A little family history

My father died ten years ago, after a long and debilitating illness that stripped him of most of his dignity in the two or three years before he finally passed away. When he died, it might have been that the link between my family and its history would have been cut, perhaps for ever. He was an enthusiastic researcher into family roots, and during his retirement he spent an increasing amount of time on it, amassing boxes of documents and papers and memorabilia. I watched this with some bemusement, but not really with any interest; I did not consider myself to be a ‘roots’ person.

Some time after my father had died, my two sons expressed an interest in seeing his home village in Silesia. I need to explain that just a little. The Prondzynski family (or rather, I should say Pradzynski) had its origins in the Kasubian region of Poland, and my father’s branch of it eventually migrated to the Opole region of Silesia (or as my father would have called it, Oppeln). There they developed a strong profile as landowners, soldiers and industrialists, in what became a Prussian or German province. In the Second World War my father was a German army officer, and at the end of the war he was unable to return home (which hadbecome part of Poland), and re-started his life in what became West Germany. Later he and the family moved to Ireland.

Although he had lost his home and the property located there, he never lost a sense of belonging there, and later when the political situation became easier he was a frequent visitor to his home town. I think he regretted that his family home had been lost, but I never heard him complain, and he was full of praise at what Poland had made of it. It was his wish that one day I would visit it, too. I probably wouldn’t have, but on the urging of my sons we did, during a family holiday when we were based not too far away across the German border.

When we actually made it there – the town where he was born and raised is called Groszowice, or Groschowitz in German – my sons almost immediately lost interest (partly because we got there in foul weather), but totally unexpectedly I found myself emotionally engaged. Seeing his old family home (still intact but with new owners who kindly let me in), and suddenly recognising places and scenes from his descriptions that I had, after all, stored away in my memory had a profound effect on me. This was reinforced even further when some local people, who had heard I was there, stopped me in the street and assured me how important my family connection was with the town. And finally, in the pouring rain an elderly lady who remembered my father as a boy showed me the small square which, until the 1950s, had been named after my great grandfather, an association the town council was hoping to re-establish (but a petition for which I gently declined to sign). The lady told me, as I left, that they considered me as the town’s most celebrated living son, which while absurd at one level left me speechless.

So I returned home with just a little bit of a different perspective on where I am from. We are all from somewhere. Sometimes that is a place we know about, sometimes it is more intangible, but somewhere in our past or the past before us there is some association that helps to define us. I am still not quite sure what that is in my case, but I am working on it. I now know more about my very varied family history than I did before, and am learning new things as I begin to look through my father’s archives. And some chance encounters – which I shall write about separately in the future – have given me unexpected insights into who I am. None of us should ever wilfully ignore history.

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3 Comments on “A little family history”

  1. Katherine Says:

    How interesting – and how nice that your family was remembered with such regard!

  2. Ultan Says:

    A great story and an important message too! We’re often dismissive of our roots and laugh at those (usually Americans) who seek them out for whatever reasons. But its our roots, our struggles against oppressors and challenge, the sense of being underdog, our sense of place in the world, the thirst for knowledge – and to spread it around, and need to express our history, culture, and psyche that made us great – not a debate about being closer to Boston or Berlin. The real challenge is retain a balance between those roots and the now definite need to keep reaching out and build links globally.
    We can’t lose, or not harness, those defining characteristics, those which made others want to reach out to us and welcome us in the first place. But I really think we are….

  3. Marie Says:

    Habe heute an Euch gedacht und mich gefragt, wo eigentlich Ihr herkommt! Und ein paar mal klicken….da weiss ich es bereits. Hast Du hier noch Familie???
    Denke noch oft an K. die schoene Zeit mit Euch, das Ping Pong Spielen…
    Liebe Gruesse, Marie

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