Sunday in Kraków was cold. The hotel (Hotel 32) breakfast room was strangely laid out and we felt we had to keep on running backwards and forwards to get everything we needed, but the food itself wasn’t bad. we had lunch to go to anyway as we were going to meet a friend from my teenager days – she was actually a friend of my parents, being a bit older than me, but it was in her company that I had my first taste of champagne ( maybe more than just a taste, because it was also the first time I was really drunk. We had gone with her and my stepfather Zbyszek, and her boyfriend Maurice to La Bretagne – our restuarant of choice, in Marloes Road, W8. It was 1969 and I was just 16. My mother was in Poland, staying with friends I suppose. So the four of us went out and I in particular had an unforgettable time. Many years later she came to look after my mother when she was in hospital – a more dedicated and lovely person would be hard to find.
Anyway, this wonderful woman lives in Kraków and we went for lunch to superb resaurant – Albertina, which we had gone to the day before. The food was equally good though the service wasn’t quite as enthusiastic. Never mind. We caught up, and then in the afternoon we went what we believed to be for tea with my mother’s godmother’s daughter and granddaughter. My mother’s generation and mine.
I hadn’t seen Ciocia Ewa since she had been in England when I was about 13 or fourteen. Her daughter Basia had also come to England, about the year before or maybe a year later. A long time ago. We didn’t particularly get on and since then we had not really been in touch. That is an understatement. I hadn’t seen any of them since 1972, when I went to visit them in Kraków when my mother’s godmother was still alive. So now it was really important to me to meet them.
Tea was not really on the menu – wine, liqueurs, yes. And then a full blown meal. Deliciuos – but we had already consumed quite a lot that day.
But what was really important was that Ciocia Ewa, 94 years old, beautiful, stately and kind, and absolutely compus mentis, was able to talk to me about my grandparents from before the war – the only person in the world I know who has ever known my grandfather, and she was able to tell me a tiny bit about him and my grandmother. That was fascinating in itself, but then she also talked about her own war-time experiences; then she was a teenager who lived with her parents and older sister throughout the war – they only left when they were forced out after Lwów was ceded to the soviets in 1945.
During the war Lwów was first under German occupation and then under Soviet occupation. Her family were all in the AK – the Underground Home Army and her father ran a clandestine printing press. They worked all night and then had to hide the evidence by burying all the machinery deep underground every dawn. A terrifying existence. She told of a times when she was stopped by a German while carrying newsheets ready for distribution. She was accompanied by a (boy) friend who was arrested, but to her immense surprise she was let go without a word. She told of other times when Germans behaved in a civilised manner. she had no good things to say about the soviets at all.
Somehow they survived the war. She has in fact been interviewed by Polish Television of course about her experiences. Ithe interview edited version is three hours long and fascinating. when I learn how to post a link I will, or can send it by email. it is of course in Polish.
The whole evening is one I will never forget. She reminded me very much of her own mother who was a fabulous very feisty woman- but hers is a tale for another time.