'It is better to renounce revealed truths, even if they exult us by their splendor or if we find them convenient because we can acquire them gratis. It is better to content oneself with more modest and less existing truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion, and reasoning, those that can be verified and demonstrated.' Primo Levi
intend to record and document three journeys – journeys of Polish individuals who chose to migrate to Britain during and after the Second
its mid 20th century history was shared more freely. With the passing of older generations however, stories that can further educate people about Po-
World War, remaining there since. The purpose will be to demonstrate the importance of archiving and reinterpreting material of this nature, in relation to Poland’s political history. Being of Polish origin, I recognise that carrying forward the complexity and tragedy of our national history, now falls to my generation.
land’s complex wartime history, are fading into oblivion. Two twentieth century titans: Primo Levi and George Orwell had firsthand wartime experiences. Levi was deported to the notorious death – camp Auschwitz. Orwell fought with the P.O.U.M during the Spanish Civil War. Both writers’ accounts have stood the test of time, giving clarity to major historical events with objectivity. I myself have little data beyond what I saw with my own eyes and what I have learned from other eye – witnesses whom I believe to be reliable. I can however, contradict some of the more flagrant lies and help to get the affair into some kind of perspective. Orwell. G. 1966, p.144
ther than the Carpathian Mountains to the south and the Baltic Sea to the north, Poland lacks natural boundaries, while being situated in – between two powerful neighbors: Germany and Russia. Historically these are long standing and traditional enemies of Poland. Russia’s sheer scale and Germany’s military efficiency, means Poland has been vulnerable to invasion geo – historically. On September 1st 1939 The Second World War began. Poland was invad-
I prefer the role of witness to that of judge. I can bear witness only to the things which I myself endured and saw. My books are not history books. In writing them I have limited myself strictly to reporting facts of which I
ed by Nazi Germany. Two weeks later, Soviet Russia invaded eastern Polish provinces. Poland was divided between her two enemies once more. In 1941 Hitler’s armies declared war on the Soviet Union, ending Soviet – German relations. Nazi Germany was now the sole occupier of Poland and had expanded into the depths of Russia. By 1945, the Red Army pushed the German army back after a series of grueling battles, thus engulfing Poland within the Communist bloc, in which it remained for over forty years. The Soviet occupation of Poland from 1945 onwards meant its wartime history became censored, misguiding and warped. A symbol of unconfessed Soviet oppression in Poland was the cold – blooded murder of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals, in the Katyn forest during 1940. Up until 1990, Russia held Nazi Germany responsible for the mass killing. After the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the emancipation of Poland,
had direct experience, excluding those I learned later from books or newspapers. Levi. P. 1987, p.391 Orwell gives readers a clear insight into Spain’s political maneuvering throughout the Spanish Civil War, informed by his involvement with the P.O.U.M. The huge bank of lies built up by the Catholic Church, reactionary press, and Communist Party gives a misleading and distorted view of this war. By drawing upon the realities of personal experience, Orwell gets matters into perspective. Similarly, due to Poland’s re – occupation in 1945, its wartime exodus could only be accurately explained through eye – witness accounts. Levi understood the importance of recounting his immediate experiences. His writing is compelling because it does not regurgitate what he learned
afterwards – as anyone interested in the subject, would already have access to this knowledge. I believe that to conduct a reliable and compelling his-
Poles who managed to escape to Britain during and after The War became the true voice of an independent Poland. They fostered free political
torical analysis, one’s initial step must be to gather a range of primary memoirs. Particularly in the case of Poland.
thought and remained loyal to the pre – war, exiled, Polish government in London. It fell to them to preserve the tradition of Poland’s liberalism and allow the truth to go on existing. It is thanks to them that our history did not become lost amidst Soviet ‘liberation’.
