Between August 1942 and November 1946, close to 1,000 Polish children and their guardians lived in idyllic settlements on the Kathiawar Peninsula in India not far from the summer residence of the Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijay Sinhi. They had come at the Maharaja’s invitation from orphanages in Ashkabad, the capital of Turkmenistan, and Samarkand.
2009 — Winter
It could be said that conflict between opposites ultimately assumes a new place in the universe. One can arrive at many examples of opposing forces taking on transformations, even often fleeting ones – evil versus good, black versus white, women versus men, yin versus yang, communism versus capitalism, etc. Who would think that my surname, Kuklinski, could be poised in such a contest of antipodal proportions?
“This place is like a time capsule. You guys still talk about Lemkos and Galicia. We don’t even talk about that stuff,” said exchange student Lyudmyla Sonchak during an ethnic festival near Minersville, Pennsylvania.
Anyone who’s ever read memoirs written during or immediately after the war knows how very different they are from those written many years later. The writing is vivid, unembellished, adrenalin charged. Memories have not yet faded, been tampered with. There is no editorializing. War is an experience unlike any other. Nobody comes out of it unchanged. When these experiences are recorded by gifted writers – and Rulka Langer certainly was that — they are at once harrowing, inspiring and breathtaking.
A great cover and a good review are often enough to get someone interested in a book, but it is not often that the book leads to curiosity about the publisher. Yet that is exactly what The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt did. Who published this beautiful book? Aquila Polonica? A new publishing house dedicated to the Polish World War II story? Who are they, and why this focus?
CR gleaned some background information about Joanna Czechowska, the author of The Black Madonna of Derby, from published interviews. We knew she was born in England to a Polish airman father and an English mother, and that in her early childhood she was not only raised by her Polish grandmother but spend the first ten years of her life in a community with postwar Polish refugees in the UK.
An interview with Joanna Czechowska in The Guardian sparked CR’s instant interest in her book, The Black Madonna of Derby. Although her mother was English, Czechowska was raised in her father’s Polish community, complete with Saturday schools, scout groups and dances in the Polish Hall. Since her mother worked, Czechowska was raised by her adored and adoring Polish grandmother, who spoke several languages but none of them English.