Saturday, 29 January 2011

Truth will out?

This is the second post in row, which waited for some time on my dashboard before being published at last. Something must be amiss with my blogging if I keep editing out some excepts, delete whole paragraphs, rewrite many sentences, wonder whether thoughts I wish to share with you are unsuitable or too controversial.

What you see below is an auto-censored, "soft" version of my sad reflections after a wake I attended yesterday.

Normally my parents and I refuse to take part in such receptions, because there is nothing to celebrate and the boring family gathering ends up with drinking to the deceased's health or people begin to chat joyfully and the atmosphere gets party-like. This time as the deceased had been one of our closer relatives, it would have been simply impolite to turn down the invitation.

The wake was not extraordinary, apart from the presence of a prominent Polish politician, who is a good friend of the deceased's son. All proceeded normally until the moment sons of the deceased delivered a speech.

The old Latin tenet that you should speak highly of the dead or not speak at all, is a good rule and I am all for obeying it. The man who we farewelled yesterday had been a good man. He had loved his wife, sons and grandchildren, he had been nice and helpful to people around, he used to be a dab hand around the house - he could fix a broken down TV, a leaking tap, and, as long as he had been up to it, he had repaired his old Polonez. All this could be said about him and indeed was said. He also had some typical Polish shortcomings; in line with the Latin rule, we will pass over them. However, I still do not understand why he was credited with writing poems, reinterpreting some excerpts of the Bible into Polish patriotic psalms and writing furtively a book about history of Poland from its baptism in 966 to 1939. The big dose of patriotism was said to had been instilled in him by his father, who had died in 1943, when the deceased was 14.

I was totally unaware of his great attainments. He had only completed primary school, after WWII he did not continue his education. All I heard was so implausible that first my jaw dropped open and then I had to bite my tongue just not to burst out laughing. Meanwhile my father at first breathed loudly (what always means he gets the hump) and then hissed. Actually no one, including his own sister, knew anything about his alleged achievements. I cannot disprove the existence of these poems or psalms. Maybe he had had some talents he had kept secret (just as my family do not know about the existence of that blog), if so, I can be proud of him. During his speech, the deceased's son waved a piece of paper containing one hand-written poem. The deceased's sister, a very straightforward person, who incidentally always does or says something before she thinks, immediately grabbed the piece of paper and adjudicated it not to be her brother's handwriting. The counter-argument was that she wore the wrong glasses..

The question how the deceased's father, who until his last days he had been a zealous communist, could he have instilled patriotism in his son leaves in deep bemusement. After WWI his father was, I am shamed to admit it, one of those who wanted Poland to be incorporated into the Soviet Russia... About such things people do not talk, such black sheep are kept as skeletons in cupboards, and their disgraceful deeds sink into oblivion. But what is the point in rewriting the family history? Why? Who needs those lies? The politician who came for a free blowout in an expensive restaurant?

The same happened many years after my maternal grandmother's death. During Warsaw uprising she had spent the whole August and September 1944 hidden in basements and sewers, scared stiff, then with other inhabitans of Warsaw driven out to temporary camp in Pruszkow, she managed to run away and settled down in the countryside. A few years ago my some members of my mother's family began to tell my mother my that grandmother had been a messenger in Warsaw Uprising and saved lives of many children. My grandmother used to talk to my mother about the cruelty of the uprising and described her two-month ordeal in details and openly had admitted she had been too afraid to leave underground shelters and fight. Why should the family history be rewritten?

A similar story happened during the funeral of my mother's friend. Later today my mother recalled the event when the deceased's husband had given a short speech about his late wife. My mother said she had thought he had spoken about someone else, not the woman she had known for thirty five years.

If something is acceptable and praised on a national level, why cannot we do it at home?

Some rules, such as the one cited at the beginning are a foundation of our civilisation, but is it a reason to distort biographies of people who have died, to beautify their image post mortem? The same happens to the people who are still alive. Jadwiga Kaczyńska was many times said to have fought in Warsaw Uprising, when in fact at that time she had been a nurse in Starachowice. In turn, several people attempted to deny that Henryka Krzywonos stopped the tram in Gdańsk in 1980 and thus launched a strike of public service vehicle drivers, after she slated Jarosław Kaczyński for his missteps.

Also late president Lech Kaczynski, ridiculed and deprecated when in office, is glorified after his death. In the near future the biggest test for Poles in that respect will be the death of general Wojciech Jaruzelski, now aged 87. He still remains a very controversial figure. A political clash for how he goes down in history will be inevitable then...

No comments: