Dorastając jako Polack / Growing Up Polack

Dorastając jako Polack / Growing Up Polack

Mój ojciec spędził cztery i pół roku w obozie koncentracyjnym w Buchenwaldzie. Moja mama – dwa i pół roku w niemieckim obozie pracy. Kiedy skończyła się wojna, ważyła 125 funtów, a ojciec – 75. Po wojnie nie mogli wrócić do Polski, więc żyli w obozie dla uchodźców aż do otrzymania pozwolenia na wyjazd do Stanów Zjednoczonych. Do Ameryki przypłynęli w czerwcu 1951 roku, na pokładzie okrętu General Taylor.
Niedawno w archiwum „New York Timesa” odnalazłem zdjęcia tego okrętu, zrobione w dzień przybycia moich rodziców do Stanów. Historia sprawiła mi prezent. Moich rodziców nie było na zdjęciach, ale przecież musieli spotykać ludzi, którzy na nich byli. Ocierać się o nich w tłumie, stać z nimi w kolejce, czekać na posiłki, razem z nimi zamykać oczy podczas modlitwy i martwić się, jakie życie czeka na nich w Ameryce.
Moi rodzice, tak jak ci ludzie ze zdjęć, byli przesiedleńcami wojennymi, uchodźcami bez kraju, którzy stracili swoich rodziców i dziadków, swoje rodziny, domy, kościoły i imiona, wszystko. To wszystko zostawili za sobą, zasypane w wielkim europejskim grobie rozpościerającym się od kanału La Manche po góry Uralu, od Bałtyku po Morze Śródziemne. Wszyscy oni przypłynęli na tym wojennym okręcie, by w Ameryce zacząć nowe życie. Nie wyobrażali sobie jeszcze, co ich czeka i kim się tam staną.
Po odpracowaniu kosztów podróży na farmach w okolicy Buffalo, moi rodzice osiedlili się w Chicago, w okolicy Parku Humboldta, gdzie mieszkało wielu Polaków, uchodźców, którzy przetrwali wojnę. Jedna z pierwszych rzeczy, jakich nauczyli się w Ameryce, to kim są. Tutaj nie byli Polakami ani tym bardziej Amerykanami polskiego pochodzenia. Nigdy jako dzieciak nie słyszałem tych określeń. W szkole, na ulicach i w sklepach słyszałem, że moich rodziców nazywano Polack. Mnie też.
Byliśmy ludźmi, którym nikt nie chciał wynająć pokoju ani pomóc, których nikt nie chciał zatrudnić. Byliśmy nędznymi odpadkami z obcego lądu, wyrzuconymi przez fale na brzeg jeziora Michigan. Prawie wszyscy ludzie, których spotykaliśmy w Ameryce, życzyli nam, żebyśmy wracali tam, skąd przybyliśmy. I żebyśmy zabrali ze sobą całą resztę Polacków.
W związku z tym, gdyby ktokolwiek kiedykolwiek spytał mnie, czy dorastając chciałem zostać polsko-amerykańskim pisarzem, nauczycielem, doktorem, czy czarodziejem, powiedziałbym mu, żeby zjeżdżał, tylko w mniej łagodny sposób.
Wtedy czułem, że Polacy w Ameryce to nieudacznicy. Pracowali w fabrykach, albo wychudzeni na wiór powozili konnymi zaprzęgami, chodzili od drzwi do drzwi sprzedając sznurek i żarówki. Nie potrafili prowadzić samochodu, korzystać z telefonu ani zachować się w restauracji. Stali na rogach ulic z adresem zapisanym na skrawku papieru i pytali Amerykanów o drogę mamrocząc po polsku „proszę pana” i „proszę pani”.
Kiedy byłem chłopcem, myślałem, że Polacy nie potrafią zrobić niczego, a Amerykanie potrafią wszystko. Oni wiedzieli, jak być szczęśliwym. Mogli iść do zoo, do muzeum, do planetarium i do kina. Mogli swobodnie przechadzać się po wspaniałym rozświetlonym słońcem amerykańskim świecie, wraz z innymi Amerykanami uśmiechać się i nucić refren piosenki „Pennies from Heaven”, wierząc w każde jego słowo: „Za każdym razem kiedy pada deszcz, z nieba lecą centówki”.
Amerykanie chodzili do restauracji, zamawiali jedzenie i nie kłócili się z kelnerem o cenę hamburgera. Kiedy szli na piknik, nie gubili tam swoich dzieci, albo należących do ich dzieci balonów. Na weselach tańczyli walce nie rozrywając spodni, nie przewracając się i nie bijąc z innymi. Mogli śmiać się z telewizyjnych żartów Miltona Berle’a i rozumieć, o czym są. Kiedy z kamienną twarzą rzucał puentę „Jasne, panienka była z Missouri”, mogli śmiać się do rozpuku. Mogli się uśmiechać, okazywać miłość, troskę, szczęście, rozpacz i smutek. A wszystko to we właściwych momentach!
Przy nich Polacy wydawali się ułomni. Wierzyłem wtedy, że są miejsca, do których nie wolno nam chodzić.
Jako chłopiec dorastający w Chicago, nie znałem nikogo, kto kiedykolwiek był na profesjonalnym meczu sportowym. A przecież od stadionów Wrigley Field czy Comiskey Park dzieliła mnie krótka jazda autobusem. To było tak, jakby istniały jakieś zapisy zabraniające Polakom jeździć na mecze, do muzeum czy do zoo. Kiedykolwiek! Teraz myślę, że był to efekt dorastania wśród klasy pracującej, dla której wyprawa na mecz była ekskluzywną ekstrawagancją. Kogo stać na wyprawę na mecz?! Teraz zdaję sobie z tego sprawę, ale wtedy byłem przekonany, że Polacy po prostu nie robią takich rzeczy. Że mogą je robić tylko Amerykanie.
