"A Polish Village's Secret"
August 21, 2012 9:42 AM   Subscribe

"A farming town hid a Jewish-born teacher during the Holocaust. I went to dig up what it had buried."
Though I grew up in America, I have been visiting my family in Poland since I was a child. But it is only recently, since the great debate began two years ago between [Jan] Gross and [Timothy] Snyder over the causes and extent of Polish co-operation with the Nazis during the Holocaust, that I thought to ask the old people of my family village about what happened during the war. My grandparents mentioned bits and pieces of our family’s World War II history over the years, but it often seemed too painful for them to recall, or as though they wanted the memories to simply be forgotten. When I finally decided to broach the topic with them, my grandmother repeated that she didn’t understand why I cared to dig so deep into the past, why I cared so much about Wladyslaw and his story.

Suzanne Rozdeba is a freelance journalist who writes on numerous subjects, including her Polish-American heritage.
posted by nonmerci (15 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
That was quite powerful. Thanks so much for posting it.
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2012

My grandparents came to the US long before the war but I often wonder about the family that remained in Poland, about what they did during WWII.

Perhaps it's best I never know.
posted by tommasz at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2012

A great story. I join zarq in thanking you for the post.
posted by languagehat at 10:08 AM on August 21, 2012

That was a remarkable story. Thanks.
posted by notashroom at 10:32 AM on August 21, 2012

Trying to work up the courage to read it... my Polish great grandmother came to the US when she was 16, on her own, and left behind 10 siblings and her parents, all of whom died at a concentration camp.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:46 AM on August 21, 2012

Sad as is the record of most of what took place in Europe during the nazi horrors, worse, in some way, what happened when survivors returned to their former homes to find that cooperating non-Jews had taken over their apartments and homes and refused to give them back and, in many instances, refugees were killed after being freed from the Nazi camps, killed by those
in the towns, villages, and countries they had lived in.
posted by Postroad at 10:49 AM on August 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

From what I gather about my grandmother in law, she was born in Germany and was a foster child during the war (which means she would have to become a Nazi supporter by default) and then she had my MIL via a U.S. Native American soldier.

She said she went back to Germany some time in the late 80s and it was too painful for her to witness. I can't even imagine her life. Everytime I see a documentary on how pro-Nazi party Germans were, it is just terrifying.
posted by stormpooper at 11:10 AM on August 21, 2012

If you're interested in this subject I cannot recommend the film Hiding and Seeking highly enough. About a Jewish man who takes his children back to Poland to try to find the family that sheltered their grandparent during the war. It is riveting in all kinds of ways, including reflections on the Jewish immigrant experience in the US and the differences between the generation immediately after the war and the younger generation for whom all of that is mostly just stories.
posted by yoink at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Quite some years back, when my son was born, I got interested in our genealogy. I knew nothing about it then and never did give thought to the fact that my mother's extended family was close and tight and always together but that I'd never even heard my father speak the names of his grandparents or uncles or cousins. It took me over 7 years to pin down (and I still don't really know the entire story) but it's because he didn't even know them.

His grandparents were German, immigrated here in 1908, and were the only members of their families to do so. Germany had never appealed to me -- their language seems harsh and no one really ever speaks of the beauty of the country like they do, say England or Ireland -- but it does so much now. I researched and researched the German side of my family, still do, until I was blue in the face. A large part of it has to do with my insane obsession with knowing everything I can about WWII and how that war affected and relates to my family, especially what they were doing or felt during that time.

My great-great-grandfather operated a train station right outside Bergen-Belsen. He had to know. They all had to know. It eats at me all the time, as if I had actually played some role in such a horrible thing. I've never been able to pin down what happened to any of those relatives. Not a single one. It still bugs me.

At any rate, thank you for this story. I love reading things like this. And it reminded me I need to get back to digging amongst those roots of my family tree...
posted by youandiandaflame at 2:00 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Youandiandaflame, I imagine you probably already know it, but if you've never seen the film The Nasty Girl I imagine you'd find it pretty powerful. It's a German film about a girl who decides to write an essay about her town during the Third Reich, uncovering a lot of the unpleasant history that the town has carefully swept away since the war.
posted by yoink at 2:24 PM on August 21, 2012

yoink beat me to it, but I also recommend Hiding and Seeking (available on Netflix streaming until 8/26/2036, according to InstantWatcher). It is a thoughtful exploration of family, culture, and the ways in which stories resonate with different generations.
posted by catlet at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2012

Thank you for this post.
posted by Mojojojo at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2012

From homunculus' link:
According to Yad Vashem, the Israeli museum that holds the world’s largest repository of documents and information related to the Holocaust, there is not a single known case of a Jew being turned over to Nazi authorities in Albania during its occupation.

Incredibly, Albania’s Jewish population actually grew during World War II.
Wow. Oh wow. I had no idea. Now I want to see the documentary.

By contrast, 90% of the Jewish populations of Poland, Latvia, Austria and Lithuania were killed.
posted by zarq at 7:27 PM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had no idea either. Thank you homunculus and nonmerci!
posted by Salamandrous at 3:32 AM on August 24, 2012

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