My summer '17 trip has come to a close, pausing for time to reflect on the past and dream for the future. Rocky River's Lake Erie café where I now sit seems far away from Poland's mountains and England's Lake District, but vivid memories linger with the scent of coffee, enabling me to reflect on what's truly important: family, the need to preserve our past, and learn for the future.
Here's just a few thoughts as I close this latest sojourn and chapter into Captured in Liberation:
There may be no place on this earth more chilling than a visit to the Auschwitz museum. The infamous Nazi death camp stands as a stark reminder to the evil and destruction that man is capable of imposing on fellow humans. Here, large groups follow tour guides, silently listening to indescribable atrocities that were committed on these grounds, viewing icons and rooms where unthinkable acts were performed to systematically eliminate an entire race of humanity. In areas of the camp where the absolute worst atrocities occurred, visitors are asked to remain silent to honor the dead. They file along as if in another world. I somehow got separated from my English speaking guide, so wandered alone for over three hours, going at my own pace to read and learn the history of this nightmarish reality. Among the many things I was interested in learning was the fate suffered by a family member, Tadeusz Lekki.
My fathers cousin and close friend, Tadeusz Lekki, was one of the earliest arrivals at Auschwitz, arrested in Bochnia early 1941 for allegedly plotting against the German occupiers. As mentioned in my book, he was sent away with no trial the day after his arrest and never seen again. I learned that anyone accused of sabotage against the Germans were treated particularly harsh, even by the camp's sadistic standards, and Tadeusz did not survive the year. He was admitted to the infirmary for x-rays on 23 July, likely the subject of experimental studies, and died on 6 September. I visited block #18 where these gruesome experiments occurred, right next to a stark courtyard where prisoners were unceremoniously rounded up, shot, and killed. I left a note for Tadeusz in a guest log, letting him know that he is not forgotten. If you could, I ask that you say a prayer for him and all the lost souls whose lives ended in such dark cruel helpless fashion. .
While there may be no place more sobering that Auschwitz, there is no place on earth more peaceful than the top of a mountain. My final day in Poland was spent hiking up to this mountain peak, lagging behind Michal and Gaba who were kind enough to slow down and keep me going. Lots to reflect on.....
This photo was taken immediately following a productive meeting in front of the Press Building for Jagiellonian University in Krakow, one of Europe's oldest and most renowned Universities. My cousin Michal and I were feeling good, the Press representative expressed a strong interest to work with me on an updated edition of my book, including a Polish translation. It was clear to me while in Poland, particularly following the talk in Bochnia, how important it is to the people of Poland to preserve their history with stories of the past. There may be no country who has suffered more than Poland in recent history, who fought so bravely to help defeat an evil empire, only to lose their own freedom. Fortunately, the pride and perseverance of the Polish people prevailed and their freedom now restored. We must all learn from the past to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated.
So ends this latest journey into the story of my family. Just as my mother looked out in wonder to the sea from the same bluffs behind me in this photo, I now return in some wonder of where the next chapter of Captured in Liberation will take me. Thanks for allowing me to share my travels with you.
Author - Andrew Bajda
I've been working on writing the story of my father for two years, his adventures during WW2. I will retrace his steps and use this blog to share stories and images of the places that make up his fascinating story.