I started writing poems for myself as a catharsis from the emotions of trying to understand my father's past. Every step of my journey back, with his spirit alongside me, moved me beyond what I had expected. I knew the outline of my dad's history but not the immense suffering.
The more I researched, the heavier the burden to tell the story. I didn't want certain moments to be locked into a dusty old book that no one would read. For my family, a one-page poem revealed more to them than a beautifully-scripted manual.The first poem I wrote was Polscy Chlopcy. It was a long poem but expressed everything about my dad's life as a Polish man and Polish soldier. I wrote it for Remembrance Day.
After that, I just wanted to tell certain stories in a way that might resonate with someone else who wouldn't open a dusty book. I found, as I shared, that a common spirit resided in all who took pleasure from my writings. That common spirit is the torch-carrier for our heritage in each family to be passed down to all the generations to come. To have my poems shared in people's personal family stories because they identified with something I wrote has been the greatest reward. It is a blessing to be able to share these.
Written in memory of my father
*See notes and explanations at the end
“Lest We Forget” was boldly printed on the card
To honour those who died for their countries while standing guard.
They were men and boys, young and old, weak and strong,
And each one was to be remembered with patriotic song.
As long as I can remember, Nov. 11th was your special day.
You shined up your war medals and donned your beret.
As veterans paid tribute with wreaths of poppies upon the square,
You proudly saluted the heavens to all the soldiers there.
With old trembling hands you held your card and thought to years gone by.
And every time the trumpets roared, I saw the tears that filled your eyes.
What were you thinking that brought you such pain?
Were you remembering Polscy Chlopcy that died in vain?
Or were you thinking of your own sorrow and how this all began
Because of greed and hatred, best expressed by man.
Were your tears for your little village and all that was once yours?
Or were your tears for the broken dreams snatched away by war.
Germany was creating havoc and Poland knew there might be trouble in sight
But she was assured there would be help, if she needed to fight.
Great America and England promised if needed they’d rise to the plate
But instead sat silent while Poland’s defeat became your fate.
Were your tears for the broken promises made man to man?
Or for how meaningless had become the shake of one’s hand?
Germans abounded from the west and the army was ready for almighty war
But as they were pushed back, from the east came something more.
On Sept 17, 1939, the Rusks like hungry vultures awaiting their prey
Swarmed all around you with bayonets and for being Polish, you’d pay.
They occupied quickly and took Lwow, Wilno and Luck
What did a young peasant boy know of promises the Nazi’s had made to the Rusks?
In the cold of winter, they knocked on Kresyland doors ripping people from their sleep
And yelled “you have an hour to pack, don’t waste the time to weep!”
Old people and children were herded like cattle into the snow
And guns blasted loudly at those who said “I won’t go!”
Sleds and wagons carried you to the nearest railway stations
Thus beginning for Kresowiacy, heartless and cruel deportations.
Crammed into frozen boxcars with little food and hardly room to lay
They prayed, “Swiety Boze i Matko Boska, please show us the way!”
After shuffling you into prison, black raven trucks and a windowless train
They said, “ Comrades don’t cry, save your tears for future pain!”
We will send you Polscy Chlopcy to Archangel and Siberia
If hunger doesn’t kill you, there’ll be scurvy, typhoid and diphtheria
Oh God they were right when they said
That God created heaven
And the devil created Archangel.
Temperatures so cold, you couldn’t bear your skin,
And if you dared spit, it froze in the wind.
Newspapers and rags gently wrapped around your feet
But be damned if you’d let your spirit be beat.
With backbreaking labour you crushed rocks for their roads
Swinging axes and shovels load after load.
For a grueling day’s work they fed you 700 grams of bread
Anything less and you’da soon been dead.
At night, with barely enough clothing to warm your bones
You fell fast asleep only to dream of more stones.
And who’da thought in this land of Godforsaken ice
Millions of bedbugs and those bastardly lice.
On barges and boats they shuffled you around
Then rumours of freedom started to abound.
Dirty ol’ Stalin had found himself in a fix,
As his good buddy Hitler pulled out a few more tricks.
Stalin said “Polscy Chlopcy, try to understand,
This wasn’t about you; I just wanted your land.
We’ll toast to freedom, and with a new Polish Army we’ll work side by side.
Forget about all those men who died!”
So with release cards and empty stomachs he set you free
You headed south where the army was supposed to be.
Sikorski and Anders waited for the Polish Army to regroup
As thousands of you half starved and sick arrived for bread and soup.
Were your tears for all the women and children you passed on the road
Each one beyond their years, showing scars of their merciless load?
Did you cry for the corpses they callously threw into the wind?
Or ask if this was punishment for man who had sinned?
The Brits gave you uniforms and a white Polish eagle to wear on your shoulder
General Anders restored your faith and put things in order.
Stalin held back your bread and insisted that Polscy Chlopcy be sent to the front.
Anders refused because he knew on Stalin he could no longer count.
Anders moved his army to Persia in order for Polscy Chlopcy to survive.
The Caspian Sea carried you to Pahlevi, some barely alive.
With wounded souls and bodies frail
Thousands were left behind and missed the last sail.
Were you thinking of this when you choked back the tears?
Knowing how much they continued to suffer for many more years.
You became a proud soldier in Polish 2nd Corps
And fought in Monte Cassino with much determined force.