How will the history of the Spanish war be written? If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that [the presence of ] the Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and school children will learn about it generations hence. Orwell. G. 1966 p.235
I am just left with what the generation before me has manufactured – where do I come in? I’m outside, waiting at a bus stop. I can choose to go in and get involved with the history and look at the relics and try to come to terms with that moment in history, or I can get on the bus and carry one. History is all about passing information to the generation that is following you. Almond. D. 2008
After World War Two the history curriculum in Poland was devised by the Communist authorities, who chose to present their own versions of The War frequently distorting the truth. My stepmother for instance, attended school in Poland during the 1970s, she recalls how the truth was manipulated. The Molotov – Ribbentrop pact was never referred to, except as a ‘non – aggression’ pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Katyn
The fundamental question that my generation must ask itself, is how should this preserved information that has been presented to us, be carried forward with relevance. It is of course essential to archive wartime memoirs,
massacre was rarely mentioned, if so only as a ‘German crime’. There was no acknowledgement of the Polish deportations to Siberian ‘corrective camps’ by Soviet authorities. Her first contact with Poles living in England, who openly talked about their experiences, was like re – learning Poland’s 20th century history.
but if they are never removed from storage and reinterpreted for future generations, they become forgotten. In the case of Poland, its history must be kept alive in order to challenge misinformation.
However much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency...So long as some parts of earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive. Let fascism, or possible even a combination of several fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist. Orwell. G. 1966, p.237
ESCAPE INTERVIEWEE JAWORZYN JOZEF FRANCISZEK
ith all of Poland under foreign occupation by the end of September 1939, Polish troops escaped into Hungary and Romania where they were interned. The French government offered to receive these military ref-
ing shot down one in six German planes. The British Secretary of the AirForce quoted: 'our shortage of pilots would have made it impossible to man the squadrons which were required to defeat the German air force and so
ugees. Evacuations of Poles to France took place nine months later, with displaced men also being transferred from Italy and Yugoslavia. By June 1940 Germany was advancing through France rapidly, by the 14th they had occupied Paris. Three days later the French government was requesting a ceasefire with Germany. This was a disaster for the Polish cause. The best military units had suffered greatly trying to defend France, they were now dispersed or had crossed into neutral Switzerland. Polish military units still intact were evacuated from France to Britain. The War probably seemed much more remote to the Polish Army than to the Air Force who had reunited at RAF bases throughout England. These pilots played a pivotal role in the Battle of Britain, Polish fighter pilots hav-
win the Battle of Britain, if the gallant airmen of Poland had not leapt into the breach'. aworzyn Franciszek (born 1923) was one of the first Poles to experience its invasion in 1939. Escaped from Cieszyn with brother and three school friends. Initially travelled deeper into Poland to grandparents’ farm, then through Bielsko Biala, to a village south of Lwow. Crossed Carpathian Mountains into Hungary with other military refugees. Interned in Hungary until evacuated to Modane, France through Yugoslavia and Italy in 1940. Joined French air force, initially training in in Lyon, Paris and Deauville until evacuated to Britain from French – Spanish border regions, just after France’s capitulation. in June 1940.
POLAND Cieszyn 1939
was one of the first people who saw how it all began on September 1st 1939, I remember seeing Polish aircraft being shot down by German aircraft, just above my town. I can recall the events in the morning of total confusion and disorientation; I don’t think people knew what to do with themselves. We decided we must not be in our town when the Germans arrive, we had grandparents about twenty miles further inland, my mother decided to send me and my brother there before the fighting in Cieszyn began. You could see and hear the Germans gradually coming up the riverbed in cars and motorcycles, because the river was low – Poland had very good weather during that summer. We ran from there to try and pick up some friends, but we could hear the German army in the other streets, the boots of the soldiers, which had metal studs. We knew they were here so we ran for it. POLAND Grandparents’ farm 1939 We made our way to our grandparents and by the evening we arrived at their farm. All kinds of other relatives were there too because they thought it would be a safe place to hide. Everyone thought after a day or two the Germans would be pushed back and that normal life would be restored. We were woken up during the night by one
POLAND Lwow 1939 We tried to jump on trains but were machine gunned and bombed off several times, so instead we walked along dust covered roads, the hot weather meant we could see clouds of dust made by other groups of escapees in the distance. I recall seeing women lying dead with their children, shot by aircraft. We stayed in a village south of Lwow until we encountered some remnants of the Polish army who told us ‘this is it, there is no army left and the Russians are now attacking Poland’.
of my uncles – who said ‘you’d better run for it – the Germans are advancing’. We packed up and saw the fighting and the fires from the artillery in the distance – fire brigades were no longer operational. There was panic, crowds beginning to move deeper into Poland, this was the start of the people who finished up in Britain – I was one of the starters. We recalled that my father knew some foresters in south – western Poland along the Carpathian Mountains where he used to go on holiday. We decided that was the direction we would take, heading directly east.
