Crowds of Poles gathered to remember the tens of thousands of Poles who were killed between 1943 and 1944 by Ukrainian Nationalists working with their German Nazi colleagues. July 11 was the day of the worst killing, a day when the Nationalists attacked 100 or so villages. That was seventy years ago.
My mother's family was killing during this period by her Ukrainian neighbors. Her mother was murdered, her sister was raped and killed, her sister's baby kicked to death. My mother, a girl of 19 at the time, was able to survive by breaking through a window and running into a forest to hide. She was found a couple days later and taken to a slave labor camp in Germany. She spent the next 2 years in those camps.
My mom and my dad went back to her village in 1988 to see if she could find the graves of her mom and sister and the sister's baby. There were no graves. The men who did the killing didn't take the time to dig graves and put up crosses or markers.
During that trip, my mom made it to her old house, the one where the killing took place. She knocked on the door and when someone answered her knocking, she introduced herself and told them that she had lived in this house when she was a girl, before the killings.
The person who answered the door, a Ukrainian fellow about my mom's age, said that he had been living in the house all his life and he didn't know her and didn't know what she was talking about.
My mom left and never went back.
I haven't written a lot about my mom and her Ukrainian neighbors, but I have written two poems.
The first is called "My Mother was 19," and it's about the day the Nazis and her Ukrainian neighbors came to her house and did their killing.
The second poem is "My Mother's Neighbors." It's from my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues about my parents, and it tells about what the killers did after they left my mom's house.
My Mother was 19
Soldiers from nowhere
came to my mom’s farm
killed her sister Genja’s baby
with their heels
shot her momma too
One time in the neck
then for kicks in the face
lots of times
They saw my mother
they didn’t care
she was a virgin
dressed in a blue dress
with tiny white flowers
They raped her
so she couldn’t stand up
couldn’t lie down
They broke her teeth
when they shoved
the blue dress
in her mouth
If they had a camera
they would’ve taken her picture
and sent it to her
That’s the kind they were
Let me tell you:
God doesn’t give
you any favors
He doesn’t say
now you’ve seen
this bad thing
and tomorrow you’ll see
this good thing
and when you see it
you’ll be smiling
My Mother’s Neighbors
of the baby and the women they helped the Germans
kill in the barn. But they won’t remember that.
They’ll only remember this walk home, the snow
falling fast around them, muting the clicking trees
and silencing the birds. They will remember
their slow talk, the old men going on about
how the potatoes they gathered this year
could never match the weight of last year’s harvest
the young men trying to hide their joy
by whispering about the village girls
and what they have seen beneath their dresses.
Later they will all be home. Already their wives
And mothers watch for them at the windows,
Afraid the snow will catch them far from home.
If you want to read more about the commemoration in Warsaw, here's a link to the article: Poles Honor Victims.
I've posted a lot of blogs about my mom over the years. This is a recent one about remembering her on the anniversary of her death: Remembering My Mom.