Monday, August 4, 2008

'Writing allows us to become better than we are'

'IF YOU COULD imagine Dublin without any inhabitants, with everyone disappeared." That is what the city of Gdansk (Danzig) was like in 1944, when the parents of Polish author Stefan Chwin arrived to make a home there. The Germans had been expelled towards the end of the second World War, leaving behind an eerily desolate city. Tens of thousands of these German refugees later died when their ships were sunk by the Soviets in the Gustloff disaster.

Chwin, one of Poland's leading authors, describes himself as an "archaeologist of memory". He was in Dublin last month to read from his historical novel Death in Danzig , his first book to be translated into English. Organised by the Ireland-Poland Cultural Foundation and the Polish embassy, the public interview was preceded by a documentary which touched on Chwin's experiences as a child living in the former home of a German family in Gdansk.

Chwin recalled as a boy discovering an atlas in the basement of his home, where some "young brat" had outlined the expanding territories of the Reich. He also remembers how, while out playing, he found a helmet with a single bullet hole. Living in this post-war society fuelled a certain fascination as a child with the strength and might of the Nazis.

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