Thursday, May 10, 2012

Proud to be Polish-American

Pulaski Day Parade New York
It has been fifty years since I lived in Greenpoint, a neighborhood in New York, borough of Brooklyn and a large community of Polish immigrants. I have visited Greenpoint a year ago and not much has changed through the years. People in the supermarkets still speak in Polish and signs written in Polish on their establishments. There are many Polish restaurants that specialize in Polish food such as pickled herring, pierogies, kielbasa and stuffed cabbage.  As you walk the streets you hear the Polish language spoken. The neighborhood's Catholic Churches include large stone structures and there are private Polish Catholic schools. Polish Americans live in the quiet streets in houses and brownstones that have been built many years ago. Greenpoint attracts so many Polish immigrants because of the existing community helps them to adjust to life in the United States.

 Poles that came to America to start new lives worried about forgetfulness. Parents feared that their children would lose touch with their heritage. Many retained connections with the old country, generally through friends or relatives still living in the old country. Polish immigrants had many obstacles to hurdle, forming communities of their own kind, they managed to help one another. Many Polish immigrants arrived after WW ll and from war torn Europe, America seemed like a haven. My parents lived in labor and DP camps for ten years before they came to America. Many left tiny villages in their countryside and resettled in the busy streets of New York, Chicago and other cities. in their homeland many were farmers and the bottom of the economic ladder.

Polish immigrants faced harsh prejudice, unskilled, they worked endless hours to make a living. My father worked as a janitor cleaning offices at night, hardly making enough money to support seven children. I never realized as a child we were poor because everyone in the neighborhood shared the same economic fate. Many poles earned a reputation that gradually hardened into a stereotype. Many people viewed Poles as rowdy, ignorant and drunks. Polish or " Polak" jokes have been laughed at by many as well as comedians. The " Polish " people described in the jokes as naive and stupid.

The election of a Polish Pope brought pride to the Polish people and a positive Polish-American self image.  I remember  Pope John ll coming to Greenpoint and my father wished he could be there to see the Pope, at that time he was living in upstate New York. When they flashed a photo of the Pope on the television, my father took his photo off the T.V. and framed it and hung it on the wall. He was proud to be Polish ! Poles have made great contributions, Czeslaw Milosz won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980, Hollywood and television as well. Gloria Swanson  , actress, Polish decent, Roman  Polanski, Polish filmmaker, Bobby Vinton, singer, his huge hit " My Melody Of Love " and so many more.

Schooling was important, I went to a Polish Catholic school, Our Lady Of Consolation, where Polish was spoken as well as English. To this day I am amazed how my parents were able to pay school tuition for the six of us with my father's income. My sister was a baby and there was no such thing as preschool then. Very few Polish- America children attended public schools, parents viewed it unchristian and demoralizing institutions that would rob the children of their cultural heritage.

For those who  left to come to America from Poland felt responsible to help the Poles left behind. Even though we didn't have much , my mother would pack up boxes of outgrown clothes and donate to the church to send to Poland. Women had control of the family and the men went to work. Although Poles retained much of the Old World values they did not want a mirror of Poland, a country they fled with fear, the women responded to their new freedom as difficult as it  may have been, the pressure to keep the family fed and dressed left little time for any other activity.

The contributions of Polish Americans are many. There is no area of American Life in which Poles have not left an imprint of their own.

Monday, April 30, 2012

With A Blink Of An Eye, Another year, Another Birthday

There comes a time in our lives we all eventually have to deal with aging. One good way to deal with it and accept aging is with humor and a positive attitude. So what if the aging process happens, it eventually hits everyone. One positive thing about getting older that it isn't my fault. How do I know that my youth is all spent? Well my get up and go has got up and went, but in spite of it all I am able to smile, when I think of all the places I have been and all the things I have accomplished.

My First Holy Communion.
I was born in the so called " Baby Boom", started as soon as WW ll ended. For those that think 60 is the new 40, good for you ! The 1960's created the youth movement, 1970's and 1980's were the yuppie years, finding the way to the corporate world. Today Boomers are in their 60's and once again a new shift in their lives. Boomers are now worrying about retirement. They are concerned whether or not politicians will cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Now the oldest of the millions born from 1945 to 1964 are turning and are becoming senior citizens.

Yesterdays are over, I want to see, touch, and hear what I have lost. I'll smile and wipe my tears if I could go back in time. I never had the chance to say goodbye to my mother and father, never got to say I love you, I thought it would be tomorrow. Memories are locked in my mind of childhood past. Every year on my birthday my Godmother would send me a birthday card with $5.00. I never met my Godmother, just knew she immigrated to Chicago after WW ll. To a child in the 1950's that was a lot of money. Mother's day was always a corner away from my birthday, so I used part of my money to buy my mother a gift, an apron, lipstick, hankie and she would tell me I shouldn't be wasting my mother on her. I was proud that I was able to get something for her. Those birthday cards and money stopped coming when I was 16, never knew what happened to my Godmother, that was the last year I heard from her. On my 7th birthday I received my first Holy  Communion on my birthday, and fifty years later my grand daughter received her Communion on the same day. She looked beautiful and brought me back to that day fifty years ago.

Today I look back of what I have achieved so far, a husband of 43 years, a family I love, grand kids I  adore, friends who have proven themselves through the years by standing beside me through laughter and tears, and a career I enjoyed for over forty years. I came to the conclusion I am still as young as I  want to be, I may be older today than I have been before, but I am younger than I'll ever be again.

Friday, April 27, 2012

In Search of Family History

My mother ( right) photo from website.

There are so many questions I have about my parent's past life during WW ll in Poland and still looking for answers. Both my parents died young, my father Walerian Brejwo at the age of 68 died of a massive heart attack, my mother Katarzyna Meilnick was killed at the age of 55 by a drunken driver. When they died they took their memories with them. As a child I was protected from the cold careless world. I had turned my back on my history growing up for what was the past to someone like me who only had dreams of the future. I feel an unexplainable desire to learn and write about the foundation of my life. Today I read documents , look at old photos, conscious of the power of names, places, my roots. I now crave the past.

During my search, a facebook friend posted a website, A site with WW ll photos and videos of war time Poland. There are thousands of photos on this site of different cities in Poland during the war. These photos are priceless and show the tragedy and hardship of life during WW ll. Some photos were submitted to the collection by family members or friends, and then there are those photos that have no information at all. In my search of this website I came across a photo in the Lida section , the first  photo as I opened the page. I looked at the photo very closely and I knew the person in the photo, it was a photo of my mother sitting in the front row on the right with two other women and a group of children standing behind her. According to the web page the photo was taken approximately in 1941 so she must have been 26-27 years of age. I was stunned, tears of joy, and so elated that I came across this photo. I contacted the person who established this website and asked him if I can have a copy of the photo of my mother. He was a gentlemen and the very next day he Emailed me the photo. I do not have many photos of my mother in her younger years and cherish the ones I have. This photo is priceless. I do not know the history behind this photo but I will do my best to research it.

My mother was born in 1914 in Wilno, Lida area, she was left an orphan at the age of two. Her father died fighting WW l and her mother was killed during the war. During WW l , Lida was occupied by German troops. In 1919 the Red Army established Soviet power. On September 30, 1920 Poland and Soviet troops fought in and near Lida, the battle of Niemen. In 1927, there were twenty four factories in Lida. 1928 were rapid years of growth. Lida was an important garrison of the Polish Army. From June 1941 to July 1944, it was occupied by the German troops who killed almost 25,000 people. On September 18, 1943 the Jewish Community of Lida was rounded up and taken to Majdanek, where they were murdered. By September 1944, Lida was in the Grodno Region. This area in now known as Belarus.

I also received a letter from the International Tracing Service ( ITS) about my Uncle Jan Brejwo, my father's brother. I have never met my Uncle and my father never saw him again after 1947. According to the letter I received , he was held under German war captivity in Poland and put in Stalag Xl-B as a POW. He was imprisoned at Torun Poland in a fort that held Polish POW's that was converted to a Polish prison. The district was Grudziadz Poland and the location of a German concentration camp, a sub camp of Stutthof.

This has been a successful week in my searches. I  feel I need some kind of closure, there is a mystery that haunts me. So many people that endured and suffered during the war kept their memories to themselves and have died with them. The first generation of children are now searching to answers of the past. Those that are fortunate to have their parents living is a blessing. Then there are those like me that have a burning desire to  want to know . I will not stop, there isn't a day that I regret that I did not ask my parents questions or show interest of their past. Then on the other hand ,  they left the war time memories behind and started a new life all over again like so many. Their new struggles in a new country, America

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Father's Beacon Camera

My Father's Beacon Camera

Whenever I look back through old family photographs I get a little melancholy. As I go backwards in time I am also reminded how fortunate I am to still have my father's camera, a Beacon made by Whitehouse products in Brooklyn New York. The camera has a lens with metal bellows and takes 16 images on 127 film and has a leather carrying case made in the 1950's. My father encouraged my love of photography, telling the story behind the photograph.

My father, Walerian Brejwo was a man with strong convictions, opinions and strength. He lived through WW II and learned that only through hard work and commitment you can reach your goals. During WW II a bomb dropped on the DP camp we were living  in Germany and he realized we have been saved, not by mere luck, but by the hand of God. He was a man devoted to his family. My father worked for everything he had. He set his site on something and worked for it. Everything was paid by cash, he did not own any credit cards or even have a checkbook. He took pleasure from simple things in life, he loved music and I remember the first radio and record player he brought. I must have heard that 78 LP vinyl record  " Good Night Irene" and "Tennessee Waltz" played a millions times , to the point my mother wished she named me Irene.

Growing up in New York I remember my father carrying his camera everywhere we went.  It was always hanging around his neck almost like it was part of him or a tie. I often find that having a photograph reminds me of how I felt at that certain time the photo was taken. Memories can be triggered by photos of places and people; it takes us back in time. Whenever my father pressed the shutter button, he was framing and stopping that second in time for the future to look back at the past. Life is a picture, as I page through the years, sometimes I shed some tears. So many faces I have known,  some have passed away and others have grown. A photograph is a memory to hold.

My Father, photo I took with his Beacon camera.
I have a great passion for photography, did I inherit the gene from my father? My camera comes with me everywhere I go and sometimes hangs around my neck. The Beacon camera is not worth much dollar value, but to me it's priceless. It was my father's, thirty years passed on  and a memory that  keeps him alive in my heart and will always cherish it. Sometimes it's hard to realize, when the photos are spread out before my eyes, with all the pictures my father took, our whole lives are in the old photo book. A photograph is a memory to hold of happy times and pleasant things, however new or old. It is a mirror that reflects our lives in the past.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The letter , coming to America

Example of an tenement Apartment
" An opening for a job and housing in the United States is available for you. Your job will be an unskilled worker. You must start to learn and speak English now. Your destination in the U.S.A. will be 257 East 10th Street, New York. This opportunity has been made possible to you by the combined efforts of the Protestant and Orthodox Church in America." A letter written to my parents from the Church World Service on June 5,1951. At the time my parents received this letter we were living in a DP camp Larger Kurhessen Kaserne in Hann Munden Germany. From here we were sent to Camp Wentorf , a regional Resettlement Processing Center and the last camp we lived in before we came to America.

WW II in Europe had come to an end in 1945 and an estimated 7 to 11 million displaced persons were still living in Europe. President Harry S. Truman called upon Congress to enact legislation that would allow some of the wartime refugees to enter the United States, thus became the Displaced Persons Act. The Act stipulated that only applicants who have been in resettlement camps would be eligible for American visas. The Act also insisted that all applicants must present guarantees by sponsors that housing and jobs would be waiting for them. Refugees admitted to the United States were also aided by voluntary social service agencies, accredited by the Displaced Person Commission. Most of these agencies were created by religious and ethnic groups. Among some of the relief organizations was the Church World Service , who sponsored my parents. By the end of 1952 more than 400,000 displaced persons were admitted to America. More than 70% were refugees from Eastern Europe. Many arrived on the shores of America with hope in their hearts and determination to make a better life for themselves and their children.