POLAND Carpathian Mountains 1939 We had agonising discussions with local people trying to decide what to do with ourselves. It was quite clear there was no way back and we did not want to go anywhere near the Russian army. The only option was to cross the Carpathian Mountains into Hungary. We packed the rest of our belongings and started walking up little lanes into the mountains. One of my recollections was that that the soldiers were disposing of a lot of army equipment, which we were picking up, for example army coats that were warm as well as rifles and grenades. POLISH – HUNGARIAN Border 1939 For two days we walked across the mountains until we reached the Hungarian border. There were very emotional scenes as people realised we were leaving Poland and dropping anything with which to fight the enemy. For three days and nights we marched with thousands of other refugees into Hungary, there was almost no food or water. One night I recall a scene where somewhere up ahead they shouted they had caught a spy, shortly after we heard a gunshot. As we marched further up we kicked his body to the side of the road.
HUNGARY Internment Camps/Balaton Lake 1939 – 40
FRANCE Paris 1940
We marched until we reached the Hungarian railway lines, from which we were taken to internment camps. Conditions there were extremely bad – we were sixteen or seventeen but treated as soldiers. From the camps the younger inmates were moved to big abandoned factories where we had rooms. This was in winter – time and it was extremely cold. The Poles had managed to organise schools by Balaton Lake, where I began attending lessons, this is where we learnt it was possible to escape to France where the Polish army was reorganising itself.
After some training in Lyon I was moved to Bourget airdrome in Paris for unspecified duties, there I recall accommodation was very poor, I still remember the breakfast which was black coffee in an aluminium mug with a bar of chocolate.
FRANCE Modane via Italy 1940 We travelled to France on international trains through Yugoslavia and into Italy. When we arrived in Italy we were treated very well, they were very sympathetic to Poles. We finished up on a French border town called Modane in the mountain regions. The French garrison met us there and put us up in military barracks, they gave us food and uniforms. The French authorities were now asking where we wanted to be transported, my brother chose the communication corps and I chose the air force. FRANCE Lyon 1940 From there I moved to Lyon where there was a French air force base, here we were given French air force uniforms. Various Polish fighter pilots from Poland were incorporated into operational French squadrons immediately.
FRANCE Deauville 1940
happen to us? Despite this, we did decide to go to Britain. After endless false alarms, at midnight we were told there is ship called the SS Arandora
From Bourget airdrome we moved to Deauville, an area on the channel – it was an observer training unit which flew very ancient French aircraft still from the First World War, even to us they looked very old. It was here that we realised the war was not going well for the allies. RAF fighters gradually began landing at our airfield. We were great admirers of the RAF who flew much more modern aircraft like the Hurricanes and Spitfires. We were also extremely impressed by the RAF pilots themselves who did not adhere to the continental looks of aircrew, which was big chested and 110% healthy. I remember one little red haired Hurricane pilot in particular, who after landing disembarked his aircraft and smiled at us, not realising he would later became the top British fighter ace ‘Ginger Lacy’.
Star waiting for us in the sea. We were taken to it by local fisher – boats. The ship took thousands of Polish airmen to Britain and was one of the last ships to leave France safely, which had now capitulated.
FRENCH – SPANISH Border 1940 The Polish authorities began making arrangements for Polish units to be evacuated to Britain. No ships however were leaving to take us to Britain so we travelled south again. We arrived at the Spanish border, this was as far as we could get from the Germans. Initially we questioned the point of going to Britain, this is the second country that had been conquered by the Nazis, if Britain fell too what would
OCCUPATION INTERVIEWEE WLADYSLAWA TYBULEWICZ
he Third Reich’s conquest in Eastern Europe brought twenty – two million Polish citizens under the unparalleled evil of the Nazis. Hitler wanted to 'sweep Poland off the face of the earth'. North and West Poland became part of the ‘New Reich’ annexed into Germany, part of Hitler’s Third Reich. Central and Southern Poland were incorporated into a sepa-
their aid – but to no avail. Tragically the Uprising fell and the underground movement disintegrated shortly after. The Red Army entered a flattened Warsaw followed by a Soviet – backed Polish committee of national liberation, imposing a regime similar to the one of 1939. When peace was declared in 1945 the whole country was under Soviet occupation again.
