The following was written for an Eastern Europe
an Literature course at Grinnell College
In the novels The Seizure of Power by Czeslaw Milosz and Ashes and Diamonds by Jerzy Andrzejewski, the authors describe events which contain elements of absurdity. The absurdity of these events serves as a metaphor for the events in Poland at the end of World War II, namely, German occupation, Russian intrusion and Nazi atrocities.
The absurd alliance of the boys in Ashes and Diamonds is characterized as having no real purpose and no real direction, despite what they think. They have no clearly defined enemy against whom they wish to use their guns. The boys kill their friend with a vague feeling that they have a valid reason to kill him, when in fact they have none. One of these boys, Julius, makes entries into his diary. His ego is quite apparent when he writes, "I have long known the theory of leadership and how to acquire the traits of character necessary to a leader... Yesterday evening...I was able to apply this knowledge to myself." (175) Julius makes these egotistical remarks with the idea that his leadership is important. His leadership of the boys serves only to satisfy his power trip; it is thus absurd that he should have this power.
These boys' actions represent the pointless and egotistical acts of the Nazis; like Julius, Hitler was leading Germany on a futile path to nothing. Like the boys, the Nazis were neither motivated by a generally valid threat to their security, nor united by any necessarily clear understanding of a common goal or generally desired result. Granted these boys didn't kill millions of Jews, but they are similar to the Nazis on a smaller scale when they kill their friend in the name of an unclear or undeserving enemy (the Jews were not deserving of their fate).
The next example of absurdity in Ashes and Diamonds is the dance of the Polonaise. There were unlikely pairs matched together to dance: socialists and nationalists, servants and fading aristocrats. The band played out of tune and off-key. The drunk and fatigued crowd stumbled around "rather like puppets bowing and scraping...with glassy and unseeing eyes." (174) This scene of the Polonaise is one that can best be characterized by its humor. Even the dishwashers were "excited" and "giggling" at this absurd event. The crowd followed the band, without objection and without the ability to comprehend entirely what was occurring. In a similar manner, Nazi agents of death killed their victims with methodological and mechanical movements to which they had become accustomed; they were "puppets" without the will power or strength to control their own actions.
In The Seizure of Power we also find several examples of absurd events. There are two Russian soldiers who are teaching one another how to ride a bike. They moved "backward and forward, zigzagging wildly [and had] their knees splayed out." (37) These soldiers are acting absurdly like children, as the boys in Andrzejewski's novel were acting absurdly like adults. Its unlikely setting on a battlefield further increases the absurdity of this childish scene. In much the same manner that these men were childish, Nazi henchmen committed acts for which they may have been too emotionally unprepared, or as the case is here, too mature. They also represent the author's views on Communism. These Russian soldiers are acting without confidence and assurance, much as the Russian Communists were perceived as lacking coherence and confidence within their system.
"A Soviet soldier tried to climb on the truck, slipped and fell back, his movements as clumsy as in a slow-motion film...he tried to roll one of the tires off...he fell across the tire which looped over him." (Milosz 120) This event described in The Seizure of Power shows the belief of the author that Russian Communism was moving clumsily and stupidly; that the Russians were drunk and useless and as stupid as try an "unsuccessful theft": the theft of Poland.
Another absurd moment is when the patients from the Asylum are forced out into the streets. The lunatics were wearing "long white sheets, waving green branches [and] celebrating their incomprehensible rites, shaking rhythmically, disappearing in the darkness" (69) and chanting monotonously. They were then shot in a scene that was "like the gesticulating chorus of an insane tragedy." (70) This scene is not only absurd, but also disturbing. Nothing was done to protect the meek and [presumably] innocent patients. In this respect, they may represent all the people who were interred in Nazi labor camps while others merely looked on in awe and disbelief. This reminds us how the dishwashers looked on the Polonaise.
All the things are expressions of the people of Poland. They find their way out through the literature. It is written:
By spitting, [the workmen] emphasized their views on the absurdity of the destruction, on a new government taking over and beginning reconstruction, on the Russians, the secret police, the necessity for working without any equipment or machinery. (Milosz 234)
The entire era was one of absurdity, terrible atrocities were committed, families were uprooted and nations were destroyed. The entire war was absurd and similarly were the effects thereof.
The people, the workmen at least, realized perhaps that the war has not "chang[ed] anything basically; [it] will pass beneath the great and permanent realities of the world and will be lost where all desires and winds are stilled." (Andric 246) That which has caused so much destruction cannot destroy the ultimate continuance of the human desire of and quest for life and love despite all absurdities. These things are stronger than any war and in the end will prevail, leaving the absurdity of the war in the sea of history, to be swept away by the current of events which will leave it only as a distant yet painful memory.