On learning history: I Know More Than I Thought

I’ve had two encounters with Poles that assured me I’ve learned more than I thought.

Consider my new friend Viola. I met her at a party in May and instantly felt a connection. She moved to the States from Poland when she was in the sixth grade, not speaking a word of English.  The 1970’s was the height of Polak jokes and before an unknown Pole

gained instant world prominence as Pope, and the spotlight began to look at Poland. I casually mentioned that August 1 was the 70th anniversary if the Warsaw Uprising. Her response surprised me. “Katrina you know more Polish history than I do. Under communism all Polish history, especially any heroes was erased from the history books. We weren’t taught our own country’s history.”

In New York’s Central Park I visited the prominent statue of King Jagiello. Like all tourists I handed my camera to a stranger to take my picture.  His first words when he arrived at the statue, removed his glasses and bent down to read the plaque were “Now I’m Polish and here’s someone I’ve never heard of.”  I asked if he’d heard of the Battle of Grunwald in the 1400’s. He gave me a blank stare.

I started my quest for knowledge of things Polish with the simple but important desire to write Henry’s story with credibility and authenticity.  I’ll never know everything, any more than I could cite every facet of American history. But I’m on my way to holding my own. The journey has surprised me; I’m sure Henry would be amazed.

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