Nigdy nic nie szło, jak trzeba. Pralki psuły się bez powodu. Fachowcy od ich naprawy zawsze okazywali się niekompetentnymi oszustami. Koszule, nawet te nowe, były poplamione albo z urwanym guzikiem. Mój ojciec przez chyba rok nieskutecznie próbował naprawić w domu odpływową rurę, choć próbował wszelkich sposobów swoimi niepasującymi kluczami. Pamiętam, jak moja mama próbowała kiedyś wytargować w sklepie dobrą cenę i kupić mi drewniane klocki Lincoln Log. Nie udało się. Nic się nie udawało. Takie widać było przeznaczenie Polacków. I nie było nikogo, kto mógłby nam podpowiedzieć, jak odwrócić to przeznaczenie, albo przynajmniej trochę je złagodzić. Wszyscy płynęli na tej samej łodzi, próbując przetrwać i pozostać na powierzchni. Olejniczakowie, Czarnkowie, Popowczakowie, Budzowie, Pitlakowie, Bronowiccy, Stupkowie, Milczarkowie i Guzłowscy – my wszyscy, którzy mieszkaliśmy na jednym kwartale przy Evergreen Street, tonęliśmy w tym przeznaczeniu, znanym tylko nam, uchodźcom wojennym, głupim Polackom.
Zacząłem uciekać od tego przeznaczenia, tej amerykańskiej polskości, tak szybko, jak byłem w stanie i uciekam od niej przez całe życie. Nie wszystkie dzieci, które znałem, były takie jak ja. Miałem kolegę, któremu polskość była bardzo bliska i gdybyście posłuchali, w jaki sposób opowiadamy o naszym dzieciństwie, pomyślelibyście, że dorastaliśmy w innych krajach, oddzielonych od siebie drutem kolczastym. Mój kolega w soboty uczęszczał nawet do polskiej szkoły. Ja wolałbym raczej pracować po dwadzieścia godzin na dobę, jak pracowali moi rodzice w niemieckich obozach. Nie chciałem mieć nic do czynienia z całą tą polskością, chciałem stać się zwykłym i anonimowym Amerykaninem.
I chociaż język polski był moim pierwszym językiem, którym władałem zanim poszedłem do przedszkola, dziś posługuję się nim bardzo słabo. Świadomie walczyłem, żeby pozbyć się swojej polskości i odniosłem sukces. Kiedy kilka lat temu próbowałem powiedzieć coś po polsku do mojej wiekowej już wtedy mamy, zawsze odpowiadała „Johnny, przestań proszę. Ranisz moje uszy”.
Dlaczego zatem piszę wiersze i felietony o byciu Amerykaninem polskiego pochodzenia? Odpowiedź na to pytanie nie jest prosta.
Dużą rolę odegrało to, kim byli moi rodzice. Gdyby byli rolnikami i gdzieś w Illinois uprawiali soję i kukurydzę, nie sądzę, żebym o nich pisał. Byłbym taki, jak inni amerykańscy poeci. Pisałbym o pogodzie i o tym, jak to jest jechać ogromnym samochodem na wschód lub zachód po I-80. Ale moi rodzice byli ludźmi skrzywdzonymi przez historię, przez wojnę, przez ich życie w obozach koncentracyjnych i obozach dla uchodźców.
Moja mama zawsze powtarzała: „Niech to szlag trafi”.
Nie jestem pewien, co to znaczy, czy to jakieś polskie powiedzonko, a może coś, co mówili Niemcy w obozach poganiając więźniów pchających wypełnione cementem taczki. Dla mnie znaczy to tyle, co „cholerne życie”, które dopadnie cię niezależnie od tego, co robisz i dokąd uciekłeś, nie tylko stanie na twojej drodze, ale dopadnie cię, stłamsi i zabije. Dorastałem wśród ludzi, którzy widzieli, jak giną ich bliscy, jak bagnetami zabija się ich dzieci, jak kastruje się, a następnie dobija strzałem ich przyjaciół. Moja mama widziała, jak nogi jej siostry rozszarpuje rozbite szkło, kiedy usiłowała uciec przed Niemcami przez rozbite wąskie okno. I nikt nie przywiązywał do tego wielkiej wagi.
Nawet jeśli nie każdy chce je czytać, czuję że muszę pisać wiersze i felietony o moich rodzicach, tylko po to, żeby mieć pewność, że ktoś je pisze. Naprawdę, niewielu pisarzy pisze o takich ludziach, jak moi rodzice, o uchodźcach wojennych. Jeśli ja nie napiszę, to kto? Wyobraźcie sobie te setki tysięcy Polaków, którzy po wojnie przypłynęli do Ameryki. Kto ma o nich pisać? Sami przecież nie potrafili tego zrobić.
Moje pisanie daje moim rodzicom, a także ludziom takim, jak oni, głos. Moi rodzice nie byli wykształconymi ludźmi. Mój ojciec nigdy nie chodził do szkoły i ledwie potrafił się podpisać. Moja mama ukończyła dwie klasy. Czuję, że muszę pisać o tym, o czym oni pisaliby, gdyby byli w stanie to robić. Od trzydziestu lat piszę o ich życiu i myślę czasem, że piszę o życiu tych wszystkich zapomnianych, pozbawionych głosu uchodźców, ludzi wypędzonych i skrzywdzonych przez wojnę, tych którzy przetrwali.
O historii wszystkich Polacków.