rate ‘General Government’, for people considered unsuitable for ‘Germanisation’. Hans Frank in charge of this area quoted: 'all representatives of the Polish intelligentsia must be killed. It sounds cruel, but it is the right of life'. Despite the Nazi occupation from 1939 to 1945 Poles formed underground societies, operating on independent legal systems and courts. Over one million children were educated in secret schools. The universities of Krakow, Warsaw, Lwow and Wilno all remained open underground. The greatest act of resistance carried out in World War Two was the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 when 150,000 poorly armed Polish men and women faced the full might of the German Army. With the Red Army poised outside the city, Poles held out for two months thinking they would come to
ladyslawa Tybulewicz (born 1939) spent duration of the War in Nazi occupied Warsaw. Witnessed the rise and fall of the Warsaw Uprising. Family was exiled from Warsaw shortly after the Uprising to Konskie via Pruszkow, then lived with a great auntie in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. The family returned to Warsaw after its ‘liberation’ in 1945. Father was a POW (Prisoner of War) in Waldenburg, Germany from 1939 to 1945. Wladyslawa with her mother escaped Communist Poland by joining him in Haren (British occupied zone of Germany) in 1946. Transported illegally through Czechoslovakia, then through American and British occupied zones, hidden in the back of a UNRRA aid truck. Left for England in 1947 from Wilhelshaven.
POLAND Warsaw 1939
e lived with my grandparents, my uncle and his lady friend who before the war had worked in a German shop, I think it was a bakery. And as the war was approaching the German owner of the shop, who must have been quite a nice man said: ‘look, I’m leaving, you know what’s going to happen, it’s no place for me to be, but here are the keys you can take over the shop’. Soon afterwards this lady friend and my uncle reopened the shop, not as a bakery but as a shop which sold everything, and that’s how we survived. The shop was somehow managing to get tobacco and paper and I remember my mother spending her days rolling cigarettes, which we then sold.
POLAND Warsaw 1944 1939 was very difficult, the Germans attacked Warsaw and we spent most of the time in the cellar. I was only a baby and it was very difficult to get water for me because the water system in Warsaw was bombed. I don’t remember this of course but I was told that my grandfather used to dig holes in the ground of the cellar. He would then line this with a thin material like muslin, if you then left it long enough water would accumulate which was then filtered, boiled and given to me to drink.
I remember the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising very vividly. My mother took me across Warsaw to see a friend of hers, absolutely oblivious to the fact the uprising was beginning. When we arrived there in the early afternoon this friend of my mother saw us, looked horrified and said what on earth are you doing here with a child? She told my mother what was going to happen.
We then ran back along Aleje Jerozolimskie (principle street in Warsaw) and crossed a railway bridge to the north of Aleje Jerozolimskie where we lived, while there were bullets flying all around us. I as a five – year – old girl was terrified. We didn’t actually manage to get to our block of flats but having managed to cross the railway bridge safely, we dived into the first possible house and the people there let us go into the cellar. When night came we crossed to our flat using back alleys and gardens. I remember them building holes throughout the backs of houses for safe passage. I have this picture in my mind of going through these holes and eventually arriving at our flat in the middle of the night.
POLAND â€‚ Pruszkow 1944 As the Warsaw Uprising fell all the civilians were told to leave after the city became earmarked for total obliteration. The Germans initially kept us in big abandoned factories. Shortly after they began putting us on trains, and my mother and grandparents suspected that some of the trains were going into Germany, but some were not. We managed to board a train travelling into south â€“ western Poland.
