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.


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