Exploring the Polish Connection

It’s a strange thing.  In the habit of writing travel guides, I hadn’t really got my head round the idea of blogging when I started here.  The freedom to write about anything….well, it’s kind of mind boggling more than blogging!

It occurred to me that I should be sharing the Polish saga.  I’ve often been asked when I’m going to write the story of Dad’s life.  I’ve shied away from it a bit.  I don’t want to offend or misrepresent anyone, and it’s such a huge cast of characters.  Still, it’s the kind of story that when you tell it to someone, you invariably have an “isn’t that amazing?” response.  So, here is the abridged version.

Dad and Jakub

At the age of 15 Dad was rounded up from the family farm at Zawady, a small village south of Łódź in Central Poland, and “escorted” by the Germans to work on the land in their country.  Now 88, it took Dad 64 years to be reunited with his family.  As the war faltered to an end, Dad and a fellow worker turned their backs on Germany and walked many, many miles to freedom in France.  Joining the armed forces, Dad eventually ended up in Coventry, where he met and married my mum.

Links with home continued, and I remember a tin box of letters and photographs.  I never learnt Polish as Dad was focussed on integrating with the North East England community of Hartlepool, my mother’s birthplace.  How I regret this now!

I don’t really know how it came about, but gradually the communications home ceased.  The Communists were in control in Poland, and must have been instrumental in disrupting the flow of letters.  The family were scattered.  Dad came to believe that he was the only survivor of 9 brothers and sisters.  If only he’d known!

One January Friday night, 9 years ago, I returned home from a “Girl’s night” to find that Dad had phoned.  I wasn’t to worry but I should phone him back as soon as possible.  He could barely speak to me for excitement!  He had received a phone call from Poland on behalf of his sister Anna.  She wanted to speak to him urgently to confirm that he was her long lost older brother.  A link had been established via the internet.

There began the strangest but most wonderful phase in our lives.  Overnight I went from having one Polish parent to having 2 new aunts, 2 new uncles and 26 Polish cousins, with their husbands, wives and children!  Emails in halting English went back and forwards and arrangements were made for a reunion. The excitement was immeasurable, but mixed with anxiety on my part.  What would they make of me and how would I communicate?  A crash course in Polish seemed called for.

My cousin Adam owns a bakery business in Krakow, and it was through him that all arrangements were made.  Though not speaking English himself, this warm-hearted and generous man was determined that we should meet and finally know our Polish family.  Our visit was planned with military precision to enable us to spend time with as many family members as was possible.  On this first occasion I had but 5 days begged from my employer.  Dad, of course, stayed longer, with a lifetime’s absence to make up for.

Stepping out at Krakow airport was one of the most emotional occasions I can ever remember.  Among tearful hugs and kisses I mumbled “Bardzo mi milo”, a shortened version of “pleased to meet you”, which was the only bit of Polish I could summon.  TV cameras followed our progress and my Aunt Anna calmly told the world that she had always known that her brother Aleksander was alive somewhere.  If he had been deceased she would have felt his spirit- Polish people in the main are deeply religious.  Anna was in poor health, but had lived for this moment.

What followed was to become a sequence of wonderful memories:- a stroll together in weak April sunshine through Krakow’s stunning Rynek Glowny (main square), Anna’s arm tucked through mine; a meal in the sumptuous surroundings of historic Wierzynek Hotel;

but surely, best of all, the moment when we arrived at Dad’s old farmhouse home.  As we pulled through the gates into the farmyard, Adam blared his horn and a sea of family surged forward to greet us, many wearing name badges, for we had no hope of remembering them all.

Flowers were pressed into my arms with shy smiles as the introductions were made: Aunt Lusia and her family; my Uncle Jakub, 15 years younger and born after Dad left home so that this was their first ever meeting; Lodzia, the wife of my Uncle Zygmunt, nearest to my Dad in age and who tragically had died just weeks before- she now ran the farm with the help of her sons.

Then the many, many cousins and their children.  These unfortunates were pushed forwards if they had even a hint of English, to engage me in conversation and an endless round of questions. Uncle Wlodek, living on the German border, had been unable to make the trip, but his son Wojtek, wife and children were there.

Dad, meanwhile, had recovered his native tongue as if by magic, and was gamely tackling the introductions head on.  Anyone who knows the Polish people will know what comes next.  Huge quantities of food and not a little vodka were consumed.  It would have been impolite to refuse so in the following days, as we were passed from one home to the next, we ate and we ate and we ate!  I realised where Dad’s sweet tooth came from as we sampled every variety of delicious cake, often before sitting down to a full meal.

