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The Unbearable Lightness of Perceiving One's Origin

Prologue

Origin is one of the most common causes of conflicts. The most direct confirmation of this thesis was provided by a group of people who publicly, on January 5, 1919, established a community called the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Perhaps at the time, they did not realize that their small snowball would grow to a size that would forever change the world. Nonetheless, in the following years, they used the gears in the minds of millions of people who were willing to build a wall around their own beliefs, effectively separating them from the facts.


What fact did they overlook? The fundamental one - the continuity of human existence. Avoiding this state of affairs is a part of every generation and infects the minds of the vast majority. Fortunately, the circumstance is that people are by nature not very audacious and courageous, so this contagion is limited at most to mildly harmful expressions of this paralysis. Unless it lands on fertile ground, as it did in 1919.


What is the continuity of human existence? The fact that all those currently walking the Earth did not arrive on the planet from a distant corner of the universe, nor can anyone boast of acquiring life without the involvement of someone who came before us. So predecessors were needed for us to come into the world. So it's all about origin! Furthermore, our predecessors had the same problem - we call them grandparents. And grandparents needed the same - for us, they are already great-grandparents. And it is astonishing that at this point, the mind often departs from the real world and hits a glass ceiling. Previous generations somehow interest us less. It is true that a tiny percentage of those currently alive had the pleasure of meeting people called great-great-grandparents to a greater or lesser degree, but this does not change the fact that they had to exist for us to exist. But what importance do the distorted figures from x years ago in the here and now have?


Let me introduce you to sixteen - eight men and eight women. Try to get to know them, and then please answer a few questions.


Number one

The man number one received the name Franciszek during baptism. The world welcomed him during the Spring of Nations, which was in full swing. The fields yielded poorly, and society was quickly becoming frustrated. Some blamed the Russians for the state of affairs, others blamed the Germans, and still, others laid the blame on the ambitions of Napoleon, who was already resting in his grave. Although in the area where Franciszek appeared, one of the Podlachian dialects was spoken, they lived in a country called the Russian Empire, so by necessity, they were familiar with that language. It must be admitted that despite not very eventful times, life for Franciszek's parents was bearable; after all, they were nobility (to the lesser joy of the peasantry, who, in exchange for a few potatoes and other goodies, provided the landlords with an insufferable ease of existence).

Kobylin Borzymy at the beginning of the 20th century. Source: fotopolska.eu

When the boy was 14 years old, the January Uprising broke out. What was said about this popular uprising in their manor? We do not know. Whether it was supported, remained silent, or criticized – it's impossible to guess. In Kobylin Pogorzałki (parish of Kobylin Borzymy), where they lived, there was no battle recorded in history. However, we can speculate that the skirmishes in the vicinity, which lasted for just under two years, could have stirred the emotions of the teenage boy.


War is war, but life had to return to its daily rhythm. In 1879, in the distant Nieciece (parish of Tykocin), located 12 kilometers away, lived a girl named Waleria, the heiress of a well-off nobleman, to whom Frank had cast his eye. This gesture resulted in marriage, and after dealing with the assertive in-laws, they took over the "Nieciece estate." With a larch manor, acres of land, and a bright future under the rule of Tsar Alexander III Romanov, they set out to secure their offspring. By the capricious fate of unbridled fortune, a male offspring (which was an honorable act) appeared only after 14 years of trial and error.


Guessing that by then being satisfied, Franciszek began to try his hand in another field of study, namely gambling. The local Jews successfully ran several gambling dens, where the late 19th century passed quite tolerably for wealthy nobles. Because the delivery of American gambling chips was delayed, the stakes had to be wagons, carriages, horses, and even livestock. How much Franciszek won? We do not know. The heirs are still looking for buried chests of gold. However, we do know that he managed to professionally lose, among other things, teams of horses, which directly affected the efficiency of the farm he managed.

In 1903, the 54-year-old Franciszek, full of days and experiences, rested beside his wife in the cemetery in Tykocin. And today, almost no one remembers Mr. Number One.


