Tuesday, 24 April 2012
We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are
I've been thinking a lot about people. Who they are.
This post was going to be about something else, but then my mind got off on a tangent. You're invited along for the ride, if you care.
In this great country, land of the free and home of the brave and purple mountain's majesty and all that, I am not simply an American. I am Dutch and German and Iroquois and Irish and Polish.
God, am I Polish.
And Polacks, they get a bad rap.
Pictured: possibly the most horrifyingly attractive "stupid Polack" ever to grace the screens.
They get a bad rap for being dumb.
Maybe it was because we met Hitler's tanks with cavalry (which is false, by the way. There were no tanks used, and the Polish did have anti-tank weapons.). Maybe it was because we were forced to live on beet-water under the Communists because we weren't strong enough to defend ourselves. Maybe it's because there was never a true Poland. There was a family that wanted a true Poland, but Poland herself was so divided when she began that each major family had a different alliance with another country. Prussians, Russians, whatever. Very few people wanted Poland to simply be Poland. (Read Poland by James Michener if you're really interested. I found it a fascinating read, all those years ago. I need to read it again.) My ancestors were the family that wanted Poland to be her very own.
If there's just one thing I value about my family, it has to be our stories. So let me tell you some stuff about the Polish part of my family.
My great-uncle trained troops in Scotland for D-day.
My grandmother was a WAC in WWII.
My great-uncle Stefan survived a death-camp made from a former Polish barracks in the sleepy little town of Oświęcim.
Ever heard of the Warsaw Uprising? Of course you haven't, Americans don't learn this. Read. My family was a huge part of the Polish Home Army.
After WWII, it's not as though things got any better. My entire family was part of the Polish Underground. It was the logical next step of the Polish Home Army.
And I have a story about that, in particular.
Marek, my uncle in Poland (the family line is slightly different than a blood uncle, but you get the drift) told me about a great-uncle of mine. As we were part of the Underground in Poland, to remain undetected was essential, he said, and here was why:
My great-uncle disappeared one day. Don't go into flights of fancy about Siberia, that's not how it worked. Soviets came to the door of my great-aunt and told her that my uncle had killed himself. Hung himself, to be exact.
And there was not one chair in the room.
Not one bed.
Not even a stool.
The rope wasn't long enough for a pulley.
Soviets didn't have to send people to Siberia. People "fell down stairs" and "took ill" and were blatantly shot in the streets. If you ever find yourself in Warsaw, examine the outsides of older buildings on the block. Bullets are still lodged in the walls.
In America, those bullets would be removed or commemorated as history. In Poland, there is no need. You can cover her in bullets, stab her with your lances, crush her with your panzers, but you'll never defeat her.
We may be dumb sons-of-bitches, all of us. But I wouldn't trade it for anything.