09 January 2012

History Through a Glass, Darkly

On my grandfather, E. Jarosław Semianów 

[This is a true sketch of my grandfather's life, and a meditation on how hard it is to establish even the most basic facts in history. It's more than five thousand words--far too long for a blog post--but here it is.] 

One summer in the mid-1990s, I was standing in the closet-sized vestibule in my grandfather’s stuffy apartment in a village in southeastern Poland. His cheeks flushed and his breath slightly off, my grandfather grasped both my shoulders tightly and said something to me, something important. After this laying on of hands, the old soldier shuffled away, his rounded back receding into another dim and faded room.
He died in 2005 after a decade-long struggle with depression. I knew him less well than I should have, and the later memories—senility and deafness increasingly robbing him of his ability to perceive the world around him—have fogged happier recollections from childhood.
Like the dead in Hades in the ancient epics, our deceased forebears can be brought back but only as shadows of their living selves. In our time, they are not lured by the promise of sips from a bowl of sacrificial blood but by the rustling of papers in an archive or the whirr of data being retrieved electronically. I am looking at two pages of typescript, which draw the contour lines of a place in history but populate it very sparsely. It is factually detailed — dates, places and even sections of the Soviet-imposed penal code are cited precisely — but beyond the facts there is no self-reflection, no outward emotion. I am not sure whether this ritual will work. I feel guilty because the time to have done this research was years ago when interviews would have allowed me to capture these intangible details. Time flows swiftly in only one direction and swimming against the current is possible for just a little until you grow tired, having nothing to hold on to, and you are dragged downstream again. Most of history is written in the rushing water and the howling wind.
I realized just how strong time’s eddies could be when I discovered after reading this document that I had never known my grandfather’s first name: Eliasz. I was humbled to learn that I had not known the most basic fact about him, that Jarosław, the name he had used his entire life, was not actually his first name.
In a sense I have no right to tell this story. I was born in America and not in Poland. I am overeducated, openly gay and almost oppressively comfortable in life. Any of these would give pause to the ghosts of the dramatis personae of this story. Even my language is borrowed: I may speak Polish fluently (if sometimes ungrammatically) but even with effort my third-generation American children won’t. Still I feel, perhaps unduly, that despite these circumstances I — and not my younger Polish cousins or my younger sister — get to be my grandfather’s spiritual heir. Perhaps because I claim it, it is my due. Despite the fact that only a few sentences of the story I will tell here refer to the time after my birth in 1983, I am everywhere in this story because if the smallest detail had turned out differently then I would not exist.
Eliasz Jarosław Semianów was born to Antoni and Zuzanna Semianów on 16 July 1911 into captivity, being a Pole in a time when there had been no Polish state since the Partition of 1795. He was born in a town called Bohorodczany near the city known then as Stanisłwów, which was on the periphery of the regional center, Lwów. Lwów was the Polish name by which he knew the city most intimately, but it was called Lviv in Ukrainian and Lemberg in German. German was the official language in this occupied city, which was then the administrative capital of the Territory of Galicia and Lodomeria. But these details are almost as meaningless to me as they must be to you because they are just names floating freely, unmoored from any tangible reality. The culture of this once multi-ethnic, ostentatiously cosmopolitan city has been nonexistent for many years because of depredations of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, which obliterated the Jewish presence, and the Soviet occupation, which forcibly resettled the ethnic Poles in the formerly German territory that became western Poland after the war. Lwów is now the monoethnic, monocultural Ukrainian city of Lviv, just as Stanisłwów has become Ivano-Frankivs’k. They have been divided from Poland by an iron curtain behind the Iron Curtain, namely the border separating the USSR-proper from the rest of the Eastern Bloc. This was recently reinstated as the border between the European Union and its eastern neighbor Ukraine. As far as I know, after his deportation in 1946, my grandfather never again saw the places of his youth.
My family is connected to the Polish aristocracy, which is to say that at the top of the document, my grandfather listed his date of birth, parents’ names and notes that his mother was “of the House of Sobolewski.” The story of my great-grandparents’ forbidden love has been related to me often if vaguely by my mother. Antoni, my commoner great-grandfather, fell in love with Zuzanna, who was “of the House of Sobolewski,” and incurring the wrath of her parents had to settle for membership among the title-less petty bourgeoisie.