Number two

Miss Waleria's teenage years passed rather peacefully, except for occasional discussions combined with small scuffles about whether the land of Tykocin was part of Podlasie or, indeed, Mazovia. It may seem that she did not directly participate in this clarification, but there is ultimately no evidence to confirm this. As one of the youngest in the family, she certainly experienced joy at each subsequent wedding of a sibling. According to tradition, noble weddings were a celebration for the whole village. Probably at that time, they temporarily deviated from veganism to satisfy the appetites of those with more carnivorous natures.


Finally, her big day arrived. At the age of 22, she got married. Like every bride, she planned for her marriage to be long, happy, and lasting. To realize this plan, she focused on raising children and managing the household. Her husband's most important dream, which must have also been her dream, was only realized after 14 years of effort - she gave birth to Edwin. Three years later, she sealed the success with the birth of a second son. Unfortunately, in this case, postpartum complications and long queues for the National Health Fund (NFZ) ended her life, which lasted only 42 years. The memory of Waleria faded into oblivion.


Number three

Aleksander was born in 1843, but it is not entirely clear where. There is a strong likelihood that it was in the Grodno region (now Belarus). What he did, what he occupied himself with, how he grew up, and who he associated with – we do not know. Whether he was handsome or had high expectations is also difficult to determine. However, we do know that he decided to get married at the age of 38. At that time, people of his age did not usually expect to meet a young lady, and his peers used dating websites always with the filter "widow".

Jewish district of Brańsk. Source: fotopolska.eu

Aleksander was lucky, or perhaps he was truly handsome and had high standards for a partner. At any rate, he married a 24-year-old young lady from Brzeźnica (parish of Brańsk). There were more Jews in the area than Polish-speaking people (although, in reality, many used dialects). Did this fact keep the groom up at night? We do not know. What we do know is that there were smaller or larger social conflicts on this issue for many decades. Whether he liked it or not, he spent the rest of his life in the vicinity of Brańsk in Podlasie.


He had quite a few children. Furthermore, most of them reached adulthood, which can be attributed to either good genes or hygiene, although the latter was not taken seriously in every household.


Aleksander was not an interesting enough person to leave notes in the local court, written memories, or the accounts of historians. He passed away at the relatively old age of 74, considering the standards of that time. He watched the Great War (because it was not known then that it was only the first one) from a wooden bench in front of his house but did not live to see its conclusion.


Number four

Petronela certainly had parents who were traditionalists. Her name had fallen into obscurity many years before her birth, and her parents decided to dig it out from the depths of oblivion and use it during her baptism.


The Petronela's family cleverly avoided any entries by the priest, so there isn't much that can be said about her youth. Whether her parents lived long or short lives, whether she had siblings, whether she lived in a cottage or a manor – imagination must replace the facts.

It wasn't until the age of 22, through a lapse in attention, that she became subject to surveillance and got married, which was recorded in the parish records in Brańsk. Since that time, her vigilance towards all forms of surveillance was dulled, and as a result, we know that she gave birth to at least eight children, including twins.

Pietkowo Palace Park. Source: National Digital Archives (NAC)

In 1917, she became a widow, which opened the door to travels for her. She did not fancy long journeys, so 19 kilometers were entirely satisfying for her. Since the days of the tsar had faded into oblivion, and modern Poland, the Second Republic, brightened everyday life, Petronela, in line with the spirit of the times, began a professional career. She moved with her two adult children to the Pietkowo estate. What profession did she pursue there? We can only guess that, due to her age (she was over 60), she engaged in indoor activities. There, under the management of the estate owner, Mrs. Elżbieta Krasicka, and her son Witold, she reached the end of her days, which occurred in 1933.


Number five

Stanisław didn't have many opportunities to retain memories of his father. His father passed away when the little boy was only two years old. Nevertheless, he must have heard about him many times later, as the profession of a tax collector (which was what Stanisław's father did) was one of the most despised in those times.


The first father was quickly replaced by a second, who, using the filter "search for widows in the area," married Stanisław's mother. The Piotrków land where they lived didn't offer many attractions. The "Manufaktura" (shopping mall) in Łódź was not even in the plans yet, even though it was later built for some strange purposes (A full-scale cotton textile processing factory) instead of selling branded shirts and kebabs. So Stanisław had to occupy his time. And since fields extended as far as the eye could see, he began to plant.