My parents had a hard time as newcomers to America, it's not easy to start a new life in an unfamiliar country. Most immigrants had to learn a new language and a new way of life. Jobs were often hard and mostly unskilled labor with low wages. Many moved into their own poor neighborhoods where they lived in crowded tenements.  My family , father, mother, three brothers and I came to America on November 11, 1951 . I don't remember the trip over since I was only two and half years old,  my older  brother has a good memory of the day we arrived. What I do remember is our first home in America  on East 10th Street on the  lower East side of New York.  The apartment was a  small four room railroad flat on the second floor. It had a small kitchen with a bathtub , one toilet with a overhead wooden tank and a pull chain to flush the toilet , a so call living room and two small bedrooms. We had very little furniture, a couple of beds, a crib, and a sofa. My parents life long possessions was one trunk that they brought over from Germany.We had a icebox that required blocks of ice to keep it chilled. I loved when the ice man would show up , he always gave me a chip of ice ,  I pretented it was ice cream. My mother washed the clothes in the bathtub by hand using a wash board  and hung the clothes out the kitchen window on a clothes line. To invite someone over you had to be creative, because of little money, food was scarce and lack of appiliances. The children played on the paved streets and people hung out on front stoops or fire escapes. The neighborhood  felt safe, parents really did not  worry about their children playing on the streets, there was always an adult keeping an eye on them. I was one of those kids, it gave me street sense and grew up faster than most pampered kids. You were lucky if you lived on the lower floors , they were walkups and no elevators. I remember going to the basement and watching my mother shoveling coal into the furnace of the building in order to  get a discount on the rent.

For over 150 years the Lower East Side of New York has been a haven for immigrants seeking a better life. Later many families improved the living conditions by moving from the Lower East Side to other areas. My parents moved to Greenpoint Brooklyn, a Polish community that still exsits today. There is now a museum on Orchard Street,  New York, called the Tenement Muesum, the lower East Side of New York will always be known for it's historical immagration.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

DP Camp Rehden and Diepholz

My Mother ( with cigarette ) and Father behind her.

Hitler made the decision to turn Poland into a purely German area within 15-20 years during WW II known as The Germanization of Poland. Various plans regarding the future of the original population of Poland was made with the deportation of Poles to Western Siberia and the Germanization of four to five million, although deportation really meant that Poles were to be put to death. There were millions of Displaced Persons ( DP'S) in Germany during WW II , most of whom were brought  in for forced labor and used as slave laborers in factories and farms in Germany. Many of the DP's from Eastern Europe did not wish to go back to their country of origin at the end of the war fearing retaliation by the communist regime. There were Ex-Pows, displaced persons, former slave laborers and concentration camp inmates in Europe of which 2.5 million were in the British Zone of Germany. DP Camps came into existence after the German capitulation in 1945. there were thousands of DP Camps in Germany from different nations.

In the British Zone was camp Rehden, a labor camp that my parents were living , as well as two of my brothers Eugene and Henry. My brother Frank died as a baby and is buried in the Rehden cemetery. My brothers Eugene and Henry were born in a DP camp in Diepholz , which was on the grounds of the military airfield Fliegerhorst, that had been badly damaged by the bombings in February 1944. Air strikes took place on the air base which 78 bombs fell. I remember my parents talking about the bombings and how part of the plant they were in got hit and my Mother's leg was badly injured and scared for life, a  memory that stayed with her  every time she looked at the long scare on her leg. The bombings were a large scale attack with 90 four-engine bombers of the Americans and the plant was destroyed to a large extent. My parents from here went to Rehden Camp,  it was a former German Army Camp that held a large ammunition depot which was scattered over a huge forest area with bunkers mainly underground. The Army personal was housed in low stone buildings and the labor force , mainly forced labor , in wooden barracks in a separate area from the Army buildings. The location of the compound was about 3K from the village of Rehden. This camp became one of the many camps my parents lived. The main occupants were Poles, but there were some Lithuanians, Latvians,and Ukrainians at the beginning but soon were transferred to other camps  because of constant friction  among each other. Rehden became 100% Polish and administered by the British as it was in the British Zone. Within a short time camp Rehden became the Polish center for Higher education for all Polish DP camps in Germany using the Polish system with the equivalent of high school education and eventually was called Polski Oboz W Rehden KR. Diepholz. When I was searching for information on Camp Rehden, I  came across  a gentlemen who lived in the camp at the same time my parents did and was nice enough to send me photos as well as his description of the camp. Erwin lived at the camp from 1945-1950 and had an excellent memory of Camp Rehden and has been very helpful on my search  of the camp.

I think of my parents often, the more I look at the old photos from WW II , I admire the strength, endurance and the fight for life they had. I was a child protected from the cold careless world. Through all the trials and tribulations that they have faced and endured let not their spirit be restless , for they are always here with me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Searching For Relatives

My Father's Sister Frani and her daughter

As a child I always thought  there was something missing in my life. I wondered why I didn't have any grand parents, uncles, aunts or cousins, like so many of my friends had.When my friends would say they were visiting relatives, I was jealous; I would make up stories of visiting my grand parents or cousins. My parents had many friends that shared the same fate they did living in DP camps ( displaced people camps) and  memories  of coming to America. There was a special bond among these friends, sharing stories from WW II and the hard times they endured during the war and lived. These friends of my parents became my aunts, uncles and cousins, but still I missed not having grand parents.

