A life of disorder: impossible to exist without recognition, alcohol or women

Already in high school he stimulated himself with alcohol, which is common among artists, it is true, but among youngsters before secondary school-leaving examinations – not necessarily. Strangely enough, his mother had nothing against this inclination of her son’s which actually, she contributed to – with homemade liqueurs.

The 35th anniversary of Jonasz Kofta’s death falls on April 19.

Such a death! The rumour has it that he died on February 4, 1988 in the SPATIF club, in front of the eyes of numerous acquaintances. Once you would say: the gathered being conscious. Which is not the case here.

Although not everyone was under the influence of widely available intoxicants, no one thought it wasn’t a lark. And the journalist who had scheduled an interview with him there simply ran away.

Was it possible to save Jonasz Kofta? When he landed in an intensive care unit, the doctors were gave the family non-committal answers for a while. Alas, he had no chance.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE As a matter of fact he provoked his death in a way – by coming to terms with it, by inviting it.

Long time ago and (not) really

Many people know about this event, even those who did not delve deeply into the work of Jonasz Kofta. I, too, heard this story, which, albeit with a hint of confabulation, actually happened. I was less interested in the sensation, but the character’s personality – by all means. Our paths have never crossed in real life. Despite this, there were many contacts – in the form of places and acquaintances, which allows me to imagine Jonasz (Janusz) Kofta and recall him on the 35th anniversary of this absurd and terrifying death.

In a way, he was perfect for the era in which he lived. Like a handful of similar “colorful butterflies” (I don’t like this term, but it is also typical), he was the negative of what the Polish People’s Republic fed its citizens on.

Funnily enough, it was these mean and coarse realities that fueled the culture. Especially for genres at the intersection of life and art: poster, cabaret, cinema, music...

Jerzy Połomski, architect of song

He could not compose, he did not intend to write song lyrics.

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Back then there was still such a profession: lyricist. Here, Jonasz Kofta was a master. This is how he assessed this job: “Poetry is not a profession. It is just, like higher mathematics, one way of perceiving the world. But writing lyrics is A profession. It can be – depending on the talent – plastic haberdashery or artistic craftsmanship. The B-song is essential, and I don’t expect it to be a great experience. What I demand is that it doesn’t sell me “jablonexes”[cheap jewelry from the communist era] as diamonds, that it doesn’t want to be anything else than a good song”.

In his case, B-class lyrical work, “for the purpose of the public”, intertwined with the deluxe category – that is, a wonderful play with words, metaphors and contexts. Of course it wasn't functioning in a void. He had great predecessors and a number of worthy rivals.

Post-war patchworks

Right from the start he has followed an unusual path. The date and place of birth of Janusz (later Jonasz) Kofta did not promise a peaceful existence: Jewish (father)-Ukrainian-German (mother) origin, autumn 1942, the town of Mizocz in Volhynia, half a year before the UPA troops attacked the local Polish population.

The gloomy historical background influenced the fate of the Kaftali family, known as Kofta. So the displacement from Volyhnia, then the Recovered Territories (Wrocław) and the constant change of addresses. Both sons of the Kofts (the older – Janusz, the younger – Mirek) kept changing schools, according to the route determined by their parents’ professional activity.

It was all the worse for the boys that the family had broken up. Janusz stayed with his father, co-founder of the Polish Radio station in Łódź and Katowice; the mother moved to Poznań with his younger brother Mirosław. Dad became involved with another woman whose son from an earlier relationship became Jonasz’s stepbrother. And the father, still busy, had no time for the firstborn. Then another 180-degree turn – Janusz returned to his mother, who was pursuing a scientific (and party) career at the University of Poznań.

Today we would say: a patchwork family. Divorces or common-law marriages are not uncommon. However, then, in the post-war years, emotional problems were combined with political choices. In the case of Kofta’s parents, there was ideological unity: Left, Left!

As for that period, they were doing well in terms of career, housing and finances. But ... who didn’t have a messed up childhood, has no idea what it does to a person. Who has not sought attention and affection from his father / mother will never understand why someone so experienced will crave recognition, acceptance, affection in adult life. Gifted children have it worse. Sensitivity does not help at all to find yourself and the way. Intelligence, creativity, diligence give the green light to success for some time.

Jonas was like that. He already distinguished himself in the art school – the Poznań Secondary School of Fine Arts. He drew attention to himself in every way, not just with his skills. He liked clothes and knew how to wear them. He did not recognize the comb, although it was not yet the time of the hippie slicked-back hair growing long over the collar [plereza].

Always disheveled, he was popular with girls, but for a long time this one, there was this only one who inflamed him emotionally. Already in high school he stimulated himself with alcohol, which is common among artists, it is true, but among youngsters before secondary school-leaving examinations – not necessarily. Strangely enough, his mother had nothing against this inclination of her son’s which actually, she contributed to – with homemade liqueurs.

And he wanted to be an adult and self-determine his life.

Poznań became too small for him. Just before graduation, he (and his brother) learned about their Jewish roots, about a part of the family that was not allowed to survive the Holocaust. Janusz began to feel like Jonah. However, the name, which in his childhood was something of a pseudonym for him, integrated with him only in 1968, in the well-known circumstances of March.

