Zahorska Stefania

Stefania Zahorska - Personal data
Date of birth: 25th April 1889
Place of birth: Kraków
Date of death: 6th April 1961
Place of death:
Occupation: art historian and critic, writer, reporter, publicist
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Zahorska Stefania (25.04.1889, Kraków - 6.04.1961, London) - art historian and critic, writer, reporter, publicist.

Stefania Zahorska was born on 25 April 1889 as Stefania Ernestyna Leser. She came from an assimilated family of Jews from Kraków; her father Leon (Lejbel) was a construction entrepreneur, but also ran various businesses (a tavern, spice trade). Her mother Amalia (Malka), née Deutscher, was in charge of the. She had three older sisters: Anna (b. 1873), Helena (b. 1876), and Rozalia (b. 1878)[1.1], and she had particularly cordial relations with the first two. Whereas her brother Maks died as a baby of several months. The family lived in Kraków's Kazimierz district, initially at 4 Pusta Street and later at 6 Mostowa Street[1.2].

Zahorska recalled her father and his attitude to her older sisters as follows: "It seemed that he did not allow any of their independence. He didn't agree to their gainful employment, because it wasn't appropriate, and he didn't agree to higher education either, because it gets in the head. In practice, he told them to wait for husbands, and the kind of husbands he would approve"[1.3]. Finally, in 1919, she obtained her doctorate degree at the Jagiellonian University with a dissertation entitled Przyczynek do Dziejów Pierwszych Śladów Stylu Odrodzenia w Polsce.

Before 1914, she married Bohdan Ostoja Zahorski, a sociologist and officer in the First Brigade. The marriage was not successful, Zahorski abandoned her in favour of another woman, which was a severe blow for Stefania. However, when her ex-husband became ill with Parkinson's she took care of him together with his partner until his suicide in 1929. Her life companion was Adam Pragier (1886-1976) - economist, lecturer, publicist, and socialist activist. In Poland, he left his wife Eugenia Pragierowa, a close associate of Bolesław Bierut, with whom he never divorced.

In a letter to Zahorska, Józef Wittlin wrote: "Among so many male hysterics, you represent a sober, mature, and truly European intellectualism"[1.4]. After defending her doctorate, she left for Warsaw, where she began her career as a lecturer at the Free Polish University, and also began to work with literary and cultural magazines, such as the "Wiadomości Literackie", "Miesięcznik Literacki", or "Oblicze Dnia". She also headed the art section of the "Przegląd Warszawski". In Warsaw at 36 Nowowiejska Street and later at 35 Walecznych Street, she ran a kind of cultural salon, and was particularly close friends with Aleksander Wat and Witkacy.

In addition to being a professional art critic she was also an active writer. She made her debut as a novelist with Korzenie (Roots) in 1937. As Eugenia Prokop-Janiec pointed out: In her autobiographical novel Korzenie, Zahorska portrayed a generation of Jewish women born in Kraków who studied at university during the first decades of the 20th century. Presenting a broader social and cultural background, she presented in her novel various attitudes towards women's emancipation and education in the Jewish community before 1914. Far from naïve enthusiasm, the advocates of women's higher education portrayed by Zahorska extolled education as women's best capital and a means to independence[1.5].

It is also worth mentioning another literary genre practiced by Zahorska, namely reportage. The author's journalistic works consist primarily in accounts of her travels to the Third Reich and Russia in 1934, published as Listy z Niemiec and Listy z Nowego Wschodu in the pages of "Wiadomości Literackie"[1.6]. As Diana Wasilewska points out: "Zahorska's few reportages, proving a high awareness of words, unparalleled knowledge, a sharp sense of observation and an analytical outlook"[1.7].

In 1939, together with Prager, she made her way via Lviv and Bucharest to Paris and then to the UK. She settled in London, where she collaborated with, among others, Mieczysław Grydzewski's "Wiadomości Londyńskie", and continued her literary activities. In exile, she published, for example Stacja Abbesses (1952), Ofiara (1955), Ziemia pojona gniewem (1961), as well as the drama Smocza 13 (1945) devoted to the holocaust in the Warsaw ghetto. The novel Warszawa-Lwów 1939 (1964), based on Zahorska's diary entries, was published posthumously. According to Pragier, she was very active, working until the very last day before her death[1.8]. She was buried at the West Hampstead Cemetery, with Adam Pragier laid to rest beside her in 1976.

 

Maria Antosik-Piela

 

References:

  • Prokop-Janiec E., Mapping Modern Jewish Kraków: Women—Cultural Production—Space, in: Polish Jewish culture beyond the capital: centering the periphery, edited by H. Goldberg and N. Sinkoff, with N. Aleksiun, New Brunswick 2023
  • Struzik M., I przychodź do mnie często. Osobista sygnatura Stefanii Zahorskiej, in: Krakowski Szlak Kobiet. Przewodniczka po Krakowie emancypantek, Vol. III, ed. E. Furgał, Kraków 2011, pp. 87-106.
  • Wasilewska D., Stefania Zahorska - pierwsza reporterka Drugiej Rzeczpospolitej, [in:] Kobiece Dwudziestolecie 1918-1939, Toruń 2018, pp. 227-238.
  • Zahorska S., Wybór pism. Reportaże, publicystka, eseje, wybór, wstęp i opracowanie A. Nasiłowska, Warsaw 2010.

 

The biography was created as part of the project "Polskie Żydówki dla Niepodległej" (Polish Jewish Women for the Independent), implemented with a grant from the Totalizator Sportowy Foundation.

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Nasiłowska A., Stefania Zahorska i wiek XX, [in:] Stefania Zahorska, Wybór pism. Reportaże, publicystka, eseje, selection, introduction, and compilation by A. Nasiłowska, Warsaw 2010, p. 7.
  • [1.2] Struzik M., I przychodź do mnie często..., p. 90.
  • [1.3] Wasilewska D., Stefania Zahorska - pierwsza reporterka Drugiej Rzeczpospolitej, in: Kobiece Dwudziestolecie 1918-1939, ed. R. Sioma, Toruń 2018, p. 227.
  • [1.4] Nasiłowska A., Stefania Zahorska i wiek XX..., p. 9.
  • [1.5] Prokop-Janiec E., Mapping Modern Jewish Kraków: Women—Cultural Production—Space, [in:] Polish Jewish Culture Beyond the Capital: Centering the Periphery, New Brunswick 2023.
  • [1.6] The reportages were reprinted and reissued in: Zahorska S., Wybór pism. Reportaże, publicystka, eseje, selection, introduction, and compilation by Anna Nasiłowska, Warsaw 2010.
  • [1.7] Wasilewska D., Stefania Zahorska - pierwsza reporterka Drugiej Rzeczpospolitej.
  • [1.8] Following: Struzik M., I przychodź do mnie często..., p. 104.
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