Friday 3rd January.
Having recovered from the excitement of the night before, I waited in for
the dishwasher man to arrive to mend my machine. A burly young Romanian, he could hardly fit into our kitchen – but he managed. He spent over an hour fixing the machine, keeping up a good line of chat and banter. His English was excellent but with a strong American accent. Why, I wondered – he had learnt it all from cartoon channels when he was a small boy in Timisoara.
He was very surprised that I had heard of the town, but this was where my
stepfather and his family were based when they escaped from Poland at the
beginning of the war. It was also one of the most notorious places where they discovered the excruciating orphanages for children of AIDS victims when Ceausescu was deposed. But the engineer was too young to remember him. I do, though.
I was in Poland in the early seventies when Ceausescu came on a state visit
to Warsaw. The authorities did not think there were enough people in the
streets waving and welcoming him – so they took matters in their own hands and diverted buses which were full of passengers to the square and told us to get off and wave. I got off and walked to my destination as I was going to give an English lesson somewhere. It was a bizarre experience to say the least. But I certainly wasn’t going to wave at the tyrant!
I went to POSK for a Christmas lunch given by the Polish Underground
Movement Study Trust. It was as usual very well attended – at first there was a book launch about one of the Home Army’s more prominent members and at the end there was a raffle and I was pleased to win a bottle of Bison Grass Vodka -not that I will ever drink it – vodka may be my national drink but it’s definitely not for me.
But what struck me more than anything at his lunch and at many others like it,how many survivors there still are and how wonderful they look. Women of ninety-five looking glamorous in beautiful dresses and high heels! No one is making them -they want to. Their hair is dyed and coiffured and every time a couple of them comment on mine – how lovely you look with your messy style. Yes, I always say, I never comb it as I am far too lazy. They smile knowingly, and then shake their heads, bemused!
I love going,though because their indomitable spirit absolutely shines
through – what they had to do to survive the Warsaw Uprising, then
concentration camps, then as refugees in Britain. Or displaced persons as they were then known. But at least they were given opportunities for education and work – I don’t think this is happening to people in similar situations now.
On Wednesday the 8th (my paternal grandmother’s 124th birthday, it would have been) I went to another Christmas lunch in POSK (The Christmas season lasts till Shrove Tuesday for Poles, though we take our decorations down on Feb 2nd), this time given by the School for Young Female Volunteers. (Szkoła Młodszych Ochotniczek) After the so-called Amnesty, in
August 1941, General Anders formed his army in the Soviet Union so that all the Poles who had been deported and imprisoned there could leave and join the Allies. The important thing was that he not only arranged for the men to join up but managed to arrange for all the women and children to go as well. The women became part of the women’s auxiliary service, but the children became cadets if they were boys or young volunteers if they were girls. They were all given British army uniforms and made their exodus from the cursed land as soldiers. The army then organised schools for them as they made their journey from Siberia through Iran and Iraq,
Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. My mother was one of these, together with her mother and sister, and ended up in a school in Nazareth for several years.
And so, it was to a reunion of this school that I went. There were about
thirty of us – a very few actual veterans, and several daughters and
grand-daughters of these girls. I had never been before, so I was delighted to recognise some of them, especially one of my mother’s very good friends, who is now unfortunately very deaf, but still stunning to look at. I asked her how she did it: “I put my war paint on, my high heeled shoes and I go out,” she said. “I have a stick, but it’s a fold up one, which I only use at night so no one can see it. And off I go.”
I hope I shall be as feisty in 30 years’ time – but somehow, I doubt it.
There was also a book launch at this lunch. Quite an unusual one because
nothing really to do with the war – this time it was Origami. The author,
Barbara Furmanowicz, had spent two years nursing her ill mother and while doing so perfected her own origami techniques and had made a beautiful Christmas crib out of paper, which she had on display. Quirky and original, I wish I had thatsort of patience.
The photos don’t do it justice, but you get the idea.