Wasted education

He passed it, this stupid secondary school-leaving examination in May 1961. Interesting fact: he hadn’t collected his first ID card until he was 28. How did he manage to be, live, earn money? A miracle! In communist Poland at that!

After graduating from high school wanted to get to Warsaw, to study architecture but he wasn’t accepted, due to a lack of places. So he alternatively took up studies at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Warsaw University of Technology, which he himself dropped after a few months of systematically failing classes.

In the capital, Janusz had a father. So what? Kofta senior and his second wife were not at all keen on living under the same roof with a boy with – to put it euphemistically – an unruly temper. It was thought that such a type would be perfectly suited to the Academy of Fine Arts, especially as the boy had manual skills and creativity.
Jonasz Kofta (z lewej) i Jan Pietrzak w kabarecie Pod Egidą w 1974 roku. Fot. PAP/CAF/Maciej Kłos
In the Polish People’s Republic, the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw was a haven for several groups that did not necessarily overlap. There were children of prominent people and children of artists who did not know what to do in life yet, but certainly did not want to work full-time. Moreover, for adult boys, the Academy of Fine Arts was a salvation from military service. People who were “prepared” by the teaching staff (guarantee of admission), talented and destined to success, and those who passed the exam thanks to points for origin, were also admitted to the university.

Needless to say – Kofta gravitated towards bohemianism. Like many non-Varsovians of that time, he settled in the “Dziekanka” student house, where future artists from all over Poland were stationed. He had it better than the majority: he was financially supported by his papa, who also guaranteed “strong support” in the event of various mishaps of his son. And there were many.

From the first years, Jonasz was friends with Adam Kreczmar, two years younger than him, the son of the acting couple. Thanks to this friendship, Kofta’s adventure with cabaret began.

First with Hybrydy. This legendary place in Mokotowska Street (closed in 1969) attracted those who were not in a hurry to get to work in the morning, but had creative ambitions. However this is not the place to savor the climate or history of this creative melting pot.

Anyway, not the only one in the capital. There were also Dziekanka, lLub Medyka, Stodoła... And those more “adult” premises for creative associations (then very active) plus dens of iniquity in hotels for those more affluent, but within the range of “creative” earnings. There, life began after 9 pm. And lasted as long as it could. It depended on the state of the pocket and health. Jonasz still had the later.

Three mates from the cabaret

Hybrydy became his debut, income, home. Then there was the cabaret Pod Egidą and many other stages, with the one with the largest audience – Polish Radio Three.

At the beginning, apart from Adam Kreczmar, Kofta was supported by Stefan Friedmann, an actor (then) known as Gienek Matysiak (the one from the radio saga “Matysiakowie”). The three buddies who broadcast on the same wavelength were completely out of touch with reality. They led an extravagant lifestyle, time-demanding and energy-exploiting.

Jonasz lasted at the Academy of Fine Arts until the third year at the Faculty of Painting and Graphics. Apparently, he softened because of failed military exercises (“Removed from the list of students by decision of February 18, 1967”). Really because of the bug he caught in Hybrydy. It’s a disease of the stage. He was beginning to like the lights and stares directed at him. Moreover, he became addicted to applause as to booze. Without both, he couldn’t exist. Nor without women, who followed him as if into smoke, staring into those cornflower blue eyes of his.

Melpomene from small flat

At the Home Theatre, Emilian Kaminski presented "Jaruzelski's smear". The audience reeled with laughter.

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Not only ladies, but also the uglier sex, were impressed by the lifestyle of the communist bohemia.

Jonasz and his gang didn’t distinguish between working hours and sleeping hours. Money didn’t matter either – a lot could be done with a face (known for something), charm, ingenuity and the so-called “uhlan fantasy”. Is it any wonder that sobriety did not suit these (still) young people who were above the average?


I watched this concert a couple of times, it’s on YouTube. The year 1977, gala concert of the 15th National Festival of Polish Song in Opole. ”Nastroje, nas troje”.

This trio are Agnieszka Osiecka, Wojciech Młynarski and Jonasz Kofta. The best as far as sung word in concerned. They had a bit of a rivalry with each other, but they never spoke badly of each other.

“Triple bottom show”, as the announcement read. On the stage, at a common, lavishly set table (of course, during the concert consumption disappears, no one has ever seen such scenery!), authors, performers, musicians and composers sit down. It’s a great improvisation. At the same time, each of the “three of us” talks about themselves, about their stage/artistic path. The event was hailed as the best show of festivals in Opole.

The originator of the idea was Mariusz Walter, the then head of the TV studio Studio 2. However, there were also merits of Jonasz Kofta, who was immediately enthusiastic about the concept so different from the usual festival correctness. It was he who persuaded two of the remaining three authors, who are still considered unsurpassed masters, to perform together.

Only stars appeared on the stage, and these three authors, at the same time announcers, storytellers, actors, heroes of the evening. It was Kofta’s scenic crescendo. And that’s how I want to remember him.

– Monika Malkowska
– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Rok 1974. Jonasz Kofta z rodziną. Fot. TVP
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