Except as a bit of family trivia, our noble origins have no significance. My only first-hand knowledge of the Polish upperclass was my mother’s friendship with a real princess (“of the House of Radziwiłł”),[1] who lived in a modest bungalow in the suburban sprawl of our town among the pines on the California coast. At a party I was brought to as a child, where most of the aged guests were as brittle and pale as willow bark, Her Serene Highness Princess Krystyna of the House of Radziwiłł (by marriage, not by birth, as she took pains to remind me) told me pointedly that a young gentleman does not put his hands in his pockets. Beyond the walls of the non-descript house where she held court lived an entire nation of people who regularly put their hands in their pockets.
Lwów and its environs were a melting pot in part because the city was situated in an region long contested among greedy empires. In my grandfather’s early childhood, Europe erupted into war and Lwów was an important transit point to the Eastern Front. My mother tells me that as a boy he spoke with the soldiers in their different languages as they passed through the city. As a young man, he joined the reserve corps and in 1935 was promoted to Second Lieutenant (Podporucznik).[2]
He grew up in the tumult of the Second Polish Republic of the interwar period. Having trained as a forestry engineer he took a job as a trainee forester (third class). He was then accepted to the polytechnic university and pursued an engineering degree until war broke out. He would later design bridges in Kazakhstan for his Soviet captors, according to my mother. Of course the uneasy calm after the signing the Treaty of Versailles on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1919 would soon be shattered. During the equivalent years in my life (my grandfather was eight when WWI ended and twenty-eight when WWII began) the Soviet Union collapsed, the World Trade Center was attacked, Iraq was invaded twice, several genocides occurred and many people made another sort of killing on Wall Street while others lost their assets in financial meltdowns. Despite these events, each of them traumatic in its own distant way, life has never been anything but business as usual for me.
Before dawn on the first of September 1939, an air assault on targets across Poland marked the beginning of Germany’s invasion. There was some previous hint of a threat because towards the end of August my grandfather had already received orders to mobilize in the town of Dederkały, near the Soviet border, where he was to be part of the Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza (KOP), the Territorial Defense Corps. As his unit mustered, the German army was flattening western Poland and had surrounded Warsaw by the sixteenth (though the besieged remnants of the army there did not surrender until the twenty-eighth, which is still a point of great pride among Poles). 
On the seventeenth, Soviet forces invaded from the East as part of the greatest sucker punch in the history of war, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that carved up Poland and fed it into the maws of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Two days later my grandfather found his unit surrounded. The Polish forces surrendered. As is documented in all the histories of what would later be called the Katyń Massacre, the Soviets promised to send all the enlisted men home and to put the officers into an internment camp until the end of hostilities. My grandfather and a few dozen other skeptical officers escaped. He set off with just one of his friends, Apolinary Skrocki, with whom he was planning to make a run for the Romanian border to the south, but Skrocki decided that he needed to see to his family and the two parted ways.[3] He notes carefully that the men fled with the permission of higher officers; I assume this statement is meant to preempt the accusation that he and his colleagues simply deserted.
My family’s oral history has embellished the story so that my grandfather and his friends broke out of the cattle-car that was conveying them to certain death in the dark woods near Katyń (which I had always assumed was in eastern Poland but is actually in Smolensk Oblast in western Russia). The timeline for the cattle-car story is wrong. My grandfather’s document states that he and his friends “did not surrender” meaning that they probably escaped on the nineteenth of September or the next day. Their less fortunate colleagues would not be herded onto trains until a few days later.[4] The Polish troops spent some time in prisoner of war camps prepared specially for them in western Russia and then on 5 March 1940 Lavrenty Beria, head of internal security of the USSR, sent his infamous memo to Stalin proposing their mass execution. During March and April, more than 22,000 prisoners were taken into a sound-proof room one by one and shot in the back of the head as loud machinery was run for no purpose except to blanket out the sound of lives being ended. I doubt that at the time my grandfather imagined that he had narrowly escaped a human abattoir.
I have been told from an early age that my grandfather had been a member of the Polish Resistance. This conjures up images of blowing up railroad tracks and other daring acts of sabotage. Inexplicably, the document before me is entirely silent on this period except to say that my grandfather worked in the Eastern Carpathians in a forest in a technical capacity and was not caught by the Soviet security forces, which were presumably trawling for any Polish officers who had escaped the fate of their comrades. The German occupation began in June 1941 and he stayed at his job, where he was promoted in 1944, by which time the region had come back under Soviet control.
