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Saturday, February 24, 2024

TRAVEL TO LEARN

Aashruti Tripathy is a 27-year-old student from Nepal, who came to Poland for an Erasmus Mundus master’s scholarship at the University of Łódź. She...

Italian Masters

The Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków announced that the exceptional work of the Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini – “Madonna and Child”, will join the...

The Iron Claw

Sean Durkin, an independent film director and producer known from the critically acclaimed “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “The Nest”, comes back with a...

Polish songs by Aga Zaryan

Polish jazz singer Aga Zaryan will give an unusual performance at Szczecin Philharmonic, showing a completely new side of her artistic expression. The repertoire...

Memento Mori

Depeche Mode extended its Memento Mori international tour and after concerts in Europe, Mexico, Canada and the USA, announced 29 new performances in Europe...

A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE

Robert Maguire Jr. is a 51-year-old American tiler, Uber driver and tour guide in Detroit, Michigan. He visited Poland over a year ago on a two-week trip, that was a present from his mother for his 50th birthday. 

What’s the story behind your mom’s idea to arrange a trip to Poland as a birthday present?

My dad was American but my mom is 100% Polish. We have extended family in Poland who we wanted to meet. I also think that my mom really wanted me to see Poland and most importantly – retrace our ancestors, really get to know their stories and see all the important places. She wanted to give me a meaningful experience, which would strengthen my sense of where my roots are. And it definitely did. We were traveling together, so I had the best possible guide… This was my first time not only in Poland but also in Europe.

Your family came to the United States after World War II?

Yes. My grandfather – Walter (Władysław) was a 2nd lieutenant in the Polish infantry and in 1939 he was transferred to the military police branch. Same year a German Blitzkrieg decimated Polish forces and he was captured to be shipped to the camp in Germany. He escaped, returned to duty in the Polish underground and was hunted by gestapo. Germans even arrested his wife, my grandmother, in early 1940 and sent her to a women’s detention jail in Tarnów in the South of Poland. After that, grandpa Walt survived two concentration camps in Germany, unaware that his son (uncle Andrew) was born in 1943. He remained in Germany until release by allied forces in1945 and then decided not to return to Poland, which was under occupation and Council of the Communist Russian Army. Instead, he traveled through secure corridors to Czechoslovakian town Pilsno, and then to the Southern part of Germany under allied control. He went back to duty as a captain and was appointed advisor to the Polish army-in-exile, which assisted the American occupational forces in Germany. Using his underground contacts in 1945 he delivered the message of his safety to grandma and asked her to take their son and his mother-in-law, and leave Poland. They reunited in Munich. My mom was born in Dachau in 1947. Grandpa Walt, grandma Bogda, uncle Andrew and my mom – Maggie, sailed to the United States under provisions of the 1947 Displaced Persons Act. And that’s how they arrived in New York City.

But your family is based in Detroit?

Yes. They faced many difficulties, as you can imagine. They struggled and finally moved to Detroit in 1953. Grandpa Walt was determined and doing everything he could to make the ends meet. He worked various jobs and even went to night school before he was hired at General Motors.

How did you go about planning the trip to Poland? 

My mom planned everything via a tour agent. She had traveled to Poland previously in 2016 and met one relative, thanks to whom she was able to connect with further family. This time everything was scheduled ahead. We knew exactly where and for how long we were going to go next.

What places did you visit?

We started by flying to Warsaw and meeting up with mom’s cousin Maria, her children and their children /laugh/. Next, we traveled by car to Toruń and then up to Gdansk. We visited Westerplatte, Malbork Castle, and the beach town of Sopot. We also took the high-speed rail to Krakow for 3 days. I went to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau alone. Mom visited camps in 2016 and the experience of being there once was difficult enough for her. Then we traveled the limestone escarpments route and saw five castles, I think. I really lost count of how many of them we’ve seen and entered /laugh/. We also met with our other cousin there – Alicja. On the last day in Krakow, we took a guided bus to the Pauline Monastery at Jasna Gora (Częstochowa) to attend a mass and watch the unveiling of the Black Madonna. Wow, that was the most spiritual experience of my life! I got goosebumps…

So, you did find here, what you were hoping for?

If someone asks me, what does it mean to me to be of Polish ancestry, I’ll say – it’s awesome. But on a more serious note – I understand my mom much better now. And probably myself too…

How about your general experience of Poland?

It was unreal! It would take hours to explain the things I’ve seen, heard, learned and experienced. A trip of a lifetime.

Does it mean that you see yourself coming back?

Oh yes! I’m hoping to be able to afford a summer return trip in 2024.

How about moving here? Would you ever consider that?

Poland feels like home and it could definitely be home to me. I don’t know how it would turn out for me in terms of the economic situation. Last year I was astonished by how far our dollar went… The prices of food or transportation in Poland were so reasonable! And – everyone speaks English here. That would certainly make everything easier…

Speaking of food… Any Polish favorites?

We did love pierogi. But I’ll give you three food highlights of our trip – the gingerbread cookies from Toruń, take-out casseroles in Warsaw’s Old Town and the turkey dish we were served during the dinner at aunt Maria’s in Warsaw.

You seem to love Poland. Is there anything that puts you off here?

Nothing really. Although I was surprised to see so much tagging and graffiti on the buildings in every city or town that we visited.

What would you say was the most inspiring moment during your trip?

Something we didn’t even plan to see. We came across a museum of Maria Skłodowska-Curie in Warsaw, in the house where she grew up. We were just passing by and took the opportunity to see what’s inside. All the photographs, memorabilia, exhibits…This place had an extraordinary atmosphere. It was a privilege to find ourselves in the every-day surroundings of a young girl that was about to become one of the greatest scientists in history. And she was Polish…

Wiktoria Sawicka-Djassi
Wiktoria Sawicka-Djassi
Freelance author, journalist and editor with over ten years of experience in public relations and communication for both domestic and international lifestyle brands. People and community enthusiast. Culture lover with a weak spot for literature. Traveler passionate about social diversity and mutual impact of people and their values.
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