Stanislaw Lem and the Holocaust

After surviving the Lviv ghetto, Lem became one of our greatest science fiction writers

Damien Walter
2 min readFeb 22, 2024

Long-term members of the Science Fiction community will have noted that I can be a little argumentative.

In my younger years that tendency got me into many fights. A few times I ended up the worse off. And one time in particular I was jumped by three lads who thought, correctly, I’d said something unkind about one of their minging girlfriends.This ended up as quite a serious beating that went on for some time, in a public place with spectators.

The emotions of this incident returned when, while researching Stanislaw Lem and the Holocaust, I found photos from the Lviv ghetto in 1942, including a mother and her daughter, who have been beaten to the ground by a mob. And looking at this photo I understood what Stanislaw Lem was saying about the Holocaust.

(I won’t post the photo here. There are two of the same mother and daughter. One appears later in the video essay)

Ursula Le Guin called Stanislaw Lem a “difficult, arrogant, sometimes insufferable man” and this was while defending him from being stripped of honorary SFWA membership

(SFWA = Science Fiction Writers of America)

After some months of reading and research on Lem I think I agree with Ursula.

Lem survived the killings in the Lviv ghetto pictured in that photo. He only revealed this late in life, and since then academics including Elana Gomel , a longtime member of our community, have pieced together a picture of how Lem’s stories reflected on the Holocaust.

Le Guin also wrote of Lem that he was a “courageous man and a first-rate author, writing with more independence of mind than would seem possible in Poland under the Soviet regime”. Again, I agree.

Stanislaw Lem and the Holocaust has been in the production pipeline for a while because it took me that time to get a real sense of Lem’s thesis on the truth of those events. And that only clicked when I found those images from Lviv in 1942, and connected them to Lem’s postmodern story of the Holocaust : Provocation.

PS — Provocation has never been published in English, but I will make the translation I was able to source available for members



Damien Walter

I tell stories about the future, technology and culture. Published by The Guardian, WIRED, BBC etc.