This dry paper trail, the one which he himself left for posterity, could not be more different from the family legends that affect to explain this period of his life. What does it mean that my mother relates to me the story that he hid his Jewish housekeeper between mattresses as the Germans ransacked the neighborhood? What can we make of the legend that he played a game of chess with the German commander of his district during the occupation — the plot is almost Borgesian — and what was wagered on the outcome of the match was the fate of local Jewry? As the story is told, my grandfather wins, of course. “What happened then?” I asked breathlessly. The Germans came for the Jews anyway a few weeks later because, even in myth, no amount of honey around the rim of a glass can sweeten the bitter facts of history.
In January 1946, he started working as a “forestry specialist” based in Kosów (now Kosiv) near the city formerly known as Stanisławów in what is now southwestern Ukraine. Just two months later he would be arrested leaving a meeting of former army officers. At times I have naively felt that because there is no evidence that he smuggled people to safety or blew up bridges he was not the hero I had been led to believe he was. The fact is that even if he was not on the frontlines, his very existence was heroic. Simply being who he was was a cause for immediate arrest.
He was detained for treason on the 26th of March 1946 and was held in several local prisons until that October when he was tried. He records that he was convicted in accordance with Paragraph 54, sections 1a and 11 of the Ukrainian Penal Code, which prescribes the following penalties: “Forfeiting one’s freedom for 10 years, forfeiting one’s rights as citizen for 5 years and total confiscation of one’s property.” Words have a chillingly direct power when they are part of the law. Majątek (which I translate as “property”) is related to the verb mać (“to have”) so it somehow feels more immediate than the English word property. The state had exercised its power to negate his ability “to have.”
When I was growing up, I was told that my grandparents had spent time in a Siberian gulag. This is apparently not true. My grandfather’s incarceration began in the western Soviet Union, in Ukraine, and he was gradually moved eastward but never into Siberia. He records that in 1946 he was taken to a “concentration camp”—that is an exact translation of his words—then called “Tiemnikovsky Camp”  in the Mordovian A.S.S.R, some 200 km south-east of Moscow. In 1948 the name was changed to “Dubrovlag”—or perhaps, because within the Gulag Archipelago each camp was not a single entity but rather a small island chain, he was moved to another part of the camp with its own name. He correctly notes that the camp complexes in this region date from the forced labor regime under the Czars, known as the katorga. He writes (in another document) that although every camp by necessity had a cemetery nearby, this brutal place had three.[5]
In December of 1949 he was taken to a gulag in Saran, a town in the province of Karaganda in north-east-central Kazakhstan. It is some 200 km south east of the present-day capital, Astana, but during the Soviet era it was so far off the beaten track that an old Russian joke asks “Where is it?” with the reply “In Karaganda” which sounds obscene in Russian. The closest English equivalent is saying that something is in “Bumblefuck.” For some reason, my grandfather calls the region the “Soviet Socialist Republic of Karaganda” even though it was just one of over a dozen provinces of the erstwhile Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan. Perhaps behind the physical and mental barriers of the labor camp, the desolate region seemed incomparably huge. He witnessed its hugeness from behind a barbed-wire fence on a barren steppe but I have seen it only in the context of maps, where it is a mere speck on the underside of the vast cadaver of the Soviet Union.
The camp complex was known as KARLAG, the acronym for “Karagandy Corrective Labor Camp.”[6] Its administrative “seat” (my grandfather himself uses the quotation marks with apparent scorn) was at Dolinko, which was also the name of the main camp. The building still stands, albeit in very poor condition, with a dramatic neoclassical façade facing out over what used to be a broad garden with a fountain. Like any colonial state, the Soviet Union spared no expense in building an administrative building whose grand scale was a justification of its power over the unfortunates it ruled. Today it is, of course, in ruins with the gardens once tended by prisoners overgrown with scraggly shrubs. The wide-brimmed fountain is in no better shape than Ozymandias’s statue. Presumably the vast administration building and the local officers’ club made life bearable for the many guards needed to run such a sprawling complex of prisons and factories. Because the city of Karagandy had only been built in the 1930s as an appendage to the camp complex, the streets were laid out on a perfect grid, suited for control, and “quarters” of the city were actually fenced in areas where prisoners lived.[7] I imagine that because the guards themselves were so far from civilization, they felt imprisoned themselves and that could engender nothing but viciousness towards the official inmates. My grandfather estimates that some 120,000 people were incarcerated there along with him. Each with their own stories, their own families, their own destinies…
His experience must have been typical. He had lost contact with his immediate family when most of the ethnic Poles were forced from Ukraine to western Poland in 1944. Because he was allowed to write a letter only once every three months, he would not get a reply from them until 1955.
