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Ewa Krason

A Domino Affect

By: Ewa Krason
College Now Course - BSS 1

The Thanksgiving table is where the family gathers once a year to not only enjoy a delicious meal, but to retell the stories of their ancestors, the people who have shaped their lives. My Thanksgiving table, though always small and quiet because of our lack of relatives in the United States, was especially quiet this year because of the passing of my grandmother (my mother's mother, named Wladyslawa Kida) the Monday prior to Thanksgiving. She is the first grandparent of mine to die and her death occurred only 3 months after my great uncle's (my father's uncle) death, thus there was reason for both my parents to be sad; their parents' generation was vanishing, the only question was, who would be next.

My grandmother, Wladyslawa, did not live in the United States and had never visited because she never had an opportunity. My mother was the only one of her children who made it to America, but my mother's extraordinary fate had its side effects. These side effects came when my grandmother died, when my mother could not make it to her funeral in Poland. My mother was heart broken and devastated because she could not attend the funeral. Snow had fallen in Poland and the airports were snowed in, not to mention the roads icy, no conditions for driving. My mother also had an expired passport because she had never received a new one from the Polish government.

Though my grandmother's sudden death attributed to the awkwardness of our Thanksgiving dinner, my mother still managed to bring some joy to it by sharing some stories her mother told her about our family. One particular story, one I've heard over and over from my mother, is the one about my great uncle Jan (my mother's youngest uncle, my grandmother Wladyslawa's youngest brother). His story is sad, but its sadness parallels well with the sad history of Poland. His story captures the soul of all Poles, because it is a story about the fight for Poland's independence from Russian Communism.

Great uncle Jan was not a soldier. He was a laborer at the local forced labor factory, instituted by the communist-dominated Polish government, which was installed in 1945 after the reluctant approval of the Allies. During the next seven years, Poland became a socialist state modeled after the Soviet Union. During this seven year period of protests and rebellions, Poland's First Six-Year Plan, which began in 1950 and called for the accelerated development of heavy industry, was instituted, Jan being part of its workforce.

As a government employee, Jan had to follow the rules of the Polish government, which were to come in to work everyday, regardless. In these labor factories the men worked hard, from dawn to dusk in terrible conditions, under the strict supervision of government guards. There, no talking was allowed, because efficiency was the goal of the factory. If men broke the rules, they were shot on the spot in front of the whole work force, which was a tactic used to scare the Polish men into obeying the guards because their life was at jeopardy if they did not.

Jan, barely 19 years old, was a new member of the factory, who was taken out of school to work, along with many other young boys. These boys had not worked in the factory long enough to know the consequences of not obeying the rules, for no one talked about the consequences for fear they were speaking out against the government, a crime punishable with death, because it was viewed as treason. When these boys found out they could not have a day off in observance of a big Polish/Catholic holiday, Boze Czialo, in early June, they were furious because as a part of Polish tradition, no one is allowed to work on this day, even non-Catholics. This holiday is a national holiday, a holiday observed by all, and a day when no one works, but the new Communist government was atheist. This clash of cultures and morals infuriated my great uncle and his friends to the point that they decided to skip work to attend church in observance of the holiday.

In order to understand why my great uncle was so angry one has to understand that Poland is an extremely religious country. Everyone attends church. Everything revolves around the Church, especially if you live in the country, as Jan did, and most of my family still does. Religion is the center of everyone's life, because that is all they had at that time of war and death. People believed in God, and prayed to him everyday so he can save them and bring them to Heaven, away from all the trouble on earth. Their prayers were their hope. If their religion was taken away from them, so was their hope. For Jan, the Communists had taken so much and caused so much pain, that he could not let them take his religion and faith too. He wanted to make a stand, and show the Communists that he would not give up his religion so easily, as he had his freedom. He made his stand along with four friends, by skipping work to attend mass.

Late that night, government officials (essentially, soldiers in the secret police, who worked to ward off rebellions when they started so they would not escalate, becoming greater threats) came to each of the boy's houses and arrested them, but instead of taking them to the local jail, they were taken to the woods nearby. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they were forced to stand with their backs to the officials. These officials, armed with guns, shot each of the boys in the back of their head, including my great uncle Jan, who was barely 18 years old at that time.

The bodies of these five boys was discovered early the next morning, after reports of gunfire in the woods. Each family of the five young men went to claim their flesh and blood from the woods in order to give him a proper funeral and burial. These five young men were buried next to each other, and their deaths never spoken of, once again for fear of speaking out against the government.

My mother was not even born when my great uncle Jan died, but she head this story over and over from her mother when she was growing up and now she has told it to my sister and me many times over. The story is a sad tale and is one of the many reasons why my mother left Poland in the early 1980s thus contributing to a domino affect. For my mother, America was a long awaited dream, a heaven on Earth, the land of opportunity and freedom she never had before. This was the place where she wanted to raise her children and she now is.