In 8 hours, this marvel of modern technology, Boeing 787 DreamLiner, transplanted me from Chicago to Warsaw, and three hours later, after a fabulous dinner at a by-the-word-of-mouth-only home food diner, here I was on the Nowy Świat Street, walking towards the Old Town and the Royal Palace.
Literally every building I passed by had a plaque commemorating those murdered there during the war (World War II for the younger audience) and ten bloody years of the Stalinist terror after the war. Every beautifully kept old building and church or cathedral I passed was meticulously rebuilt after the war. For all of them perished during the war, together with the people of Warsaw.
|Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. All of these buildings were destroyed during WWII. Some of the heaviest fighting during the Warsaw Uprising occurred not far from here. But today you see a sparkling, bustling, wonderful city.|
|The Polish White House, Presidential Palace on the Nowy Świat Street. It was rebuilt too. Here my Polish Professor diploma was signed into a document.|
|Warsaw and her people are being exterminated by the Germans in late 1944, while the Soviets are enjoying watching the spectacle from the other side of the Vistula River.|
|Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. We are in the Powązki, a cemetery in Warsaw where the Polish heroes have been buried for generations. This woman was 14 years old when she participated in a hit on two senior Nazi officers.|
My grandfather, Wiktor Patzek, a physicist and a major in the Polish Army surrendered in early October 1939, after a month of heavy fighting each day and marching towards Warsaw each night. At the end both of his feet were bloody pulp and he could not stand straight without falling asleep. For my grandfather, WWII was the third war he fought in 25 years. During WWI, he started smuggling Polish deserters from the Austrian army to Pilsudski's Legions in the east. He then fled Austria and joined Pilsudski's army, which went on to liberate Poland. In 1919, my grandfather volunteered under a pseudonym to fight the Soviets in the bloody 1919/20 war that is virtually unknown in America. Since he was a teacher, the young Poland did not want him do die on the eastern front. On September 1, 1939, my grandfather was too old to be on active duty, so he volunteered again. He told me that in absolute exhaustion it is not your physical strength that counts, but the degree to which you control your fear, pain, and overwhelming urge to sleep.
After the war, my granduncle sneaked in through the southern Polish border, found his fiance, and fled back with her, using his resistance contacts and safe houses. When caught by the communists, those who belonged NSZ could only expect torture and a bullet in their head. Whoever was caught with them, would be executed too.
|Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. A symbolic grave of the hundreds of Polish girl scouts, who died in WWII, mostly in the Warsaw Uprising.|
|Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. A symbolic grave of the thousands of Polish boy scouts who died in WWII, mostly in the Warsaw Uprising.|
|October 1944: This is how Warsaw looked like when Germans finished raping her.|
I adored my grandfather. He showed me experiments with high voltage, using his prewar inductor machine. He showed me stars through a small telescope he had, and their constellations in the dark sky outside Piotrkow Trybunalski, where he lived and I often visited him. He took me to the WWII battlefields around Piotrkow, and walked with me in the forests where he fought German invaders. There were still pieces of old rusting canon, destroyed trucks, tanks, and other military equipment. I literally saw my grandfather fighting and the line of fire. He would lose chess games with me, a 9-year old, and I suspected that he was too easy on me. My grandfather and my father never lied, and they infected me incurably with this unfortunate lack of social skills.
My grandfather died of a heart attack in 1962, when I was just ten. It was a bright sunny day, when the mailman delivered a telegram with the news. I opened the door for him and then opened the telegram. Today, I still can see the black capital letters telling me that my grandfather was no more.