Soviet Union

Weddings and Anniversaries – a Tribute

Recently I attended two weddings. The first one was my own daughter’s wedding, my youngest, which was in the planning process for months and the other one was  my niece’s wedding. Both were well organized and each was a distinctive celebration. Each wedding had a beautiful weather day, with a striking setting, and both receptions were good parties. But I must admit my daughter’s was by far the best. I may be a bit partial, however.

Anniversaries are time honored milestones in a marriage and recently my son and daughter-in – law celebrated their 8th anniversary. Remembering my own wedding 46 years ago feels like it was not that long ago. Then I recall the day my parents celebrated their anniversary every year, October 3rd, which is today. They would have been married 74 years had they lived. My dad predeceased mom by 30 years and every year when October 3rd rolled around, mom would count the number of years they would have been married had he lived. Many people seem to revel in the numbers as if it were a badge of courage they wear surviving so long with their partner.

Getting back to the two weddings I recently attended, I can only speak to the preparations for my daughter’s wedding. She painstakingly made sure all her details were nailed down. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Her wedding was perfectly orchestrated and simply lovely, a fairy tale wedding. She was a radiant bride who also had fun at her own wedding.Samantha and Braden 162

The wedding planning process seems to change over time as new concepts and fun activities for guests or wedding party members enter into the planning. Being married almost a half a century, at the time of my wedding, there were no bachelorette parties. Comfort items for guests now include goody bags at hotel check in for out of town guests.  Receptions are usually elaborate to keep guests entertained and well fed.

My thoughts now go back to when my parents were married. It was October 3, 1943 in an army tent, in the Palestinian desert. Their life was in the middle of World War II. They were both in the Polish Second Corps which was the reorganized Polish fighting force made up of both men and women, many of whom were once exiled to Stalin’s Siberia. In Stalin’s Soviet Union they were slave laborers deported out of their homes, political prisoners, or POW’s following the invasion of Poland in September 1939. My parents each had their horror stories from the invasion of their country and all the repercussions that followed.

They had met each other the winter before the war started in mom’s home town, and somehow miraculously found each other during the war, after each was released from captivity and then struggled to make it to where the army was forming. My mom was able to join the protection of the army by becoming an auxiliary support person, a nurse. She received nurse’s training in Tehran, Iran and my dad became a fighting soldier again, as a light artillery specialist, which was his training before the war. Many of their stories I share in my upcoming book, “Letters from the Box in the Attic, A Story of Courage, Survival and Love”.

Their many post-war struggles kept them together for 36 years, until my dad died in 1979. It amazes me that I’ve been married 10 years longer than they were. I am very fortunate to still have my spouse and to keep clocking up those years. Wedding vows usually say, for better or for worse and my parents kept their devotion to each other alive during their married life, even though some of the time their relationship was rocky. Here’s to devotion and for better or for worse!

Happy Anniversary, Mama and Tatuś! I hope you are able to celebrate 74 years on this your anniversary.

Always a Patriot, a Historical Perspective

Back in 1939 it was obvious to many in Poland that there would be war, but as with most young adults starting out in the life, there was much denial.  My mother was a mere 19 years old, just graduated from high school and had her sights on college.

My young, stylish mother, pre-war photo.

My young, stylish mother – pre-war photo.

Hitler had already made some moves into eastern Europe by annexing the Sudetenland and Austria in 1938.  He took over Sudetenland, referring to those northern, southwest, and western areas of Czechoslovakia which were inhabited mostly by German speakers, specifically the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and those parts of Silesia located within Czechoslovakia.  Sound familiar?  An aggressor wanting to protect its people in another country by annexing portions of that country!  Something which was just done in Crimea.

Earlier in the year Hitler also took over Austria by forcing his will on the Austrian government, wanting to unify the two German countries.  After invading Austria, he scheduled a mock plebiscite asking the Austrians if they wanted the Anschluss, or unification, and miraculously the vote was 99.7% in favor.  This also sounds rather familiar to recent events in the Crimea.  Interestingly, according to the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty that ended WW I, Germany was forbidden to unite with Austria.  So much for treaties and their enforcement.

The Sudetenland and Austria were not enough for Hitler.  By spring of 1939 all of Czechoslovakia was taken.  During the summer of 1939 Poland was sitting there bordered by Nazi Germany and its perennial aggressor, the Soviet Union.   As my mother tells the story, her life in Poland at the time was optimistic, as is with the young who don’t know any better.  The older generation did know better and they were frightened.  My mother’s generation of young adults were all patriotic and optimistic for a quick win and good outcome no matter what sacrifices were needed.

Poland was no stranger to aggression from predator nations as witnessed in the 1700’s when it was partitioned three times, previously a country of imperial majesty, which then ceased to exist.  It made itself vulnerable by having a decentralized government and allowing the ruling nobility to veto any law that it didn’t like against its own special interest, and therefore ending any current session of the legislature.  This created chaos because no laws were passed, all because of liberum veto, or “the free veto”.  The poles were always a freedom loving people, even when it was an open invitation to be conquered.

My mother was very fortunate to be a part of the post WW I generation that grew up in the newly formed free Poland after it emerged from foreign rule in 1919.  The interwar years, a mere 20 years before another world war shook the globe, were her formative years.

Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 and since my  mother’s town of Kosow was in the south-eastern part of Poland, the people did not experience the bombs, fighting and devastation from the Germans.  17 days following the German invasion, the Soviet red army invaded from the east, so in my mother’s region the problems were just beginning.

Polish Flag

Polish Flag – 1927-1939

Kosow was ten kilometers from the Romanian border, and as the Polish Army was clearly retreating from the Nazi and Soviet advance, the soldiers needed a way out of the country.  The patriotic citizens of the area banded together, went underground to help the escaping officers cross the border. The hope was that they would go to France or to England and continue to fight the enemy. If the soldiers were caught, they were either shot or sent to prison or to Siberia.  My mother and her father were among those patriots that helped soldiers escape.  For seven months their network managed to hide, house and disguise many such soldiers as adopted uncles and cousins, and when it was safe, helped them to the border and hopefully to freedom.