Where it began, 01 Sept 1939

Westerplatte. That’s where the German/Nazi invasion of Poland–and the start of World War 2–began on September the 1st, 1939. I was there. No, not at the beginning of World War 2–I was at Westerplatte on September 1, 2010, joining with thousands of others to commemorate the place where World War 2 began. 

It was a very moving experience. The President of Poland was there, and many other dignitaries. Lots of people, young and old, made the journey for the service. It began promptly at 04:48 AM (yes, we were up early), the exact moment when the first shots were fired. It was a moving moment, and it still moves me today. You can read my original post on this experience here. And I posted some of the pictures I took here

It is worth remembering, so we never forget. The total casualties of World War 2 eventually tallied somewhere between 50,000,000 and 80,000,000, and amazing number. If we don’t remember history, we’re bound to repeat it. Unfortunately, there are many today who do not remember. Sad.

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Kotwica and the Warsaw Uprising

What is “kotwica?” It is the Polish word for “anchor,” but it has a lot more meaning in Polish history–the kotwica was a World War II emblem of the Polish Underground State and the Armia Krajowa (the Home Army, or AK). The kotwica as an emblem was created in 1942 as an easily identifiable emblem for the Polish struggle to regain independence after Poland’s conquest and division by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. Continue reading

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Getting in touch with my Ruthenian/Ukrainian Roots

Yes, I have a great love of Poland. And yes, I consider myself Polish by nationality. But, I am also part Ruthenian/Ukrainian. And that is not so unusual. You see, Poland was a very welcoming and open country, and very heterogenic in years gone by. As a matter of fact, when my relatives came to the USA from the area that was at one time Poland, that area was only about 2/3 Polish, the rest was mostly Ruthenian/Ukrainian, Jewish, and Lithuanian. For many years, until the partitions of the late 18th century, it was the “Polish-Lithuanian Commonweath.”  Poland was very cosmopolitan and welcomed people of various races and creeds–there was no reformation in Poland, and in fact, it welcomed protestants and lived with them in harmony.

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Moja Miłość do Kolęd — My love of Polish Carols

One of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas is going to midnight Mass (after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner–Wigilia) and hearing the choir at my grandparent’s decidedly Polish Catholic Church in rural Thorp, Wisconsin  (St. Hedwig’s) singing Polish Christmas Carols–kolędy. I recall my amazement when they sang “Silent Night” with strange words:  “cicha noc, święta noc.…”  And I recall a few others that they sang, including the beautiful melody of Lulajeże Jezuniu–it sounds like a lullaby, which it is! And then there was the magnificent strains of Triumfy–even the names sounds like a trumpet call of magnificent proportions! And there were others as well, but those three I remember the most for their uniqueness and significance in my memory.

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Happy Birthday, Marie Skłdowska Curie

Today, November 7th, 2017, marks the 150th anniversary of one of the greats in the history of Physics and Chemistry, the birthday of Marie Skłodowska, born this day in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland (then a part of the Russian Empire during the partition of Poland).

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Unconquered

Time for a short history lesson. September 1939, Germany invades Poland and World War II breaks out. Poland’s allies do not honor their alliances, and weeks later, the Soviet Union splits Poland with Germany. Poland has been conquered. Or has it? Poland remained steadfast in its desire for Independence, and even though given up as a sacrificial lamb to Stalin and the Soviet Union after the “end” of the war, the war was not truly over for Poland–it raged on in some form until 1989. Finally, Poland was free again.

It’s a long story, but you can get the short story version of it by watching this short, 4-minute video: “Unconquered.”

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Sibiracy

Sibiracy is the plural of the Polish word Sibirak. In general, it refers to Poles who were “resettled” to Siberia. But in the context of today, February 10, it refers to the one or more million Poles who were actively forced from their homes in what had been Poland by the Soviets, beginning in 1940 and continuing into 1941. In the middle of the night, Soviet soldiers rounded up Polish families, gave them a few minutes to gather their possessions (wahtever they could carry) and loaded whole families into packed cattle cars, taking them on a many weeks long journey to Siberia. Once in Siberia, they were herded into crude barracks and put into forced labor. Many died. After the war turned with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, there was a general amnesty given. Maybe 1/5 of the Poles ever made it out of Siberia, some walking a thousand or more miles. Many died on the way. The survivors who endured today are called Sibiracy.

