I never met my great-grandfather—he had died some thirty years before I was born. I have not seen a single picture of him nor have I heard a recording of his voice. His existence, therefore, seems a bit illusionary to me, except that there were a couple of stories circulated by my family, passed around the dinner table, passed down by generations of women: my great grandma, my grandma and aunt, and my mom.
One of the most poignant stories for me was connected to food. Before World War II, he worked as a high-ranking clerk for the railway industry (a more prestigious and high paying job than nowadays). Despite the fact that my great grandfather and his wife had four children, they never had to worry about how to feed them. In fact, they were able to indulge in buying the delicacies that would become scarce after the war, such as cacao, coffee, and oranges.
My great grandma would make lunches for her husband, which would usually consist of sandwiches: bread, butter, and thinly sliced cold cuts of high quality. One day, her husband came back from work with an uneaten sandwich and through it in her direction saying, “You made the exact same sandwich two days in a row. I ate bread and sirloin roast yesterday! How shameful! What are my colleagues going to think of me, of you! Shame on you!”
A couple of years later, he must have felt so ashamed of himself when he was starving in a labor camp at Dachau, looking for a stale piece of bread, perhaps even dreaming about it.
As all men in his circumstances, he came back a very different person after the war had ended. He spent the time listening to the BBC, an activity that was forbidden at the time by the Polish communist government, and reminisced about the seemingly idyllic prewar era when he was never hungry.
Karo Caran, the Rainbow Poetess, is a poet and a non/fiction writer. Her novel, "Breaking the silence: A story in paintings" focuses on the censorship of art and gay relationships in the postwar, communist Poland. Her poetry-based memoir, "Life in a Footnotes" will be published this summer.
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