Only a fevered, Dantean imagination could have invented a more naturally punishing place to incarcerate enemies of the state. The high steppes are brutally cold in winter (down to 58°C below freezing) and blistering hot in summer (up to 53°C).[8] The entire area was built up by slave labor employed to work the mines and man the mineral processing plants, including Uranium extraction operations where prisoners worked with dangerous chemicals without protection. Over the whole of Kazakhstan, there were at one time 89 camps and 10 prisons.[9] So many European slaves were transported there during the Soviet era that even today Kazakhstan’s demographics reflect large numbers of blond-haired, blue-eyed inhabitants, many of them descended from German prisoners of war.
The experience of living in a labor camp defies any explanation or rationalization. The prisoners knew that slogans at the camps like “Through Labor—Freedom,” a formula horrifyingly reminiscent of “Arbeit Macht Frei” on the gates of Auschwitz, were by definition lies. Anything you did except staying alive, and perhaps not even that, was pointless. It was a matter of repeating the familiar processes of being alive without expecting any tangible result except clinging to life. I imagine it like the lines from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:
Shape without form, shade without color
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.
And yet despite this cerebrotonic reaction on my part, I know that I will never understand my grandfather’s experience just as I will never know what throwing a grenade feels like. I don’t know what torturing someone is like and I don’t know what it feels like to be tortured. I have no sense of the difference between simple imprisonment and incarceration in a labor camp because I have never been held anywhere against my will. To confront such suffering is not something that comes easily to a middle-class American who has never pointed a gun at anything but a paper target or a clay pigeon at summer camp. Only my imagination, aided by a surfeit of media, have allowed me to share in the experience, albeit momentarily. Of course suffering by mimesis is not real suffering, and yet there is no other way for me to come to terms with my family’s experience.
Still my attempts at a deeper understanding have by necessity been a series of facile comparisons. I considered a standard prison ration against what I usually eat and was astounded by the fact that my daily food intake is roughly three times the amount included in the most generous ration available for prisoners.[10] The protein bar I ate after going to the gym is more nutritious than what was—theoretically—on offer every day in the mess halls of the gulags. Since there is a vast body of correspondence between camps and the central authority complaining about a lack of food supplies, it is doubtful that more than a few prisoners received the full measure of their allotted rations. The results of such delusional planning and the science of nourishing someone at subsistence levels but no more were writ upon my grandfather’s body: I am only a few centimeters taller than he is and about 70 kilograms but when he was released, he weighed less than 40. I cannot bring myself to imagine what that number would mean inscribed in my own flesh. Furthermore, when I started writing this, I had a bad cold and had to take time off from my usual activities (working, attending class, exercising) to recover. Presumably such exceptions were never made in the gulags and I wonder whether I would even have been physically capable of going about my day in my condition. Furthermore, since food and accommodation were distributed with heart-rending precision according to quality of labor (e.g. workers not meeting 75% of quota were given 50g of bread less per day and those not meeting 50% received 100g less than those meeting their quotas), it seems that prisoners who faltered, for example, those who fell ill as I did, were driven towards their own deaths by the official apparatus. How my grandfather survived is unclear. Was it by being a model prisoner, earning better accommodation and extra rations, or did he attempt to resist, or did he survive by being nondescript? Because he does not tell us, we can never know how his story is different from or the same as that of the hundreds of thousands of others at Karagandy.
On the twenty-sixth of May 1953, having spent (by his own reckoning) exactly nine years, two months and three days in Soviet prisons, he was released as part of the liberalization that followed Josef Stalin’s death in March 1953. But how bittersweet it was! The only freedom he knew was permission to live in a local administrative center, Dobovka, under the watchful eye of the Soviet security service.[11] He notes, for reasons that aren’t clear, that the security service’s office was in the nearby town of Aktas. But could he have known the extent to which politics in Moscow, a continent away, were being shaken up?
