On One Father … and So Much More – Lessons (and Warnings) Galore

 

Lest you are feeling too comfortable and secure under current circumstances, I offer this from this morning’s reading from the autobiography by Lech Walesa:

When I was born at half past three on the morning of September 29, 1943, my father Boleslaw was in a Nazi concentration camp. His arrest had come without any waring for his family, when I was still in my mother Felicja’s womb. One dark night, policemen on horseback arrived, searched our home, found something incriminating, and took my father away with them. Later they came back to do another search and stole my mother’s watches and rings. My mother was in despair: they had taken her wedding ring. She told me later that she was sure it meant that her husband would never return, that her married life was over.

The men arrested were first detained at Chalin, in a building that after the war was turned into a school I later attended. I remember seeing blood still staining the walls from the savage beatings the Nazis had inflicted. Afterward, my father was sent to the camp at Mlyniec. That winter the prisoners lay on the ground in unheated cells; their hair froze while they slept and stuck to the frost-covered walls; worn down by hunger and illness, they soon began dying. My mother tried every means possible to smuggle food in for my father, and sometimes she succeeded. She would slip out of the house in the middle of the night and take secret paths through the forest, so as not to be spotted by the Germans. As long as my father was in a work camp, some contact was possible. Mama went through the forest, weeping, praying that her trip wouldn’t be in vain.

My family had always been very close. My father’s brother was killed during World War I. One day he went off to fight and he never came back. We don’t even know where he is buried. Grandmother Walesa, born Glonek, was a very pious woman, and for the rest of her life she continued to pray for her son’s return. She was never able to accept his death. He had been in the cavalry, and sometimes she ran out to the road, convinced, she’d heard the sound of approaching hoofbeats.

The people of our village hated the Nazis, who had destroyed heir world. Under the occupation, two Germans lived in Popowo: Krepeic and Broch. Two Polish families, the Bialoskorskis and the Uminskis, were thrown out of their homes so that Krepiec and Broch could move in. Krepiec and Broch were themselves hostile to their Polish neighbors, but the daughter of one of them fell in love with a Polish farmhand who had snatched her from the jaws of death when she got herself caught between the gears of a combine. Love conquered all, and everyone in the village knew about it – and benefited from it. The young woman always warned the people when the Nazis were about to come to the village.

It was commonly understood that slaughtering a pig for food, like taking food to the partisans, was very dangerous. All meat belonged to the occupiers. Apparently, before he was arrested, my father had tried to slaughter a pig. He stunned the animal, but didn’t stick it with enough force, so the pig came to, escaped, and trotted off into the woods covered in blood. The police followed its tracks to our house, and things looked black. But thanks to some miracle, possibly in the form of a bribe, the whole business was hushed up. The pig, however, was confiscated.

Wehmacht deserters turned up regularly in the vicinity of the village, and I know that our family, among others, hid them. They sometimes took shelter in the stables, and children brought them soup in pails so small they looked like toys. The partisans used the forest not far from the village of Brudzenio as their hideout, and the children took food to them, too, sometimes covering a distance of nearly three miles.

After the war, corpses were discovered in Brudzenio (where today there is a cross over a mass grave), It was there that the Nazis executed people, especially the young men, from the surrounding villages. The grisly chore of exhuming the bodies was performed by those Germans who had failed to get away and were still living in the neighborhood. They were ordered to dig up the earth with their bare hands, pull out the corpses, wash them, and then line them up neatly. When they had finished, the Poles gathered to identify their loved ones. In agonies of grief they threw themselves on the Germans and beat them, until an officer forced them to stop and to stand aside. What they saw overwhelmed them all. Some of the disinterred bodies had their hands over their mouths, as though trying to keep out the dirt. They had probably been buried alive.

My father was lucky enough to die at home. After the war he returned to Popowo, but lived only another two months before succumbing to exhaustion and illness. … – Pages 129-131

Thankfully, nothing even remotely like this could ever happen here.

(SIDENOTE: I humbly suggest that this is a good companion piece to something I posted five years ago: Horse Tales from the Abyss. The meat of that older post is taken from some “fiction” written by Victor Serge. Like Walesa, Serge knows very well much of what he translates to us.)

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    philo: Thankfully, nothing even remotely like this could ever happen here. 

    Because our antifa fascists have scruples, right?

    I looked up some of the place names.

    The Walesa’s village of Popowa is only 25 miles east of my Schmidt ancestor’s village of Krasnołeg.  Popowa may have been near the border of Poland and Germany between the world wars.  Krasnołeg was part of Germany at that time.   We visited the village in 2018.

