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Posts

Janina Bauman – an obituary

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Janina Bauman obituary by Lydia Bauman, Guardian 26 January 2010


My mother, Janina Bauman, who has died aged 83, was a writer who has left an indelible mark on the literature of the Holocaust. In the words of one of her many friends, she was “a truly beautiful person, who made things golden”. Janina’s serene demeanour and dreamy, thoughtful disposition, belied the turbulence of her early life as witness to the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto and postwar antisemitic purges in socialist Poland.

Her testament to the times, and to the enduring human spirit, came in the form of two autobiographical volumes, both published by Virago – Winter in the Morning (1986), based on diaries she kept as a young girl during the war, and A Dream of Belonging (1988) – which were republished last year in one volume as Beyond These Walls.

She was born Janina Lewinson in Warsaw into an assimilated, educated, well-off Jewish family of doctors. Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 put an end to an idyllic childhood and saw Janina, her sister, Zosia, and their mother incarcerated in the Warsaw ghetto, and later, after their escape, beyond its walls.

It was while hiding in the house of a peasant woman in the Polish countryside, that Janina learned of the death of her father, then an army officer, in the massacre at the forest of Katyn in Russia, from a list in a newspaper spread on the kitchen floor, over which she was peeling potatoes.

Dreaming of “belonging”, after enforced wartime idleness, Janina threw herself with passionate idealism into the cause of Zionism, and later into the rebuilding of socialist Poland. In March 1948, while studying journalism at the Warsaw Academy of Social Sciences, she met and found her soulmate in a “handsome army captain”, intellectual and committed communist, Zygmunt Bauman, whose proposal of marriage she accepted nine days later.

Together they raised a family and pursued their careers – Janina rapidly advancing in the Polish film industry, Zygmunt as a lecturer in sociology at Warsaw University. Disillusionment with communism following the denouncement of Stalin by Khrushchev in 1956, and the pressures of antisemitic persecution compelled the Baumans to leave Poland for Israel in 1968, three years later settling in Leeds, West Yorkshire, where Zygmunt took on the chair of sociology at the university. It was there that Janina turned to writing – her moving testimonies characteristically non-judgmental and free of bitterness.

She is survived by her husband, whose inseparable companion and undisputed muse she was for 62 years, and by their three daughters.

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