Growing Up Polack

My dad spent 4 ½ years in Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. My mother spent 2 ½ years as a slave laborer in various camps there. When the war ended, she weighed 125, he weighed 75. After the war they couldn’t return to Poland, so they lived in refugee camps till they got permission to come to the US. They made the trip in June 1951 on the General Taylor, a troop ship.
Recently, I found photos in the New York Times archive of that ship taken the day my parents arrived here. These photographs stopped me.

History had given me a gift. My parents weren’t in the pictures, but they must have brushed against the people who were. They must have stood in line with them, waited for food with them, closed their eyes and prayed with them, worried about what it would be like in America with them.

My parents and the other people on the ship were all Displaced Persons, country-less refugees, who had lost their parents and grandparents, their families and their homes, their churches and their names, everything. It had all been left behind, buried in the great European grave yard that stretched from the English Channel to the Urals and from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean. And here they all were on this former troop ship, coming to start a new life in America. They could not have imagined what they would find and what they would become.

After working in the farms around Buffalo, New York, to pay off the cost of their passage over, my parents settled in Chicago, in the Humboldt Park area with lots of other Poles and DPs, refugees, and survivors. And one of the things they soon found out there was who they were. They weren’t Poles and they definitely weren’t Polish Americans. I never heard those words. What I did hear in the streets, the schools, and the stores was that my parents were Polacks. And so was I.

We were the people who nobody wanted to rent a room to or hire or help. We were the “wretched refuse” of somebody else’s shore, dumped now on the shore of Lake Michigan, and most people we met in America wished we’d go back to where we came from. And that we’d take the rest of the Polacks with us.

So, if anyone had ever asked me when I was growing up, “Say, you want to be a Polish American writer or teacher or doctor or wizard,” I would have told him to take a hike, but not in words so gentle.

Polish Americans, I felt, were losers. They worked in factories when they could get jobs, they were rag-and-bone men leading horse-drawn wagons through the alleys of Chicago, they went door to door selling bits of string and light bulbs, they didn’t know how to drive cars or make phone calls or eat in restaurants. They stood on street corners with pieces of paper in their hands trying to get Americans to help them find the address printed on the paper, mumbling “Prosze, Pan” (please, sir) or “Prosze, Pani” (please, lady).

When I was a child, I thought that Poles didn’t know how to do anything while Americans knew how to do everything. They knew how to be happy. They could go to zoos, museums, planetariums, and movies. They could stroll freely through the great American, sunshiny-bright world like so many smiling, charming Bing Crosbys, singing “Pennies from Heaven” as they strolled and believing every word of its chorus: “Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.”

Americans could go to restaurants and order meals and not get into arguments with waiters about the price of a hamburger. They could go on picnics and not lose their children or their children’s balloons. Americans could go to weddings and dance waltzes without ripping their pants, without falling down, without getting into fights.

Americans could laugh at the jokes Milton Berle told on TV and know what they meant. He could deadpan the punch line, “Sure, the lady was from Missouri,” and Americans would roll in the aisles till they busted a gut. They could smile and mean it, show love, concern, happiness, sorrow, sadness. And all at the right times!

Polish Americans, on the other hand, seemed hobbled.

I actually believed there were places we couldn’t go.

When I was a boy growing up in Chicago, I never knew anyone who ever went to a professional ball game. This despite the fact I lived a short bus ride away from Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. It was as if there were written restrictions. Poles could not go to ballgames. Or museums. Or zoos. Ever! I’m sure now much of this was simply the result of growing up in a working-class neighborhood where even one night at a ballgame was an extravaganza. Who could afford a trip to a ballpark? I realize this now, but at that time I had the feeling that Poles just didn’t do such things. Only Americans did them.

And nothing ever seemed to go right. Washing machines would break down for no reason. Repairmen were always crooks or incompetents. Shirts — even brand new ones — would be stained or missing a button. My father once spent what seemed like a year working on a drain pipe that wouldn’t be mended, no matter how hard he struggled with his mismatched wrenches.

I remember one time when my mother went into a dime store and tried to bargain down the price of a Lincoln Log set. Of course, that didn’t work either. Nothing worked. Our Polack fate was hard karma. And there was no one to tell you how to change the hard karma, make it a little softer. Everyone was in the same boat and trying to find some way to survive, keep afloat. The Oleniechaks, the Popowchaks, the Budzas, the Czarneks, the Pitlaks, the Bronowickis, the Stupkas, the Milczareks, the Guzlowskis—all of us on that block of Evergreen Street were drowning in the kind of hard karma that only the DPs, the dumb Polacks, knew.

I started running away from this hard karma, this Polish American stuff, as soon as I could, and for most of my life I’ve been running. Not all the Polish kids I knew were like that, of course. I had a friend who held tight to his Polishness, and to hear us talk about our youth, you’d think we grew up in separate countries with concertina wire between them. He went to Polish School on Saturdays!

I would sooner have worked a 20-hour day at the kind of hard labor my parents knew in the camps in Nazi Germany. I didn’t want anything to do with that Polack stuff—I wanted to be an unmistakable and anonymous American.

Even though my first language was Polish and I spoke it exclusively until I went to kindergarten, I can barely speak a lick of Polish now. I consciously fought to strip all of that away, and I succeeded. When I tried speaking Polish to my aged mother a couple of years ago, she’d always say the same thing. “Johnny, please stop. You’re hurting my ears.”

So why am writing essays and poems about being a Polish American?

The answer isn’t easy.

