Monday, 21 September 2015
Farewell to Ciocia Jadzia
To the cemetery at Bródno for the funeral of Ciocia Jadzia (93), wife of my father's brother, Zdzisław Dembiński. My Wujek Zdzich died in 1973, aged 52. His wife outlived him by 42 years. They are now both buried together in the same grave.
Ciocia Jadzia was with the Home Army (AK) during the Nazi occupation of Poland. She worked in an underground factory making batteries for torches for use by the AK. When the Germans discovered it, she was sent to Auschwitz - the labour camp as opposed to the death camp. As the Red Army approached from the east in January 1945, the slave labour was forced to march into the heart of the Reich. Of 60,000 prisoners made to march west, 15,000 died.
Ciocia Jadzia was a fiery woman who had little time for the communists who replaced the Nazis after 1945. At a political meeting after the war, a communist agitator was trying to whip up support for the new regime, railing against the horrors of Nazi occupation. He mentioned Auschwitz. Ciocia Jadzia stood up and said: "I know about Auschwitz. I was there. Now tell us about Katyń".
She survived the communist era, outliving it by more than a quarter of a century. She died as a grandmother of three and great-grandmother of two.
On a personal level I am grateful for the fact that my children heard her testimony as a first-hand witness of Poland's tragic 20th Century history around the dinner table, and saw the Auschwitz number tattooed on her forearm.
Ciocia Jadzia was not forgotten by the Federal Republic of Germany. As well as a monthly war pension, she had been invited along with other long-lived victims of Nazism to special commemorative events held in Germany, events aimed at reconciliation and forgiveness.
The German response to the horrors inflicted upon Poland stands in stark contrast to Russia's. No formal word of apology to the hundreds of thousands of Poles deported to the GULAG. As far as the Kremlin sees it today, Stalin's arrest and deportation of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians into labour camps in the heart of the USSR was justified - even if many of those deportees were children, such as my mother, then aged 12.
As the generation that lived through those dark days passes from this world, it is our responsibility to remember, to write down and pass on those experiences to the next generations, lest they ever be forgotten.
This time last year:
By train from to Konstancin and Siekierki
This time two years ago:
Summer's end, Jeziorki
This time four years ago:
Ząbowska, Praga's newly-hip thoroughfare
This time six years ago:
Catching the klimat
This time eight years ago:
Road to Łuków - a road trip into the sublime