My mother was left an orphan at the age of two, her parents were killed during WW I , her father died fighting the war, and her mother killed during the war, she never knew her parents. My father was born to Bleslawa Brejwo and Anny Rubiel in Poland and had a brother Jan Brejwo and a sister Frani. My parents , three brothers and I came to America on November 11, 1951, after being displaced during the war and living in DP camps for ten years. My uncle Jan was sent to Greta Australia with his family. The Greta Army Camp was opened in 1939 as a training camp for WW II soldiers and in 1949 was transferred to the Department of Immigration which became one of Australia's largest migrant reception center from 1949 to 1960 as part of the post-war immigration to Australia. Over 100,000 migrants seeking a new life passed through the Greta Camp . My parents were also to be sent to Greta but because of my mother's bad health at the time , they were sent to America. From Greta my uncle moved to Maitland, after the flood of 1955 in Maitland they moved again. My uncle had a wife and three sons, Marian, Zdzialaw and Jan Brejwo. My older two cousins have passed on and Jan is the only living relative of his family. It took my father twenty years to find his brother after being separated in Germany. Their correspondence was shorten by my father's brother's early death. It was sad , so many years searching and such a short time being connected again. Today's modern technology and the web , I was able to find my cousin Jan Brejwo living in Australia. It has been  six years since we got in touch and because of Jan , he gave  me the information written above. Since he was born in Australia in 1953 , he has vague memories of any other family.

I have been working with the International Tracing Service (ITS) to find out any information of my father's sister Frani and her two daughters.I doubt my aunt is living but would love to find my cousins. I wonder where they are ? What is their life like ?Sad, I don't even know their names. My father never talked about his sister , I did not  know he had a sister until I came across this photo after his death, written on the back" From your sister Frani  my two daughters."War changes people's lives , separates families and many never see each other again. I yearn to find them, how vital it is to have family and roots of generations pass.

I am hoping that someone who reads this, might recognize the photo or know of my cousins. The photo shows a life of hardship of war torn Poland that they endured. Where ever they may be, I thought of you today, but that is nothing new, I thought of you yesterday and tomorrow too. May God watch over you.

My Father's brother Jan  and his sons.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My Father " Pop"

My father and I
Most people knew my father as Walerian Brejwo, to me he was Tata, Polish for father. I called my father Tata as a child but eventually I matured and so did the name that connected me to him, from my teen years to the day my father passed away I affectionately called him "POP". Pop was born to Bleslawa Brejwo and Anny Rubiel on September 29, 1914 in the village of Pacewicze. Pacewicze is a small village in the providence of Lida  near the border of Russia and Lithuania now known as Belarus.In 1922 Belarus became a republic of the Soviet Union. Pop rarely spoke of his parents , my grandparents and I have been  searching for information of my grandparents and so far unsuccessful to fill in my history. Pop was one of three children, he had a brother and a sister.

I draw on my memories of stories Pop told my siblings and myself. Pop did not have the opportunity to advance himself in education , he did have 6th grade education and was able to read and write.Pop grew up on a farm in Poland and had the responsibilities from an early age to work the farm.Looking at the large size of his hands you knew he was a hard worker, his hands were always callused and rough. Pop was not a tall man, but he was fit and handsome with strawberry blonde hair and hazel eyes. Pop always stood proud and strong even in the faces of a crisis.

Pop was not educated by the traditional sense of books,teachers, schools but he was self-educated in photography, music and arts. My strongest ,most positive connection I have with my father is the above mentioned. I vividly remember as a child smiling for the first camera my father ever purchased, a Beacon. I cherish the photographs taken from my father's camera and I am fortunate to have the Beacon in my possession. I myself have developed a passion for photography, when I am behind a lens  I know I am stopping that second in time in a photo to cherish forever. Taking a snap shot in present time in order to remember the past. My brother is a great artist as well  and listening to a song or playing a piano piece brings me back to my youth.

