CHRIS PORSZ: Being Krystyna - written for Holocaust Memorial Day

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It is so sad and impossible to imagine my very frail and confused 95 year old mother was once that elegant and glamorous woman who met the Beatles in 63 and may have served you in the Embassy theatre box office.

Impossible to imagine she went to hell and back, defied and outlived Hitler and his thousand year Reich. I still see flashes of that defiance ‘get out of my room and I am not telling you anything’

The Nazi ledger listing Chris' mother Krystyna, entry 581

The Nazi ledger listing Chris' mother Krystyna, entry 581

My mother Dorca Szafir was born in Warsaw in 1921 to Tuvia and Sarah who owned a leather factory.

She had two sisters and their happy lives would be torn asunder by Stuka bombers. Eda was captured by the Russians and survived Siberia and Rega, and her beautiful 5 year old daughter Liliana were murdered with my grandmother Sarah in Majdanek concentration camp Lublin in 1943. My grandfather possibly died from a heart attack in the sewers under the blazing ghetto.

My mother’s fiancée Kazic was a resistance fighter and Dorca survived by adopting the catholic pseudonym Krystyna Lewandowska.

She was captured and imprisoned in the infamous gestapo Pawiak prison in Warsaw. In October 1944 she was deported by cattle truck to Ravensbruck concentration camp near Berlin and became political prisoner number 76,254.

She survived a freezing winter of brutality, slave labour, disease, a diet of black mouldy bread and cabbage soup like water.

To the sound of Russian guns In the spring of 1945 emaciated and covered in boils she and fellow survivors were marched west in snow filled clogs and thin striped uniforms.

An elderly lady stumbled and the guard took out his pistol and said ‘you will not make it and shot her in the head.’ Her daughter and my mother went to help and he said ‘move or I have bullets for you too.’

My father Alphons Porsz escaped from Poland in 1940, jumped over Arnhem and into Germany where he found my mother in a displacement camp.

They came to Peterborough in 1947 and he worked in the brickyards and was the most skilled tool maker at Perkins and champion table tennis player of Peterborough. Sadly he was struck down with dementia at 46 years old.

Despite all their suffering my parents had very good German friends after the war and when asked ‘Krystyna do you have a message for the world’ she replied through the fog of dementia ‘JUST BE KIND.’

How different from a bitter man who said to me ‘I hate Peterborough as all I hear on Cathedral Square are foreign voices.’

Sounds familiar doesn’t it and just try substituting the word foreign with Jewish. Well I think Peterborough is a great city and the reason for that is in part due to people like my parents.

‘JUST BE KIND.’

How different from taking our jobs, taking our homes, send them back. Sounds familiar and the same was said about parents.

Who do they think looks after my mother, their mother. As a paramedic I know when I hand over my patient they will be cared for by the new migrants that make the NHS still the best in the world. It would collapse without them.

‘JUST BE KIND’

‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it unyet we have not learned as the recent massive spike in racist hate crimes testifies.

One of my mother’s Polish carer’s and a Portugese nurse I work with both told me ‘I do not feel welcome anymore.’ What a shocking, shameful indictment.

Intolerance and careless words have consequences and careless words cost lives. Drip, drip, drip, negative, negative, negative and never the positive.

Irresponsible media with scare mongering headlines, slick ‘sound bites’ well-rehersed and repeated again and again fuel the hatred and load the gun.

In this climate of fear 40 year old Harlow man Arek Jowik was enjoying a pizza and speaking in Polish with friends and then murdered. Arek leaves a devastated family and echo’s from the past?

‘JUST BE KIND.’

How different from all this hatred and xenophobia with drowning refugees described as cockroaches and Poles as vermin. Sounds familiar?

My mother has heard such language before and it led to gas chambers and crematoria. Let us not forget the words of the murdered MP Jo Cox in her maiden speech ‘we are far more united and have far more in common than the things that divide us.’

‘JUST BE KIND’

My mother is one of the last to bear witness to those horrors and soon she will be gone.

She could teach us so much with her humanity and warnings from history but most will not learn and what does she know as she is just a demented old lady. In fact for some she is a liar and it never happened.

I am so proud of you mother.

JUST BE KIND.

Read more - the tale of how Krystyna survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, including being taken to a concentration camp has been told in new book: Krystyna’s Holocaust story is re-told

Related:

People gathered in Peterborough on Holocaust Memorial Day 2017 to remember the millions who died as a result of the Holocaust - with the message ‘be kind to each other’