He was quite successful in farming, perhaps due to the determination inherited from his father. At the age of 22, he thought it was high time to start a family. At the same time, he believed that his 16-year-old chosen one had also reached the appropriate age. So, without unnecessary delay, on a beautiful May day in 1860, he married her in the Gorzkowice church.

His life was never short of activities. He sowed, harvested, and ensured the continuation of his family line. Before he knew it, several decades had passed satisfactorily. During this time, he bid farewell to his wife. Life alone, the care of his growing brood of children, and fieldwork became too burdensome for him. Therefore, he decided to change this situation. Since time spent on searching could be put to other use, and he also didn't like strangers, he chose his sister-in-law as his second wife. He passed away nine years later, in March 1910, content that he had left a prepared field for the next season.


Number six

Katarzyna was born in Sobaków. As the Historical Account of the Parish of Gorzkowice reports, there were over 1,800 Catholics in the area, about 100 "non-believers," and a similar number of Jews. It's easy to guess that not all representatives of the majority appreciated the abundance of diversity. Fortunately, the views prevailing in Katarzyna's family did not survive, so they should be added to the set of images of universal tolerance and respect.


Due to her father's early departure, perhaps there was less resistance within the family to her marriage, which she decided on (alone or with help) at the age of 16. She spent the following years being pregnant and taking care of her children. It can be assumed that she did not leave home too often. Her mind was preoccupied with matters related to everyday life. She passed away at the age of 51.


Number seven

Tomasz came into the world in not very favorable times – a little after the November Uprising, a little before the Spring of Nations.


He had to grow up quickly because, at the age of less than 8 years, he lost his father, and six years later, he also lost his mother. With whom he lived and how he managed, we do not know. In his case, securing the means for survival was likely more significant than disputes between the various cultures living in the area. He took up the job of a laborer, which at the time meant that he hired himself out for various physical jobs. In the summer, it wasn't complicated because the Piotrków region offered vast fields where every pair of hands was worth its weight in gold. Winter must have been more challenging, as finding work required resourcefulness.


In 1869, he married a 21-year-old girl from Gorzkowice, and most likely, this allowed him to settle in her family's home. The security provided him with the freedom to extend his family line. The village, for those times, was a prestigious piece of land due to the Warsaw-Vienna railway line that passed through it.

A locomotive passing through Gorzkowice. Source: fotopolska.eu

The possibility of regularly watching trains was a source of pride. Residents of more distant places had to embark on a special journey to see the passing marvel of technology, while for the inhabitants of Tomasz's house, it was enough to look out the window. We may not realize how much joy this social status could have brought them.


Despite many reasons to be content, Tomasz did not find a steady job. He continued to work as a laborer until the end of his life, which ended at the age of 67 due to pneumonia. An unconscious reason for him to be happy was the fact that he did not live to see the Great War, which took the lives of some of his children and extended family.


Number eight

Katarzyna was born in Osiny, which has since disappeared from the map. In her case, just like her peers, there couldn't have been a worse time to be born. The number of deaths in 1848 in her parish was twice as high as in the previous year. The main food, potatoes, rotted before they could be harvested. People survived on what they could find in the forest, and because everyone was looking for sustenance there, resources were scarce.


It took nature and people several years to recover from the rock bottom. It may seem that Katarzyna's parents managed this quite skillfully because they acquired property in the center of their world – the village of Gorzkowice.

Katarzyna with her mother and daughters around 1892. Source: private collections

A little later, Katarzyna got married, and a bit later, she started having children. And so it went on for the next 20 years. It seems that they lived comfortably, primarily thanks to their parents. This is indicated by the fact that despite her husband's profession as a laborer, they could afford an expensive photograph taken in front of their home. So it was the photographer who had to make the effort, not them. Nevertheless, thanks to this, we know what this woman, her two daughters, and her mother looked like around 1892.


After burying her husband in 1908, she probably only took on the role of a grandmother. She witnessed the Great War, occasionally shedding tears for those in her family who lost their lives. She succumbed to pneumonia in October, at the age of 82.


