Szajna Józef

(1922–2008), painter, stage designer, director and artistic director of theatres. During the Second World War he was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Following his studies at the department of graphics (1952) and stage design (1953) at the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts (ASP), Szajna began collaborating with Krystyna Skuszanka, first at the Teatr Ziemi Opolskiej (during the 1953/54 season) and then from 1955 at Teatr Ludowy in Nowa Huta, where he co-created the innovative aesthetic of a theatre which, at the time, was one of the most important in Poland (he was involved in the stage design for performances including Carlo Gozzi’s Turandot, 1956; Jerzy Broszkiewicz’s Imiona władzy [The Names of Power], 1957, and Adam Mickiewicz’s Dziady [Forefathers’ Eve], 1962). During this time he also collaborated with other theatres, including Nowy Teatr in Łódź and its production of Krasiński’s Nie-Boska komedia (Un-Devine Comedy, 1959) and the Theatre of 13 Rows in Opole. He was the head of the Friends of the Theatre of 13 Rows (1960) and co-created the aesthetic form of Akropolis (1962).

Between 1963 and 1966, as the artistic director of Teatr Ludowy, he continued his experiments in set design and direction (with productions including Nikolai Gogol’s Government Inspector, 1963). From 1966 he worked as a set designer at Kraków’s Stary Teatr (including a production of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s The Bathouse, 1967), while continuing to direct and create stage designs at other theatres (a production of Witold Wandurski’s Śmierć na gruszy [Death on a pear tree] at Wrocław’s Teatr Współczesny, 1968; Goethe’s Faust at Warsaw’s Teatr Polski, 1971). In 1972 he became artistic director at Teatr Studio in Warsaw, remaining in this post until 1982. It was here that he created his most famous self-authored performances, whose staging reflected an original interpretation of ‘visual theatre’ (teatr plastyczny): Replika (1973), Witkacy (1972), Dante (1974) and Cervantes (1975). By making reference to both the achievements of the twentieth-century avant-garde movements (particularly surrealism and expression) and also to contemporary performance art, in these productions he created consciously anti-aesthetic images that touched upon often traumatic war experiences. After 1982 he created, among other things, the self-written performance Ślady (Traces; at Teatr Rozrywki in Chorzów, 1993).


Maria Czanerle: Szajna, Wydawnictwo Morskie, Gdańsk 1974.

Józef Szajna – Kunst und Theater, herausgegeben von Ingrid Scheurmann und Volkhard Knigge i. A. der Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald und Mittelbau-Dora mit Beiträgen von Detlef Hofmann, Volkhard Knigge, Józef Szajna, Ingrid Scheurmann, Konrad Scheurmann, Zbigniew Taranienko und Fotos von Naomi Ter, Volkhard Knigge, Ingrid Scheurmann, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2002.

Bożena Kowalska, Zbigniew Taranienko: Józef Szajna i jego świat, Warszawa 2000.

Jerzy Madeyski, Elżbieta Morawiec: Józef Szajna – plastyka, teatr, Wydawnictwo Literackie, Kraków 1974.

Jerzy Madeyski, Andrzej Żurowski: Józef Szajna, Wydawnictwo Arkady, Warszawa 1992.

Grażyna Niewiadomska: Trawiony lękiem, czuwający. Teatr Szajny, [w:] Teatralium. Malarstwo, literatura, teatr, pod redakcją Dagmary Stanosz, Muzeum Śląskie, Katowice 2014, s. 37–48.

Zofia Tomczyk-Watrak: Józef Szajna i jego teatr, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1985.