Pop's first job in the U.S.A was as an janitor in 1952, cleaning offices on Wall Street. Growing up as a teen, friends would ask me about my father's occupation,my answer was he worked on Wall Street. As little kids we never saw much of my father, nights were spent working and daytime we were in school.He managed to send his children to a Private Polish Catholic school, good schools were important to him. Pop loved the ocean many summer Sundays were spent in Coney Island. He took us on trips to the Bronx Zoo, Prospect Park, Orchard Beach and other places around New York and Brooklyn. There was another side to my father, he was also very stern. Bad behavior or misconduct led to having us kneel on raw rice in a corner of the room for an hour.The time my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my sister , my father made us oatmeal for dinner , I would not eat it and Pop made me sit at the table for four hours before he gave in and let me get up. I think because I was the only girl at the time, he was a little easier on me. When my mother was killed in 1970 that was a very hard time in his life, my sister was only ten years old. It took Pop a long time before he pulled himself together.

It has been thirty years since Pop's death on February 16, 1982, at the young age of 68. He died of a massive heart attack and died instantly, my brother found him in his garage leaning on the car. Pop retired from work two years earlier and he was just starting to enjoy life after all those hard years living through WW II and living ten years in DP Camps in Germany. I think of Pop often, a talented man who never was  given the chance to show his talent.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Leaving Poland

My parents and brother
The Germans waged war on Poland and the Polish people on September 1, 1939. The German intent was to destroy the Polish nation and it's people. The destruction of the country was enormous,there was no doubt among Nazi Germany that Poland and the Polish people were to be obliterated.,by order of the government , the the Nazis were to kill every man, woman and child with no mercy. Polish workers deported to the Reich had to wear a letter "P" on their clothing to distinguish them from the Germans. The Germans took all the property from the Polish state and all private property considered necessary for strategic purposes or for Germanization. A Pole could and often was shot  for not making way on the sidewalk for a German approaching from the opposite direction or for not taking his hat off to a German.  People lived in constant fear, torture and death . Every nation under enemy occupation during WW II experienced a reign of terror by the Nazis.  In the period 1939-41, Poles were more exposed than Jews to arrest.

My parents were twenty five years of age when the attack on Poland happened, living in the area of Poland known as Belarus now. Throughout the bitter cold early hours of February, 1940, thousands of Polish country folk were aroused from their sleep from soldiers knocking on their doors. Under gunpoint entire families were crammed into cattle cars , trucks , many on foot ,and deported as disposable labor. 5,384,000 Polish citizens were killed by the Germans during the occupation. As a result of almost six years of war, Poland lost 6,028.000 of it's citizens, Christan Poles and Jews, 22 percent of it's total population, the highest ratio of population of any country in Europe.

My parents lived through this horrific time in Poland. With nothing but a handful of belongings they fled their homeland of Poland and left whatever they had behind. Families were separated, many never to see each other again. My parents found refuge in DP Camps ( Displaced People Camp) in Germany. They lived in various camps in Germany from 1941 to 1951 , the first camps were labor camps. God was watching over my parents.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pregnant Women And Forced Labor Camps

Women from Eastern Europe who were or got pregnant during forced labor camps  were under immense pressure.Pregnant women generally should not be deported to Germay from Poland for forced labor but because it was the aim to get the most profit of these  women deported to Germany,the  authorities did not want to care for pregnant women and their new born babies.

German authorities installed laws and guidelines in the end of 1942. Female forced laborers from Eastern Germany who got pregnant in Germany, had to return to their homeland.The number of pregnancies among this group of laborers rose, never the less  to have a child, was also a  way to escape force labor, although an illegitimate child was consdered shameful. Thus came the end of 1942 a new regulation was in forced, female forced laborers from Eastern Europe were no longer under the protection of maternity.Most women worked hard until the last days of the pregnancy and had to  return to work quickly after giving birth.

Births took place in specially equipped departments of hospitals or in separate barracks in the camps,the  hygienic cirumstances were on a very low level. March 1943 a new decree was once again put into action, now formulated bt the Reichs Health Ministry: " The racially inferior offspring of women workers and Polish women should not be born " Therefore abortion on order was now allowed.Principles and guards were now able to point out women who should  get an abortion. In the meantime German women who interrupted pregnancies were punished harshly. " Abortion by own desire" which was often written on medical files of  forced laborers was a farce . In addition premature births after 6 months were initiated, it is estimated that a quater of pregnant women from Eastern Europe were forced to interrupt their pregnancy. The children that were born and needed special care were put in barracks where women who were not fit for work  were housed called  "Auslanderkinder-Pflegesstatten", known as alien child care center which resulted in a high mortality  rate. Furthermore, from June 1943 the authorities were called to find those children of Eastern Europe forced laborers  who were " Good racial stock "  The children were selected and raised and educated as German children.