I think a lot of it comes from who my parents were. If my parents had been Illinois farm people raising soy beans and corn, I don’t think I would be writing about them. I would be like every other poet in America: writing about the weather or what it’s like being driving a big car west or east on I-80. But instead my parents were people who had been struck dumb and quivering by history, by the Second World War, by their lives in the labor and DP camps.

My mom used to like to say, “Szlak trafi.”

I don’t know if this is a Polish idiom or what. Literally, I think it means “the truncheon or billy club will find you.” Maybe it’s something the Nazis used to say in the camps when they were beating the prisoners to get them to move faster pushing the cement-filled wheelbarrows. But whatever it means literally, here is what it means to me: shit happens, and not only does shit happen, it will find you no matter what you do, or where you run, and it will not just get in your way, it will cover you and smother you and kill you.

I grew up with people who had seen their families killed, babies bayoneted, friends castrated and then shot to death. My mom saw her sister’s legs ripped apart by broken glass as she struggled through a narrow window to escape from the Nazis.

And no one much cared.

Even if people don’t want to read what I write, I feel that I have to write my poems and essays about my parents just to make sure someone does. Really, there just aren’t a lot of people writing about people like my parents and the other DPs. And if I don’t write, who will? Imagine all of those hundreds of thousands of Poles who came to this country as DPs. Who wrote for them? They couldn’t write for themselves.

My writing gives my parents and their experiences and the experiences of people like them a voice. My parents had very little education. My father never went to school and could barely write his name. My mother had two years of formal education. I feel that I have to tell the stories they would write themselves if they could. For the last thirty years I have been writing about their lives, and I sometimes think that I am not only writing about their lives, but also about the lives of all those forgotten, voiceless refugees, DP’s, and survivors that the last century produced.

All of history’s Polacks.

John Guzlowski

amerykański pisarz i poeta polskiego pochodzenia. Publikował w wielu pismach literackich, zarówno w USA, jak i za granicą, m.in. w „Writer’s Almanac”, „Akcent”, „Ontario Review” i „North American Review”. Jego wiersze i eseje opisujące przeżycia jego rodziców – robotników przymusowych w nazistowskich Niemczech oraz uchodźców wojennych, którzy emigrowali do Chicago – ukazały się we wspomnieniowym tomie pt. „Echoes of Tattered Tongues”. W 2017 roku książka ta zdobyła nagrodę poetycką im. Benjamina Franklina oraz nagrodę literacką Erica Hoffera, za najbardziej prowokującą do myślenia książkę roku. Jest również autorem dwóch powieści kryminalnych o detektywie Hanku Purcellu oraz powieści wojennej pt. „Road of Bones”. John Guzlowski jest emerytowanym profesorem Eastern Illinois University.

John Guzlowski’s writing has been featured in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, Akcent, Ontario Review, North American Review, and other journals here and abroad.  His poems and personal essays about his Polish parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany and refugees in Chicago appear in his memoir Echoes of Tattered Tongues.  Echoes received the 2017 Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer Foundation’s Montaigne Award for most thought-provoking book of the year.  He is also the author of two Hank Purcell mysteries and the war novel Road of Bones.  Guzlowski is a Professor Emeritus at Eastern Illinois University.

 

Na zdjęciu: Sylwester w Chicago, 1958 rok.

fot.archiwum Johna Guzlowskiego

Tłumaczył: Grzegorz Dziedzic

Categories: Guzlowski

Comments

  1. Anonim
    Anonim 2 stycznia, 2019, 16:11

    I was badly scarred by Polish jokes in the 50s. There were entire books devoted to them for Heaven’s sake. “Laugh along with them,” people would say. The hell with that, I say.

    Reply this comment
    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:11

      Yes, when I was a university professor, the other profs would tell this jokes and expected me to laugh along. It was like they felt them were bonding with me. I finally said no way and wouldn’t put up with that.

      Reply this comment
      • Anonim
        Anonim 16 stycznia, 2019, 19:55

        Excellent article true to the heart Professor Guzlowski your a hero to Polish American’s Thank you for your service on telling these stories and poems…. When I hear how bad these people coming to America at our southern border I want to tell some of your stories about our Polish people coming to America and the treatment they received .. Again thanks and may God Bless you …. 👍💯🙏✝⛪️🇵🇱🇺🇸🇵🇱🇺🇸

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      • scarlet
        scarlet 18 stycznia, 2019, 23:10

        My husband’s grandfather Jakob was a city night time Scavenger of Privy-Vaults-Catch Basins in 1903 after coming to the US. He died in 1906 when my father-in-law Frank was 6 months old, but his mother raised him to work hard and eventually he moved out of the city and bought a farm where my husband the youngest of 9 children was raised. Today Frank’s grandchildren include doctors and professors. My mother-in-law Josephine said No one where they moved to knew they were Polish because his name was French due to an ancestor who married a Polish women. He served in the a Marines and lost any Polish accent She said she worked hard to learn English when she was young as her mother could read and write Polish and English Then when she left the Polish Neighborhood she would not be treated poorly for being Polish. She taught my daughter some Polish, but only the two eldest of my husband’s 8 brothers and sisters learned any Polish. In private they were very proud of being of their Polish heritage.

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  2. Anonim
    Anonim 2 stycznia, 2019, 17:12

    Excellent article. Glad I saw it before it was taken down on Facebook.

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    • Anonim
      Anonim 3 stycznia, 2019, 18:52

      I agree never stopped to think how many immigrants and their children must have suffered because they did not fit in. Not just the polish but many nationalities Sad Times.

