Polish-AngloSaxon Studies, vol. 17 (2014)
JACEK SIMIŃSKIIndependent scholar
A TAPESTRY OF POLISH LIVES
„Aleksandra Ziółkowska-Boehm’s book, Druga bitwa o Monte Cassino i inne opowieści (The
Second Battle of Monte Cassino and Other Stories) covers a significant array of historical
events and cultural phenomena, ranging from the Warsaw Uprising (1August – 2 October
1944) in the Nazi-occupied Warsaw, to the culture shock of émigré Poles visiting Poland
under communism. Among Ziółkowska-Boehm’s publications, there are many that have been
devoted to documenting the lives of Poles migrating to the United States of America or
Canada, including perhaps the best known book, Korzenie są polskie (The Roots Are Polish).1
While different from it in its emphasis and scope, Druga bitwa o Monte Cassino also involves
the theme of Polish migration and settlement away from Poland.
A significant part of the book – almost half of it – is devoted to the protracted and bloody Battle of Monte Cassino (1944), during which the Allied forces, with a key participation of the Polish II Corps, attempted to clear a path to Rome against Germans. The book is composed of nine stories emerging largely from interviews carried out by the book’s author with Poles who settled abroad. While in several chapters the stress falls clearly on events taking place during World War II, in many of the stories an important element is the portrayal of the lives of Poles who, after World War II, emigrated to the West, to such countries as the United States of America, Canada, or the United Kingdom. It is this dimension of the book that this review will focus on.
From this perspective, the story of Krystyna and Marek Jaroszewicz may be particularly interesting. Separated by the war, they met in Zurich after the war ended and migrated to the United States. There, Marek Jaroszewicz became a successful architect and university teacher. From the chapter there emerges a picture of the Polish diaspora in the USA which is helpful to its members. It is also here that the reader may find descriptions of a culture shock experienced by émigré Poles visiting Poland in the period of communism.
Particularly interesting are also descriptions of the differences which surfaced when Poles
who settled in the West met and talked to those who lived in Poland.
Another chapter that contains a broad description of Polonia in the United States is the
story of Zofia Korbońska. She was the wife of Stefan Korboński – a lawyer who during the
war was a leading member of the non-communist resistance movement and of the authorities
of the Polish Secret State. Zofia, together with her husband, was involved in the establishment and operation of the radio station “Świt” (Dawn), which, broadcasting in Polish from the United Kingdom, managed to provide timely reports thanks to radio communications with occupied Poland. Zofia and Stefan participated actively in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1947, when a second arrest by the communists threatened her and her husband, the Korbońskis had to flee Poland. Via Sweden, they reached the United States, where they continued their political and radio activity.
The chapter on Rudolf S. Falkowski also stands out in this light. He was a Polish aviator who, having left occupied Poland through a complex path, joined the famous No. 303 Polish Squadron of the Royal Air Force in the Britain. From 1929 to 1948 he kept a journal which is frequently quoted in the book and gives a unique insight into his personal experience. After the dissolution of his squadron, Falkowski emigrated to Canada.
The last and longest chapter of the book tells “the story of a story”: an account of how Zdzisław Starostecki, a Polish officer and, after the war, military constructor, attempted to publicize an account of the Battle of Monte Cassino which differed from the very popular account of it written and published by the Polish writer Melchior Wańkowicz.2 The story of migration and settlement away from Poland is present in the background also here. After the war Starostecki lived in London and then in the United States. He succeeded in the new environment: he worked for the US military research programs and contributed greatly to the development of the Patriot missile system. One of his sons became a lawyer, and the other had a successful career in the US Navy.
It then had many editions, including censored editions in Poland under communism.
Polish-British and Polish American relations are also present elsewhere in the book, as in the chapter in which Janusz Brochwicz-Lewiński, a commander in the Warsaw Uprising, tells the story of the death of Krystyna Wańkowiczówna, daughter of the writer Melchior Wańkowicz, in the Uprising. After the war Brochwicz-Lewiński settled in the United Kingdom, where he served in the British Army and worked for the British secret service. Also the chapter on Maria Kowal, a Polish emigrant living in Chicago and focussing in her interview on wartime Polish-Ukrainian relations, including the mass killing of the Poles in the Wołyń (Volhynia) massacre (1943-1944), contains such elements.
The book is well written and the narration involves the reader. The stories add a necessary personal dimension to the grand events in which individual lives were lived.
Various aspects of the Polish emigrant experience come to the fore in them. Perhaps too much emphasis is placed on the conflict among the veterans regarding the Battle of Monte Cassino,at which point some of the vividness seems to be missing – but then the complexity of the matter may have required taking this approach. The book is written in Polish; if translated into
English it would be of interest to all those investigating the often troubled Polish emigrant lives for both professional and family reasons.”
A. Ziółkowska-Boehm, Druga bitwa o Monte Cassino i inne opowieści, Wydawnictwo Iskry, Warszawa 2014.
1 A. Ziółkowska-Boehm, Korzenie są polskie, BGW, Warszawa 1992; published in English as The Roots Are Polish (2nd ed., Canadian Polish Research Institute, Toronto ).
2 M. Wańkowicz, Bitwa o Monte Cassino (Battle of Monte Cassino), 3 vols., Wydawn. Oddz. Kultury i Prasy Drugiego Polskiego Korpusu, Rome 1945-1947
JACEK SIMIŃSKI, A TAPESTRY OF POLISH LIVES, Polish-AngloSaxon Studies, vol. 17 (2014)