And that’s where it all started.  Sadly my Aunt Anna, seen here with Dad and her son Adam, died on 25.11.09. We have made numerous trips before and since then, and so there are many more memories to share.

69 comments

    1. The Polish family have brought so much pleasure into my Dad’s life, Lisa. When he was widowed at 70 he plodded gamely on but this ‘surprise’ just before his 79th birthday gave him a whole new lease of life. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  1. Oh, Jo … such cruelty we see in our humanity yet underneath it all, love of family prevails. I am so happy you and your father found your Polish family after almost a lifetime of separation. May your story have many more joyful chapters.

    1. Hi Sammy 🙂 Thanks so much for reading this. I’m just home again after an emergency visit to my daughter so I’ll be a while getting to you. Take care!

  2. I am not sure why I haven’t found this post before but I am glad you gave clear directions to it. Such a wonderful story. Makes my heart feel warm and good.

  3. Well this does explain a lot, thank you for directing me here. How amazing that your Polish branch managed to track down your dad and that they are once more re-united. Does he ever talk about returning to Poland for good? And did you ever visit Poland before the meeting? It is a wonderful, heart-warming story Jo. And one we can thank the internet for. I shall peruse your other A-Z stories when I get the chance.
    Jude xx

    1. Hiya , Jude 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to read this. This is the one I should probably have linked to as the A-Z is more about Polish culture and family. Bit late now 🙂
      Initially I did think he might want to return for good. A part of me hoped he would because with such a family network he would be well taken care of (freeing me to go to the Algarve- but that’s never the whole story, is it?) His second wife Laura had a large family too, and they included him in all their gatherings, and still do. So there’s a pull both ways, but I think he’s well settled in his English life, and the ‘where and how’ of Poland is just too much. But what joy the Polish family have given him! 🙂

  4. Hello Jo, Oh, I do catch up with you from time to time. I admire your work, and appreciate the time you put in. Maybe it was the Polish in the title, Seemed like a re-release, so I thought I’d see what was added. It was a release to write those words to you but I don’t generally choose to go there. Oh, my b.g. is in Hollywood Entertainment. Today, I’m all over the blog-sphere. You can always google me, or join me on google +. In a nutshell I’m in process of redesigning two websites and now, two blogs. http://www.BoomerBroadsAbroad.com was meant to be about travel, and developed a life into travel information about Medical Tourism. My blog: http://www.medicalTourismLite.com was created to address the subject of dental originally, and now includes (way behind here) healing vacations I’ve taken, BoomerBroadsAbroad, will now get back to the original idea of addressing Boomers lifestyle urging them to finally take that “bucket list” trip, but schedule it with healthcare in mind. I’ll be reselling trips – god willing – maybe someday to Poland,for holistic respiratory cures. I am concentrating on Cuba in a big way, Turkey, Thailand, & Malaysia. I’ve decided to follow the Roman trail, and already written a story about walking the Ofas Dyke Trail in Wales. I had a blast taking the National across Wales last year to Panzance. I finally soaked in the mineral waters of Bath, and stayed overnight in Tenby -. once a healing center in England, it’s become a retirement village, but other than a homeopathic Rx, there wasn’t anything I found, dedicated to healthcare. Still a very charming village, though. As luck would have it, I stayed in a lovely hotel,facing the water. (Need to look up the name, sorry.) I later learned it was the only swimming pool/spa in town, but you’d never know it, cause they don’t promote it. By golly, I think I just wrote my next blog! Now, where did I put those pix?… But enough about me. I’m hoping to get to get back to Poland once of these days, and since you’re all over the place, perhaps we’ll cross paths. Meantime, wouldn’t it be something if you are a catalyst to bring all these people together, and share a the hidden story…

    1. It would 🙂 I ‘friended’ you on Linked In and Facebook today so had a vague idea what you do. Sounds hectic 🙂 I was in Szczawnica, a fabulous health spa in the Pieniny Mountain range, earlier this year (after my neice’s wedding in Krakow). And many, many years ago I visited Tenby, though I had no idea of its spa status 🙂
      Nice to talk to you.

      1. Absolutely deeelightful! ‘ll let you now as soon as it’s up. I see you share your space very generously. I think you should start using video… Say, are you a Boomer? Born between 1946-64? I like the simple shot in your profile, but it’s hard to tell age. You might be one of my Boomer Broads – Abroad! But ‘m getting ahead of myself. Thanks very much! Great content at the most perfect time.

