While we remember

Looking back on these past three years, I suddenly realized I have not updated this blog for ages. Not for lack of activity – it’s just that everyday life ruled over, often barging into the research and writing time, which demand a different focus. These were fruitful breaks, however, during which emotions rose and subsided, facts were assimilated and ideas ripened. So now that I have some respite, I’m logging in to review and register how life, research and writing interwove during this hiatus, so as not to lose track of what has been done until now, while I remember.

2012


In August 2012 my father was taken to hospital for two weeks and we thought he would not recover but like an old sailor, he steered back to a safe harbour – home. While my mother was taking care of him, my uncle’s second wife, Hanka, phoned from Poland asking what to do with the family documents and papers that had been left behind after my uncle’s death in 2008. She explained she did not want to keep them as they were taking too much room in her small flat. I received the call and assured her I would come to Poland the following spring to recover them. It was a decision taken on the spur of the moment but which, to a large extent, inspired me to put ideas into action and advance my budding project.

2013


In January 2013 I registered the domain, signed up to a hosting plan and launched this website. I also started collecting what my mother had in folders and suitcases. This gave me an idea of what to look for and what to discard when I went to Poland.

In April 2013  my husband and I travelled to Poland with large suitcases to fetch  the documents for my mother so that she could help me sort them through and link them to what she had experienced in her life, while she remembered.  I also wanted to show Pierre my family’s country and culture, which he had heard so much about but did not imagine what it would be like. The trip was also part of my linguistic challenge: I wanted to brush up my Polish and check whether I could understand the language and make myself understood.

The trip itself was a rich and positive experience linguistically and culturally. My husband and I had an exquisite time in Kraków, visiting the Old Town, strolling around the Main Square and Kazimierz, eating out in little vintage restaurants, popular milk bars or choosing our own food at the Stary Kleparz market. We also took a local bus (I do get by in Polish after all) to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and up to the snow covered mountains in Zakopane. It had been a cold and hard winter, but then most winters in Poland are and they leave an imprint on people, just like the old regime did.

In Warsaw we stayed at Hanka’s, whose Polish hospitality I cannot fault. She drove us to City Garden Czerniaków, the district where my grandparents used to live and showed us the square on Goraszewska 8, where the house stood before being burnt down by German soldiers at the end of the war. We also visited the Czerniaków cemetery,  where some of the Pawlowicz family are buried.  She took us to the old historic centre, which was totally razed in 1944 and has been reconstructed by many hands in every possible detail since then, like my great-grandparents house on Kanonia 14.  I was introduced to the lawyer who is taking care of the papers of Goraszewska and Kanonia properties. We watched the interesting 20-minute documentary Warszawa 1935, which gave us an idea of how cosmopolitan and avant-garde Warsaw looked before its destruction, so well-documented and displayed in the Warsaw Uprising Museum. We will never forget!

As for the documents I had been asked to fetch and for which I had come all the way from Brazil, there was an abrupt and aggressive opposition from my host. Plans had changed since that phone call the previous year. From what I was told, the papers had been shown around and had grown in importance before my arrival. I was told they had been promised to the Polish Archiwum in exchange for favours. I found this bartering most inappropriate, especially concerning documents that did not belong to the pièce rapportée, and for which my mother had never signed a deed of gift. I held my ground in all the arguments and from the documents I was shown, I  retrieved most of what was directly related to my grandfather and to my mother. I did not take any of my uncle’s documents, old letters and poetry from great grandparents, original editions of books nor other family heirloom.

On leaving, as we checked in for our flight, we were taken aside by the Customs police for baggage inspection and got questioned about the value of what we were carrying. We were suspected of moving cultural heritage from the country (my mother was happy to learn later that a photo of hers in a swimsuit on Copacabana beach could have been considered of such high standing!). I kept my cool and explained (in Polish) that these were very personal family photos and papers. My grandfather’s correspondence on Polish affairs during the war, as well as his book manuscripts and radio scripts which were produced while living in Poland had already been donated to well-known Polish institutions and archives long ago.  After a stressful hour of interrogation, during which everything was taken out of the suitcases and examined, we were under the strong impression this was not a random Customs procedure but that we had been pointed the finger at.  Shortly before our flight, we were cleared so we rushed to embark with our suitcases.  Both situations presented an unexpected and unpleasant challenge, which tainted the trusting atmosphere we had experienced until then.

