This post is a departure from the grammatical theme, but I wanted to share with you my excitement at the publication – as both an e-book and a paperback – of my late Mother’s memoir, which captures her reminiscences of the Second World War and life under communism in Poland. This short book offers a revealing snapshot of the terror and some of the hardships she endured during the war and the privations she suffered under communism, which held Poland in its grip until 1989.
This year marks the centenary of her birth; editing, translating and publishing this snapshot is my tribute to her. Clearly, this subject won’t resonate with readers from other countries in the way it does with us Poles, and I certainly don’t expect you to want to read the book, but I am delighted nevertheless.
Below is given a short extract which describes the return of my parents, who had endured over four years of the Nazi occupation in Warsaw before its destruction, to the bombed-out city shortly after the war had ended.
Between Black Death and Red Plague
The train went as far as the undamaged track would carry it but then had to stop – several kilometres short of Warsaw. We had no choice but to make the remainder of the journey on foot. It was already afternoon, and it would start getting dark soon. The weather deteriorated further, with snow and sleet turning into a blizzard. We had set off alongside all the other travellers from the train, but, as we reached the outskirts of Warsaw, I became so weak that I was barely able to drag my blistered feet. Among the ruins, Kazio found us a nook in which to shelter from the blizzard, and, there, we finished our soup and rested a while till I was ready to resume the trek.
The landscape around us was unreal: a sea of ruin, rubble and tangled metal, with barely a wall standing erect. The stream of the travellers from the train, Mr Bagnievski among them, had been reduced to a trickle as – little by little – people had dispersed in different directions, each individual or a little group heading for where their home used to be. We made straight for the factory – and our flat there. The burnt-out shell of the building was still standing, but it looked as if it might collapse at any minute. The solid staircase was still attached to the wall, but it led nowhere, for the third floor, which had housed our flat, and the roof above it had both been completely destroyed.
We entered the cellar, where we had hidden some of our possessions before the exodus. Everything of value had been plundered, and what had no value to others had been scattered about. Our photographs and documents had been either destroyed or blown away, so there was very little for us to pick up. The mementos of our pre-war life – all gone. We carefully climbed the section of the stairs which was still serviceable and stood there, at the top, under the heavy winter sky, staring in silence at the pile of rubble, open and exposed to the elements, that used to be our flat. Then, still without a word, we went down the stairs and into the street. Throughout our enforced exile, I used to dream about our flat. But, after that day, when I saw with my own eyes that our home had been destroyed, I never had that dream again.