Ewa Maria Slaska and „Wyspa“

Ewa Maria Slaska in 2014
Ewa Maria Slaska in 2014

During the 1980s, the last decade of the People’s Republic of Poland, life was not exactly ideal for citizens who were culturally and socially active. Ewa Maria Slaska was one of the persons who disagreed with the political, economic and above all social situation in Poland. The writer and journalist committed herself to the democratic opposition at an early stage, even before “Solidarność”, and also in the “Solidarność” movement itself. Shortly before, during and after the introduction of martial law in Poland (1981-1983) the situation for opposition activists worsened dramatically. Ewa Maria Slaska also felt the effects. Time and time again her apartment was searched and time and time again her small son was forced to watch her being observed by armed men while she was working. In the end she decided to emigrate to the West.

Her original aim was to go to the USA. The first stop on her long journey was West Berlin. But shortly before her schedule flight to America she decided to remain in West Berlin. Here she met friends who helped her; here she met people who cared for her well-being. Since Ewa Maria Slaska continued to take an active interest in social and cultural life a television team visited her to interview her about the situation of Polish migrants in West Berlin. After the interview was over Slaska began to ask them questions and in this way she learnt that in Berlin there was an open broadcasting channel, the “Offener Kanal Berlin”, or OKB. This had been financed and created by the state of Berlin since 1985, and anyone who wanted to work there could do so. Hence the television project quickly became an important medium for all those people who had no access to public or private media. After taking a practical course and passing an examination Ewa Maria Slaska and her then partner Grzegorz Ziętkiewicz were qualified to produce programmes for the OKB. They were allowed to broadcast whatever they wanted. The idea for the TV magazine “Wyspa” from Poles for Poles, was born and Ewa Maria Slaska could no longer wait to produce and broadcast the magazine.

The first edition of “Wyspa” went out to the television screens of West Berlin in autumn 1985. The magazine had a length of one hour and for the most part contained three or four interviews and features. The authors and their cameras mostly went to outside locations, places where Polish life could be filmed. They were interested in current themes that were emotionally important for Poles in West Berlin, but also in people who were important for Polish life in Berlin. It is possible to split the themes roughly into three main areas: social, cultural and political. Amongst the first people they interviewed were Witold Kamiński, Teresa Nawrot, Janina Szarek, Helena Bohle-Szacka, Leszek Szaruga, Tomasz Jastrun and Lech Dymarski. On one occasion “Wyspa” took on a completely different format when a Polish puppet theatre took up a whole edition. “The Polish Puppet and Mask Theatre” (Polski Teatr Lalki i Maski) featuring Helena Tamba-Kowalik and Andrzej Kowalik, Jacek Głaszcz and Krzysztof Zastawny had been performing regularly since 1985 and continued to do so until the mid-1990s in the Theater Cafe at Paulstrasse 22 in Berlin, where they were visited by Ewa Maria Slaska and Grzegorz Ziętkiweicz and their camera team. Thus “Wyspa” was able to show the ensemble performing the whole of the Polish fairytale “Szewczyk Dratewka” (The Little Shoemaker Dratewka) to the audiences gathered in the cafe and in front of their television screens.

The magazine went out once a month. Every new edition was broadcast on the first Friday of the month. After that the magazine was repeated three times. All in all there were 16 editions of “Wyspa”, fifteen of which were made with the active participation of Ewa Maria Slaska. The non-profitmaking project mainly existed from the self-sacrifice of its authors. For personal reasons and because of the financial insecurity involved the TV magazine was forced to close in early 1988, and after this there was no longer any Polish language magazine in the OKB. It goes without saying that the end of “Wyspa” did not mean the end of Ewa Maria Slaska’s creative work. Even today she is still engaged in a number of different socio-cultural projects. Currently she works as the administrator and chief editor of a blog mainly dealing with cultural and social matters in German, Polish and English (ewamaria2013) and parallel to this she is working on a book entitled “My Family – the Lives of Eight Generations of Assimilated Jews in Poland and Elsewhere”.

“Das bittere Wort Exil - Ewa Maria, 38, aus Polen“ (engl: “The bitter word ‘Exile’ – Ewa Maria (38) from Poland”: A documentary film by Helga Reidemeister produced in 1987 by the SFB broadcasting station in West Berlin. The film is a unique document about the life of Polish immigrants in West Berlin. Above all it shows the problems of Polish women and the way they organised themselves in the divided city at the end of the 1980s. Ewa Maria Slaska narrates the film in person, thereby giving us an intimate portrait of a Polish woman in West Berlin. The press release to the film in 1987 clearly reveals that, at the time, the SFB broadcasting station had a good idea of the incredible documentary dimension of the film. It reads: “The film is a subjective report of the experiences of a Polish writer and journalist who has been living in West Berlin for almost three years and, thanks to her journalistic and social commitment, is not simply trying to survive as a lone warrior but also wants to throw some light on the “Polish milieu” in West Berlin. The film shows the personal difficulties encountered by a courageous woman, her difficult struggle to exist, her marital problems and her problems with her children – and also the paths one has to take in exile in order to realise one’s own dreams and aims.”

Adam Gusowski, May 2015


Media library
  • Documentary film ‘The bitter word exile - Ewa Maria, 38, from Poland’

    ARD programme from 27.10.1987; Copyright: rbb media GmbH.
  • Ewa Maria Slaska - Radio play by "COSMO Radio po polsku" in English

    In cooperation with "COSMO Radio po polsku" we present radio plays on selected topics of our portal.
  • Ewa Maria Slaska mit Adam Gusowski

    Ewa Maria Slaska und Adam Gusowski in Berlin, Februar 2017