I wrote more about this topic a few years ago here: http://poland.leonkonieczny.com/blog/?p=991. It still boggles my mind. Over a million people, and so few returned. And even more puzzling, this is not taught in any history books I ever read in school. It’s a mostly forgotten story. But it’s certainly worth telling now, and honoring the memory of all those lives lost, youth stolen from children, families ripped apart, lost opportunities, just tragic, very tragic…..

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To Fry, or Not to Fry…That is the Question!

My mother’s mother’s parents were both from a small village in what was then Galicia, later Poland between the World Wars, and is now Ukraine. My Great-Grandfather was Polish, and my Great-Grandmother was Ruthenian. Since my earliest childhood memories, we.ve had pierogi for Christmas Eve dinner every year, and they were always boiled. Yet today if you go to Poland or talk to many other Polish people, even here in the USA, they fry their pierogi before serving them. Why fried? It’s not what I grew up with in my very Polish household.

I guess a better question is, “Why not?”  In truth, I now prefer my pierogi fried, and I think it adds a layer of flavor to them. I always fry mine now. For Wigilia I serve them with sour cream and with fried onions. At other times of the year, I add chopped bacon to the onions. But the question has always puzzled me as to why my mother, her mother (my grandmother), and my mother’s mother (my great-grandmother), only boiled them, and never fried them. I believe the answer is in the regional nature of foods, how dishes, even such widely Slavic dishes like pierogi, change over various regions.

Today if you go to Ukraine, you will be served the Ukrainian version of pierogi, called varenyky. They are in general never fried, only boiled. [They also have a small cousin, pelmeni, which are very small, almost like tortellini, but also boiled only.] I think my great-grandmother simply cooked as the people in her region did, and that’s that they made these little dumplings of goodness (called pierogi in Polish and varenyky in Ukrainian) and boiled them and served them that way. It’s how it was done in that area of the Kresy, the borderlands of Poland. So, in Poland pierogi are usually boiled then fried, but in the eastern areas, varenyky are only boiled. Yet they are basically the same thing. Pierogi, varenyky, basically the same thing.

So, the end result? Well, do what you like with them, call them what you’re comfortable calling them (pierogi, varenyky — also called Pyrohy, Pedehey, or heaven on a plate).  Fry them or not, they are still wonderful. There is no right or wrong, there is only the enjoyment of these wonderful, delightful dumplings that are popular throughout the Slavic world with some variations. Smacznego!

Posted in culture, food, Kresy, My Polish Family | 5 Comments

Ukraine Independence Day

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Independence of modern day Ukraine. The “original” so-called independence of the Soviet controlled Ukrainian’s People Republic was celebrated as January 22, 1918, but when the Soviet Union broke up in the late 1900’s, the Ukraine Parliament issued a new Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, 1991.

I was fortunate that I was visiting Ukraine in 2011 as they celebrated their 20th year of Independence from the heavy hand of the Soviet Union. I was a parade, speaker, flags, balloons, flowers, and many speakers. It was a joyous day, and I managed to celebrate it in two different cities, people gathered all over to celebrate. We saw our first celebration in Chernivtsi, and later in the day we were in Kamieniec Podolski where people were gathered in the park at night, celebrating. Check out those previous blog posts for some pictures as well.

Ukraine’s history is still being written as Russian aggression has been trying to tear her apart, but much of the world has stood strong with Ukraine. And, especially for western Ukraine, her history (and people) are tied inexorably to that of Poland, and much of western Ukraine was at one time Poland. But for today, happy independence day to the people of Ukraine.

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Polish Operation of the NKVD (1937–38)

Today marks another grim anniversary in the history of Polish people. It was on this day in 1937 that the order was signed, giving the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) the go-ahead to root out so-called “Polish Spies.” What this really meant was the roundup of all Polish males and their subsequent sentence to death, carried out within days. In all, 139,835 people were arrested and of that, 119,091 were summarily executed. The remaining 24,744 were sentenced to slow death–the labor camps where they died due to exposure, malnutrition, and overwork.

What about the wives and children? The wives were given 5-10 year sentences in labor camps in Siberia, and the young children put in orphanages and raised as Russians with no knowledge of their roots. And what about elderly parents? They were left to fend for themselves, often with nothing. Many subsequently died. The total death count as a result of all of this is estimated to be about 250,000. Their crime? They were Polish, nothing else. The hardest hit areas were of course western Ukraine, on the border with Poland.

When you read about current events in Poland and the Polish desire to remove exiting monuments to the Soviet “liberators” of Poland in World War II, maybe this will help you understand why there is no love lost between Poland and Russia, which continues to this day.

You can read more details about this tragedy here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Operation_of_the_NKVD_(1937%E2%80%9338)

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