    Chalin is another 30 miles or so east.

    I found four places in Poland named Młyniec.  The closest of the four would have been 50 miles south-southwest of Popowa, so if Lech Walesa’s mother was sneaking food to the camp at night, she must have been hanging out somewhere nearby rather than back in her village of Popowa.  

    I wonder if Lech’s uncle served in the German cavalry during WWI, as I’m not sure there was an independent Polish force until after the war.   An uncle of one of my grandmothers served in the Russian cavalry (he was a German in the Russian-ruled part of Poland) but I’m pretty sure he emigrated to the U.S. before the war broke out.  (The 3rd cousin of mine who might have had that information at his fingertips died last fall.)  My grandmother’s uncle apparently was literate in Russian, but I’ve wondered how it worked for people from Poland to serve in these “foreign” cavalries.  Were they drafted?  Did they choose to enlist? 

    I haven’t been able to identify where Brudzenio (the site of the mass graves) is located.

     

    • #1
  2. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    The Reticulator (View Comment): An uncle of one of my grandmothers served in the Russian cavalry (he was a German in the Russian-ruled part of Poland) but I’m pretty sure he emigrated to the U.S. before the war broke out. …

    I wish I had that kind of detail. I can trace distant family from somewhere in Germany (Bavaria?) to Norka, Russia (in the 1880s timeframe?) and then to the US in early 1912. All the documentation I have is safely stored away back in Nebraska.

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  3. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    philo: Thankfully, nothing even remotely like this could ever happen here.

    Because our antifa fascists have scruples, right?

    I looked up some of the place names.

    The Walesa’s village of Popowa is only 25 miles east of my Schmidt ancestor’s village of Krasnołeg. Popowa may have been near the border of Poland and Germany between the world wars. Krasnołeg was part of Germany at that time. We visited the village in 2018.

    Chalin is another 30 miles or so east.

    I found four places in Poland named Młyniec. The closest of the four would have been 50 miles south-southwest of Popowa, so if Lech Walesa’s mother was sneaking food to the camp at night, she must have been hanging out somewhere nearby rather than back in her village of Popowa.

    I wonder if Lech’s uncle served in the German cavalry during WWI, as I’m not sure there was an independent Polish force until after the war. An uncle of one of my grandmothers served in the Russian cavalry (he was a German in the Russian-ruled part of Poland) but I’m pretty sure he emigrated to the U.S. before the war broke out. (The 3rd cousin of mine who might have had that information at his fingertips died last fall.) My grandmother’s uncle apparently was literate in Russian, but I’ve wondered how it worked for people from Poland to serve in these “foreign” cavalries. Were they drafted? Did they choose to enlist?

    I haven’t been able to identify where Brudzenio (the site of the mass graves) is located.

     

    At the time of The Great War, across Europe, males were shanghaied to serve in whatever military regiment that had physically captured them

    I always believed based on the scene in “Dr Zhivago” that such captures only occurred in Russia. But then in a book about how Italy fared during that war, I read a harrowing story of how one Italian trapper, who often locked his toddler son inside the cabin while he made the rounds, was seized by some militants The militants  were indifferent to the plight of his son.  While he lay wounded in a hospital, he kept insisting the nursing sisters send someone to check on the cabin. But that scenario was a hundred miles and six months in the past away.

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  4. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    My gosh!! A horrible story!  The younger generations know nothing of these atrocities, done under a banner of “progressive empty promises” called the Nazis. Something is going on in our own country. Certain people post about it because they know. Others have no clue (the general population).

    I had my hair cut this week. I’m in a nice, neat, safe area of Florida.  My hairdresser is Russian. The older woman sitting in the chair before me was from Moscow and spoke no English. Her daughter sat on the couch, and we chatted. She’s an attorney and my neighbor is her colleague – small world. A little girl, blond, blue-eyed, curious, clutching a stuffed fox and a bottled water, sat next to her. She spoke to all in Russian. When I took the chair, she spoke to me in English. My hairdresser was babysitting her for a few hours. She just turned 5 and was already bi-lingual. We know that America is safe and Moscow is not.

    I spoke to our waitress in a Mexican restaurant we like. All the help was Hispanic, the place was full, and all hands on deck. Prior to COVID, half the staff was Russian – they’re all gone. My waitress was from Venezuela.  She said her brother fled to Peru, her sister is in Spain, and she hopes to get everyone here in US by raising $5K per family member paid under the table. She is waitressing to raise 25K for her family to escape Venezuela, where there is ultra-poor (eating garbage) and the ultra-rich (government).  This is life elsewhere.

