Anna Langfus (1920–1966) – ENGLISH VERSION
(January 2nd, 1920 – May 12th, 1966)
In Poland, Anna Langfus's works were almost unknown. In February 2008, thanks to publisher Prószyński, the first Polish edition of Anna Langfus's book appeared in bookstores – "Skazana na życie" ("Le sel et le soufre" – "The Whole Land Brimstone"), translated by Hanna Abramowicz. This work, which is the author's debut in prose, is an autobiographical report from the times of the German occupation in the form of literary fiction. The book came out in France in 1960. In 1961, it was awarded the Swiss Charles Veillon Prize (for the best novel in French).
More than forty years after Anna Langfus's death, the "Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre" Centre, where for several years we had been working on discovering the biography and works of this outstanding Lublin citizen, came up with the idea of publishing her novel. We were supported in these attempts by Jean-Yves Potel, a French writer and university lecturer, former cultural counsellor in the French Embassy in Warsaw. Material presented here is the effect of research we carried out together.
Childhood in Lublin
Anna Regina Sternfinkel was born and grew up in Lublin, in a Jewish family, in the house at 18 (today 24), Lubartowska Street. Her father was a quite well-off merchant. She attended Państwowe Gimnazjum im. Unii Lubelskiej (the Union of Lublin state secondary school), obtaining the secondary school certificate in 1937. She published her first work – a short story – while still a school girl, in youth magazine "Filomata". At that time, other authors – then beginners, later well-known artists – Julia Hartwig and Anna Kamieńska, attended the same school.
At the age of eighteen, she married her friend from Lublin, Jakub Rajs, like herself a descendant of a family of Jewish merchants. After their marriage in 1938, they went to Belgium to complete engineering studies at the High School of Textile Industry (Ecole supérieure des textiles) in Verviers. But their cheerful youth did not last for long. In the summer of 1939, they came back home for holidays. It was here, in their home town, that they were staying when the war broke out.
They spent the beginning of the occupation together with their parents in Lublin. In 1942, they managed to get from Lublin to Warsaw. At first, they stayed in the ghetto, later, they escaped to the "Aryan" part of the city. Anna's parents remained in the ghetto and died there or were deported. She and her husband were hiding: first in Warsaw, then in the woods to the north of the city. A liaison officer of the Home Army, she was arrested and tortured many times. She was imprisoned by the Gestapo in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, where her husband was executed; then she was sent to prison in Płońsk. She was released in 1945, when the Russians arrived.
Lublin after the War
After the liberation, Anna Rajs came back to Lublin. She started her studies at the newly opened drama school, the Dramatic Studio (Studio Dramatyczne) but in the city, where she did not find anyone of those near and dear, she felt unhappy. Already in mid-1946, she decided to go to France.
She found a job as a mathematics teacher in a Jewish orphanage in Rueil-Malmaison near Paris. In January 1948, she married Aron Langfus, her acquaintance from Lublin who had survived the Shoah just like herself. In May 1948, their daughter Maria was born.
In Paris she continued to be interested in theatre. She attended an acting course and wrote reviews for Jewish magazine "L'Arche". In 1953, she wrote her first play, "Les Lépreux" (The Lepers), staged in 1956 by Sacha Pitoëff. However, she soon turned to prose. Her first novel, „Le sel et le soufre” ("The Whole Land Brimstone"), published in 1960 by Gallimard, was in great part an account of the author's war experiences. Immediately, it attracted the attention of critics. The book was awarded the prestigious Swiss Charles Veillon Prize (for the best novel in French). For her second novel, "Les Bagages de sable" ("The Lost Shore"), she was awarded The Prix Goncourt in 1962. Using a modern romance as groundwork, the book presented the suffering of a woman who survived the Shoah and is not able to come back to the world. That subject returned in her third novel, "Saute, Barbara" (Jump, Barbara), published in 1965.
Anna Langfus is the author of three novels, ten dramas (theatrical and radio plays) and several short stories.
She died of heart attack in 1966, at the age of forty six.
English translations of Anna Langfus's books:
"The Whole Land Brimstone" (Le sel et le soufre). Trans. Peter Wiles. London: Colins, 1962.
"The Lost Shore" (Les bagages de sable). Trans. Peter Wiles. London: Colins, 1963.