The high mortality started in 1943 and there were efforts to get the hygene on a higher level and better care for the women and children. The photo is of my brother who died as a baby in the camp, he is now an angle of God.  I  yearn  to know what happened to my mother's first born in 1942, a girl , nothing was ever said, but that I had a sister.

Monday, February 27, 2012

No Place To Call Home

My Mother
When I was a young girl I always wondered about the blue tattoo on my mother's arm, curious to know I asked her. My mother said " One day I will tell you ", that day never came, my mother was killed at the age of 55 on my first wedding anniversary , February 1st 1970 , by a drunken driver walking the side of a road. She had survived two wars, lived in the worst of worst of times in Poland and a drunken driver took her life away. I was 20 years old when she died and never had the answer to my question.

My mother was born Katarzyna Mielnikowa, later changed to Mielnik , in Kowale Poland in 1914, during WWI. Her father was a Polish soldier and was killed fighting the war, her mother was killed during the war and my mother was left an orphan at the age of two.My mother never talked about her early childhood, I wonder if she ever had a childhood, an orphan who was placed from home to home.Today I can understand why. As a young woman at the age of 22 she was in one of Stalin's camps during the pogrom of 1936. She worked for a while on the Trans-Siberian Railway as well as on  fishing boats out of Vladivostok, far eastern terminal of the Trans-Siberian Railway.I can't imagine how she endured those years. My father  Walerian Brejwo , lived in Paczewice Poland, today known as Belarus,part of Lithuania, Poland and Russia. My father's parents worked a small farm in the villiage as well as my father.From Vladivostok my mother ended up working on the farm, I assume that is how she met my father. My mother never had any schooling and therefore she never learned to read and write.She begged my father's parents to let her go to school but they needed her to work on the farm. I remember her practicing writing her name for days when she had to sign a document. How she yearned to read and write and never given the opportunity. I would catch her thumbing through magazines, just looking at photos and she would ask me to  read to her.

WWII had began in September 1, 1939, many Poles had to flee the country, but where to go ? My parents were placed in camp Buttnerfeld , Hannover Germany one of many camps they lived. During WWII the need for intimacy was needed, people often ignored the normal criteria for marriage. My parents were not officially married at this time,even when my mother gave birth to my brother Eugene. Life was hard, conditions in the camp included lack of privacy, over crowding and constant dependence of aid organizations made it difficult to raise children. Once again my mother is displaced, from the age of two she never had a place called home. In retrospect, I think coming to America was like stepping out of  a dark  horrible dream. Today I understand why she kept those years to herself, she left them behind when she came to The United States Of America, this was her new home.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

International Refugee Organization ( IRO)

My Mother's IRO card
The International Refugee Organization ( IRO) was founded on April, 1946, a temporary agency of the United Nations. Their mission was arranging for the care , repatriation, or resettlement of Europeans made homeless by WWII. By the time it had terminated operations on January 31, 1952 it had provided care and shelter for more than 1,000,000 refugees in camps in Europe, moved 1,038,750 in resettlement to overseas countries and repatriated 72,834 people to their countries of origin at a cost of about $400,000,000. Before the IRO took over UNRRA , which was established by the United Nations in 1943, took on the refugee problem and established refugee camps known as Displaced Persons Camp or DP CAmps. The IRO dealt with the massive refugee problem during WWII.
People living in DP Camps were issued identification cards like my Mothers,  above photo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Schools In DP Camps

My brother Eugene standing,  in a DP Camp school
Over 150,000 children , at least half of them under the age of six lived in DP Camps.

Since 1939, Polish children in occupied Poland were not allowed to continue their education and schools were closed.For most of these children, the war meant almost six years without any schooling, creating a gap in formal education. Many children did not learn to read and write until later on. Kindergarten and elementary schools were organized in DP Camps. Children lived with their parents and came to classes in modest buildings or a barrack, where sometimes several different levels shared a classroom. So many of these children were robbed of their childhood. Parents had to work in the camps and  placed their children in schools and  daycare as well.

