In October 1999, I entered Poland on a train from Prague. It was the middle of the night, with an open window in the train corridor staring into the black, flat night. My father’s family came from this place, that is, the ones who weren’t murdered. You can almost imagine hearing their cries on the howling wind.
You would think I would be smart enough to close the window, but I felt drawn to having the cold wind on my face. It fit the moment.
I was lost in my thoughts with Chopin playing through my head. I finally went back into the compartment for a fitful sleep with the ghosts playing havoc with my mind. “You have come, they cried, but too late!”
Keep in mind, this is not just a Jewish story. Poland’s general history is tragic. Cossacks, Swedes, the one hundred plus years Poland was carved up between the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian Empires. My Dad’s friend and my adopted uncle Piotr Tomasik told me his first wife Danuta’s father was a Polish army officer murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn Forest.
Piotr lived in the town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz) from the ages of ten to seventeen. His father was a chemist and assigned to take over the I.G. Farben plant the Germans built. Auschwitz is haunted enough. The barracks have pictures on them. One day, Piotr took friends who he was graduate students with through the camp. One of the pictures was of the father of one of his friends. The man was a Polish Army officer. He died there. Piotr dropped us off outside the camp. He can’t go in. If that’s not haunted, I don’t know what is.
People in the street would look at me as though they had seen a ghost. My Mom thinks the ones I didn’t remind of a Jewish person they might have known may have though with my build I am German. Yeah, I scared people. Well I do that anyway.
And those are the Ghosts of Poland.
- Warsaw museum to celebrate Jewish life in Poland (seattletimes.com)