Thursday, June 30, 2011

When a Home Ceases to Exist

Last weekend we went to one of our favorite cities, and one that just won for "Capital of Culture" in Europe for 2016.

Wrocław (VROTS-waf) lies in the south-western region of Poland on the Odra river. It's a beautiful city, and we love it for, well, for the awesome branch it has with some of our favorite Poles, but also for the neat German architecture, lots of brick in beautiful designs and tiled roofs with a different shape than in other parts of Poland.

On Saturday we attended a branch picnic at a member's house in a very small town over an hour outside of Wrocław. Afterwards, we started heading toward the freeway back to the city but weren't sure which way to go. We saw an old lady raking leaves near the street and stopped to ask for help. The woman was confident and friendly and smiled after pointing us in the right direction.

She spoke with an accent. Looking in her face, I listened to her Polish and was sure that she wasn't a Pole. This woman was away from home.

As we drove, Greg and I talked to the kids about this region of the country, how it had been part of Germany, but was granted to Poland after the war. The Germans who had lived here all their lives moved out and Poles came and took over their houses. It's a heavy thing to ponder.

David declared that it was unfair. Greg countered explained that the Germans started the war, caused widespread destruction and death and then lost. This was part of the result of those choices and actions. I added that much of the land that had belonged to Poland on the east was turned over to Russia. As a matter of fact, many of the Poles that were displaced from the east were sent here to the south-west to resettle.

I wondered where this woman we talked to was from. With her face fresh in my mind, I thought about what her life may have been. She was born in a stable country and maybe had a happy, normal childhood. Things started to change as she approached adolescence. The war was a dangerous, tumultuous time, full of fear and uncertainty. And then everything changed.

Was she a German who had stayed behind when everyone else left? Was this place she lived actually her original home, but now in a different country? Had she suddenly found herself in a foreign land, even while inhabiting the home of her childhood?

Or maybe the accent wasn't German at all. Maybe it was a Polish accent specific to the east. Maybe she was born in Lwów and moved to this place when Russia took that part of Poland over after the war. Maybe she really was far from home; a home she can't visit without hearing an unknown language spoken and meeting faces of a people who are not her own.

These are hard things for me to think about. I have moved to a foreign country and find myself among strangers, but I have done it by choice. And they are not strangers. They are my children's people, although they will never really be mine.

I can't imagine the pain and sorrow of leaving your home and knowing it will cease to exist as it was. That everything has changed. Or of staying in your home and watching the world change outside its walls. That your country is broken and will never be exactly what it used to be.

But those things have happened. They will happen. And the people affected will maybe one day smile at a car full of strangers while giving them directions, in their second language, to Wrocław, and not the Breslau they used to visit as a child.

People are strong and adaptable. Still, it all makes me look forward to a day when there will be ONE Kingdom. And no wars.


Laura said...

I LOVED Wroclaw too. I served there twice, and I remember some of the original buildings with their high-ceilinged German architecture. I remember being in one building talking to some people and when the tram went by the whole building shook. They explained that the building was built on top of one of Hitler's escape tunnels that run under the city. Crazy.
Your post though most reminds me of Sis. Malinowska's story. (I'm assuming you know it, but for anyone else, she was originally from the part of Ukraine that became Poland and has no idea where most of her family is).
How amazing it is that some people can rebound from such devastating circumstances. It makes me feel ridiculous to ever have complained about anything in my easy and blessed life.
Thanks for bringing it back into perspective.

Melanie Jacobson said...

This is so beautiful and poignant that it makes me kind of ache a little.

Susan said...

I'll have to follow Ewie back to Poland! It's sad about the forced uprooting of people. Choosing to do it (aheam) is one thing. Against your will, quite another...

moosh in indy. said...

I did a report on Poland in sixth grade and have been pretty much enamored with it ever since.

Your words prove I was right.

Erin said...

What a thoughtful post. Like you said, you chose to move there. I often think about my grandparents and great-grandparents who moved to the U.S. from England and Scotland to start a new life. Again, they did it by choice.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Kazzy said...

Wow, this really made me thin a lot. Those poor people that suffered so much. Thanks for this.

Lindsay said...

Thank you for such a thought-provoking, sweet, sad post.

Annette Lyon said...

Poignant, sad, and beautiful.

Also a reminder about all you've given up to raise your family way from your people and your home. Not everyone could do that.