer’s torn between the need to create myth, that matter of literature which transcends reality and unites for a moment, and the fierceness of the historian striving to discover the truth of past events.

Basil Kerski summed up the ceremony with the words: 'In your prose, you have given us Gdańsk, which appears as a city of multiple unification.'


We invite you to watch the online broadcast at (in Polish).

Text and photo: Anna Malcer-Zakrzacka; edit. ZP