POLAND Konskie 1944 We were billeted with a family just outside of Konskie. They looked very uncomfortable with us being there and were very hostile in fact. After about two weeks there I recall my grandfather finding messages in a flowerpot. It turned out the house was actually an information drop – point for the Polish Underground Army and for the partisans who were hiding in the forests. So it was obviously a very dangerous house to stay in and that’s why the woman was so hostile, she knew she shouldn’t be having any families there. During the night we left and managed to board a train bound for Warsaw (of course illegally without any tickets), hiding in coal. We jumped off at a place called Grodzisk Mazowiecki where lived my grandmother’s sister, she had a house there. POLAND Grodzisk Mazowiecki 1944 It was a tiny, little house with a garden in which I used to play. She took us in and it was illegal because it was within the parameter of where people from Warsaw were not allowed to move back. If the Germans found us, because they used to do random searches for Warsaw people, they would send us to Germany. If there was any notion of a search I would immediately be sent out into the garden to play, as far from the house as possible. My uncle and mother would bury themselves among straw in the loft, while my grandparents would put on scarves then innocently peel potatoes in the kitchen. We stayed there until January 1945 when the Russians entered Warsaw, as soon as news came of Warsaw’s ‘liberation’ my mother and my uncle walked back, because there was no other transport, to see what was happening there.
POLAND Warsaw 1945
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration who were helping displaced and sick people after the war, were organising transport
The flat was almost completely empty, everything had been stolen. My mother found a few photographs, pieces of cutlery etc among the rubble and the snow, which I still have to this day. The only thing that was left was a grand piano and my father’s desk, which had all the drawers, removed and emptied. I don’t think it was the Germans, because they were running away by then and these were not Rembrandts, either way they would have taken them before.
of medicine to Poland. The drivers (for a small fee) agreed to transport wives, children etc of Polish soldiers back into the west on the return journey. They drove out of Poland into Czechoslovakia, through the American occupied zones of Germany and then into the British zones, to avoid the Russian zones where they would no doubt be stopped. POLAND Krakow 1946 My mother travelled with me by train to Krakow, she knew where she had to turn up at the designated address, late in the evening etc. We were bundled into those lorries with the canvas over the top and at the back. When we were at the border crossings we were told to be very quiet, but of course all the guards were bribed, except for the Americans. In fact the Americans became very curious about what was in those lorries because they were supposed to be empty, for instance a child would start to cry etc. But the drivers would always say ‘look, have a drink and a Polish sausage’ to the guards who after this would wave them on. WEST GERMANY Haren 1946
After the war my father was liberated from German captivity by British soldiers. He knew what was happening in Warsaw, he knew that the Communists were taking over. And he was quite weary of going back to Poland. But at the same time he was keen to have his wife and child with him in the British occupied zones of Germany.
When we arrived in Haren my mother immediately joined the woman’s auxiliary force. My father having spent the war as a POW was under Polish command, however my mother joined up under British command, which gave us the right to the come to Britain.
EXILE INTERVIEWEE JADWIGA KOLANOWSKA
n 17 September, the Soviet Union unexpectedly invaded Poland from the east. With the Polish army fully committed to fighting the attacking Germans, the advance of the Red Army was virtually unopposed. The
of General Wladyslaw Anders. Little help however was offered to enable people to leave places in the middle of the wilderness. Had Germany not invaded the USSR it is unlikely the nation of Poland would have survived.
secret pre – war, Molotov – Ribbentrop pact meant that Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Stalin announced he wanted to 'erase Poland culturally and physically'. Following Soviet occupation, deportations of over one – and – a half million Polish families began, an attempt to remove ‘enemies of the USSR’ to remote parts of Russia. Communities were rounded up in the early morning by the NKVD (forerunners to the KGB) and taken to railway depots, from which they were deported. In June 1941 Hitler’s armies invaded the Soviet Union, ending Germany and Russia’s ‘eternal friendship’ with a decisive blow. This invasion meant Stalin established a ‘brotherly alliance’ with Poland, in order to fight the common German enemy. Exiles who survived Soviet captivity were granted an amnesty. A Polish army was created on Soviet soil under the command
By March 1942 Stalin finally agreed that the Soviet Union was no longer able to sustain the Polish army and agreed to help evacuate soldiers and civilians to Persia, which was under British control. adwiga Kolanowska – my grandmother (born 1933), exiled with her mother and other family members to eastern Kazakhstan by the NKVD in 1940. Father remained in Przemysl and Lwow throughout the War. After the amnesty in 1941 Jadwiga, with her family, moved from Kazakhstan to Yangiyul in Uzbekistan then to the port of Krasdnowsk in western Turkmenistan. Arrived at the Persian port, Pahlevi in 1942 after crossing the Caspian Sea, later ending up in British held Lebanon, not far from Beirut. Jadwiga moved back to Communist Poland in 1949 with her mother. Came to England for the first time in 1957 marrying her late husband, allowing her remain there.
