Tag Archives: history

History, Memory and Imagination

The title “History, Memory and Imagination” comes from an interview streamed live on September 8th 2023 with Polish writer Cezary Harasimowicz (in Polish with simultaneous Portuguese interpretation). It was conducted by Piotr Kilanowski, coordinator of the Center for Polish Studies and professor of Polish literature at the Federal University of Paraná. 

Harasimowicz is not only a writer but also a screenwriter, actor and playwright .  One of his most famous series is called “Przeprowadzki” (Relocations) (2000) and was originally intended to span 100 years. However, out of 21 planned episodes, only 10 were filmed, taking place from 1900 to 1941. He says that the inspiration for the script came to him during his own move, which he entrusted to a well-known 100-year old Warsaw company.  Each episode features a separate plot, named after items which are eventually lost during the removal. Significant events from the Polish history serve as backdrop to the stories.

Harasimowicz, in his interview, reveals that the realization of being on the right path for his series stemmed from his mother’s reaction upon discovering an old suitcase in the basement. This discovery triggered her memories of escaping from Lviv with that very suitcase, evoking a flashback to the tragic history of Poland, particularly in the tumultuous 20th century marked by three wars, constant relocations, upheavals, and the accompanying emotions.

He also discusses his book titled “Saga czyli filiżanka, której nie ma” (Saga or the cup that isn’t there), narrating the story of a cup that once belonged to a Napoleonic soldier. Interestingly, he had no prior knowledge of this cup until his mother, in the final days of her life, discovered his intention to write about their family history. In her plea, she begged him to include the cup. For Harasimowicz, the cup was a phantom object, existing only in the realm of his mother’s memories, as he had never physically seen or heard of it before.

According to him, we are surrounded by objects which carry meaning, influence us and tell us something about our own lives. They talk to us and we, in turn, dialogue with them through memory and imagination. Objects that outlasted wars have an additional value as we fill them with our own history and family remembrances. In many of his writings, it is the objects that set in motion the memories, history and imagination. 

As pointed out by Professor Kilanowski,  Harasimowicz has the gift of writing stories which rescue historical facts and reveal fundamental and sometimes forgotten aspects of the Polish soul.  Through his narratives and sentient narrators, the readers recognize elements of their everyday lives (identification) and envision their dreams (projection).  Harasimowicz stresses the importance of deep research and verification of historical sources in his writings. He gets inspiration from the information gleaned from these sources and recreates it using his literary imagination. 

From this interview, I drew parallels between the situations mentioned and those experienced by members of the Pawłowicz family. I related not only to some of the objects that inspired  Harasimowicz’s stories but also to his family history and the period covered. Both his grandfather  Adam Łukasz Królikiewic and mine were born at the end of the last decade of the XIX century and died in the 1960’s, a year apart. Both fought in 3 wars (WWI, Polish–Soviet War and WWII).  His grandfather and his mother, like mine, saw the importance of transmitting family narratives, which influenced and motivated us. Both he and I count on our grandfathers’ diaries, annotations, articles and family anecdotes in addition to press clips of the times to recover the historical past. 

Harasimowicz’s mother’s old suitcase, her reaction, and his insight into the significance of objects that bear memories and history resonated with me as it connected me to the suitcase which I used for the name of this website and project. For Bohdan Pawłowicz and his family, as for many others facing similar circumstances, suitcases served as constant companions during migrations and relocations, carrying the weight of their family legacy.

The story of a cup, also part of my family saga, will appear appears in the next post. There are surely more memorabilia and content waiting to be uncovered in my grandfather’s diaries, photos, and family narratives. The stories from these sources may become the subjects of future posts. The insights I gained from the interview and the parallels I discovered were truly inspiring. However, it’s important to acknowledge that I lack Harasimowicz’s unique gift and the third element of his craft: literary imagination.


The time challenge

I wrote my first post exactly ten years ago, giving some background on this family project. That first year, I faced several challenges regarding the project: translation, classification, digitisation and visual organization, besides verifying oral family stories against credible sources.  I have managed to address most of them,  but I admit that managing my time spent on the project is the main issue that I have not yet dealt with in a satisfactory way.  The six years after my last post were engulfed in a whirlwind of emotions and change which brought all work on the project to a halt. 

From the end of June to the end of July 2017, my husband and I went on a family trip to Europe. We stayed with our Belgian family for some time and also met friends in Belgium, the UK , France and Switzerland. I urgently needed some time to unwind after teaching at school and running my own home, disposing of all the paperwork my late father had left behind, handling all mother’s bills and financial documents, running her place and managing her caretakers.

Although my mother was still with us in 2016 and 2017 and would help whenever I needed information or confirmation on the family’s past, her increasingly failing health and the operations she had to undergo due to a skin cancer diverted our thoughts from these matters.  She needed medical care and practical assistance at home, so all the time spent with her was devoted to giving her maximum attention and making her comfortable and happy. She went on palliative care when we returned from Europe, and she died on February 8th, 2018. I still miss her terribly.

Most of 2018 and 2019 were committed to cleaning out my parent’s flat and taking care of the estate planning and sale.  In the process of doing so, I came across more family photos, papers and mementos, which came in handy, provided more content and connected some more dots in this project, while also documenting my father’s side of the family (Juźwiak), to whom I dedicated Silva Rerum in 2014. In 2018, we travelled to Canada to visit my elder son who has settled there with his family.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, my family in Brazil (husband, my two sons  and my grand-daughter) left the city and moved to the countryside, where we have a house. The contact with nature and having the family together was a blessing. However, the Brazilian government at that time denied that the pandemic existed, did not take appropriate measures to approve the vaccine, and failed to set the vaccination scheme, which was a source of anguish for the whole country. Fortunately, the family managed to avoid contracting the virus, thanks to our isolation. I brought all my papers, photos and books, thinking I would have time to continue working on the project. Yet I was still teaching (online) at school, which, together with running the house for the whole family, proved to be a time challenge – so not much was done. 

In 2021, we all got vaccinated and schools started reopening in October, but by the end of that year, I did not feel like going back to class in the city as I had done for the previous 38 years. So after a talk with the headmaster, we decided it was time for me to leave, which, I must confess, was a relief. Sometimes it is important to stop and change course.

2022 was a year of renovation on two fronts: refurbishing our apartment in the city which felt old and neglected, and adapting our house in the countryside to our needs as we decided to live there for good. Although there were a lot of details to observe in the repairs and refitting of the places, mentally this gave me a resting break, as well as a new sense of perspective about what I had been doing until then. My son and his family came from Canada to spend 15 days with us during the month of July. We went to the beach and had a good time together. I also decided to face my linguistic shortcomings and enrolled for two semesters in an online course of Polish offered by the Casa de Cultura Polônia-Brasil.  

2023 – I started this post at the beginning of February and only managed to complete it today, which exemplifies the time management issue besetting this project . ‘Parkinson’s Law’ still applies today. The first semester was dedicated to traveling. My husband and I invited our grand-daughter, Melina, to fly to Portugal with us as she had 15-day- break from school. When she returned to school, we continued our trip  to see my husband’s family in Belgium, as well as good friends in France and Switzerland, whom we had not seen since 2017. 

It is important to get back on track – so here’s the latest update: I enrolled again in the Polish classes in August and have a new post titled “The linguistic challenge revisitedstill in draft.