After some initial delays trying to get out of the country with regard to my passport expiration dates, I did finally make it to my grandparents’ front door without any other surprises. The days were soon filled with grandma’s delicious comfort food, many visits to Wrocław’s hip new cafes, and wandering around town to take in the sights and changes that I missed over the last few years.
In time, I set up interviews and meetings with friends old and new. Things slowly fell into place and I pushed forward with research about my family’s travel routes and timelines. Grandpa unearthed a stash of mom’s old letters that helped to fill in some gaps and I’m also trying to obtain government records. But these things take time. The bureaucratic machine grinds forward, as in any other country, ever so slowly. More appointments will have to wait until I come back this way in September. Should be easier to catch some folks once their summer vacations are out of the way.
As the days here turn into weeks, I am once again feeling the weight of history on this place and us. Our story is inevitably intertwined with the past and understanding why we ended up going on such a journey requires some understanding of the history in these parts. Focusing on the last three or four decades will probably have to be enough for the scope of my project but it begins much further back in time. Something that becomes clearer with each visit to a museum or some other monument.
At one such place, the Center for Memory and Future, I saw a succinct overview of Poland’s fate post WWII. Walking through the exhibits with my grandfather I learned of how his family was put on cattle cars from Lwów and resettled in the south of Poland. All this in the wake of his father, uncles, and grandfather being killed in the war. Even though I knew this in part already, it became clear to me then how much of this legacy has been passed on to us. The feelings of always being on the run, of never quite feeling at rest anywhere, and how some of this trans-generational trauma persists in my mother, sister, and I.
What’s more, after a month of being with family it started getting to me. The old-world perspectives, authoritarian approaches, and patriarchal attitudes began to make me feel like I just needed to get out of the house more and more. My questioning of our life choices was now counterbalanced with understanding the dysfunctional dynamics in our family which served to motivate my mother as much as anything to get out and never look back.
If I were in her shoes I’m not sure that I would have chosen differently. Certainly not with twenty years of oppression from state, marriage, and family. Any one of those burdens would be enough to make me run these days. What courage it must have taken to pick up the pieces after all three tried to break her, day in and day out, to say nothing of the persistence it took to actually make it happen. You couldn’t just pack up and leave after all. That process itself was long, disheartening, and filled with a high probability of failure. But she was determined to put this plan in motion, one that would be years in the making.
As I boarded the ferry in Świnouście to cross the Baltic, entering through the steel-walled cargo hold, I remembered having seen a similar sight thirty years ago when our train wagons rolled inside a ferry. With a great deal of fatigue but also some relief, I settled in for the trip. The ocean was calm as the worn-with-age boat propelled us into the night.