POLAND Lwow 1940
two storeys, the length of the wagon. In total there were twenty – six of us and six children, the majority of people were Jewish.
hen the Bolsheviks attacked Poland, soldiers entered our house and searched everything, but generally speaking they weren’t completely awful. The soldiers told us we were being taken far away and advised us to take as much as possible, which was of course very practical because later on we had warm clothes and could also exchange our possessions for food. I even remember my mother taking with her silver cutlery, this helped us an awful lot when we needed money. They were however very destructive, inspecting every nook and cranny, probably for money.
The wagon was dirty, overcrowded and dark, with only two small windows at the top. The WC was a hole in the floor and very primitive. Hours upon hours passed, the door was screwed shut and bolted from the outside. This is how our three – week journey began, in inhumane conditions. We travelled through flat lands, passing through nothing but hamlets and small villages, people were wrapped in rags and there were very little of them. We didn’t know where we were being transported.
My great, great grandmother’s writes in her diary: We were taken to a railway line during the cold dark night, through mud and puddles. My family and I were then unloaded and crammed into a large railway wagon, inside were two large benches in
KAZAKHSTAN 1940 – 41 I remember fragments from when we arrived in eastern Kazakhstan. My uncle actually began to cry. This for me was quite unusual, as a child I was not used to men crying. Once we were unloaded we sold my uncle’s suit for a ‘lepianka’ which is a small, sheltered hole in the ground, inside of which there were a couple of rooms, a stove etc. Living with us was a family of three, they had the other room and my grandmother used to cook for us all. In the winter we would get completely snowed in and would have to literally dig ourselves out. For the duration of our time in Kazakhstan the family worked physically on kolkhozes, which were basically farms. When the amnesty was agreed we were ‘free’ and allowed to move to wherever we wanted. My family and I collected our things and I’m not sure where we acquired the money to travel, but probably from all the items that we took with us from Poland.
UZBEKISTAN Yangiyul via KAZAKHSTAN Ajagoz 1941 – 42 From eastern Kazakhstan we moved to Ajagoz near to the city Almaty. From Ajagoz we moved to Yangiyul in Uzbekistan. Funnily enough this is where I first met your other grandmother. She was a very pretty, petite girl with two fair plaits. She has no recollection of me however. WESTERN TURKMENISTAN Port of Krasdnowsk 1942 From Yangiyul we moved to the port of Krasdnowsk where they were transporting Poles across the Caspian Sea to British held territory in Persia. I remember the conditions there being awful. My grandmother was quite ill at this point and could barely even stand, my mother was looking after us both. I can’t really remember what had happened to the rest of the family at this point. There was very little or no water, I as a little girl thought it strange that we were next to the sea but still had nothing to drink. CASPIAN SEA 1942 From the port we were loaded onto a ship on which the conditions were truly horrendous. Because it was constantly swaying, people felt sick, were vomiting and to make matters worse there was no toilet. My mum suffered quite badly from seasickness and spent the journey lying on the floor, I tried to help when I could, but she was extremely sick. As if things couldn’t get any worse the navigator made a few mistakes and the voyage took even longer, it lasted for three days. Many people died and so had to be thrown overboard.
PESRIA Port of Pahlevi 1942 When finally we arrived in the Persian port of Pahlevi it felt like paradise. The Persians were so good to us, providing fruit and food – they looked like extremely happy people. Initially we were sleeping on the beaches just with waterproof blankets, we were also fed and deloused. PESRIA Teheran 1942 From Pahlevi we were loaded onto military trucks and transported to Tehran. My grandfather managed to find work so we were fortunate enough to move into an apartment in the city of Tehran, my mother was also selling a lot of her jewellery. For a short while I went to a Polish school but then got ill with scarlet fever and a number of other unpleasant illnesses.