Pulled from rags in Russia, Polscy Chlopcy passed the test
They became a great army and certainly one of the best.
Polish blood soaked the soil from your countrymen that lay dead
Amongst the shattered poppies that were already red.
Polscy Chlopcy stood proud and still
As they placed their country’s flag upon the captured hill.
The white eagle soared with victorious delight
For all the exiled soldiers who had won their fight.
The world celebrated with victory parades and promised fences to mend
But Polscy Chlopcy were not invited to attend.
Great America and England let Stalin take your land
So what exactly you had fought for, was hard to understand.
To appease the Communists you were again deported and pushed aside
With spirits crushed and broken hearts, valiant soldiers cried.
Instead of paying you tribute they made you search for home in a new place
While they demobilized your army just to save face.
Did you weep for your family for whom you would never again see?
Or the loss of their freedoms, while you were in a new land and free?
Were your tears for Polscy Chlopcy as they were being called D.P.’s
Or for the suggestions that you change your Polish name and drop the “ski”?
You remained proud to your heritage and kept your name.
This was all you had left and it bore you no shame.
On Remembrance Day, you stood alone as you remembered those who died
Because there were no Polscy Chlopsy to share your memories, at your side.
There was no one here that had shared your footsteps from the past.
And many of the young never cared to ask.
They had never been to war, and they didn’t understand
What it really meant to lose one’s land.
Today I stand alone, holding your polished medals at your grave,
And I thank you with all my heart for being so brave.
I thank you for the Polish heritage that you passed on to me
And for raising me in a country, where I am blessed to be free.
For Polscy Chlopcy, I will scatter red poppies in the wind, just for you
And I will do my best to my heritage be true.
And when the trumpets roar, I too, will salute the skies
For now I finally understand the tears in your eyes.
Polscy Chlopcy……………..means Polish Men
Pronounced pols-tseh hlop-tseh…….a tongue twister.
Kresylands ……………the lands of eastern Poland that were taken over by Russia after the war in 1939, and now are part of Ukraine.
Russia orchestrated mass deportations of Polish people from this area in the middle of winter, and shipped them to Siberian prisons and settlements in 1939-1940.
Kresowiacy…………..Polish meaning the people from Kresylands
Swiety Boze i Matko Boska………..means Holy Father and Virgin Mary
Pronounced………..shwien-teh bo-zheh ee mat-ko bos-ka
Archangel….an area in northern Russia, east of Siberia, where thousands of people were resettled and imprisoned.
Pahlevi………a seaport in Iran, which was called Persia in 1942. Pahlevi is now called Bander Anzali.
Monte Cassino….the famous hill in Italy where the Polish soldiers beat back the Germans, and conquered the hill, opening the road to Rome for the Allies, which was the beginning of the end of the 2nd World War.
Polish 2nd Corps…..was an army headed by general Wladyslaw Anders and exiled Polish Prime Minister Sikorski, based in Britain. This army of men was formed from all the deported and exiled Polish men that Stalin had sent to Russian prisons and settlements when Russia invaded Poland in 1939. When Germany double-crossed Russia and invaded her in 1941, Stalin needed help fighting the Germans, so he released these people and let them join the Polish army, which was formed on Russian soil and later supplied by Britain. He released them starving, sick and in rags. From the settlements were released all the mothers, children and old people and they all trudged southward from Russia to Uzbekistan where the Polish Army base was situated. Traveling on foot, on barges, and on trains, thousands died along the way just trying to get out of Russia and back to their homelands. All wanted to follow the army and reach freedom. Anders managed to get his soldiers out of Russia. Along with them, he insisted on getting out as many Polish women and children as he could. Once they arrived in Iran, some other countries agreed to take them in as refugees, until after the war. Then, all of a sudden, Stalin put a stop to their departures from Russia and thousands had to remain behind after their insufferable journey southward. After the war, they were not able to return to Poland because Russia closed the borders for them and they had to become Russian citizens. They lost their hopes and dreams of freedom.
Victory parades ….. were celebrated after the war, but Russia would not let the Polish soldiers march in the parade because Poland now belonged to the USSR and they looked at the Polish soldier as an enemy of Russia. The Polish soldiers had captured the hill in the fourth battle at Monte Cassino, opening the door to Rome for the Allies who finally beat the Germans, and now they weren’t even allowed to return to their homeland without fear of being exiled again into Siberian prisons. The Brits were so embarrassed that the Polish Army made up of all these imprisoned men, had kicked ass so good on the hill and become such a powerful army. Britain was more interested in keeping the powerful Stalin of Russia happy and content, and so they agreed to demobilize the Polish 2nd Corps Army, just to get rid of this pain in the butt they had with the Poles. America went along with them, also trying to stay on the good side of Russia.
The Polish soldiers were given the right to immigrate to countries like Canada, Britain, New Zealand and Australia on work contracts. Some who took the chance and did return to Poland were never heard from again, and others spoke of the mistake of returning. Once the soldiers heard of what was happening on the return of the first few, thousands decided that they could never return home again. Years later, some did, but men who had experienced Siberia, would not set foot close to that area again. They would never forget and were made to make their new homes in whatever country had accepted them.
D.P…. meant displaced person. Ignorant people in Canada referred to these heroic soldiers as such.
Many Polish people changed their last names to escape the harassment, and also so their names would be easier to pronounce.
Red Poppies…in the spring covered the hillsides in Italy.
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