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Fascinating Opinions
No Photos 3rd Sep 2015
Love and Brutality: Honoring Barbara Hannah Dobiescewska Zablocka Esplin - January 4, 1925 - Novembe

She was 14 when the Nazis came in the middle of the night to take her father and hang him in the street, and it was not until decades later that she saw a photo of him in a book about the occupation.Boom. Learning that hit me like a ton of bricks.* * * *She was the first born of two, and her parents were teachers. But it was her mother who always said she should have been the boy, so strident of purpose she was and so ardent in her passions.Boom. Learning that hit me like a ton of bricks. So true it was to her personality.As a young girl, she was physically weak, and so, at nine, she was sent to the Tatras mountains in the south of Poland for a year to live with the Nuns. After the year was up, she returned strong and healthy, and looked forward to her life back home in Warsaw.Her parents, her brother and her were well off. Her blouses were silk, made by a seamstress, and her fiery, red hair was plaited and clasped with a barrette.She had everything she wanted. It seemed.Then the Nazis invaded Poland. 'Where is your yellow star?' they asked. 'Well, if you're not Jewish, then show us your papers,' they were told. And so, my stepmother's family had papers drawn up to prove they were not Jewish.She hid underground with her mother with one copy of 'Gone with the Wind' that circulated among the young ladies and women who shared this book in the most secret of hiding places.Boom. Learning that hit me like a ton of bricks.Her brother was sent to a work camp, her aunt Hanka to a concentration camp. Years later in Montreal, I saw Ciotka Hanka's tattoo on her arm, a grisly reminder of all that she lived through.After the war ended, she married, became an M.D. and had a baby boy. Ten years after that, she would read about my father's work and be granted a post-doctoral fellowship to leave Poland to work with him.In Utah.When I met her in 1960, she was the living picture of a European beauty. A smooth, porcelain complexion, big eyes, fiery red hair, a furry hat, clothes made by a seamstress that fit like a glove. She was accustomed to having everything, even when she could not.She spoke little English, but no matter. Her personality made up for all that.She was ebullient, with the personality of someone who could laugh easily, of someone who enjoyed people, who was accustomed to playing hostess at parties, grand or cozy.Well, she and my father hit it off like nobody's business. Within two years, they were married.Boom. Learning that hit me like a ton of bricks.Oh, there were complications.She was already married to a high-ranking Economist in Communist Poland. She divorced him by proxy, but paid for that deed with the scandal he created all over Poland. She had been a card-carrying Communist back in Poland, but that was the way it was with everyone back then. It was simply a will to survive to be a member of the Party.Boom. Learning that hit everybody like a ton of bricks.In the 1960s, numerous documentaries about the Holocaust were made. We watched these, and as my stepmother cried, she explained to us what it was like living in Warsaw during World War II.Boom. After a few years, I could no longer watch the news shows on the Holocaust.She also extolled the virtues of Communism for the common man in Poland; how it had helped the Peasants; how the workers were better off; how everyone could afford a decent standard of living.Within a few years, I was traveling in Warsaw with my stepbrother for the month of August.Boom. I saw that Communism was a crock.I developed a high fever. Was it the endless walking around of Warsaw, the waiting in long lines for an iced coffee, the fending off of gypsies who spotted us in our American jeans, the long days drinking shots of Polish vodka before meals, the not eating Polish food because it was different, the stress of having traveled in Western Europe the previous two months, or was it the knowledge that I had been sold a bill of goods that was a blatant lie.I expected a middle-class Warsaw. This is probably because middle-class neighborhoods were all I had known in Utah and Montreal. Yet, I saw rows of towering apartment buildings made from concrete blocks with very little green space or front yards. Five locks on the front door of the apartment were commonplace. Built by the Polish government, these apartment buildings bring to mind the housing projects and subsidized housing of major U.S. cities.I had traveled to Warsaw from Vienna by train, having bought a second-class ticket. I was so young, so nave, I did not realize that second-class passengers on Polish trains had to stand. I stood the 12 hours it took from Vienna, through then- Czechoslovakia and into Katowice, the coal-mining region of Poland. The train was hot, crowded beyond belief. I stood near an open window, the air thick with soot and coal debris.Once in Warsaw, my stepbrother and I were treated to his father's deluxe apartment. His father was still a high-ranking Economist with the Communist government in Poland, and we stayed the month in a two-bedroom apartment that had one bathroom, a small kitchen, a small living room and no dining room. His father, Leszek, had a phone. He was lucky.Poles waited years for an apartment,even longer for a phone. My stepmother sent money to Poland so her mother could move up the list for a phone. I was disappointed to realize that a 'deluxe' apartment by Polish standards of that time meant small, clean and modern by U.S. standards.We spent the days sightseeing, evenings visiting. One evening, I begged off from visiting his family, so I could visit with a friend, another student from Montreal. She was a direct descendant of old Polish royalty; even a major street bore the name of her ancestor,Emilia Plater.She had a radio show, even as a - slot openbreken - student of 20, in Montreal, broadcast on the CBC. I cannot give out her full name because I saw her byline in a major international news magazine not too many years ago. She and I met at a bar, along with her Polish cousin who was in the Secret Service.All was well during that meeting. We knew not to speak of controversial matters such as the general dislike of the Soviet government, of local Polish officials, of the military, of anything political. Such speech was restricted to the home.Once back in Montreal, I identified strongly with everything I had witnessed in Poland. We had seen the concentration camp, Treblinka. My stepbrother's uncle changed U.S. dollars into Polish zlotys on the black market, at a rate of 100 zloty for the dollar, ten times the official rate. We watched at the racetrack as my stepbrother's uncle bet on horses and lost.I saw the Polish film, "The Golem", I read Eli Weisel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jerzy Kosinski. All of this was subconscious on my part; I simply wished to soak up more of what I had been acquainted with in Poland. There were times I was half-convinced my stepmother was Jewish and not Catholic; to this day, I am not certain, either way.When I became Catholic, I realized she did not know anything about Catholicism.I grew up in a very European household with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, with an extrusion method coffee maker, of Challah Bread and Poppy seed Cake. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, to be sure, but we were strongly empathic toward the Jewish experience. I take this to be one of the many wonderful character traits my stepmother has.***Boom. That was one side. The other side was that she was a very selfish person, whom most people could not tolerate.After my father died, I learned, one by one from relatives and co-workers of my father, that to a man and to a woman, most people who came into contact with her could not stand this woman who was combative, self-interested, aggressive.But.I learned so much about people from her I learned all the best and the worst about men and women, and in just the right way from her.As a beauty, she knew life cut both ways for her.As a beauty, she made the best of everything she had.As a stepmother, her beauty definitely cut against her loving us.But we received the best possible example in how to conduct ourselves like ladies, always; how to look for the person in the room with the most polished manners, and follow their example, always; how to use whatever we were given to our best advantage and to hell with the rest, always; how to not care about what other people think, always.Most of all, she showed us how to be a strong woman, to think like a man not a woman but to be all woman underneath.By that I mean, not to be a simpering fool or a weak woman, but to be strong, always; to lead with both feet first and never look back.Even though I have a lot of anger still about many things and even though I am not particularly sad nor do I feel any guilt about not being sad, she was a remarkable and great woman.She and I have not spoken for 12 years. She always had it in for me. My father would want to do something for me and she would try to convince him otherwise.She was jealous; I was 12.' - -

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