As you can see in the photo these children have no books, pencils , etc: like you would imagine a school would be. The days were long for them ,many had to wait until the parents were done with work, which  can be ten hour days or more. My brother Eugene remembers those school days , he has passed on at a young age. Oh, how I wish I could talk to him. May he rest in peace.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Cup Two Bottles To Share

My father second from right
Boarded windows, no place to go, I find companions to feed off my loneliness.One cup ,two bottles to share with music in the air.

Dp camps provided shelter, nutrition,and basic health care. People had to  find different ways of entertainment. In this photo my father with a group of friends are enjoying music and drinks. You can see the windows are boarded up and a simple wooden table and chairs with one cup and two bottles. The men are out for a few hours to have some fun , it takes them away from the agony they endure.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Displaced Persons Camp or DP Camp

My father standing and my Mother with my brother on her lap.
A displaced persons camp or DP camp is a
temporary facility for displaced persons coerced into forced immigration. Combat, ethnic cleaning,genocide and general fear resulted in millions of people being uprooted from their original homes and countries during WW ll.    Displaced Persons were mostly Eastern European. People were forced to work in German factories and farms, some were survivors of concentration camps and others fled to escape Communist rule. DP's often moved from camp to camp, looking for family, country men, accommodations as well as other reasons.Most of the refugees suffered from psychological difficulties,many were depressed and traumatized.

After WWll  many people were housed in camps admimistered by the IRO International Refugee Organization.By 1952 all but one DP camp was closed. The last one was closed in 1957.

In Hann Munden Germany there existed a Polish DP Camp from August 1945 to June 1950, situated in the Kurhessen Barracks , a former military post. This is the camp where I was born.

In the photo above my parents enjoying time spent with friends. The accommadations were a tiny room that served as a bedroom ,kitchen,living room and nursery as well.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Child Left Behind

                                                                 A Child Left Behind

In far away Germany there is a lonely grave, no flowers placed over it.
To look for a cross or a name would be in vain, no one knows whose grave this is.
Many years ago a baby was born and died, taken to soon and only his memory lives in my mind.
Every year on his birthday, no flowers are place, the clock of time has worn away and obscured it's image. Maybe someone young will place a flower and say a prayer for the lost grave left behind.
Francisze Brejwo

My brother , Franciszek was born in Diepholz Germany on May 5, 1946. He died on July 8, 1946 , just a baby. He was buried in Rehden Cemetery . The cause of death was Febrile intestinal catarrh.  It took me almost a year to find his grave with the help of Falk Liebezeit and the  International Tracing Service.  In the letter I received from Falk Liebezeit , he states that " Some grave markers were made of concrete and did not stand the heat and frost over more than sixty years. The Brejwo grave marker was no longer there when the Polish graves and grave markers were set into a decent shape in 2006, the grave markers were cleaned."  The Head marker with the name  Sauter is still there so they  did find out he is buried in that spot but no headstone. It breaks my heart when  I  think of him , long forgotten. The photo was taken in Rehden Germany before my parents were once again displaced to another DP camp. I can't even imagine how my parents must of felt leaving a Child behind and never able to visit his grave.  I was able to get a copy of his death certificate  and happy that  I did , it is an  answer to one of my many questions and puts my mind at peace.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

November 11,1951 , New Life , America

November 11th, some call it Veteran's Day, some call it Armistice Day others choose to call this remarkable day, Remembrance Day. November 11th a day we honor our military veterans, a day of celebrating the end of an earlier war. On the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice, World War l had ended. On November 11, 1951, my family entered a new life in a new land, America. I had turned my back on my history as I was growing up for what was the past to someone like me who only had dreams of the future. I was clouded by the hardships my family was enduring and I only knew I was going to live a better life then my parents. Years have past, I have grown so has my curiosity, I feel an unexplainable desire to learn and write about the foundation of my life, my parents. Today, I read through memoirs , documents, history and look at old photos, conscious of the power of names, places,dates,my roots. I understand the significance of traces that remain of bygone generations. I now crave my past, I weep trying to remember what I felt as  my mother touched my hand, my life with my parents was too short and not enough was asked or said. As Eleanor Roosevelt said on November 11, 1951 in the midst of the Korean War during a speech she had broadcasted ".... it isn't enough to talk about peace, one must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it . One must work at it " I am eager to do the work I hope to find my own inner peace with the knowledge I gain from writing my story as my parents must have felt the hope for  peace in America.

To the right is my Mother and my Father holding my brother.

This is me at the age of two