Come along: Kresy-Siberia 77th Anniversary dinner, Feb 12, 1-4pm

Kresy-Siberia commemorative dinner

Are you in or near London on Sunday 12 February – Balham to precise?

Kresy-Siberia invites you to mark the 77th anniversary of Stalin’s first wave of Deportations from Eastern Poland on February 12th, 2017 from 13:00 at the White Eagle Polish Club, 211 Balham High Road, London SW17 7BQ.

Food and sharing stories

I’m going, and there are still some places for dinner available.

What’s on

I know it will be a really special and moving day. My book Are My Roots Showing? is in the raffle I think!

Proceeds

All proceeds support the Virtual Museum dedicated to the victims and heroes
£15 for Sybiraks, £20 for Kresy-Siberia 2017 donors, £25 for others
Ticket includes 3 course meal, entertainment and the famous Kresy Siberia raffle!

Please see here for details – it will take you to this url https://www.facebook.com/events/1765375710369276/

Poles in the UK book launch

New book ‘Poles in the UK’ launches

I had the huge pleasure of attending the launch yesterday of a new important book ‘Poles in the UK: A Story of Friendship and Cooperation’ by writer Brin Best, from Otley, and Leeds-based Polish author Maria Helena Zukowska. The book is available on Amazon and the event was held at the Leeds Catholic Centre.

Why do I call the book important? Because it is all about the great contribution Poles have made to the UK.

Poles in the UK book

Brin and Maria have created a book (you can see and like their Poles in the UK Facebook page here) that collates all kind of interviews and amazing facts about Poland. I know I’m going to love it, learn from it – and be dipping into it all the time.

I also finally met writer B.E. Andre (pictured on stage below) who read two wonderful extracts from her novel ‘With Blood And Scars’, which touches on Stalin’s deportation of Poles to Siberia. I’ve just started reading it and I can already identify with a lot of it because of our shared Polish upbringing in the north of England. It was also great to meet and connect with a writer who, like me, wanted to write about a tragic part of Polish history so few people know about.

The event reminded me a lot of  the Polish functions I took part in as I grew up in a Polish community in Doncaster – going to Polish school and being part of Polish do’s and dances (I remember them like they happened only yesterday, in particular one occasion where aged about 8, I had to stand dressed up as a mushroom with a broad paper hat on my head and wrapped up in a sheet).

Poles in the UK launch

Maria Helena Zukowska presented the event and I think she should be snapped up by the BBC as I’ve rarely seen someone link so many varied pieces in such a poised, clear and engaging way.

I also met some ladies, Basia Domzal-Karpowicz and her daughter Maja who amazingly, saw my theatre show My Polish Roots and Other Vegetables ten years ago in Edinburgh. Maja has contributed to the section on Polish geography.

The top photo of the lovely Polish heritage art tree is by Adrianna Green.

To learn so much about Poland old and new, buy Poles in the UK here and B.E. Andre’s novel here. And finally, you can buy my book here.

Siberian Carrots

 

Siberian Carrots – a short animation

Here’s a simple animation I made using clay and other materials to recount a story my late mum once told me about her time in Siberia, where she was deported to by Stalin in 1940, at the age of three.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t like to talk about Siberia, where she spent six years in abject poverty until 1946. She lost her mother out there to TB and also her little sister. Her father was taken to a different gulag nearer the Arctic and was presumed dead.

Mum and her family were among around 1.7 million Poles who were deported east out of Poland during World War II, just because they were Polish. They went in four waves, families often being split up and taken away in the middle of the night by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.

I’ve since read about the subject quite widely and woven the story of the deportations into my debut novel, Are My Roots Showing?

It’s a light and funny book overall but it has this unexpected serious thread about the war running through it. Poland was greatly effected by the war and those effects don’t just disappear over night but trickle down future generations. I feel this is a neglected part of history and so this has been my way of trying to keep it alive.

As mum didn’t like to talk about Siberia, what she did say had huge significance – and when she told me this story it was as if the icy past of a far and distant land suddenly came to life. I grew up in the northern town of Doncaster and when I heard this in the cold light of day, I really understood she’d been through something really terrible that almost no one had any idea about.

With what’s happening in Syria at the moment, and waves of people moving all because of war, such tragic things are happening again, albeit in a different way and for different reasons. It is heart-breaking.

My mum died four years ago now – but I pass the baton of her story on.

To learn more about this period of Polish history visit the virtual museum Kresy Siberia.

Sound design by Tim Brown.

Wieliczka Salt Mine – what it’s like

salt mine wieliczka chapel king

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine (pron: vee-el-eetch-ka) is located in the town of Wieliczka outside Krakow. It is one of the most astonishing places I have ever visited and I knew I had to include it in my novel Are My Roots Showing? which came out on Amazon in May through Cirrus Publishing. Most of the action in the book takes place in Warsaw but there is also a section that takes place here in the salt mine in southern Poland. I first found out about it as a child in Polish School which took place on Saturday mornings (a common occurrence in the UK at the time). It was in a book about Poland its geography and culture and I knew I had to visit it one day.

Salt production

Wieliczka opened in the thirteenth century and amazingly, it has four chapels hewn entirely out of rock salt, not to mention lots of amazing statues carved out of salt too. It produced table salt until around 2007 but commercial mining stopped eleven years before. There was a time when miners were paid in salt because it was so valuable.

Wieliczka-Salt-Mine-kopernik

Artist miners

Childhood dream it may have been – I’ve been to Wieliczka salt mine twice now – once on my own in late 2004 when it was under a thick blanket of snow and again in September 2010 with my husband (I’d really bigged it up) and he wasn’t disappointed.

The amazing thing is that the miners themselves carved out the chapels and statues out of the rock salt. It took tens of generations of miners to complete it.

Rock salt chapel

Chapel Kinga, the biggest chapel is entirely made out of salt. It has a salt floor, a salt altar, even Jesus is salt. There are rock salt chandeliers that have been treated to be ‘crystal clear’ but everything else is a beautiful and mysterious pale glassy grey.

Last Supper Salt Mine

There are 178 miles of corridors but you only walk along 2 of those miles. As you pass through the cool corridors, passing various salty pools with different statues in them (the waters are incredibly still and you wonder if you’d float in them like in the Dead Sea), as you walk you’ll see occasional bubbling up of some pure white crystals in the nook of a wall, like a sort of white salt cauliflower sprouting. The air feels pure and ‘mineral’ in character and there is a health resort within the mine where people go to have respiratory conditions treated. To me, the air seemed quite pure, cool and curiously still.

You take steps down around 120 metres, although at its deepest, the mine measures around 327 metres. There are rooms for conferences and theatre shows too but these aren’t made of salt!

UNESCO

It’s the most fantastic place and somewhere you simply must not miss it if you ever go to Krakow. It’s been on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List since 1978.

Also, I have learned that there is an even older sister site you can visit at Bochnia.

For more information about visiting Poland see here.

My book comes out on 25 May 2016

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