Last year, my parents moved to Poland. My father’s parents were from Poland, and although he grew up in Scotland, my Polish roots have never been far from family conversation. Perhaps when a people spend centuries maintaining their national identity in the face of partitions, moving borders, invasions, wars, genocide and exile, it takes more than a few generations for that identity to fully dissipate.
Although I love hearing these stories and feel a strong connection when I meet my Polish family, I have always felt a little conflicted by the notion that I am in some way “from here.” I grew up in the United States – a country which is powerful, confident, despised by some, but hard to ignore. How can I relate my “American” identity to a nation whose people have suffered so much?
In May of 2016, I visited my parents at Sichów, a manor house that belongs to my father’s cousin. The grounds were stunning and full of life – birds, insects, sun, pollen, idyllic summer weather that seemed to be very much at odds with its weighty history of Nazi tanks rolling up the drive and carting the family off to concentration camps.
This piece and the poem below are a small attempt to explore the contrasts and conflicts I experienced on that visit. I will return to Sichów in August… and perhaps something more will arise.
We are the dead.
We are the living dead.
We enter you.
We come from you.
We bind you to this earth.
It is you who give us substance.
It is you who set us free.