All of us with Polish heritage have in common a unique set of chances of birth. Not for us the comfort of our grandparents living in the same town of our birth. We have been born as the result of a bizarre set of events, some of which, had they happened a day before or after might have made all the difference to our existence. It is unnerving and means we never have the same grounding as our British friends.
Reading the book “Finding Poland” by Matthew Kelly, has made me understand this uneasiness a little more which still manages to unsettle me when faced with the settled familial pattern of my British husband’s family. As Matthew has said “History then, has made me in a way that seemed to differentiate me from my classmates”, and I do recall that unwillingness to share the very complex story of my coming into being at school.
Had my grandfather and my father made it over the frozen river Bug into the German occupied area in 1940 as they had planned, a day before the Russians came to take them away to Siberia, I wouldn’t have existed. Even more of a slim chance, not only was my birth dependent on my other grandfather being arrested in 1944 and taken to a work camp in German Alsace, but on his transfer close to the Swiss border, escaping to join the II Corps in Italy, later arriving in the UK and refusing to go back to Poland, meaning that 15 years later my mother arrived in the UK. From there my parents’ story followed the more normal path of young people meeting at dances and other social events.
2 May is Polish Flag Day and Polish Diaspora Day when everyone of Polish Heritage gathers together to feel as one, the Diaspora scattered all over the world. Here, young people march in Vilnius, Lithuania on this day. I often wonder if I feel like my real homeland is Wilno (Vilnius) which my grandmother described in her diaries written in the 1930s, and which I have visited often? I get that warm feeling here every time.
On a bridge in Park Bernardyński (Bernardine Park) where my grandparents strolled of an evening so many, many years ago.
Or is it Sarnaki, in Eastern Poland where my other grandparents married in this church and where my father was born but only lived for a year with his grandfather? My great-grandparents are buried here and the wider family continue to live here.
Where is your feeling of homeland? Perhaps it is your grandparents’ old home here in the UK, or your family home? Or, if you’re lucky enough to feel grounded, where you live now, which you regard as your home town or city.