Family History of Fear: A Memoir
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
“Family History of Fear has been in me for years. Along with this secret. From the instant I found out I was not who I thought I was.”
Every family has its own history. Many families carry a tragic past. Like the author’s mother, many Poles did not tell their children a complete story of their wartime exploits—of the underground Home Army, the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising, the civil war against the Communists. Years had to pass before the stories of suffering and heroism could be told.
In Family History of Fear, Agata Tuszyńska, one of Poland’s most admired poets and cultural historians, writes of the stories she heard from her mother about her secret past.
Tuszyńska, author of Vera Gran (“a book of extraordinary depth and power”—Richard Eder, The Boston Globe; “captivating”—Newsweek; “darkly absorbing, shrewd, and sharply etched”—Publishers Weekly), has written a powerful memoir about growing up after the Second World War in Communist Poland—blonde, blue-eyed, and Catholic.
The author was nineteen years old and living in Warsaw when her mother told her the truth—that she was Jewish—and began to tell her stories of the family’s secret past in Poland. Tuszyńska, who grew up in a country beset by anti-Semitism, rarely hearing the word “Jew” (only from her Polish Catholic father, and then, always in derision), was unhinged, ashamed, and humiliated. The author writes of how she skillfully erased the truth within herself, refusing to admit the existence of her other half.
In this profoundly moving and resonant book, Tuszyńska investigates her past and writes of her journey to uncover her family’s history during World War II—of her mother at age eight and her mother, entering the Warsaw Ghetto for two years as conditions grew more desperate, and finally escaping just before the uprising, and then living “hidden on the other side.” She writes of her grandfather, one of five thousand Polish soldiers taken prisoner in 1939, becoming, later, the country’s most famous radio sports announcer; and of her relatives and their mysterious pasts, as she tries to make sense of the hatred of Jews in her country. She writes of her discoveries and of her willingness to accept a radically different definition of self, reading the works of Isaac Bashevis Singer, opening up for her a world of Polish Jewry as he became her guide, and then writing about his life and work, circling her Jewish self in Lost Landscapes: In Search of Isaac Bashevis Singer and the Jews of Poland.
A beautiful and affecting book of discovery and acceptance; a searing, insightful portrait of Polish Jewish life, lived before and after Hitler’s Third Reich.
Polish air, in the autumnal atmosphere of Warsaw in 1969, well after March 1968 with its great wave of hatred and panic, what was there that wouldn’t allow her to offer hospitality to Grażyna and Bartek? What did she not want to be confronted by? The secret service spying efficiently on the Jews? Or the Jews emigrating from Poland? She certainly feared that someone would make the association between her and them, put her in the same category as they. She didn’t want this, either for herself or
Aunt Bronka spoke of Łęczyca. Whatever the subject was—delicious dishes that only Grandmother cooked on Poznańska Street, the wine and liquors in the cellar, the right way to chop and marinate meat, or about a good Tokay or the special set of dishes used for Seder, or the view of the meadow—neither she nor her cousin Maryś wanted to hear a word of it. Absolutely everything else was more important—school, friends, games, their wonderful new life without the slightest hint of fear. They could go to
the ghetto. The courthouse remained on the Aryan side. An entrance on Biała Street gave access to the building. Inside the courthouse was a money market doing business; they sold American dollars at the base rate of a hundred złotys, Swiss francs, and gold rubles. They sold jewelry and gold. In time there was less and less to sell; the price of false papers rose ever higher. In the beginning, to go through the courthouse cost a few złotys, like two pounds of potatoes. The price increased. She
money to Łochów in the spring of 1944 and during the summer, from 500 to 1,800 złotys each month. Another time the receipts were signed by a neighbor, Helena Karolewska, from number 45. Was it a money order from Woldenberg, via SPB, the Enterprise for the Construction of the Capital, in Żoliborz, or payment for hiding Dela? The cost of boarding a child in a Christian family was between 2,500 and 3,500 złotys a month then. Dela kept in chronological order the thick oblong paper postal receipts.
gave my mother her recipe for carp in aspic. She repeated that once the fish was ready, it should not be washed too thoroughly, there should remain a little blood. “Do you understand?” she asked, lowering her voice as if sharing a secret. On these occasions she mentioned Łęczyca, but I didn’t pay any attention. I didn’t think that one day it would become important. Frania never finished her tea; she was already in the entrance hall to take her leave. Before going outside, she checked on her