2. Materials and Methods
3.1. My Family Story Outline
3.2. My Grandmother’s Traumatic Experience
Dear Sir,I would earnestly like to ask you if could let me know whether you have any news about the fate of my son, Jerzy Tadeusz Czechowski, born 16 October 1913. The last communication I had from him was on 10 August 1942. In Spring 1943, thanks to your information, I knew that he was alive and well, since then there has been no news. Please forgive me if I am causing you any inconvenience, even more so that you yourself are suffering, but the torments of uncertainty, which I am undergoing because of the lack of information about my only son, may explain my boldness. I will be everlastingly grateful for any, even the most trivial, information. I thank you in anticipation.(Bifulco 2017, p. 170) (Page numbers of the letters below are also from this reference).
My dearest son, my dearest JurekI’m beginning my letter with your words: today I lived through the most beautiful day of my life. For nearly four years I have not had a single word from you. I will not dwell on the years of German occupation because there aren’t enough words of terror and despair, but all that was as nothing compared to the two months of August and September in 1944. On 1st October after capitulation, those who were left alive had to wander away looking for somewhere to live. I spent half a year in a village 25km from Krakow. On 23rd March 1945 I returned to Warsaw which was in ruins. By some miracle our house survived although it was very badly damaged, without a roof, but it could be used. Of course, I left with only the clothes I was wearing and returned to completely nothing.(p. 171)
I live in just one room, the one facing the street. The rest of the dwelling has been taken over by the family of a minor railway official. It consists of five people who even before my return, took over the whole part of the house that had not been devastated. I had to repair the room facing the street, that had been ruined during the Uprising, before I could move in on 8th July 1945. For three months I had to take advantage of the hospitality of neighbours. You probably know that your flat was plundered in 1939 and the furniture was sold. Not even the smallest keepsake was left. Whereas my flat was robbed of everything after the Warsaw Uprising. So we are both very poor.(p. 172)
Myszka, your wife, was sent to Auschwitz in October 1943 and from that time there has been no news of her. From our closer family, Leszek, Mirek’s brother, died in action in 1939 and Uncle Janek’s two sons Włodek and Jurek were shot in the forest. Also, no signs of life from Staś, the son of Aunt Julia and Walek. The rest of the family are alive and managing somehow.(p. 171)
Jurek my dear, I didn’t want to add to your troubles, so I didn’t tell you the whole truth straight away. Myszka is no longer alive. I received her death certificate from Auschwitz. She died on 10 January 1944. She stopped coming to see me about one and a half years before this and cut off any contact with our whole family.(p. 173)
As for my hearing, there is probably no hope of a cure. Firstly because of the cold in unheated apartments (seven winters already) I had chronic catarrh in my ears and finally I lost my hearing during the Uprising when I was hit by a so called ‘szafa’. The worst thing under the sun. It is a missile of compressed air. This was the only thing I was afraid of during the war and of getting into the hands of the Germans.
My hair is now completely grey and I wear horn-rimmed spectacles. You probably wouldn’t recognise me, in addition I’ve become a cry baby, like a child.(p. 173)
I would so like to write and write about many things at length. I ask but one thing of you, my dear son: be of good cheer, believe in Providence, throw yourself completely on God’s mercy and it will lead you to a happy ending. For the whole year, every day, a Mass is celebrated for your good intentions and not a day passes without my praying for you. I hope that by the end of this year we can be together.(p. 171)
My father died thirty-four years ago, and six years ago I started my research. And the first thing I did was get his documents from the Ministry of Defense. Then, of course, I found out where he came from—I looked it up on the map, and I asked the Red Cross to look for his family, because he said they were all gone. And I did a lot of reading about that, you know, the history around there, and learned a great deal about those people’s experience. And I understand very much why he was… He had post-traumatic stress disorder. You know, like many older Polish people who’ve been through those experiences do. And after three years the Red Cross found his family. Well, what was left of his family.
Post-traumatic stress is post-traumatic stress. Whatever the stress was, and the trauma. It’s somehow not even acknowledged. My mum suffered from a mental breakdown… It’s more than just a stiff upper lip, because, deep inside, they are crying out themselves. But we must not let that be shown, because it would be a weakness.
3.3. Remembering Trauma
You don’t know the secrets that a lot of these people kept. There’s been research done on the children of Holocaust survivors. Surely there must be some on the children of people who survived the Stalinist regime? My grandparents died en route- coming out of Siberia—and their daughter, my aunty, had to bury them where they fell. That’s not a very pleasant thing to do for a person who is a teenager… that must be awful at whatever age you are. And thinking where are you going to end up, or are you going to end up anywhere? Where’s your next meal going to be?
My father never talked about his background, like many of them don’t. He was very secretive. He told us his family in Poland were all gone. I went in 2016 for the first time and found he had a wife in Poland and a son, my half-brother. They were no longer alive sadly. But my nephew is there… they are so happy that I found them. It’s been wonderful to connect I feel a strong connection…I feel a blood connection with them in Ukraine.
I suppose that’s left me with [a view that] the less war the better. Appreciating that people don’t just survive, they have things that go on. All the relatives that didn’t survive but also the impact on the next generation. Some of the reading I’ve done, I’ve liked it where you read what the people my generation have been saying… And I thought it was very interesting, watching the story being told in Poland. Because people don’t necessarily want to hear it again. I want to hear it. But some of my generation think ‘Not again. It’s too much.’ Not in a horrible way, but it’s very heavy, and they’ve heard it, whereas I haven’t. So, you can see, some of them are just like, ‘Now we’re here,’ they’re saying, ‘Now we’re in the EU and why are we still talking about that?’
3.4. Forgetting, Secrecy, and Subterfuge
Thus, throughout the war, the fate of many close family members was unknown which curtailed personal or official mourning. This too can contribute to unresolved trauma and long-lasting psychological effects on survivors (Samuel 2020).She was involved in the Resistance. In her work with the Red Cross she managed to get into contact with Jurek. In 1942, at a łapanki [random round-up] she was stopped with false documents and carrying false papers. She was transferred to the Gestapo and sent to the Pawiak prison. Because our family was wealthy (before the war we owned a sugar factory) we tried to pay for her freedom. There was no chance, because she was considered public enemy of the Reich No. 1, and a political prisoner. The only thing was to commute the death penalty to being sent to the concentration camp in Auschwitz. She was sent to the camp at the end of August 1942.
3.5. Public Forgetting
3.6. Emotional Geography and Belonging
(First visit to Poland 1974): Mum and Dad desperately wanted to see all of it…. And they took them to the places they were born, in the Ukraine…so they went to see the places where they would have grown up in. Mum was desperately wanting to see that. I think she had to do that. Its a form of closure almost, she’s been to see her birthplace. They have no documents, no birth certificates or anything.
Poland was a place of danger… my father created it as a place of danger… And I was afraid of it. I didn’t get to Poland until 2006. I went to Warsaw and Krakow… what a wonderful place. I was amazed at how young the population was because I only knew old Polish people.
When you see Syria and the atrocities now, you think that could be my parents, that could be my family. And the idea that some of the places there’s fighting now, they are actually the places where they were given succour. They were looked after. The Kazhak women were seen as wonderful. My Dad went through Persia, Iran….but the war is still there and people still living in horrific circumstances. I suppose that’s the humanitarian aspect of me wanting to know more. And, of course, somehow atone for what my parents went through.
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