Number nine

Georg was living the high life. He was born into the golden years of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. His parents were wealthy landowners with forests and fields in the northern regions of Austrian Silesia, one of the most developed provinces of the empire.


He was likely introduced to the role of a farmer from a young age, which made him love the work. He knew how to make good deals, so when he was 24 years old, he married an 18-year-old heiress to a large estate. He merged both estates, acquiring even more fields and forests. After his father's death, which came with an additional inheritance, he bought a substantial property in the village of Lippowetz near Ustroń. There, he built a house. During the winter evenings, due to less work, he enjoyed the company of his wife, which is why most of his eleven children were born between September and December.


Then came the Great War, which probably didn't sit well with the wealthy Georg. He was forced to provide inventory for military purposes. After the war, the change in national affiliation of his locality and the new system that could directly impact the state of his estate raised concerns. He got involved in politics and joined the Union of Silesian Catholics, where he even served as the Deputy Chairman in the Ustroń district.


A less pleasant event was the death of his 47-year-old wife in 1922. However, it can be assumed that he coped fairly well with the mourning because five weeks after the funeral, he found comfort in the arms of another woman. She brought three of her children from a previous marriage into Georg's home, which was an additional asset during the harvest.

Taking advantage of the fact that his new wife was still in the prime of her life, he filled the staffing gaps with three more children. He didn't worry about potential inheritance disputes because he concluded (of which the parties involved were not aware at the time) that only those from his current marriage would receive the entire estate.

Georg in 1930. Source: private collections

The 1930s were marked by his great involvement in disputes between the Polish-, German-, and Czech-speaking populations, with the consensus being that the Jews were the biggest nuisance.


Old Georg did not relish the outbreak of the Second World War (at that time, the Great War was also renamed to World War I), but he decided to adapt for the sake of his long-standing individual achievements. Since the Wehrmacht paid decent money, all of his sons enlisted in the army.


As long as he could, he developed his farm, which he officially passed on to only three of his youngest children, thereby falling out of favor with the eldest. He passed away in March 1943 when it still seemed that the Thousand-Year Reich had settled permanently in his region.


Number ten

Anna was born into a very wealthy home, in a beautiful area with a view of the Silesian Beskids. Life pampered her every day. She came from a family of German-Polish descent. Back then, one's heritage mattered. Her father's goal in life was to provide a prosperous life for his children, and he succeeded.

Brenna in Austrian Silesia. Source: fotopolska.eu

The marriage proposal she received at the age of eighteen ignited a vision of happiness, love, and the status of the wealthiest residents of Brenna. And so it happened, and at least the last of her self-set goals was certainly achieved.


Out of the eleven children she brought into the world, nine reached adulthood, which can be attributed to their strong immune systems and the cleanliness in their home, which wasn't as fashionable at the beginning of the 20th century.


Acquiring a new property and building a house right next to the Ustroń resort must have been another source of pride for her. However, it wasn't enough to shield her from the consequences of the Great War, which introduced four years of uncertainty into their world. After its conclusion, she didn't enjoy the new political system under the Second Polish Republic and the autonomous Silesian voivodeship where she lived for long. She fell ill with typhus and passed away at the age of 47. She did not experience the loss of her parents, as they departed only after her.


Number eleven

Teschen (pl. Cieszyn) in Austrian Silesia. Source: fotopolska.eu.

Franz Josef, named after the emperor, was raised in Teschen (Polish: Cieszyn). He was the youngest son of Gotthard and Maria, as all of his brothers had died earlier due to a plague. By necessity, he had to be brought up in an atmosphere of fear for his health. His father earned a good living, and his mother took good care of the home. Each stage of his life was carefully planned. He received his education at the local Städtische Volksschule. Then, he learned the trade of a locksmith, and when he acquired citizenship, he was given housing and a job at the Allgemeine Krankenhaus der evangelischen Kirchengemeinde in Teschen (English: The General Hospital of the Evangelical Church Community in Cieszyn).


He and his parents often traveled, visiting Setzdorf, where his father came from, and where his grandmother and cousins lived. They visited Jablunkau, where his grandfather and his mother's siblings and their descendants lived. They visited Troppau, where his oldest brother was buried in the local cemetery. This way, he got to know the world and its people.