LEBANON Near to Beirut 1943 – 49 From Teheran the Polish army (under British command) was taking refugees to British Commonwealth zones in India, North Africa and New Zealand too. We however chose to be taken to Lebanon, which was truly paradise, we now lived in private houses, went to the beach – felt like real people again. We were also receiving financial aid from the exiled Polish government in London. There were four centers in which our houses were, I was in the same center as your grandfather’s family – this is when I first encountered them. However your grandfather was already fighting with the Polish Army by this point. It was in the Middle East that many Polish families built relationships with one another. They then went their separate ways only to re – establish those relationships years later in their exiled communities abroad. POLAND Gdansk 1949 In 1949 because Poland did not regain independence, the camps and houses in the Middle East for which the exiled Polish government was paying, were not sustainable and collapsed. Families with members in the Polish army under British command could move to England. Because your grandfather and great grandfather were in the army they immediately moved to Britain after the war, my family however was not permitted to. My mother made the difficult decision to move from Lebanon back to Communist Poland. Not moving back to eastern Poland, which was under strict Soviet control, we chose to live in Gdynia in northern Poland.
GREAT BRTIAIN London 1957 In England lived my mother’s sister who we came to visit in 1957, when they were beginning to hand out visas to Polish nationals. Having known your grandfather’s family from Lebanon, I decided to visit them too – they were old friends of the family. There I finally met my late husband (your grandfather) whom I married after which I was permitted to remain in England.
y interviewing Polish individuals who lived through the war, I independently became acquainted with Poland’s political history. The in-
of Polish history and avoid scenes of grandiose battle, which is how many Poles often portray their history. I personally think small, illustrated details
credible stories which my subjects recalled has greatly deepened my emotional and intellectual understanding of my country of origin’s past. The richness of the narratives aligns effectively with the medium of illustration because it was this that enabled me visualise the tragedy of Poland’s fate, and begin to understand it for myself. Many Poles still have limited knowledge of the struggle for independence during and after the War, because they are products of a censored era. How will future generations be educated about the totalitarian regimes in Poland, if its factual history is a remnant of their influence? When looking back at Poland’s past, one should consider the challenge of not getting locked into the process. It is important to know how events in the War continue to effect Polish places and people who remain in its shadow. Rather than providing a historic analysis of conflict when presenting my gathered information, I wanted to reinterpret it, and select the best way to liberate it from the constraints of the past. By giving weight to ‘un-
can give an unbiased representation, thus engaging a wider audience. There is an important relationship between images and narrative created when events are witnessed, and those that are used to rediscover the subject. The works of Feliks Topolski, Orwell's and Levi's written experiances, and the stories of my interviewees are accounts that have preserved history for the following – my – generation. To safeguard accuracy of historical detail, subsequent generations need to recognise their role in upholding this information. This will ensure that important historical events such as Poland’s wartime exodus, are passed on with integrity, paying due justice to the voices which were silenced or ignored in the past. They should serve as an educative reminder that liberalist traditions must be upheld.
heard voices’ such as my interviews, one can redress the balance and use it to bridge the gap between past and present generations.
y initial proposal was to record a cross – section of how the people of Poland escaped their decimated homeland, and how important it is to collate their stories, in conjunction with Poland’s political history. George Orwell and Primo Levi repeatedly stress the importance of using modest truths to explain major historical events, using their own experiences as examples. I conducted two interviews (Exile and Occupation), and acquired one from the Imperial War Museum (Escape). I transcribed the interviews and selected elements I considered would best explain Poland’s history. With the text in front of me, I began to visualise the primary information and consider how it could be reinvigorated. Having studied the works of Feliks Topolski it became apparent that reinterpreting my historic events was key, in allowing them to travel forward. In the case of Poland’s World War Two history, it is important to gather re-
I thought that my account would be all the more credible and useful the more it appeared objective and the less it sounded overly emotional; only in this way does a witness in matters of justice perform his task, which is that of preparing the ground for the judge. The judges are my readers. Levi. P. 1987, p.382 Feliks Topolski, the Polish war artist approaches Britain, Poland and Russia’s war years gesturally. He depicts the human condition sensitively, enabling the audience to relate to his documentations on a more personalised level. Topolski’s work informed me to be neutral in my representation
liable and accurate accounts while the people who hold them are still alive. After requisitioning the truth one must begin to revive and strengthen it, in
order to allow it to continue existing.
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