Sunday, October 28, 2012

Coming home to Milanowek

Perhaps she tasted the sweet wild strawberries that grew in the field next to the old Villa?  Maybe she sat under the shade of the old apple tree with her 11 month old child, watching the feathered heads of  rye grasses bowing down pushed by winds blowing across the surrounding fields.

 This place of refuge outside Warsaw was found by a Polish friend, Mr. Talikowski. He risked his life for the family, smuggling in money and food to the Warsaw ghetto.  In his home there was always a hiding place for  Zdislaw as he moved himself dangerously  in and out of the ghetto to see his wife and child, his mother and his in-laws.

Far from the ghetto she eventually escaped, for Irena perhaps this house near Milanowek provided some comfort, especially after her parents, brother and other family were hauled off to Treblinka. 
Not for long.  One spring day in May 1943 the Gestapo came and shot her and two other women.  Someone suspected.  Someone led the Germans to the kill.

Yesterday we went back to that place.   Yes, we cried for Irena and the other women who were shot that day in May.  But, we joined together with the family who had lived in the Villa, to say thank you to them, and to start a new narrative.  We met the Granddaughter of the brave woman who hid Jews and members of the underground  (A.K) in her large home.   Raised by her Grandma in the Villa, a few months ago, she wrote about the senseless killings her Grandma told her about and posted the touching story on a Jewish history website in Poland.  She included a picture of the stone she'd placed at the bottom of the garden in 2000, marking where the women had been buried by the villagers    A few months ago, I accidentally found her story.  I told my mother about the discovery  just before we traveled to Poland.  My mother wanted to come here, to face her past, and to say thank you.   

I have another new friend now in Poland. Iwona is her name,  a new sister, bound to us by blood.
We loved her....
She welcomed my mother to her home, to my Babcia’s hiding place.
We loved hearing about the brave underground connections in the family that most likely led to Irena and Zdislaw being sent to this safe house by Mr. Talikowski.  We loved her Grandma too for her brave fighting spirit and for her willingness to risk her life to hide those who were in danger.

We look forward to a future with our new friend and her family.

Woytek, Iwona & Joasia

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mama comes home

Looking behind, she travels forward.  Many years have passed since January 1944.

 The journey to the convent seemed a long way then.  She remembered it was a German man who took her there, a stranger in a uniform, an SS soldier, possibly of high rank, sporting decorative epaulettes on his shoulders and a black cross neatly placed on his collar, his slim legs stretching  tall  in his shiny black boots . As a young child, the road to yet another place to live was endless.
Her mother had been shot.   Her father arrested.   Auntie and Uncle were screaming as they were taken away and she was left behind in her bed, with her white teddy bear.

The SS man told the Sisters they must protect the child, or they would pay with their lives.
Who was this man to give such a contradictory order for a Jewish child?

Today, a brave woman came home to Suchedniow, Poland to say thank you to the Sisters who protected and raised her during her early years.

She remembered.
Welcome arms circled her and those beside.
Godly love from holy, brave and righteous women
Who took in a dangerous child and nurtured.
Cared for her as their own, in their living quarters, separate from the older children of the orphanage.

The Sister who loved  her as a mother is no longer on this earth.
 We felt her looking down on us, smiling, watching her daughter coming home.

They told us -
You are our Family; we are your Family.

Years later she knows they gave her love and what little food they had, despite their fear.
There is no boundary between Jew, Catholic, Christian.
We are all Polish.
Abraham binds us together, forever, in a circle of love.

This reunion would not have been possible without Joanna, Zbyszek, Iza, Ilana and Dominika - my heartfelt thanks to all of you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Book Puzzle

I am trying to cram in as much writing and research as possible before my mother arrives.  She is only here for a few days before we head off to Poland together.

This book thing is like a puzzle that doesn't have a clear ending yet.  It's like one of those balloon toys you might see at a festival or fair - you think you are making a poodle, then you twist and squeeze it a bit, and suddenly it changes shape and out pops a tail or a head, or some unknown orifice.

 Having never done this book thing before, I resort to tools I used in the business world. This morning, I created a story board with all the chunks of chapters I have already written, and all the gaps that still have to be filled.  Now I can move them around and figure out where the head and tail might be and where I need to add some fur.

As you can see, I still have a long way to go.    A good friend of mine who HAS done his before, told me, "a book will reveal itself to you as your write".   How wise she is.  I just wish it would say hello to me a little faster.      Any more words of wisdom from those of you more experienced at this than I?    Please send them my way.

Speaking of fur, yes that is my little darling curled up on her bed near my desk.  My grandmother loved her dogs too.....

P.S.  The book on my desk is "Story of a Secret State" by Jan Karski - an incredible memoir by a heroic Pole who worked in the underground and was captured, tortured and escaped.  Later he was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto and a concentration camp as part of an effort to get eye witness accounts of what was happening in Poland to the outside world, including briefings with the British government, the UN war crimes commission, and with Roosevelt.