      Reply this comment
  3. Christina
    Christina 2 stycznia, 2019, 18:23

    Good essay about growing up Polack. Some of what you write I also experienced growing up in Detroit. The history of the Leadbelt Riot of 1917 was a cautionary tale told by my father when we sat together on the front porch of Piedmont Street, rocking the green glider. I spent much of my adult life trying to find out more about what happened to my people in the southeastern hills of Missouri. And I began writing about what I knew and what I could understand early on. Crosses in front yards and state militia called out to quell the rioters. My family was sent out of Leadwood on a rail literally. My father would remember how his little dog ran after the train but eventually gave up. I hung on his every word. Then when I heard my mother’s tale just a few short years before she died, I tried to understand this new story. I have written about what happened to her, too. No, they were in the U.S. in WWII, but they were DP’s – dumb Polacks. And they weren’t wanted except for backbreaking labor. I hope your essay wins the Pushcart.

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  4. Modzelewski
    Modzelewski 2 stycznia, 2019, 18:47

    I found your article extremely good. As a 2nd generation American we still lived in a town where 99% of the population was Polish. The older people would remind us of how good we had it in America while still longing for Poland. We heard stories like the ones your parents told you. Polish people did not go to ballgames or other festive occasions because they needed to save the money. My Grandmother was always reminding my Father that he needed to save money not spend it on things she thought had no value. My Grandparents were never quite comfortable in America. They were always afraid „things” would happen as they had in Poland. My Uncle and 2 Aunts spoke Polish until they went to Kindergarten. The teachers at the school had to have a conference with my Grandparents so the rest of the children(there were 7) would understand some English before they got to school. Keep on writing. You certainly struck a chord with me.

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  5. Anonim
    Anonim 2 stycznia, 2019, 18:48

    Dobra polszczyzna

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  6. GRABSKI
    GRABSKI 2 stycznia, 2019, 18:58

    Such a poignant piece. Guzlowski gives voice to the quiet torment that was, ‚Growing up Polack’ in America. Though it’s easier for Poles now, this essay reminds us who we are. It reminds us to welcome immigrants into our hearts. We must always seek to do better.

    Reply this comment
    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:19

      Thank you for reading and commenting, It means a lot to me to know my brother and sister writers are with me.

      Reply this comment
      • Daria
        Daria 6 marca, 2019, 23:30

        Mial Pan bardzo madrych rodzicow ktorzy nawet bez wyksztalcenia potrafili wychowac syna na profesora!
        Mysle, ze byliby dumni za ten i pewnie kazdy jeden Pana felieton
        Pozdrawiam 🙂

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  7. Anonim
    Anonim 2 stycznia, 2019, 19:52

    I published my first story, „Black Polacks” in the Minnesota Review in the 70’s. It was a child’s impressions of men returning from the coal mines. My poem, Blood Soup, not only was in the Paris Review but has appeared in anthologies. Being Polish-Amercian marked my childhood and was vital to my identity. Too often, we allow a word to stop our hearts from being open to the words that follow. Proud Polack, Phil Boiarski

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    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:19

      Phil, my brother, thank you.

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    • Charlie
      Charlie 8 stycznia, 2019, 23:24

      Phil Boiarski, thank you for one of the best sentences I’ve read in the past year: „Too often, we allow a word to stop our hearts from being open to the words that follow.”

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  8. Lou
    Lou 3 stycznia, 2019, 00:16

    Interesting read. My grandmother was brought to America by her mother, my great grandmother and her stepfather when she was 16. She was my Dads mother and the settled in Pennsylvania. My mother’s parents came from Poland too. I didn’t know much background on them, all died by time I was 14 except grandma, my Dads Mom. I was a young married mother of six when she died at 81. Loved her stories of living in America and all she had seen in her lifetime. From horse and buggy to a man walking on the moon. My children loved visiting and eating homemade bread, donuts, etc. She died in 1973 at 81 and my Mom was able to read, write and speak Polish her entire life. She died in 2003 at 82. Here I am a great grandmother at 80. My spouse is Slovak. I cook and bake many Polish foods and similar to his family background too. You had a tougher time than any of our families. No one ever spoke of being in camps or hard labor. Their lives were filled with struggles too and their stories were different but relatable. Glad I had the chance to read your essay. I am not a big fan of history but enjoyed the Polish history you shared. Thank you. Loretta

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  9. Anonim
    Anonim 3 stycznia, 2019, 02:24

    A very sad story. I know my father too, had a difficult time in the UK, but not that bad. It’s a strange concept that Americans hated immigrants, when they are mostly all descendants of immigrants who landed on those shores in search of a better life.

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  10. Christine M. Kumiega
    Christine M. Kumiega 3 stycznia, 2019, 08:22

    Keep writing! These stories are the stories of my prababek. She saved string, made sure every drop of soup went into your stomach, hated that I would soon go to school and be forced to speak „American”, but she wanted me to speak English perfectly so I wouldn’t be mistaken forr a „DP”. Now I would be hard pressed to speak or understand any involved conversation in Polish, my first language. Although I am a born American, those close ties to Poland remain in my heart. THank you!

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  11. Sheri Ole
    Sheri Ole 3 stycznia, 2019, 09:54

    my mother is an Oleniczak there was a j in there somewhere before it changed. My Great Aunt & Uncles were lovely to listen to. My moms cousins talk about how the elders never spoke Polish at home for fear it would effect the kids English. They would hide under tables when they thought they were all outside and listen to them speak it. Im going to Poland with my daughter on a school trip in 2020 and beyond excited. Probably nowhere near where my Grandfather and Greats migrated from but still excited! I only know the fun side…not the trials. Proud of my heritage though. Loved the essay!

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    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:17

      Did your mom live on the near north side of Chicago, across the street from St. Fidelis church, near humboldt park?

