I leave for Poland September 28. Until ten years ago I could only spell it and locate it on a map of Europe. I’d never heard the Polish language, met anyone from Poland or grown up around that culture. As an adult I knew little of European history prior to the WWII. Poland was a communist country behind the Iron Curtain – you heard little from that part of the world prior to the fall of communism in 1989.
Today Poland is a member of the European Union, home to a beloved Pope on his way to sainthood and future host of the 2016 World Youth Day (Catholics know what this is.)
Why Poland? Two words: Henry Zguda
I met Henry through a phone tip in November 2002 for a twice-monthly column I wrote for the Arizona Republicdaily newspaper. From our first meeting I was charmed, intrigued and curious. One 600-word column could not do this man justice. Call it impulsive, naïve or inspired I called Henry back and we hatched the idea to join forces to ‘write a book.’
We began a series of interviews where Henry talked, and I listened, interjecting questions along the way. A single brown, heavily duct-taped photo album provided illustration. We became good friends. His eyes twinkled and he always kissed my hand in the European gentleman sort of way when I’d arrive at his house. He was 85 years old, tall, thin, good-looking with a still-strong athletic build. I detected no bitterness for what he’d survived which I marveled at. Per Henry, “I am alive. Forget the past; today is good.”
Henry passed away in November 2003. I’ve started and stopped this project more times than I can count, for many reasons. But the stars continue to align in Henry’s favor. To finish with credibility and authenticity I have to see Poland for myself. This trip is both vacation and research, a retracing of a friend’s life and time alone with my husband Rick who I’ll travel with.
We’ll visit Poland’s two main cities – Krakow and Warsaw, and retrace Henry’s time in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. Rick’s vacation wish list is simple: find good food, drink Polish beer, and see old buildings and castles. And absolutely no ‘boring’ art museums.
Poproszę dwa piwa. (Two beers please.)
I notice that you didn’t mention your kindness and generosity towards Mrs. Zguda in the years after Henry’s death. I got to witness you befriending her, then working to protect her and show respect to her in the years when her medical illness was progressing.
Proud of you! And glad that the time to travel to Poland has finally come.