    One of my hairdresser’s staff was a woman who fled Eastern Europe, whose husband sends her money and it trying to get out. Watch the world stage. Things are heating up, in Europe and the Middle East.

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  5. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment): …in a Mexican restaurant we like. … Prior to COVID, half the staff was Russian – they’re all gone.

    All gone? From the restaurant…moved on to other, better paying jobs that Americans won’t do? From the country…fled to parts unknown or were pulled back to the mother country? What does this mean?

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  6. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):
    At the time of The Great War, across Europe, males were shanghaied to serve in whatever military regiment that had physically captured them

    True, there was a lot of that. But I’m pretty sure my grandmother’s uncle served in peacetime. There is no information about him serving in wartime, but I need to verify. But if it was during wartime, I doubt he would have been allowed to leave then.  And if he was serving under duress, what would have motivated him to learn to write in Russian? Did he see it as an opportunity for social and economic advancement, before he decided to come to America instead?   (I think he became a baker in Schenectady, NY, unless I’ve got my great-uncles mixed up.) 

    My grandmother (who came to the U.S. about 1911) said there were three adjacent villages. I got the impression that one was German, one Polish, and one Russian. But from Russian census records it seems that one was Polish and two were German. (The Polish one still has lots of well-maintained houses; the German ones now consist mostly of vacant land for sale, now within commuting distance of two nearby cities.)  Grandma said two Russian girls went to the same school she did, and they would walk partway home together but not talk to each other. Did the Russian girls get sent to a German school?  In German-ruled Poland there were frequent conflicts over whether Poles would be allowed to have schools where students were taught in Polish, and if so, for what ages. What language your kids were taught in was usually thought to be a big deal. But there were also places where people didn’t much care — they sent their kids wherever their kids would get the best education and the best future job opportunities.   The people who thought and acted that way were a source of frustration to those who were trying to develop a Polish national identity. 

    I like learning about these things, so it was interesting to read in the OP where a German girl who married a Polish guy was able to tip people off when the Nazis were coming.  

     

    • #6
  7. CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill
    @CarolJoy

    Philo, your “Horse Tales from The Abyss” is also a beautiful and intriguing post.

    We have had it so damn good in this country, and yet so many people wish to smash it beneath their feet for its imperfections. 

    • #7
  8. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    philo (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment): …in a Mexican restaurant we like. … Prior to COVID, half the staff was Russian – they’re all gone.

    All gone? From the restaurant…moved on to other, better paying jobs that Americans won’t do? From the country…fled to parts unknown or were pulled back to the mother country? What does this mean?

    Probably a change in management – the food is even better and no more Moscow Mule on the menu at happy hour……..

    • #8
  9. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    CarolJoy, Not So Easy To Kill (View Comment):

    Philo, your “Horse Tales from The Abyss” is also a beautiful and intriguing post.

    We have had it so damn good in this country, and yet so many people wish to smash it beneath their feet for its imperfections.

    Thank you.

    As I said before, the end of the Serge tale punches me in the gut every time:  ‘Clean the ax,’ Father said to me. ‘Now we have nothing.’

    As the wise commenter under that post put it:

    One if the things we have lost is the true sense of how tragic conditions were for most people throughout most of human history – and how much really liberty has given us – or how easy that liberty can be lost.

    Five years later, it just amazes me how approximately half of those born under such a rare and wonderful gift are so hell bent on flushing it all away. From Biden-Pelosi-Schumer all the way down to the most flea infested ANTIFA pissant methhead stinking up a gutter somewhere in Portland, they all make me want to puke.

    Happy Father’s Day y’all.

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  10. Marjorie Reynolds Coolidge
    Marjorie Reynolds
    @MarjorieReynolds

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

     

    One of my hairdresser’s staff was a woman who fled Eastern Europe, whose husband sends her money and it trying to get out. Watch the world stage. Things are heating up, in Europe and the Middle East.

     

    I don’t quite understand, where in Europe is he trying to get out of and why would he be sending her money from there?

     

    • #10
  11. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Marjorie Reynolds (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

     

    One of my hairdresser’s staff was a woman who fled Eastern Europe, whose husband sends her money and it trying to get out. Watch the world stage. Things are heating up, in Europe and the Middle East.

     

    I don’t quite understand, where in Europe is he trying to get out of and why would he be sending her money from there?

     

    Belarus – it’s a disaster. He is working (this was last year) and was unable to leave – maybe virus or crackdowns.

    • #11