Monday, January 30, 2006

Polish war memoirs

I received notification last week of the publication in English of Those Who Trespass Against Us: One Woman's War Against the Nazis, by Countess Karolina Lanckoronska, recently released in the UK.

Born in Vienna in 1898, Karolina Lanckoronska was an aristocrat and art historian who taught at the University of Lwow. When the Soviets came to occupy the city, Lanckoronska became active in the Polish resistance. She was arrested in 1942, imprisoned and sentenced to death before being incarcerated, first in Stanislau then in Lwow and Berlin. She was finally placed in a concentration camp in Ravensbruck.

As a Countess, Lanckoranska was subjected to varying treatment, at times suffering near starvation, only to receive extra food and medical care at other times according to the often-conflicting concerns of the authorities in Berlin. With the intervention of some influential friends, the honourable actions of one Nazi, and efforts by the Swiss scholar Carl J. Burckhardt, she was eventually released.

The title is taken from Lanckoronska's account that, during the war when saying the Lord's Prayer, she could not bring herself to say "as we forgive those who trespass against us" — because she did NOT forgive the invaders of her country, and did not wish to lie to God.

These memoirs were written immediately after her release, but she did not want them published during her lifetime. She finally consented to their publication in Poland in 2001 (Wspomnienia Wojenne), a year before her death at age 104.

The Lanckoronski Foundation, which the Countess founded to aid Poles and Poland particularly in the cultural sphere, receives a small royalty from sales of the book.

The experiences of Poles during World War II have not been widely documented or discussed, for fear, guilt, and a psychological instinct to suppress the horror. It is my own family's experience, and even I have been denied access to it — I feel this acutely as the survivors are dying off.
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