On 24 October 2016 in Brzeg near Opole, a seventy eight-year old Vladimir Tuduj died – a man whose life, looking at it from Lemko perspective, was completely untypical for our culture. The most fruitful years of his life he spent on stage, world stages, which is, especially nowadays, not strange for us. However, he spent them as an artist – illusionist, the only Lemko that I know (or rather, unfortunately, I knew) that would be so professional as him.
Vladimir Tuduj’s life can be divided into quite distinct periods. The first one – childhood in the mountains, in Bogusza, which ended very sadly: not only (as for most) with exile from the home place, but also with his mother’s death. The second period is getting used to the West (“ours”), getting used to the new mother, as his father got married for the second time, studies, work. The third one – stage period, there was a subperiod in Poland, then he moved, firstly to the European West, then behind the Great Water for many years. Finally, the fourth period, somewhere from the second half of the 1990s: again in Lemkovyna, physically, and not only, in Krynica, but with his whole soul – in the home Bogusza where at a cemetery which has been tidied, he set a memorial for his Mum and next to her he set a place for himself…
His life must not be closed within two paragraphs– it would be wicked, that is why I will include a comprehensive commentary from before seventeen years, when I had the opportunity to say:
For the first time I saw him this year on stage, during the Vatra in Zhdynia – as he was swallowing, putting inside of him half a meter knives, as he crashed a bottle with a hammer, as he took off his shoes and was walking on the glass with his bare feet, until the noise of crashing glass pierced ears and hearts, evoked shudder. It is all the same, his art (not tricks!) would not have fascinated me so much if it had not been for the fact that I heard him commenting a performance in… Lemko. “What the hell! – I thought – a Lemko?! Hey, Lemkos have artistic souls, skills for singing, music, painting, sculpting, but always within the tradition of our cultural circle. And him?”
„I would like to talk to him – as I was thinking further, – but will he talk to me?”
He did. As he got off the stage, we talked more in Lemko than I write in „Besida.” It turned out that he spent his childhood near the upper end of Bilcarowa (where my family home was).
Vladimir Tuduj was born in Bogusza on 8 May 1938. As he said, already there he was having some ideas. However, as we know, the times were hard. And then it got even harder. In 1947 he was living in Długołęka near Wrocław. The years were passing. The world was becoming broader and broader to him, he had more possibilities, but the time was never right. But what to do when you have certain ideas?… Somewhere in 1955, as he was a high school student in Oleśnica, he happened to be at a performance of a fire-eater… It was THIS! He talked to the artist and the artist saw a skillful student in him. After a few months, they started to perform together. They also had a beautiful assistant. Goodbye school! The world is big and there are plenty of eyes looking at him with fascination… And military service ahead of him. No! He can walk on the line, but he will not be limited by it! He escaped the service going to work in a mine, in Wałbrzych. He expected that the mine stage would need him. He was not disappointed. He travelled the whole country with them… And so the reflections on the adult life that has started came. Maybe it would be useful to finish at least the middle school? Hey. And he did it! He was studying part-time, working during a day in the Lublin copper mine. Then he taught. For fifteen years. Until… He started to miss the lights of the night. And he went! To dance with life. To the Wrocław stage, to perform in night clubs, in three, together with a singer and a stripper. Maybe partly because he was not successful in his family life, maybe…? Something was calling. He went!..
In 1979 he went to America as a tourist, but he returned after one year. Then, as a member of the Polish Illusionists Association, he got an invitation to the Worldwide Convention of Illusionists in Vienna. From that moment, although not straight away, his big journey started. It is not possible to mention all of the journeys. They cannot be omitted at all, though.
Tuduj’s America where he settled can be defined by a big triangle, put on Chicago, Florida and .. Hawaii. In the first place, a center of the several-million Polish emigration in the USA, he was building the foundations. Literally – he was building, renovating buildings to rent them and have money. There, he also performed together with famous artists who would come from Poland, among others with V.Villas, J.Połomski, K. Krawczyk, with different ensembles that accompanied him. In the exotic American-Asian Honolulu he accompanied to the concerts of a known showman Don Ho. He lived in Florida from 1990.
He appreciates Florida a lot where you can– as he says – bask different complaints, the effects of Lublin mines, where he had a severe accident, finally finishing with the hard years of an emigrant. He appreciates Miami sun but he does not forget it shines also above Lemkovyna, hurt, abandoned by Lemkos. This summer he was walking the roads of his home Bogusza, he was thinking about his ancestors’ graves. “It is necessary to – he was thinking – rail them not only with love, but also with a strong wire so that they can rest in peace at least for several decades.
This autumn I have been encountering Vladimir Tuduj a lot in the streets of Krynica, in offices – and what has to be placed first – in the church. He is coming here from his own, one more place in the big Earth. Hey! He bought a flat here… I see him often. Sometimes opposite the street. I do not even try to stop him, I know he is in a hurry. He is wearing a hood, protecting himself from the autumn Lemko rainy weather, he is going somewhere – buoyantly, as if stepping on glass, in a hurry. Somewhere far away, where the sun is of chocolate colour, he has home there, as well. But it seems to me that here, among the green tops of Lemkovyna, it is the wormest place for him.
Vladimir’s last years were sad. His lifestyle affected his health. Only the positive pride was left. He could have been taken care of by his neighours, friends, but he did not want to be a burthen. He decided to spend the rest of his life in a retirement home, the first one turned into another and another. In the first of them, in the Podhale region (I do not remember the exact place) I had the occasion to visit him together with his wspiritual attendant, priest Piotr Pupczyk from Krynica. He ordered a Christmas carol and also a Moleben in the retirement home’s chapel. He was like this – he was never ashamed of whom he was – he was always manifesting his Lemko identity, Orthodox creed, which is not healthy in the local climate. This was the reason why he was made to change the retirement homes. The last one was in the remote Brzeg. There, in the local hospital he died.
Before that, he conditioned in the testament that his funeral be served by his spiritual attendant, priest prot. Piotr Pupczyk in the Krynica Orthodox church of St Vladimir. And so it happened – as the Bible says. On a day before the funeral, a parastas was served, psalter was read and after the night – the Holy Mass and funeral. Everything was accompanied by the choir from Krynica.
As mentioned, Vladimir Tuduj booked also a place at the cemetery for himself – in his home Bogusza. As you can guess, it was not easy. But it ended successfully – if the expression is appropriate here when speaking about death. And it was a drama act, which is the abandoned by Lemkos past Nowy Sącz Rus’ ( I mean the villages of West Lemkovyna where no Lemkos were left), the first act from seventy years and I am afraid that the last one such an event that a Rusyn was buried in his home land. Because this was his wish. And it was done.
And we want to say thank you, Vladimir, for your love to Lemkovyna, so rarely encountered in the case of such rare lives. May God give you eternal memory!
The explanation for such a delay of the article is among others the fact that we were waiting for photographies promised to us by V.Tuduj’s family. They were sent to us by his nephew, Krzysztof Tuduj. Thank you.