June 24, 2017

Day 4: Polska Walczy

On a Sunday morning in the fall of 1942, my grandfather, Major Antoni Wegrzyn, walked into the Church of St. Wojiech in Krakow at 9 a.m. sharp. He was scheduled to meet with his new commander, Major Galica, of the Polish Underground Army, or Armia Krajowa.

Major Galica was supposed to meet him in the confessional at the left of the altar, but he never arrived. At 9:45, my grandfather left. He later found out that he’d been mistaken about the time of the meeting. Had he arrived on time, at 10 a.m., he would have been arrested by the same Gestapo agents who had arrested Major Galica two days earlier.

On a Saturday evening 75 years later, my 10-year-old daughter and I walked up to the same church. It’s a tiny church, older than the rest of Krakow’s central square, and completely dwarfed by it. Tonight, there was a rock concert happening next to it.

Church at left, concert at right. The crowd was not assembled for evening prayer.

Inside the church, Evie and I lit two candles. I lit mine with a prayer of gratitude for my grandfather’s life, and Evie lit hers for my mother.

Their meeting spot was the confessional, just to the left of the altar.

I knelt and I prayed in thanks for this moment and tried to imagine that other moment 75 years ago. I tried to picture the grandfather who died when I was 5 and whom I only know from photos and anecdotes.

Evie learned a lot about our family's history and World War II today, thanks to several hours at the Museum Armii Krajowa.  

Morse Code < texting

Officially, the Polish Army was defeated barely a month after the Germans invaded in 1939. However, through more than 5 years of occupation, Poland never stopped fighting. The Polish resistance was large, well organized, and more successful than history gave it credit for. Since the other invaders, the Soviets, ended up controlling Poland after the war, they got to write the history books - and imprisoned the leaders after the war.

My grandfather, code name Ostroga, was one of the resisters. I learned his story by translating his memoirs, and today I went to the museum of the resistance army (Armia Krajowa) to see some relevant artifacts and historical context.

At the beginning of the occupation, my grandfather's primary role was Intelligence, gathering and distributing underground newspapers, coded messages, and other important information for the resistance.

Examples of pamphlets he might have carried
My grandmother also was a resister; she led a secret Polish school in a time when the Germans forbid post-secondary education and the teaching of history.

Evie enjoyed hearing that children participated in the resistance by spreading graffiti and counter-propaganda. 

The symbol of the resistance, an anchor made of the letters PW: Polska Walczy (Poland Fights)

From 1944 to 1945, my grandfather led a 90-member partisan unit called Poscig (Chase) in a remote area south of Krakow.

This wasn't his gear, but it feels like it could have been.

Tomorrow, I am taking Evie and my mom to see the villages and sites where the brave men of Poscig trained, fought, and refused to accept defeat. 

Even though I don’t have any childhood memories of my grandfather, I have some from today, and I will make new ones tomorrow. That is the miracle of this trip, for which I will light another candle in another church tomorrow.

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