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Remembrance Day ~ A Place to Call Home

Today I'm posting something a little different, and something that is quite close to my heart. Today is the 11th day of the 11th month - Remembrance Day. I was moved to tears today in the supermarket as we fell silent for 2 minutes to remember all those war veterans who gave their lives in World War 1, and World War 2, and still to this day give their lives for us.

2 minutes hardly seems valid as a time to give for the pain, suffering, bravery and heroism that we are so lucky to have had within the servicemen and women over the last 100 years. Wearing a poppy seems a small act in comparison to what was faced and yet we do anything we can to say Thank You. A poppy is not just about remembering the fallen, or those who survived, but it's a symbol of hope... the hope of a safer, warless world where peace really does get given a chance.

I wanted to share with you something I wrote as part of a university assignment I had for my creative writing module. It's a piece of life writing, and it's based upon my Grandfather; Jerzy. I can't really explain it enough to do it justice, but I ask that you take a few minutes to read the closest thing I have to a memoir from my Grandpops, from the perspective of a Polish soldier in World War 2, who came to England and having served with the Polish Army, then made the choice to resign with the British Army and fight for England. My Grandpops will ALWAYS be my hero, but I also can't apologise enough for what he had to face, along with so many other soldiers. Here it is;

A PLACE TO CALL HOME
 
 
War touches people in different ways. It leaves a scar upon us all. Some of us are grateful for the outcome, for our loved ones who return home safe. Some become withdrawn from life, from their family, even from themselves. The ugly scars that are left behind are not always physical. Some of these scars are mentally damaging, so damaging that it can leave you with a yearning for normality; a yearning to rewind time and protect those who we truly care about.
                Everyone has their own story about war and its eternal effects. A war of love that can be likened to Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, or a raging war that brings disease to the body and mind, or a war to survive each hour of life when born into a third world country.
                This is the story of a man who was thrust into a war that was not his to own, but that became a part of him, a part that he had no desire for as it replaced his family. This is the story of my Polish Grandfather and his war to simply find a place to call home once more.
My Grandfather was called Jerzy which when translated into English is George. He lived with his parents and siblings in Warsaw, Poland on a farm, before the war. They owned the large piece of land with a few shire horses that he and his brothers used to help their father plough the fields. He was only young when the Second World War broke out. One can only imagine the fear that filled his young soul. To be under 18 years old and know that life would allow such evil to rage within it must have been terrifying. I’m unsure of the precise moment in which my Grandfather knew what ‘war’ meant, perhaps it was later on in the timeline of World War Two as we know if it today.
                He lived in a very close and religious family. He adored his youngest sister and instinctively would protect her should danger ever arise. Perhaps the true war that raged through him became guilt, through hopelessness as he remained powerless in this raging war that was sweeping through his life like an uncontrollable tornado. This was guilt that festered within him as he was forced into admission that he no longer could protect her or his family anymore, not in the physical sense.
                I assume life before the war was pleasant for my Grandfather if its effects are anything to go by. There always seemed a deep feeling of emptiness within him, a pining for something he knew he could never have. The longing filled his once, pure heart with anger, fear, despair and treacherous sadness.
The day the Germans invaded his family home and ripped them from its heart, is a day he never forgot. He dulled the images when he was asked about what happened all those years ago in Poland, instead insisting “it’s all a blur now”. But those watered eyes told a different version, these eyes said that in an instant he was there again, in Poland, in Auschwitz reliving it all again.
                The closest I came to understanding what happened to my Grandfather was watching a film based on Auschwitz. The film alone, knowing that it was only portraying a tiny particle of what my Grandfather and his family experienced, left a scar upon my heart, soul and mind. A scar that I will never heal from, even though I am simply his Granddaughter that was born in the eighties. The contrast between his young life and mine leaves me with unquestionable gratitude. Gratitude for having such a brave Grandfather, although he’d never agree to be called ‘brace’ or a ‘hero’ – yet he is and always will be to me. I have gratitude to have had such a loving and safe environment to grow up in. Something he and his beloved youngest sister had stolen from them.