In 1904, he met a girl three years older than him from a small village near Skoczow. His mother didn't live to see his wedding and passed away a few months before the event. It must have brought him much sadness.


With his wife, he lived in Teschen. It was there that his first two daughters, Paulina and Maria, were born. In 1908, they moved to a more industrial part of Austrian Silesia, near Polnische Ostrau. Finally, he experienced the loss of a child when his 10-month-old son, Karl, passed away in 1910 due to illness. Shortly after, only about a month later, he was forced to bid farewell to his wife as well.

Franz Josef in 1930. Source: private collection

For two years, he raised his two daughters alone. However, a new hope entered his life brought by his second wife. It seemed like he would finally lead a normal life, but shortly after, the Great War broke out, initiated by his own country, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He went to fight, and when he returned as a representative of the defeated, a new deal in politics threw a wrench into his plans. His region was divided between two countries – the Second Polish Republic and Czechoslovakia. From that day, relatives, cousins, and in-laws became either compatriots or foreigners. With his wife and seven children, whom he already had by then, they settled in the mountain resort of Wisła. Despite being born, raised, married, buried a son and a wife in those areas, he did not receive citizenship until 1929. It took him that long to transform from a German into a Pole. In the meantime, he remained stateless.


The thirties were spent working as a roadmaster, mixed with political activities. Due to his party's losses in the elections, he stuck with the former until his retirement.

Franz Josef with wife and children in 1942. Source: private collection

Finally, World War II broke out. What was his initial attitude towards it? We don't know. The first fact is that his son joined the Schutzpolizei, quickly advancing through the ranks. The second fact is that he entered into a major conflict with this son shortly before the end of the war. The third fact is that the same son, along with other representatives of the defeated, escaped to Australia in January 1945 (as it turned out only 30 years later).


After the war, he was not expelled like many German-speaking residents of the region. He initially lived in Cieszyn, and after the death of his wife and entering into his third marriage, in his new, beautiful home in Harbutowice (near Ustroń and Skoczów).


He passed away in 1962, with memories of the world under the scepter of Emperor Franz Joseph (his namesake), Piłsudski, Mościcki, Hitler, Stalin, and finally Khrushchev.


Number twelve

Maria in a portrait from 1904. Source: Private collection.

Maria was born in the beautiful village of Gross-Gurek (Górki Wielkie) located in the Silesian Beskids. The charm of her surroundings could only be admired when stepping outside because the conditions she grew up in were far from elite. Their wooden cottage was certainly not luxurious, and the dirt floor was a feature in every room. They likely lived from one summer to the next, and colder days were a struggle for survival. Out of her five siblings, only she and her younger brother survived.


When she got married and moved to Teschen (Cieszyn), her reality certainly changed. She exchanged the cold cottage for a brick apartment in a beautiful hospital complex. She also experienced motherhood and enjoyed life in a safe world for five long years.


Then came the year 1910. Her child and herself fell ill simultaneously. They decided to return to her family home, where her mother, father, and father-in-law (who also lived there at the time) were supposed to help in this crisis situation.


These were her last memories. After the loss of her ten-month-old son, she gave in. She passed away five weeks later at the age of 33.


Number Thirteen

Josef was a strong and self-assured child, raised in such spirit. His parents were wealthy farmers, and hard work and resilience were the main attributes of the people living in the immediate vicinity. His ancestors had lived on the Istebna hills for at least 300 years. These hills posed a challenge because agriculture on this type of land was not the easiest.


When he was 28, he married a girl from the nearby area, and since his two brothers emigrated overseas, the entire family's property fell to him. He already had three children and a bright future ahead when World War I broke out. Like many men his age, he went to fight. Unfortunately, towards the end of the conflict, he ended up as a prisoner of war and was sent to Siberia.

