Monday, October 26, 2009

Putting the pieces together

The previous post highlighted just how happy and great it was to finally meet so many members of my family in Poland. What I did not cover was the overwhelming thoughts and realizations that I had running through my head the entire day that stemmed back from my conversation with Kaśka a few days prior overlooking the Vistula River. At every house I went to, literally, boxes were pulled out with photos and other priceless documents and keepsakes of my family.

It was extremely overwhelming, and that was why it was almost stressful to keep my thoughts straight, because there was just such a huge amount of history that was presented to me in one short weekend.

Some of the pictures were very festive, seeing photos from the 70’s aging with warm nostalgic colors on the fading prints with my aunts and uncles with smoother complexions and fuller heads of hair, Babcia with her siblings and my Dziadzia, even the young smiling face of my mom in a few of the ones from America, with everyone happily together as a large group around great spreads of holiday meals.

In some of the photo albums the photo paper consistently became more clear and of higher quality as new photos of babtisms and communions, even weddings, became part of the next chapter with a new generation growing up.

The pictures with crowds of a large smiling family huddled around each other celebrating were great to see, but digging a little deeper into the boxes shared that these happy times came only after years of trying times, and tragic stories.

This is where I realized how much I thought I knew about myself and my background, and how much I still had to really comprehend and search to understand.

Photos of the ship that my Babcia and Dziadzia took to America, picking up everything and starting a brand new life. Haunting photos that I had never seen of my Babcia at the bedside of her ailing mother. Documents, including a Kenntkarte for my great uncle that was mandatory for possession in German occupied Poland. A letter, fragile, creased and worn sent to my great aunt Hanka, sister of my Babcia, with a scrawled final goodbye message from a close, dear friend that somehow made it out of Auschwitz.

There were framed certificates of Babtisms into the Roman Catholic faith reminding that some of my extended family was not raised Catholic, but Jewish, and books that actually cited some of my relatives with photos [even some of my family in America was in this book!] describing the lives of Jewish families in hiding in Dąbrowa Tarnowska during the holocaust.

This was only a small portion of the things I witnessed, and after afternoons of happy stories over coffee, there were some choked up stories and tears later over photos.

It was all really too fast – decades summed up into minutes, photos summing up complete years and stages of life. The questions were filling my head, from my Babcia’s jewish roots, to the decisions to completely pack up a Family with two children to a country that was unknown and foreign, and how the family continued on to its completion with my Wujek Michaś and my mother being born. Family members left behind, or unheard from for many years passed. How did everyone cope with the fear? In prayer, was there any resentment towards God?

It was impossible not to think too deep – this is the exact overwhelming feeling that Kaśka and I only lightly covered in comparison just nights before.

The bottom line was that there was no way that a little trip to Poland would satisfy my desire to learn about my background and the people, history and events that were part of my family’s and grandparent’s lives. There is a lot I had to learn, a lot of history – from all sides German, Polish, Russian, American – to even begin to piece together the story of my family.

It is safe to say that nothing about visitng Tarnów or Dąbrowa Tarnowska came slowly or lightly. I met family rapidly, heard many stories, lots of Polish, saw many photos – what could I expect – I had been eagerly wanting to visit Poland since I was very young, now it is just time to catch up – and did I learn fast that there was a lot of catching up to do.

1 comment:

  1. wow. thats absolutely ridiculous.

    I thought I learned a lot about my family and history when I went back to Korea, but seeing all of these pictures and hearing all of those stories must've been mindblowing.

    I'm not even related to you, but just from knowing your family and Babcia, I'm sure this was a ridiculously amazing experience for you.

    I'm glad that you were able to experience such a deep connection to your history. It's something that very very few people who live in the states gets to experience.