Nikita Khrushchev, who had replaced Stalin as leader of the USSR, promised at the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in February 1956 to scale back the excessive brutality of Stalin’s tenure. Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” at the meeting specifically refers to the fact that Stalin’s mass deportations had been against the spirit of Communism. There was a laugh line in the speech to the effect that if there had not been so damn many Ukrainians then Stalin would have deported the entire nation to prison camps. Ha ha.
My ethnically Ukrainian grandmother Anna (née Romaniuk) was one of the Ukrainians Stalin had got around to deporting. She was serving time in the KARLAG for being a student agitator but originally came from a place not far from where my grandfather grew up.[12] Born in 1924, she was thirteen years younger than he was. They were married by a priest on the 15th of June 1955 but did not receive the all-important civil marriage certificate until 12th April 1956, which they needed in order to leave together.[13]
The most important document was issued on the 19th of March 1956, numbered 13923. The office of the public prosecutor of the USSR had granted my grandfather leave to depart Kazakhstan after the tenth of April 1956. He kept that bit of paper until the day he died. He regained contact with his mother, sister and brother, all of whom helped make arrangements to take his wife and their new-born daughter Zuzanna,[14] named after his mother, out of Kazakhstan in October of that year.
Of that 4,000 km journey I know nothing except that the baby Zuzanna was in constant danger of freezing in the unheated rail cars and spent much of the trip wrapped in a coat. My mother has also told me, tantalizingly, that the couple and their daughter were almost murdered by Chechens as they passed through Chechnya, which was apparently as unstable then as it is now. Not for nothing does the name of the Chechen capital, Grozny, happen to mean “cruel” and “harsh” in Polish. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away, my grandfather’s brother Julian was being prepared for a surgical procedure and never woke up from the anaesthesia. That was the news that greeted my grandfather when he was reunited with his family.
On the 1st of November 1956, he began working as a forest manager in a village called Ochodze, a few kilometers outside of the town of Opole in Lower Silesia. Silesia (Sląsk in Polish and Schlesien in German) is in an odd way not unlike old Lwów. Although it is rural rather than cosmopolitan, the culture is a hybrid of Polish and German traditions, with the Polish inflected with German and the German bearing the stamp of Polish. Many of my grandfather’s friends from Lwów ended up here as refugees and many of them spent evenings in the toasty kitchen of the house at the edge of the forest at 44 Piastowska Street.
In less than a year, in October 1957, my mother would be born. My grandfather lived in the house on the edge of the forest with my grandmother, my mother and my mother’s four sisters and worked for some twenty uneventful years until his retirement in 1976. My mother believes that it was the best job he could get because of his life-long refusal to join the Polish Communist Party, which had of course been complicit in his exile to the steppes, but the bulk of his education had been in forestry.
He was present throughout my childhood, on visits to California or when my parents, my sister and I went to Poland. He seemed to me ancientness personified, the sole survivor from a lost time. In pictures from the period he manages to look both stern and goofy, with his forest-green, coarsely-woven Eastern Bloc suits and largeish ears. He once threatened me by brandishing a trowel when he thought I was uprooting the strawberries he was tenderly planting in our garden. I was both terrified and amused by the incident. Other people he met in California probably also did not know what to make of him. When he stayed with us, he would sometimes walk to the Safeway supermarket, the “Saf-e-vay” as he called it, and undeterred by his inability to speak English, would tell jokes in German. He was cosmopolitan in that dignified Old World manner, in which joviality and practical erudition formed a crust over old wounds.