      Enjoy Poland. It will feel like home!!

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  12. Jan
    Jan 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:35

    So far, I have not read whether very busy Poles living in poverty went to church. Of course, Roman Catholic!

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    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 15:50

      My parents went to church every Sunday, St. Fidelis Parish in Chicago. They sent me and my sister both to catholic elementary schools and high schools. I ended up getting a Phd in English because of the excellent education I received.

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      • Nancy
        Nancy 4 stycznia, 2019, 11:54

        Your writing brings up memories that I can’t really express, my grandparents came here early on in the 1900’s. I was born & raised on the south side, but I was married at St. Fidelis by Fr. Chester Lesniak.

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  13. donna
    donna 3 stycznia, 2019, 12:51

    Your parents, John, were simple, hard-working people who did the best they could to raise you and your sister after being so harshly derailed by WWII. Their experience in America, in Chicago, is very similar to a lot of other simple, hard-working Poles who immigrated here starting in the 1850’s for economic and political reasons. During the 1950’s and 1960’s there were many very active, large and supportive Polish organizations in Chicago (made up of those earlier simple Poles) which helped newly arriving displaced Poles after WWII, like my family. It’s too bad that your experience of being Polish was so negative as there were many opportunities to have a different experience, especially in the Polish neighborhood in which you grew up. My mother had to schlep me from the far northside every Saturday to Polish school and Polish scouts to your neighborhood for lessons and meetings. She too was a simple, hard-working Pole, and during WWII a single mother who had experienced horrors in Siberia as a deported slave laborer and mother trying to save her 5-year old child, but she had an undying patriotism that sustained me even during all those times I had to put up with “dumb Polack” jokes. Many of us in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s were trying very hard to shed the image of the “dumb P —–.” I can’t barely say/write the word, I find it so offensive, even today. Seems like we may still need to fight to shed that image.

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  14. Sandra Colbert
    Sandra Colbert 3 stycznia, 2019, 13:03

    My Grandmother, was a Lithuanian Immigrant who came over in 1912. She, as did many in our Lithuanian/Polish neighborhood worked in the Stock Yards. This was the Back of the Yards area. For whatever reason that I never understood, then or now, she hated „DP’s” regardless if they were Polish or Lithuanian. That view was held by others in the neighborhood. Your article does shed a little bit of light on why she hated them, but it still doesn’t make sense. Keep them memories of your family alive. You owe it to them. They suffered so much and you’ve been able to benefit from a good life, in spite of the indignities that you went through. Have the pride now that you didn’t have growing up. Thank you for the article.

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  15. Sandra Colbert
    Sandra Colbert 3 stycznia, 2019, 13:11

    My grandmother was a Lithuanian immigrant who came here in 1912. She worked in the Stock Yards, with other members of the family for many years. For reasons that I never understood, she hated „DP’s”, regardless if they were Polish or Lithuanian. This was the attitude of many in this Back of the Yards neighborhood. Your article sheds a little bit of light on her feeling, but it still doesn’t make much sense, which is usually the case when it comes to hating a group of people. So continue to keep your families memories alive. Share the pride now that you could not feel growing up. Thank you for the article.

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  16. Anonim
    Anonim 3 stycznia, 2019, 13:20

    Tk u for sharing your history. My grandparents were from Lithuania but came to Chicago around 1900. Will look up upon book. Read all I can find about WWII & terrible times. . Can’t believe it happened but know it did. Never forget!❤️🇱🇹🇺🇸

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  17. icefalcon
    icefalcon 3 stycznia, 2019, 13:31

    Very poignant and thought-provoking essay; thank you for writing it. I married into a Polish family. My husband’s parents emigrated to the US shortly before he was born, in the 1960’s. They were kids during WWII, living in a rural area. They had relatives who had been arrested, sent to prison camps and killed, but their direct experiences had more to do with the Soviets. They settled in the Brighton Park neighborhood (Five Holy Martyrs Parish) and worked hard at multiple jobs–they did without luxuries but bought their own home and sent their four children through Catholic school, all the way through 12th grade. They had a MUCH smoother time than the author’s parents, though far from easy. However, my husband barely speaks Polish, his first language, and he has bad memories of overhearing people refer to his parents as „Polacks.” I asked him to speak Polish around our own kids when they were little, because I wanted them to grow up bi-lingual…their grandparents still struggle with English. But my husband always said, „They’re Americans, they only need to learn English.” Our daughter studied Polish in college and has visited Poland several times and all the kids are very proud of their heritage. The Polish people are very resilient and even a glance at Polish history affirms the richness of Polish culture. Their story deserves to be told.

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  18. Blondie
    Blondie 3 stycznia, 2019, 14:17

    This was incredible. My grandparents came to America late 1800 or early 1900. My grandmother only spoke Polish and passed when I aS 13. I never heard any stories about Poland and wondered if I had any relatives who went thru what your family did. My mom was the youngest of the generation born in the US in 1910. Her & my dad & aunt & uncle were all factory workers. Minimal schooling for all of them. Reading your story, I wish I had taken the time to learn more about their past but then again none of that was talked about much. My grandparents made bootleg liquor I found out from my mom shortly before she passed. Heard more about the depression & those hard times. Keep writing!

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  19. Judy
    Judy 3 stycznia, 2019, 14:21

    Your. Piece gives me an education on how it was for o many people. I was born and raised in the U.S. My grandfather emigrated from Oslo in 1893 and my Italian grandmother emigrated ihere in 1890. I cannot imagine what’it was like for them coming to a strange country with basically nothing but the clothes on their backs.

