I was especially thinking about my father last Sunday as the 19th March is widely celebrated in the Christian Church as the feast day of St Joseph. It was therefore Józef’s name day (“imieniny” in Polish). Many Poles celebrate their name day rather than their birthday and every day on the calendar has names assigned to it. Traditionally it would be a day of celebrating with family and friends.
As we see the appalling atrocities unfolding in Ukraine, I have been reflecting on Józef’s experiences in WW2 and the devastation and losses that Poland faced.
Józef eventually reached France to join the Polish army in exile in February 1940, after a long and difficult journey through Slovakia and Hungary which included several periods of detention in camps.
On 19th March 1940 he wrote this brief entry in his daily notes, clearly affected by the fact that he was far from his loved ones on that significant day:
“A sad name day. I am starting to write my memoirs from now and this occupies the greatest part of my day.”
Meanwhile on the title page of the very detailed memoirs he was starting to write, he added the footnote:
Combourg, March 1940
Started on the day of my 29th name day
When I started translating my father’s diaries several years ago, I never imagined for one moment that before I had completed them, Eastern Europe would again be experiencing an invasion and war, nor that we would be seeing the horrific events that have been occurring over the last month.
Every single death in this attack on Ukraine is a tragedy and the shelling and displacement of every family and individual is appalling.
I was particularly struck though, by a report I read of the death of a 96 year old holocaust survivor as a result of the Russian shelling of Kharkiv. When he was just 16 years old, Boris Romantschenko was rounded up by Nazi troops, forced to do hard labour and was detained in several concentration camps until the camps were liberated by the allies in 1945.
Now he and thousands of others have perished at the hands of another invading force.
How is it that we still haven’t learned the lessons of the past?
 I’m currently translating these daily notes. See more about these on the blog ‘Delving into Book 2 of Józef’s Diaries’. Posted on 8th May 2021