Josef in the 1940s. Source: Private collection

Even though the capitulation was signed in 1918, the Austrian soldiers interned in the Siberian forests were forgotten. Josef realized that the prolonged wait couldn't last indefinitely. One day, he packed what he had and embarked on a journey to his family. We don't know how long the trek took, filled with occasional odd jobs in exchange for food, or whether he managed to cover some of the distance using faster means of transportation than walking. He finally arrived at his family's home in 1920. Only the imagination can suggest the joy he must have felt at the sight of his house in the woods, his wife, three children, and the livestock he loved.


In the interwar period, another daughter was born. His time was filled with work and the gradual independence of his older children. They lived close to each other, and he maintained written contact with his brothers living in the USA throughout his life.

Josef with his family during spring farm work in 1940. Source: Private collection.

In the end, World War II reached his doorstep. His children joined the Wehrmacht. The years under Berlin's control passed relatively well initially, aside from the death of his wife. However, in his granddaughter's memories, it was a period of relative idyll. Then, the period of fear began. The front was getting closer and closer. Neighbors from across the nearby border started to emanate anger for every earlier gesture. It wasn't easy for him, dealing with the stigma of the actions he had taken himself.


The year 1961 possibly brought him one of the most sublime reasons for joy. His younger brother from the USA came to visit. They spent about three weeks together, making up for 50 years of separation. The exchanges of words, gestures, looks, and different customs between them will remain a secret. He passed away a year later at the age of 82, happy that the farm remained in the hands of his children.


Number Fourteen

Marianna grew up on the southern slope of the famous Koniakow (then called Koniakau). In front of their wooden house was a beautiful view of the spruce forest. She was always cheerful from a young age. Perhaps, being in nature gave her the most reasons to be happy.

She was accustomed to diversity. She grew up among Catholics, Evangelicals, and one Jewish family. In the nearby and further areas, people spoke various dialects of Polish, German, Czech, and Slovak. This world was natural to her. The borderland didn't always foster respect for differences, but it certainly provided insight into the fact that otherness exists.


When she was 28, she got married. Their new home was lively. They lived with her in-laws and her husband's siblings, and not long after, their first child arrived. Then the second and the third. Meanwhile, the Great War broke out. The country in which she lived, Austria-Hungary, initially achieved success. Her husband went to the front. Only imagination can suggest the tremendous stress and worry that his captivity in Siberia was for her. We don't know if they had written contact. We know she waited.


The post-war world looked different from the one she knew. From a citizenship perspective, she stopped being Austrian and became Polish. She became a resident of the Autonomous Silesian Voivodeship, where both Polish and German were official languages. When she was 44, she became a mother for the last time. When she was 57, she became a grandmother for the first time.

Marianna with her husband in 1942. Source: Private collections

When she was just getting used to her new role, another war broke out. Where she lived, there was a swift change in the ruling regime. Most of the residents signed the Volksliste, and the Nazis considered this society to be Germanized Poles. Nationalism took a strong foothold. Her sons became soldiers in the Wehrmacht, and opponents of the new regime were quickly silenced. The local Jewish family ended up in the Auschwitz concentration camp, never to return.


Did Marianna know what was really happening? What was her attitude toward it? We can only speculate. She experienced the war painfully when, during a gathering in her family home in Koniaków, she bid farewell to her brother. He was killed accidentally by a stray bullet during a manhunt for a partisan in the nearby forest.


In her consciousness, the image of a war-torn, cruel world remained when she closed her eyes for the last time in March 1944. She was 64 years old.


Number fifteen

Josef was born during the Belle Époque when everything was going well. His family home was located right near the Silesian-Hungarian border (in reality, Slovak). Josef's father was an illegitimate child, so his parentage remained undiscovered. He received his surname when he was four years old, when his mother married a local farmer. It's unclear whether the facts related to his father influenced Josef's upbringing.


The proximity of the first Slovak village (just under 4 kilometers away) naturally led to close contacts between the locals. Josef often chose the direction of Skalite (then Sziklaszoros) rather than Istebna. Being the son of a wealthy farmer, from whom the entire hamlet (Maciejka) took its name, he must have been considered a good catch. Whether his social status was accompanied by good looks, we don't know. None of his photos have been found to this day.