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    • john z guzlowski
      john z guzlowski 3 stycznia, 2019, 15:48

      My wife’s grandparents came over from Italy, settled in Brooklyn. When I listen to her family’s stories of coming over and the hard first years here, I often nod my head and recognize the similarities. Interestingly, I have a cambodian friend who came over here as a refugee in the 1990s. I feel like he and I are brothers.

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  20. Anonim
    Anonim 3 stycznia, 2019, 17:04

    I see even the translation of your essay changes Polacks to „Poles” – unless there is no Polish word for Polacks.
    Fascinating essay!
    Is the picture of your family? Do you know where it was taken?

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  21. Jake
    Jake 4 stycznia, 2019, 04:28

    I grew up in Des Plaines. My most recent immigrant ancestors left Germany in 1848, settling out around Busse Road (yes, they were Busses). My parents never talked about others’ nationalities, so I was oblivious to the ethnic backgrounds of my classmates. The thought that so and so had an Italian name, or an Irish name, never entered my head. I was probably in at least sixth grade before learning that a name ending in „ski” denoted Polish ancestry. Which was about the time the Polish joke craze hit.

    My dad bought those joke books, all the ethnic joke books that soon flooded the market. I was quickly aware that these jokes were unacceptable, except, somehow, Polish jokes. It seemed as though the Polacks were a mythical creature that had to be invented to satisfy the need for them as butt of „Polack jokes.” The „Polacks” had nothing to do with actual, living breathing Polish people. And as an adult, when Polish-American friends said: „I’m offended,” I thought they were kidding. „You’re Polish? Okay, I’ll tell it slower.”

    And then it finally clicked: Hey, these jokes are hurtful. My friends aren’t kidding. It is never too late to learn.

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  22. Derek
    Derek 4 stycznia, 2019, 05:17

    This was excellent. I enjoyed reading this very soulful, very human, piece. It brought back memories but from the other side of the coin. My grandfather, a Mexican American, used the term „DP” quite often. Me, being a young child, didnt realize what he was saying was wrong. DP…Polack…these were terms Id heard often. One year I wound up in school with a Polish boy younger than me and I immediately treated him like an inferior person, for no other reason than that’s what I knew. But after we got to know one another, the fists were unclenched, we talked and I learned alot. One year, in the 5th grade, I corrected my Social Studies teacher when he used the word „Polack”. He honestly thought thats what you called someone from Poland. He apologized and said „I didnt mean to insult you. In my country thats the only word I knew.” I had to inform him I was not a Pole…just someone who learned the error in what I knew.
    I wish you luck on your award nomination, sir!
    And by the way, I am also a resident of the Humboldt Park area…North and California!

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  23. Will
    Will 4 stycznia, 2019, 11:00

    My mother was a cosmopolitan, secular, Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and arrived in Chicago, Christmas Day, 1946. Although she faced antisemitism in the Polish community (she was hired by a Polish radio station and then promptly fired when they found out she was a Jew; they were afraid they’d lose their listeners if word got out), my mother, nevertheless, strived to keep connections to the Polish culture she missed. We made forays to Milwaukee Avenue to eat in the restaurants and bring home sausages. Your wonderful article explains the lasting effect the “Polack” stigma had on the Poles of Chicago: unlike the Italian restaurants, French bakeries, and German delicatessens we also patronized, the Polish shops on Milwaukee Avenue typically called themselves ‚Europejski’ (European), not ‚Polska’ (Polish).

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  24. Anonim
    Anonim 4 stycznia, 2019, 12:31

    My “German” Grandma & Grandpa eventually ended up in Roseland, on the “south side” of Chicago. Although my Mom spoke to them in the Old Country language it was verboten for me to learn and I do not remember any talk of history except pieces that I overheard. Sitting at my Grandma’s table I would try to bring up topic “Gram, what kind of curtain rods do they use to hand an Iron Curtain on?” She had no idea what to say. My Mom on the other hand, would tell me “you don’t have a drop of German blood in you” which I though was a compliment for years.
    I also grew up in the 1950-60’s. I never knew my Dads parents, who immigrated from Ireland. I really appreciated your story and how candid you are. Looking forward to more. thank you!

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  25. Mark
    Mark 4 stycznia, 2019, 14:09

    Your essay brought tears to my eyes: you put your finger on what so many have felt — and for quite a long time. I grew up on the southwest side of Chicago near Midway Airport and all the “dumb blonde” jokes were interchangeable with the “dumb Polack” jokes. The essay was painful to read but so vital — and I’m incredibly grateful. Thank you John!

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  26. kepha
    kepha 4 stycznia, 2019, 16:45

    I think of myself as bi-cultural, born in DP camp, Ukrainian, polish last name. My parents took the brunt of the disdain because of their accents in spite of speaking five languages. Sociologists speak about the quantum leaps the first generation has to make into middle class culture. I am more proud of them now for their courage and live in eternal gratitude. The rest is history. Americans were poor after the war and threatened by our arrival. I understand and am happy the age of making slurs is over legally.

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  27. B.Traven
    B.Traven 4 stycznia, 2019, 23:54

    Your experience was mine while growing up on Milwaukee’s Polish Southside in the ’50s and ’60s. I practically needed a passport to enter other neighborhoods, and was never able to land a good job in the city’s German-dominated industries. After all this time, your essay stirred up old emotions I thought long-dead. The past is never past.