The Germans claimed the farm, the land, the home as theirs and carted my Grandfather, his parents, and his siblings off to the Auschwitz camp. A place that is filled to this day with the energy of the chilling torment and torture, massacre and murder, that occurred there. Auschwitz is claimed to be where many souls were destroyed and had their dignity of death taken from them. Dignity was something my Grandfather claimed those German soldiers never had and never would. The anger inexplicably clear in his tone. The camp became the place my Grandfather witnessed the most horrific acts against man. It was here that he watched helplessly as his parents were led to the gas chambers to be put to a death that claimed not just their lives but their innocence and a part of my Grandfather also. This only occurred after they were chained like dangerous wild dogs to a rotating wheel and tortured into continuous movement without ever taking a rest. The walking, as if not torture enough was worsened by the fact that their circular pathway was laid down hot coals. They were walking bare feet on such immense heat, burning away their skin, down to raw muscle and bone that exuded a stench of burnt skin. Walking to their exhaustion was not enough for these torturers. It was then that they were led to the gas chambers when they no longer offered any sort of entertainment like unwanted toys threw out. The lasting torment upon my Grandfather did not end there. He never spoke of what he was made to do there in terms of labour. One can only imagine that he felt it insignificant in comparison to the punishment his parents and youngest sister took.
He once told me that I got my good looks from him, perhaps an attempt to look on the bright side, and that I looked very much like his sister, as if she had never left him never ageing. A comfort to him or a torment that he felt inside? I’m not sure. But the love for me that I felt from him was a comfort to me. Sometimes I’d feel deep guilt for my genetic make-up that moulded my physical appearance. Guilt for bringing back bad memories – yet – not once until now have I entertained the idea that my physical appearance offered comfort as he reminisced about the pleasant memories of childhood. The childhood before war scarred him.
His sister was victim to a death, a murder that not only claimed her life but yet more of my Grandfather’s heart and soul. Her torture and punishment was justified in the soldiers view because she refused to be affectionate with them. Her dignity and pride, her self worth that she had control over, was something she could be proud of. Still to this day I am immensely proud of her self pride, honoured to call her family. My grandfather was forced to watch as the moment his beloved sister would cease to see him again. To be so young and to have witnessed his parents being put to death only then to be forced to watch as his sisters beautiful hazel eyes were gauged out with fiery hot red pokers, is more than enough to cause in the very least a troubled mind. That moment, those collective moments were to forever haunt him as the years rolled by painfully.
When exactly he made ‘The Great Escape’ from Auschwitz is out of my range of knowledge. Understandably he never had enthusiasm for talking about his past. We have a saying that ‘to talk about something has the power to make it real’. I can presume compassionately that my Grandfather had no desire to make it any more real than it already was.
Jerzy made his way to England, finding solace in a community Polish Club. Why he chose England to escape to I don’t know. When he arrived the war was still ongoing, he signed up to the British Army and served a soldier. I’m not sure of ‘if’ or ‘where’ he served in action. Conversations about war, his war in general were almost non-existent. Memories and horrors that was perhaps better left in the past, if only the reality could.
                Eventually after the war was over, my Grandfather silently vowed to himself that he would live his life for his family. He would never let anything harm his family, protecting them the best way that he could, with the knowledge and understanding he had, and to the best of his ability. We may not have agreed with the way he did things, the way he bottled up his emotions, only allowing his anger to express at moments that perhaps, from a female perspective required compassion rather than anger, but we understood. We understand, especially as how he had his family and home ripped from him, leading him to England.
This is where he came to meet my Grandmother, fall in love with her, marry her and have six children who would give him six grandchildren, me being the youngest, just like his sister was in his generation. This was his attempt to not forget his past, he never was able to do that, the anger was too strong for that. But it was the place he attempted to build a new life, a new place to call home. 
 
***
 
Author Liz Trenow has written a book with Avon Publishing called The Poppy Factory.


For every copy sold, AVON publishing are making a donation towards the poppy appeal that helps war veterans.

For more information about the poppy factory organisation, you can visit www.PoppyFactory.org 
 

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