Bronisława Wajs

* 17.08.1908 or 10.05.1910 (Lublin) 8.02.1987 (Inowrocław) Poland
Fields of activity: Poetry
Author: Elżbieta Brandeburg, Ewa Roślik

Bronislawa Wajs (Papusza)

«From camp I was, now I am out of nowhere»

Why do we consider this woman to be an important person?

Papusza was a poet who wrote in the Roma language. She came from a group of ethnic Polish lowland Roma people.
She paid a huge price for her difference because she dared to write down her feelings in poems. And although her poetry was recognized, she was excommunicated by the Roma community, accused of treason and condemned to solitude. She paid a high price for going beyond the traditional role of women and broke the existing standards of the Roma.


We do not know the exact date of her birth. As the most likely is given August 17th, 1908 and May 10th, 1910. We do not know who her father was. Her mother chose for her the name Papusza, which meant a doll. She belonged to the Polish Roma ethnic group. Her life would look like the majority of Roma women - camp, husband, children, divination, and care for the maintenance of the family. Initially Papusza lived in the camp and wandered across Poland. But even then something happened, what was to decide about her later life. She wanted to learn to read and write. Initially she spied children but later a Jewish woman taught her and she paid for the lessons in stolen chickens. Then for the first time she broke from the existing rules of the Roma, books or newspapers were not appreciated by them. At the age of 15, she got married. This relationship ended in Papusza’s betrayal and a divorce. Later, she married Dionizy Wajs. He worked as embroiderer and he was 26 years older than Papusza. She was not happy with him. They had no children. Second World War found the Wajs’ camp in Wołyń. It was a period of real extermination of Gypsies. After the war, there was a meeting with Jerzy Ficowski and Papusza . In 1949, the budding poet was hiding from the security force in a gypsy camp. There he met a young gypsy girl who „arranged songs from her own head”. He persuaded her to write these songs. Papusza wrote in Romany and J. Ficowski translated into Polish. Ficowski was interested in the culture of the Roma and Gypsies trusted him. Papusza’s poems seemed so interesting to him that he gave them to Julian Tuwim, who was delighted by her poetry and encouraged Papusza to write. This was the cause of the Papusza’s tragedy. Roma people recognized her as the proteus. A woman who could read, had no children, corresponded with outstanding Polish poets was excluded from the community. The ethnic group, in which she lived, found her to be a traitor. The conflict worsened after Tuwim’s interview with Ficowski, which was published in 1950 in the journal „Problems”. In this interview Ficowski spoke about his book on gypsy culture, about Papusza and her poetry, they also published the first translation of her poems. The talks focused on the forced settlement of Roma, called by the authority of the Grand halt. The appearance of Papusza’s compositions in this context caused that she was repelled by the Roma. She did not feel safe and she together with her family left the camp. She lived in Gorzów Wielkopolski. In 1953 Jerzy Ficowski published a book „Polish Gypsies”. At the end of the book he put Roma - Polish dictionary, to assist in the understanding of Roma culture. Papusza was accused of disclosing Gypsy’s affairs to strangers, although Ficowski, staying in the camp, talked not only with her, but it was she who was blamed for breaking the gypsy code. The penalty for this was to be a mental illness that struck Papusza. Several times she stayed in psychiatric hospitals. Remaining between the two worlds - the world of the Roma, which she idealized and the world of literature, where she did not feel confident. She wrote to Tuwim: „ I write the truth to Mr Tuwim, I'm just a fortune-teller, not a poet”. She was suspicious of the awards and the scholarship of the Ministry of Culture recognizing it as a kind of gift, she did not want to accept. She could not understand that they can pay for the poems.
In 1962 she became a member of the Polish Writers Union, but she soon stopped writing. She took very much to heart death of J. Tuwim and she broke off contact with J. Ficowski. After her husband's death she lived alone.
After years Papusza returned as a heroine of books and publications dedicated to her work. There was also a film made showing her not very easy way of life.  Papusza is interesting to contemporary people as „the accursed poet” and her life, full of dramatic moments, is a rewarding subject for authors.


  • Angelika Kuźniak: „Papusza”, Wydawnictwo Czarne, Wołowiec 2013


Source of photo:

Description:  Portrait of Papusza by Krystyna Gierlinska - Jozwiak

Date: 2008

Author: Krystyna Gierlińska

Source: File Papusza.JPG  is on  Wikimedia Commons , the free media repository

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