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Our Roots

I wrote this blog on August 2 and 3, 2013, after my arrival in Warsaw.

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.
I arrived one day after the 69th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.  On August 1, 1944, at 5 p.m., the Polish resistance army (mostly Armia Krajowa, or AK) attacked Germans all across the city.  It was an incredibly stupid political gamble of the Polish Government in exile in London.  The purpose was to force Germans out before the Soviet Red Army, camped on the right bank of the Vistula River, would take over the city.  Of course the Russians watched with pleasure how Warsaw was being erased from the map, and the best and most educated Poles were being killed by the thousands.  The Russians also made sure that the Allied flights to supply Warsaw could not land 20 km east of the city and refuel, causing untold casualties among the mostly volunteer, mostly Polish pilots flying night missions mostly from England.
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.
Sixty three days later, over 20 thousands of Polish soldiers and about 150-180 thousands civilians were dead,  and the survivors dispersed or were marched to German concentration camps.  On average, each day, Germans were executing 1000 random civilians on the streets of Warsaw.  My wife's grandfather, Zygmunt Paulisz, a professor of linguistics, who spoke fluently seven languages, was caught in one of these random roundups of people, executed and dumped into a mass grave. Until today, no one knows where he is buried. My wife's mother, gave all her jewelery to a German soldier and walked away from a column of civilians marched to a concentration camp.

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.
Please click on the image to see it in high resolution. On her tomb, there are verses of poems by Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, a Polish poet and AK soldier, one of the most renowned authors of the Generation of Columbuses, the young generation of Polish poets of whom many perished in the Warsaw Uprising.  Defensio Patriae Suprema Lex means "Defense of my country is supreme duty." Baczyński was a poet, not a soldier.  He was made a company commander to prevent him from street combat.  He died from a German sniper's bullet standing in an open window of a building they took from the Germans.  He was a poet, not a soldier.  His young pregnant wife died on the same day not knowing of his fate. Both were barely 20 years old. Can you still weep?
My grand uncle, Zbigniew Niwiński, a civil engineer, fought Germans in Warsaw as an officer of the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ or National Army), was caught, and transported to the same oflag in Murnau, where my grandfather was beginning the fifth year of his captivity.

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.
After the upraising, the good Germans went on to blow up, incinerate, or bomb every larger building still standing in Warsaw.  With the burning buildings went the irreplaceable treasures of Polish culture, science and heritage.  While at it, the German SS troops and their Latvian SS helpers committed unspeakable atrocities, of the kind that even today would earn a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records.

October 1944: This is how Warsaw looked like when Germans finished raping her.
After the war, the NKVD and the Polish communist traitors killed another 50 thousand of survivors of the Uprising and of the Polish resistance fighters elsewhere, but mostly in the east. My granduncle married and settled with his wife in Vancouver, Canada, where I visited him many times before he died.

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.

These two sisters were 21 and 23 when they fell fighting Germans.  The older sister was executed in the Jewish Ghetto in January 1944, and the younger one fell in Czerniaków in September 1944. Both belonged to the same AK Company "Rudy." Only one photograph survived.


  1. Modern industrial 'civilization' has proven itself a very mixed blessing at best. It may have brought us personal computers, refrigerators, antibiotics and LCD TVs, but the growth in resource usage that characterizes it has also driven us in recent history to engage in numerous horrendous acts of butchery in our bid to secure for ourselves a share of the pie, and now as the resources start to get seriously depleted (after a mere couple centuries) we face the grim prospect of the collapse of the modern world. And shall we add in climate change?

    I honestly think we might actually have been better off without modern industrial 'civilization'.


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