Live like you will die tomorrow, learn like you will live forever.

Mahatma Ghandi

My Father was a highly positioned corporate lawyer in Poland.  My Mother finished her elementary education in a two room school  in a deep country.  Then she moved to Warsaw and immediately enrolled to high school there.  Starting day was September 1st 1939 at 8 o’clock.  For people not familiar with that date it is  worth reminding: at 4:45 AM the same day the Germans invaded Poland.  World War ll has begun.  Her further education was put on hold.

One way to subjugate a nation is to eliminate intellectuals and stop education.  Germans did both things diligently.  In july 1941 25 academics from Lwow University together with their families were executed in an effort to eliminate influential, highly educated people.  All Polish schools were closed and only trade schools were allowed to function.  Poles were designated to slave labor.  This however led to strong resistance.  Underground, clandestine schools were being created and some of them became quite advanced.  Classes were held in private apartments under a lot of strain.  If caught, teacher and students could be arrested and even shot.  My father’s legal education was stopped and he was working as a clerk in small furniture company.

After collapse of the heroic Warsaw uprising Hitler decided to erase our capital from the world’s map.  Decision was made to burn the city.  It was done methodically house by house.  One can see these scenes depicted in Polanski’s movie “The Pianist” .  My family was given only a few hours to gather belongings and leave with a couple of suitcases.  Our apartment was burned.  One of the prized possessions   Mother took with them was Father’s official transcript from law school with courses taken so far.  It became priceless in continuing his legal education after the war.  During destruction of the city libraries were particularly targeted.

After war, at the first possible time Mother enrolled to evening school for adults.  She was getting up at 4 AM to do her homework, before  the rest of us woke up.  It was really hard and she never graduated.  But it was this religious approach to education, which she cultivated and which my sister and I took from her. While my sister and I were in school the excellently staffed local library was our sanctuary.  No one was allowed to bother us when we were studying.   I remember Mother giving us sandwiches when  we were preparing for tests.  Money was scarce, but there was always enough for books.  When we graduated from Medical School, Mother took it as a fulfillment of her goals.  She knew, that the lions share of our success was hers.

For me education was, and still is a process, a way of life.  It’s not only books, tests and degrees.  Intelligence is not only knowledge of facts but also knowledge of how and when to use it.  It’s a wonderful feeling, when pieces of puzzle acquired during your entire life come together and picture you are getting suddenly become clear.  You understand more and everything starts to make sense.

But again, all this starts at home.

2 thoughts on “Education”

  1. Dear WSN,
    It’s your sister again. Thank you for a very emotional and a very true post. I was reading and crying. What a wonderful tribute to our family and our upbringing, as well as, great history lesson for everybody, specially for our children.
    One more thing. When our parents were forced by Germans to leave their apartment, they took with them one more a very prized possession. I was their son WSN- 6 months old baby boy..
    { I was born after the war.}
    Thank you again. Looking forward to read more.

  2. I saw The Pianist on a Sunday and on Monday I arrived early for a Surgery Committee and Vito was already there. I told him about the movie, not knowing his own experiences in Poland during that time. His relating of his and his family’s experiences were riveting and I thought about them for a long time. I had only met one other person who had escaped the Holocast and I remember sitting on the floor of my friend’s home listening in horror and also in awe that she was able to escape to the US. Your story, Vito, should remind all of us that the past you speak of wasn’t that long ago and those of us who have never experienced anything remotely like that should be incredibly grateful for everything in our lives and how relatively easy our lives have been. One of the things I am most grateful for has been the experience of knowing and working with you, Vito. You truly are a Renaissance man and a great role model! I look forward to your next blog!

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