In any case, at the age of 26, he married Barbara, a Slovak native one year younger than him. They settled on the Silesian side of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In 1914, their first daughter was born. The Great War, which occurred at that time, introduced a new role in their lives. Josef, like most men of his age, received a pearl invitation to the war, which he had to accept. During breaks from fighting, he returned to increase the number of their children.

The new border near the place where Josef lived. Source: fotopolska.eu

After the war, he turned to smuggling, which was the primary occupation of people in his area. The new borders on the maps provided opportunities to expand his business skills, and many were eager to take advantage of them, including Josef. This work was not easy, considering the occasional chance of making not just a few pennies but also getting a bullet. Border guards appeared on the borders, earning their living partly by shooting at the defiant traders from the early 20th century.


The situation was finally expected to change when the Thousand-Year Reich began implementing its election program in these areas. However, Josef was not destined to enjoy all the benefits associated with it. He died of pneumonia in the first year of the Nazi regime's thousand-year rule.


Number Sixteen

Barbara was the second child in her family. She was born during the prosperous times of her village. A railway line passed through the village, and her family home was nearby. In her family, they spoke the Czadec dialect, influenced by the Hungarian language, which was highly promoted in her area at that time.


Being one of the first children of her parents, she certainly had a share of responsibility for supporting the household. What exactly they did on a daily basis, we do not know. Around their house, there was shepherding, water mills, a small refinery producing lighting oil, and a brewery.

Barbara in 1910. Source: Private collection.

Finally, the time came for her wedding. Her life partner turned out to be a Silesian farmer living near the so-called German border of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. The ceremony took place (as tradition dictated) in the bride's family parish.


They settled down in her husband's family home, located 4 kilometers from her parents' place. During the Great War, she gave birth to two children. After its conclusion, she was separated from her parents and siblings by the new state border. At that time, the neighbors who used to live next door became foreigners, and the residents of, for example, the almost 1000 km-distant town of Brasław in Podlachia became fellow countrymen.


Especially for her, in 1938, the Prime Minister of the Second Polish Republic, Sławoj Składkowski, decided to change the situation by recognizing that it was high time for another adjustment of the borders and the armed occupation of the upper Czadec villages, annexing them to Poland. What was Barbara's attitude towards this? We do not know.

Skalité in Slovakia. Source: facebook.com (group "Skalité in historical photographs")

We know that in her hometown, there was a demonstration against the annexation. Unsuccessfully. But only for a moment, as another gentleman also thought that the borders were not entirely in place, and in 1939, he started a more extensive surveying action.


Barbara's two sons became soldiers in the Wehrmacht. Her opinion on what was happening in the world is unknown. She was widowed right at the beginning of the war. After its conclusion, she moved to her daughter and son-in-law, who lived in the forester's lodge "Za Olzą." There, she spent her time smoking a pipe and gradually losing her eyesight. This is how her last 27 years of life passed. She was remembered as a quiet, reserved, and peaceful old lady who lived to be 86 years old.


Epilogue

Sixteen different people, with different approaches, personalities, likes, and dislikes. Different life realities, different national and cultural identities. They all had something in common – me. I am the great-grandchild of each of them.


What is my origin? Which character from this sixteen should be more important to me? Which one could be missing? Which identity should be closer to me? Which conflict based on nationality, culture, or something else should I take personally?


Origin is one of the most common causes of conflicts in the world. Moreover, it is raised to the sky as an element of identity and heritage that must be defended. However, is it just an imagination not based on facts?


Would you name your sixteen? These are not such distant times. Surely you know what happened many years earlier, for example, in Middle Ages. Your ancestors lived then too – that's a fact. Only there were more than sixteen of them. Which side did they fight on? What did they think of themselves? What culture and identity did they raise to the sky?


Among the whole sixteen of these people, only one of them currently has a grave that remains. The rest do not even exist in the consciousness of direct descendants. Even the fact of their existence has been blurred, not to mention their origin, views, personalities, and deeds they committed. Doesn't that give you something to think about?


"And the city and the village

It's one world for us!

And everywhere, child,

Your sister, your brother!

And everywhere, child,

Among the forests, among the fields,

Like you, they feel joy,

Like you, they feel pain."


Maria Konopnicka, Our World


Author: Jonasz Milewski

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