Intimate new biography lifts the lid on ‘stage sorceress’ Hanka Ordonówna
Known as the “sorceress of the stage”, Hanka Ordonówna charmed theatre and cinema audiences in interwar Poland with her songs and cabaret performances.
Yet despite – or perhaps because of her aura, the singer, danger and actress remains something of a mystery.
A new “intimate biography” of Ordonówna by Polish theatre expert Anna Mieszkowska aims to set the record straight.
“Ordonka became a legend that she created herself,” notes Mieszkowska, who brought the archive of Ordonówna’s letters and notebooks to Poland in 1995.
Based on the singer’s private notes and letters, Mieszkowska tries to show her as she really was, from the circumstances of her marriage to her life during the Second World War.
Ordonówna was born in Warsaw in 1902, when the city was part of the Russian Empire. After attending ballet school as a child, she made her theatre debut at 16.
In newly-independent Poland, she worked at several theatres in the 1920s and 1930s, appearing in a long list of cabaret and theatre shows, along with a handful of films.
She is perhaps best known for the 1933 song “Miłość Ci wszystko wybaczy” (Love will forgive you everything) written by two of interwar Poland’s cultural luminaries – composer Henryk Wars and poet Julian Tuwim.
Written for the film “Szpieg w Masce” (The Spy in the Mask), which starred Ordonówna, it became a hit in 1930s Poland.
Meanwhile, Ordonówna’s life offstage had turned heads. In 1931, she married Polish count Michał Tyszkiewicz, a diplomat and songwriter, who wrote the words to several of her songs.
“The entire artistic world was gossiping about the love affair between a girl from a protelarian household and an aristocrat from the magnificent Tyszkiewicz family,” writes Mieszkowska, introducing her new book on Ordonówna.
Her career was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Ordonówna was arrested and imprisoned in Warsaw’s Serbia prison for women, adjacent to the Pawiak prison.
After her husband secured her release, she left for Wilno (now Vilnius, Lithuania), where she acted in local theatres in 1940-1941.
Yet she was unable to linger. When the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania, she was arrested and deported to a labour camp in Uzbekistan.
Eventually, she was evacuated from the Soviet Union to Beirut, Lebanon, where she and her husband settled. By then, her health had deteriorated. She died of tuberculosis in Beirut in 1950, shortly before her 48th birthday.
In 1990, her ashes were buried at Warsaw’s historic Powązki Cemetery.
“Hanka Ordonówna. Miłość jej wszystko wybaczy” by Anna Mieszkowska is published on 10 January. The title is based on Ordonówna’s famous song, rephrased as “Love will forgive her everything”.