The Project

Many years ago my mother gave me my late father’s diaries, which he wrote during World War Two. They were written in Polish – which neither I nor my mother spoke. Over the years I’d had a few attempts at learning the language so I hoped (somewhat unrealistically, perhaps) that one day I might be able to read a little of what he had written. Failing that, I thought I could at least look for someone to tell me a bit about what was in them.

What I didn’t anticipate was how my passion for Poland would develop during my adult life!

In 2010 I retired from work and decided that the time had come to start translating the diaries. After years of talking about it, I wanted to get reading and learn a bit more about my father and his 5 year journey from Poland to the UK.

I soon found that a relatively unfamiliar language presented in very unfamiliar handwriting meant it was impossible for me to make much sense of what was written; after all, I’d only taken a couple of years of evening classes.

Following a little research I tracked down a young Polish woman who agreed to take on the job of typing up the diaries in their original Polish. Although even Natalia was unable to decipher Józef’s cursive in some faded sections, she did a fantastic job over the next year or so.

Now I could start getting somewhere.

Stories began to emerge detailing events in the life of a young doctor commissioned into the Polish army in 1938. It all became very exciting and emotional; progress, however, was excruciatingly slow due mainly to my very basic command of the language, the complexity of Józef’s old style of writing, and an awful lot of military terminology!

Returning after a couple of years’ break from the project, I realised I wasn’t going to make much headway without upping my level of Polish. At very short notice and much egging on from my youngest daughter, Louise (“just stop talking about it and fill in the application form!”), I applied for a place on a 1-year intensive course at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In September 2015 I set off for the student dormitory in Kraków and so my year’s adventure began… but more about that later.

Following another course in 2017 (just a short top-up), I began to make some real inroads to the 60,000+ words written by my father and I thought it was about time I did something with it.

So here we are.

On this blog you’ll be able to follow my translation adventure and some of Józef’s own story which begins in 1938, when the fate of Eastern Europe hung in the balance.

Jane Emms 02/2018

Krakow Cloth Hall, Spring 2016 - Louise Emms
Krakow Cloth Hall, Spring 2016 – Louise Emms


12 thoughts on “The Project

  1. This is really wonderful Jane, it’s opened up so much for us all to learn about and share. Yes, your Father would be proud of your determination and what you have now achieved. It’s an inspiration, as it’s clear he was too.


  2. Hi Jane,

    Joe put me in touch with your site which I have to say is fascinating. Your father was clearly an inspirational man, thank you for sharing this.

    I look forward to reading more.



  3. Looking forward to catching up with Jane later today. Time flies, and though much appears to have changed, in Europe we face the rise of those who don’t wish to be inclusive and open to a better world for all. Still, we must remain positive, our parents and grandparents would surely have wanted this?


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