      1. Really? Welcome to my world! Boomers are a big buzz word in the states, now. But when I first researched it there were only a few websites targeting that demographic. Since then, I’ve narrowed it down to Boomers interested in travel. And at our age, who’s not interested in healthcare. …okay, maybe not you. My “English” cousin’s husband just returned from hospital. He’s around 83. Mary is 80. He just had his first stroke. They’re both normally very healthy and active. Although they had planned to use the Chepstow hospital, which is walking distance from their home, surprise! The ambulance took him to Newport. It was a real education for them. Lots of gratitude about the care and efficiency they experienced. I hear the healthcare in Scotland is even better – but that’s another story. Back to the stories at hand. ttys. Take care, till then

  5. This is such a moving story Jo – what incredible hardships people endured in the 2nd World War. I find it hard to get my head around it all being separated from your whole family like that. I’m so glad that in the end things turned out so well and how wonderful for your dad and family to be able to reconnect after so many years. Polish is a very difficult language to learn from what I’ve heard – we had a Polish guy in our German class (I’ve been learning German for the past 3 years!) and he tried to teach us how to pronounce the place names and that was hard enough as the sounds are so different from how they look written down (Lodz was something like Waatsch I think!!). Thanks for sharing your family story it’s very inspiring kind regards Rosemary🙂

    1. Hi again, Rosemay 🙂 It was a lovely evening after a busy housebound day so I dragged the other half out for a bit of a walk. Back to the ‘task in hand’ now. Thank you for your kind words. I often forget how amazing a story it is, but I do know that I’m very lucky to have this contact with Poland, difficult though it often is.

      1. Hi Jo hope you enjoyed your walk – no problem as I went to bed after I’d posted that – we’re 7 hours ahead of UK time here in Perth and I was burning the midnight oil! It is an amazing story worthy of “Who Do You Think You Are?” – I love that show. I haven’t been to Poland but my younger daughter ( the one who’s off to London) had a week in Krakow last year with her friends. It was in November though, so very cold for her and she would have preferred to have gone there in the summer but she found it very interesting🙂

      1. One of my biggest wishes is to go to Central Europe in December one year especially for the Christmas Markets. It never feels quite “Christmassy” to me in Australia when it’s hot! It sounds wonderful in Poland with the cribs and the parade – would certainly be very cold for me but so special!🙂

  6. I hadn’t read this story until now! What a beautiful gift for your father to have returned to the rodzina! I can relate in a way – I found my Colombian birthfamily a year and a half ago and when I return to Bogota in a few months, I’m going to meet even more cousins and my mother’s father and his kids and cousins on my father’s side! Soooo many names! Sooo much love and family! I’m happy for you to have contact with your roots – it’s amazing the things we can learn about ourselves!

    1. Thanks for this, Angela 🙂 It comes at a time when I’m feeling a little worried, as I always am before a visit to Poland, because my grasp of the language is so inadequate. I presume Columbia is Spanish speaking? Do you speak it yourself? I’m really happy for you.
      For Dad it is truly wonderful and he has not a care in the world but settles back in as though he had never been away.

  7. wow!! thank you so much for linking this story. It brought me to tears! it’s both sad and wonderful all at the same time. sad because your father’s family was torn apart (like so many others at that time…) and wonderful that the internet brought it back together. how wonderful for you to have been reunited with so many family members!!

    1. Thanks so much, Tobyo 🙂 I tend to think everyone’s seen this so I only put the link in occasionally. Glad you found time to read it , and hope that your migraine has flown away.

    1. He celebrated 85 last week and I’m sure the Polish adventure is what keeps him going. We are back to Poland at the end of April and I already have a wedding invitation for May next year! Many thanks for spending so much time on my blog, and for the follow.

  8. What a truly beautiful story, it must have been so emotional for all involved.
    How wonderful your dad’s native tongue returned so easily for him too

    1. It’s quite amusing if he’s in Poland and I’m here, Vicky. He gets immersed in Polish and can’t remember his English! I say to him “speak Polish Dad- I’ll understand some of it”.
      Thanks for taking the time to read it.

