Polish Migration and How to Compensate for Our Shortcomings

The history of Poland is known for massive waves of migration of her citizens. The phenomenon is easily attributed to our geographical location on the East-West political and trading routes and us being squeezed between the two, and sometimes three, four and even five, big and megalomaniac powers. During the time of relative political freedom between the WW I and WW II, with our economy still recovering from devastating management by our occupiers, quite few Poles went to Western Europe looking for work. This was the generation of my grandparents. Many of their friends and family members left for Germany, Great Britain and France. They used to work mostly in mines and crude factories, since the lack of job skills and language skills didn’t qualify them for anything more lucrative. So they ended up at the bottom of the human pyramid. They didn’t integrate well, didn’t make much money, and after productive years were over most of them landed back in places they came from.

But their children didn’t. They learned languages, got better education and felt more citizens of these countries than the country their parents came from. And they liked to show it. They also didn’t learn Polish, there was no need for that.

One of my great-aunts, after a long stay in France, came back to her small town near Poznan, in the center of Poland.

At that time, I was on the level equivalent of junior high. My favorite teacher was our beloved Mrs. Libera. Her husband was a professor of the Polish literature at the Warsaw University. His specialty was literature during the period of Enlightenment. Mrs. Libera taught us Latin and ancient history. And after hours, she was giving us French lessons. We had a small, but committed group of kids wanting to learn more. There were no extra credits, just a feeling of an accomplishment.

Now we are back with my great-aunt in her small house in rural Poland. She was often receiving packages with goods from her daughter in France. This was an accepted and common way to show she cared for her mother. The daughter was also sending letters. The daughter didn’t know Polish and the letters were written in French. My great-aunt knew French and could communicate in that language. The problem was: She couldn’t read. So the letters were piling up in her drawer.

Together with my mother, we used to visit my great-aunt once or twice a year. After arrival and a sumptuous meal, I was asked to read the letters. I was just a beginner and my knowledge of French was rudimentary. I knew how to read, more or less. I didn’t understand what I was reading. But she knew! When I was reading she was very attentive and by her reaction I had a feeling that our cooperation was fruitful. Each one of us separately didn’t count for much, but together?

How is that for teamwork!

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