13 April 2015
Imagine a house not unlike Beatrix Potter’s, set on a hillside among the northern lakes of England. There it was that I celebrated my third birthday and, no, I don’t remember it. Blissfully ignorant of world affairs, the carefree idyll of my childhood had just begun. My father had taken his wife and family away from London, to be out of harm’s way. How lucky we were.
It was April 13, 1940. The grim shadows of the Second World War cast black and ever more menacing threats over swathes of Europe. The second Battle of Narvik was raging, the Battle of Britain had yet to begin.
On that same day, far away on the Eastern Marches of the Second Polish Republic, BH — my Better Half, as you Commonplace regulars have come to know him — was being propelled brutally into an early manhood. On my third birthday, he, aged eleven, was deported to Siberia. The Soviets sent him, his mother, and two sisters from a town in what was then in eastern Poland and is now in Belarus.
The year before, on September 20th, his father, a well-known judge, senator, and landowner, had been arrested by the NKVD at home before the eyes of his family.
How can a few lines sum up the end of a lifetime’s work for country, family, and neighbourhood? BH’s father was decorated twice for bravery in the First World War; he was a man of great inner strength, of honour and deep belief — exactly the kind of person the enemy loathed and determined to destroy. His wife was of the same clay, with few concessions to femininity during that tense and dangerous time. There was an opportunity to escape to Sweden, dodging the advancing German Army, but she determined that she and her children should follow her husband just as far as was possible.
Inevitably, they were separated; her husband detained in prison, she and numberless others sent further and further East into Siberia.
How dare I have the temerity to write of such searing experiences? I, who have never wanted for anything. What do I know of the loss of hearth, home, all worldly possessions; of career, friends, and relations; the loss of a life of peace and moderate plenty?
Well, somehow the two dots on the edges of the map of the world came together and became “us”. Many extraordinary people crossed my path and some of them became intimate friends, including, I like to think, my remarkable and heroic mother-in-law. So I feel I may not only write a little but also speak.
My BH is blessed — or cursed, you might think — with a remarkable memory. Plagued by nightmares (of which I never knew till fairly recently), the recognised therapy of writing it down was suggested and resulted in a book.
The Books section of this website includes a terrific selection on a wide variety of subjects and greater or lesser ability. I have never reviewed BH’s book. But I see no reason why I should not recommend it. One reason being that here we are, 75 years after the events in that book took place, and the violence, displacement, deprivation, injustice, and sheer horror of it all is still going on, just about wherever you care to look.
Oh Man! Have you learned nothing?
“It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to.”
Crater’s Edge by Michał Giedroyć. Bene Factum Publishing Ltd., London, 2010.