On arrival, I scanned most of the photo albums, organized the documents in different thematic boxes and started writing Bohdan’s biography, so as to establish a basic historical context. My task was made easier because my grandfather was  not only a writer, passionate about history, but also an archivist at heart. In addition to the diaries and notebooks, where he detailed every move and his impressions,  he also kept a memo book with a timeline and a list of the trips he had made. Unlike the loose photos I found in several boxes at my mother’s, the same photos in grandfather’s albums had labels with the name of people, places and dates. This allowed me to link facts much quicker. He also kept duplicates of documents which he distributed around the family.

Right after our arrival in May, my first granddaughter, Melina, was born, and 15 days later, my second granddaughter, Lea, whom we went to see in Barcelona in July. Pierre and I spent the whole month there helping my eldest son and wife with the baby. I also took the opportunity to make a pit stop in London to breathe some air, refuel intellectually and just be with dear friends.  However, happiness does not last forever,  and ten days after we returned from Europe, my father passed away at the age of 91. It was time for him to go, he had grown weary.

In the months that followed, as we all tried to get over this, I added a little bit to the biographies and wrote a Wikipedia article  about Bohdan. I was a good exercise to get acquainted with the citation system and strict editorial rules that govern this online encyclopaedia. I am very grateful to Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus  and Rudolf Ammann aka Ark for lending me a hand in the process and revision. I also entered  the information about the Pawłowicz family I retrieved from a family tree into Marek Minakowski’s specialized genealogy database.

2014

At the beginning of the year, as I rummaged through my father’s papers, I had the idea for another website and project so as to include my father’s biography  (now that I am getting used to writing them) and gather, in turn, information about the Juźwiak  family. The website runs on WordPress as well and is called Silva Rerum, the name my grandfather gave to his diaries. In a way, it’s a continuation of my grandfather’s project, with one generation interval. It takes me to more recent names and times but needs, in turn, a lot of collaborative input and writing from the other members of the family to be updated constantly, time and interest for which is hard to come by in these Facebook times.  Facebook appeals more to young people as the flow of information is quick and constant, it massages the ego and little thought or effort can be expected. Just click a button for a global audience to like you!

I also dug into a more distant past to find out about the beginnings of the Pawlowicz family in Lithuania. This came from two typewritten narratives about those times, which I translated from Polish to English:

What I remember about the Pawłowicz”, composed by Vanda Daugirdaitė-Sruogienė (Vanda Sruoga), a great grand aunt, who became a re-known Lithuanian historian.
The Pawłowicz Powyrwicie”, fragments taken from  Mykolas Biržiška ‘s memoirs in Lithuanian, translated by Vanda into Polish.

This has shed light on people and places, and while doing so, I found out that the ancient Pavirvytės manor , built by my great great grandfather, is now being was restored by its new owner through a European funding aiming at the preservation and revitalization of Lithuanian cultural heritage. Well done!  (link updated on April 15th 2017)

My youngest son, Christophe,  got married in October 2014 and my middle son, Jacques, got divorced.  Life goes on with its pleasant moments, work, dumb times like playing Scrabble on the iPad, familiar routines, painful separations, breaks, delays, disturbances and unforeseen adventures.

2015

I have been examining two pieces of software which may help me in the project:  Omeka, to archive my primary sources  and Transkribus, which may eventually allow for the transcription of some of grandfather’s handwritten and printed manuscripts.  I am presently translating some more of Bohdan’s articles and writing a bit again.

Pourvu que j’ai le temps de tout faire: surviving, archiving and documenting the lot, while I still remember.

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