Towards the end of his life, he found an interest in recording his own history. The seams of his pain had been torn once again when his wife, my grandmother, died suddenly of an aneurysm in the early 1990s. In an instant he had lost the one person who was his co-sufferer, whose knowledge of his past came not from documents but from searing experience in Karagandy. He began to reach out, both to tell his story and to gather facts. He tracked down a woman whom he thought had known his old friend Apolinary Skrocki (see note 3). Her reply indicates that she has no idea who Skrocki was but did remember my grandfather from the time he took refuge in her parents’ house some fifty years before. He wrote letters to editors of publications, including one to an unknown recipient dated 5 October 1993. It is a strange document because it is written in elegant, old-fashioned Polish but breaking the flow of this self-assured prose are pitiful requests not to be dismissed as a griping old geezer. He calls himself “a grey, average man” and he feels the need to assert that “despite my age I am not telling fantasies; I am not seeking renown or fame.” He began to have some of his memoirs typed out and yet the bulk of the text, some 80 handwritten pages which I have obtained in a poor photocopy, is worthless. What could those pages contain? The handwriting is illegible and awaits some kind of scholarly intervention, just as archaeologists used x-rays to decipher the fragments of ancient Greek verse on bits of burnt papyrus found in the Egyptian desert. Yet that day will never come because all that could be read in those pages are the recollections of a “grey, average man” who lived a life of enormous suffering. W.H. Auden famously wrote in his poem “Musée des Beaux Arts,” that it is all too human to ignore suffering, that it “takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.” It is the nature of suffering itself that ensured that my grandfather died an average man and that it has taken me years to understand that survival itself is heroic.
I cling to my wispy memories of him because the historical record ends here. And yet what he said to me in his apartment that day, I just don’t know. Not because I did not understand Polish, even his dialect still peppered all those years later with obscure idioms from Lwów, and not because it was inarticulate. I simply cannot remember his words now without reinventing them to tell the story I want to tell. But I know it was approving, a comment on my strength and potential, precisely the strength that these pages prove I do not possess and in any case will never have the opportunity to test. If I had lived his life, I would likely have been buried on the steppes of Karagandy or in the blood-soaked forests of Katyń. Me they would have broken.

[1] Christina Maria Dembinska (born Przysucha 7 Sep 1908 – died Monterey, California 8 Aug 2004) married Maciej Mikolaj Maria Radziwiłł (Cannes 24 Feb 1905 – Monterey, California 1994) at Przysucha on 3 Aug 1932 (from http://pages.prodigy.net/ptheroff/gotha/radziwill.html).
[2] In 1990, he and some other officers were given honorary promotions by the Polish state and he became a Captain. In a similar promotion five year later, he became a Major.
[3] In 1989, he wrote an account of this—which I have not been able to trace—for the Polish Anthropological Society in Wrocław (Polskie Towarzystwo Ludoznawcze w Wrocławiu) with the title “Why I did not Die at Katyń” (Dlaczego nie zginąłem w Katyniu). He attempted track down Skrocki when he first returned to Poland in 1956 and then again in 1993 but both times nothing came of it. He wonders in a letter from 1993 whether Skrocki’s name might actually have been Skrodzki.
[4] Indeed, I now know that the story belongs to someone else. When my father stayed with an elderly couple in Warsaw in the late 1970s, the husband, Stanisław Polak, related the account of his breaking out of a railcar conveying him towards a German labor camp. In the dead of night, he and his fellow escapees half-crawled, half-swum through a muddy field. It was almost certainly this story that I somehow assigned to my grandfather’s experience.
[5] A letter to the editor of an unknown publication which he wrote on 5 October 1993. In The First Guide Book to Prisons and Concentration Camps of the Soviet Union by Avraham Shifrin (New York: Bantam, 1982), Dubrovlag appears in the section on “extermination camps” (34).
[6] Карагандинский исправительно-трудовой лагерь
[7] See Kate Brown “Gridded Lives: Why Kazakhstan and Montana are Nearly the Same Place” The American Historical Review, Vol. 106, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 17-48
[8] By way of comparison, the highest temperature ever recorded on earth is 58°C and the lowest temperature ever recorded outside of Antarctica is -68°C.
[9] Shifrin 146.
[10] These and other figures on prisoner rations are taken from Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History (New York: Doubleday, 2003), especially p 207.
[11] The document that entitles one to such limited mobility is known as a “wolf ticket” [волчий билет], and its stipulations make its bearer little better off than a prisoner.
[12] Their marriage document, which I have in a certified Polish translation from Russian, lists his birthplace as the town of Bohorodczany in the Stanisławów Voivodeship and hers as the village of Wołkowcy in Tarnopol, the voivodeship to the north of Stanisławów. The Lwów Voivodeship is located to the west of both of these.
[13] I learned from my parents that my grandmother was not my grandfather’s first wife. As a young man he had married a woman who later died during the Second World War, either of tuberculosis or because she was killed. We know nothing more about her. I hope that receiving a mention in a mere footnote is not disrespectful of the dead, and yet time has washed away even this woman’s name.
[14] Born 5 July 1956.

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