Posted tagged ‘Poland’

The power of the community

April 12, 2010

Margaret Thatcher famously said that there was ‘no such thing as society’, and in recent years it has become commonplace for commentators to suggest that affluence, the internet and demographic changes had brought the traditional concept of the ‘community’ to an end. In fact, various academics and thinkers have been suggesting new models of society and community to arrest this apparent development.

Over the past couple of days I have been reminded, however, that the community still has immense power, particularly during times of stress, to comfort and unite. Watching the response of the Polish people to the plane crash that killed the country’s President and other leaders provided an example of the effect of community solidarity.

On Saturday I spend the day in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in the North of England, watching Newcastle United play Blackpool. Newcastle, as readers here know, has been promoted back into the English football premier league. The North of England has, over a decade or two, been seriously affected by the decline of traditional industries and the resulting unemployment and poverty. Amidst all this, Newcastle’s football club stood as the embodiment of the community in its hunger for something better. More than anywhere else that I am aware of, this sports club represents the community, and the community lives in part through it – which is one of the key reasons why I am a supporter of this club. You can now see the surge of optimism running through the city on the back of the club’s promotion: may it not all turn to ashes next year!

But one way or another, the idea of the community still lives.

A little family history

September 5, 2008

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.