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  28. Ursula
    Ursula 5 stycznia, 2019, 01:09

    It is a very sad retrospective story, painfully honest. In regards to using pejorative words to describe a person or a group they are damaging. The real problem in my opinion is a self fulfilling prophecy. You call someone dumb enough and he will believe he is dumb. I came to North America in 1986, in my 20-ies, university graduate, attractive, spoke some French, Italian and a bit of English. I grew up in the communist Poland, but we had such a pride of Polish history and such a love of Polish language, literature, and music. I grew up reading Mickiewicz, Slowacki and Sienkiewicz. Ogniem I mieczem, Potop, Pan Wolodyjowski… Great literature, great nation. In my stupidity I thought everybody loved us , we were so brave we were fighting for other nations, we were amazing. To my surprise we were not loved at all. We were not respected. My university diploma was worthless and my accent was very heavy. I went back to school, finished at the top of my class with American diploma:)
    One of my patients told me ” you are Polish? I knew a lot of your countrymen during the war , we used to call them crazy Polacks the way they were fighting Germans . He was a Brit and talking about Polish airmen fighting and dying for England. I said, crazy? Oh no they had to be idiots to leave their country, their wives, mothers and children to fight for your country. Such a waste of lives and for what? He didn’t say another word. it happened in 1998 and I still remember. My little american trauma.
    And yes I had to listen to some Polish jokes and was even called a Pollack. It was pretty shocking and I completely didn’t know how to handle it. I wasn’t even offended , just shocked. And I remember every single time it happened. So my heart goes out to all of you Polish American who had a misfortune of growing up on the streets of Chicago, New York, Detroit and other not so great American cities. Your live would be so much better in Poland. You would be wonderfully Polish speaking beautiful language, reading great books, and watching patriotic movies (not this Hollywood garbage which is by the way openly anti Polish).
    And I plan to go back to my country, hopefully pretty soon. It would be wonderful for all of you to come for a visit.

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  29. Anonim
    Anonim 5 stycznia, 2019, 03:03

    I came to the US in 1956. Bridgeport, CT. Barely speaking English, even though I was born in the UK and lived in what they called a resettlement camp. Brits rewrote history too. Awhile ago I googled Lowther Park and the only thing that came up was Lowther Castle. Different now. An entry actually appears. And even though my dad was in the Polish army and fought at Monte Casino, we were not wanted either. School was torture. Who knew that children could be so cruel? I did. Now I know why I became Americanized so quickly and learned that DP meant „displaced person” and not „dumb Pollack”. But in my heart, I am always that dumb Pollack girl with the wrong clothes and funny shoes, and furniture that came from Goodwill. Just never quite good enough.

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  30. Orca
    Orca 6 stycznia, 2019, 07:05

    Thank you for sharing a most excellent essay. My family has a very similar experience. We immigrated to American in 1956. My parents and two sisters. I was also called a Pollack by Americans even though my parents were Ukrainian. After some moving around we settled in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, 1317 N. Artesian. Went to Von Humboldt School. My parents worked in factories until they retired. We struggled. I was the 1st member of our family to ever get a college education. That was due in large part through serving in the Army while not even a citizen.We were also tortured in Ukrainian school , church and Ukrainian scouting. Now I wish I would have paid more attention. I miss those days. I also tortured my children with the same experience. American kids on Saturdays got to watch cartoons. Never played catch with my dad. Ukrainians never did that. Did go to Humboldt park for practice with the Ukrainian soccer team Lions we also fished and skated there. Remember Turtle Island. DP’s played cards and dominoes there. Humboldt Park was a gathering place for us on holidays and weekends in the early days. I remember after parents learned the system on hot summer Sundays we would march over to North ave and take the bus till it got to the turnaround near lake Michigan. We would carry, blankets, food, drinks. Don’t remember every buying anything during these road trips. Never used sunscreen. Come home with the ultimate sunburns. Mom would put us in the bathtub for a soak in vineagar water to relieve the pain. Don’t remember if it worked or not but I sure smelled great. I could go on and on. Thank you so much for your stories. I think you give Americans way too much credit. They picked on me relentlessly, used to punch me before during and after school. Not a great experience. Puerto Ricans moved into the neighborhood and that made the memories even worse for me. I thank my parents for coming to America and enduring to make a better life for their children. Their lives were much more difficult than we can ever imagine. Did you know the Lysenko family on Evergreen? I apologize for my grammar but I’m a product of the Chicago School system. One of my favorite teachers at Von Humboldt another Pollack, Mr. Tyska.

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  31. Sheila Luecht
    Sheila Luecht 7 stycznia, 2019, 07:52

    You are writing about reality. Just as we, people in general, struggle with racism, the acknowledgement of it, misogyny and how it shapes society and the influence of the patriarchy, we also struggle with „othering” people. We give them identifiers and try to rank ourselves in some kind of pecking order or our own creation or that of the majority of the society. You are just telling your truth. I struggle with all the negative associated with being part Polish, mostly in my own mind, constructed by some actual information from my mother, but mostly from how history, the kind I read, portrayed Polish people during WWII. Keep writing John.

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  32. Carl
    Carl 9 stycznia, 2019, 15:29

    Thanks, John, for writing and sharing your experiences and your parents and your family’s and especially for DP.s everywhere. The poignancy here runs deep and timelessly. I think your book „Echoes of Tattered Tongues” is one of the best book-length chronicles of the Polish Diaspora in the U.S. I’m sure it will truly stand the test of time. Blessings on you for having captured those lives for eternity.

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  33. Carl
    Carl 9 stycznia, 2019, 15:29

    Thanks, John, for writing and sharing your experiences and your parents and your family’s and especially for DP.s everywhere. The poignancy here runs deep and timelessly. I think your book „Echoes of Tattered Tongues” is one of the best book-length chronicles of the Polish Diaspora in the U.S. I’m sure it will truly stand the test of time. Blessings on you for having captured those lives for eternity.

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