  9. Beautiful and heartwarming story Jo! Can only imagine your dad’s joy in reuniting with his family after such a long time! I think there is a book waiting to be written here🙂

  10. I read with my tears, dear Johanna, I am so emotional one and I felt as if I was with you in this amazing story and exciting moments… “Dobry”🙂 Thank you for sharing with us, Blessing and Happiness, nia

    1. Nia- what can I say? Maybe now you understand my interest in your Polish-Turkish village. In spite of all the ups and downs in his life, Dad is still a peaceful, good-natured gentleman. He was here to eat this evening, and will now be patriotically watching England playing football. Of course, he wanted Poland to do well, but he is lucky- he has 2 teams to support!

      Bless you my dear for your kind heart.

  11. Wonderful story, I had tears in my eyes…
    Your Dad must have been so happy to finally meet his long lost family again.
    I´m very interested in Genealogy and a few years ago helped organize a meeting with about 50 almost all unknown descendants of my paternal grandfather. It was a lovely day with the elder ones sharing their memories of their childhood.

    1. Thanks Sami. Yes, it’s given Dad a new lease of life (and a whole lot more birthday cards to write!) He struggles with osteo arthritis these days but he never let’s it get him down for long. When you look at the suffering of those times…aren’t we lucky!

  12. Thank you for sharing your touching story. What a wonderful idea! – Poland A-Z.

    I’ve got a story … If words serve me well, I will not only share my family’s tale but will also enlighten readers to the hidden past of the Polish history – long overdue.

    Bless you Restless Jo, you’re an angel. When I discovered you online, I just knew we would have a connection.

    Although, I’ve got too much on my plate at the moment (3 new blogs/websites) I will include this story on my priority list. Krystina Marie Price

    I

    1. Where do you find the time- you musn’t sleep! Still, who needs sleep. Thank you for your kind words- will look forward to sharing your story. Hope to post my “A is for…” tonight.

      1. “Long overdue” is my reply. Sorry to say the sad story is still over due! Although there have finally been books written about the subject my parents experienced the Russian side of the Ribbintrop-Molotov treaty. Oh… about 10 years ago, I read, “Stolen Childhood”. Wish it was mine… Here’s the Amazon link to 5-star reviews, and other stories about WWII. http://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Childhood-Saga-Polish-Children/dp/0595168639

        Although my Dad was born in Berlin, instead of ending up with, “Checkpoint Charlie” in East Berlin, their property stands in what is now known as the Ukraine. Had a fancy to visit on my recent trip to Turkey – but then the war broke out. Again. My Dad, who was a soldier in a famous battle, “The 7 Day War” at the beginning, used to say,”Poland has a war every 20 years. That’s how they thin out the population.” My English Cousin (now Welsh) would up in a S. African orphanage. Her father was a Montecatini hero, with medals!

        God bless you Restless Joe! There are so many stories to be told before they’re gone, and no one talk about it. Thanks for providing a platform for what happened in Poland during the war. My “Kitchen Polish” almost qualified me for the job as American TV’s, official interpreter, and official liaison to the Polish government – months, then days before the 1980 Solidarity Movement broke. That’s a story in itself, as is life in Poland today. Before WWII, Warsaw had earned the reputation as the “Paris of Eastern Europe”. Have you ever read James Mitchner’s, “Poland”. Written with much love of the people and country. It’s an epic. I’m planning to return to Poland soon. This time to see the Salt caves and the Cathedral, made of salt, and spend some time at their healing spas. Perhaps we can hook up!
        -And, if it’s not your cup of tea, or I am off point, please don’t feel compelled to post this. WE can just keep it to ourselves…

    2. Hi again Kristina 🙂 I cannot find you in blogland and you seem to have a busy life! The salt mines at Wieliczka are beautiful to see. Enjoy your trip! I won’t be back in Poland till next year sometime- possibly October for a wedding but it’s starting to depend on Dad’s health. At 86 he’s amazing but not getting any younger. 🙂
      I must hunt out the Michener book. I like his work. Many thanks for making contact again.

  13. Jo, I’ve finally had a chance to catch up with your blog – and what a wonderful story!
    I’ve often wondered about your Polish roots and now I know. Brought tears to my eyes as I read. Lovely.

  14. It is an amazing story.I hope you Jo and your dad have very many more years to enjoy this new found family ..
    Thank you for sharing it.
    Hilary Keely

  15. Beautiful story Jo! I can relate, sort of….at the age of 16 I discovered I had an older brother. Change my life for the better, for our whole family. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes, it absolutely changed his life. Though never a quitter, health problems were starting to wear him out. Whole new lease of life now. I guess I got my wanderlust from him- he’s game to go wherever he’s invited, especially Poland of course.

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