john guzlowski

john guzlowski
Danville, Virginia, USA
June 22
I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II, and came with my Polish Catholic parents Jan and Tekla and my sister Donna to the United States as Displaced Persons in 1951. My parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and DP neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, I met Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. I write about these people.


APRIL 1, 2009 2:23PM


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April is the month when many of the killings at Katyn Forest took place during World War II. Poles all over the world try to remember this every year, and I've been thinking about Katyn recently. I've been thinking about Katyn and my father.

When I was a child, he told me a lot of stories about what happened in the war, about things that happened to my mother's family and his family and to Poland. One of the stories that he came back to repeatedly was about what happened in the Katyn Forest near the Russian town of Smolensk in 1940.

He told me about how the Soviets took 15,000-20,000 Polish Army officers and killed them. Nobody knows the number for certain.

My father used to say, "It's hard to count bones."

These soldiers were mainly reservists; that means they weren't professional soldiers, just civilian soldiers. In their daily lives, they were doctors and lawyers, teachers and priests. My father used to say that they were the future of Poland. He said that the Soviets didn't want Poland to have a future, so they took these doctors and lawyers, scientists and librarians and tied them up and blindfolded them and shot them in the back of the head. They were buried in mass graves.

One of the things he also told me was that people knew about this, countries likes the US and England knew about this, and nobody did anything about it. The Soviets, of course, denied it, and so did other countries. They didn't want to bring it up. I guess they figured what was the point of talking about massacres and genocide.
My father never wanted me to forget about Katyn.
Years ago, I wrote a poem about it for my book Lightning and Ashes, and I want to share the poem with you on this 69th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre.


There are no Great Walls there,
No towers leaning or not leaning
Declaring some king's success
Or mocking another's failure,
No gleaming cathedral where you can
Pray for forgiveness or watch
The cycle of shadows play
Through the coolness of the day,

And soon not even the names
Of those who died will be remembered
(Names like Skrzypinski, Chmura,
Or Anthony Milczarek).
Their harsh voices and tearing courage
Are already lost in the wind,
But their true monuments
Will always be there, in the dust
And the gray ashes and the mounds
Settling over the bodies over which
No prayers were ever whispered,
No tears shed by a grieving mother
Or a trembling sister.
Film maker Andrzej Wajda's Oscar-nominated film KATYN has recently been released to DVD. 

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You are amazing. Your poetry, coupled with the descriptions of small portions of the War, lead me to research more and more about that War.
I want to know these people, as much or as little as I can.
Thank you for being here and sharing everything.
The scars of war run very deep and some will never heal.
1st class as usual John.
These are the things we mustn't forget. People are capable of such evil and no matter how many times we read about it in the past, evil continues today in some parts of the world. It is astounding and sad.
In the 90s (Yeltsin era), I saw an exhibit at the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow. It was documents from the archives. Along with the original map, dividing Poland up and signed by Ribbentorp and Stalin, as a small, 2-3 page memo from Beria. The paper was about half a letter sized sheet.

Initially it seemed benign. It said, we have, studying in the USSR, so (I forgot the numbers listed) many Officers. so many majors, so many colonels. It looked like an attendance sheet for a school or something. Until you got to the last line, where it said I recommend we shoot them all. On the top of the first page was Stalin's "Za" (approved) in blue pencil.

It was an absolutely breath taking exhibit and the line to see it was long, long, long.
PS, what DP camp? My F-I-W was in NeuMarkt and Schleissheim.
I recently received an email from the artist Carolyn Bardos. We were exchanging notes about my parents and their experiences in the war, and Ms. Bardos mentioned that she had seen Andrzej Wajda's motion picture KATYN in Budapest.

This is what she wrote:

What I recall so clearly is the audience, as the credits rolled, sitting in profound silence, until the crying started. A few people were standing, as if to leave, but they just stood. It was a small theater, and after the credits, the projectionist left off the lights to give the weeping audience time to dry our eyes, switch the cell phones back on, and walk back out into the city.
Impossible to comment. Only this: Peace.
So many atrocities. I read where a priest has been journeying to Poland and interviewing townspeople to map "mass graves" that most people don't know about.

April 1 is also the anniversary of my dear grandmother's death. We celebrate by preparing kreplas and boiled cabbage to remember her. Now I have a new memory to add . . .

The note about the film reminded me of the first time "The Diary of Ann Frank" was performed in Amsterdam. It was so powerful and pulled at so many emotions, people ran from the theater in the middle of the performance, crying and sobbing.
I recently read about Katyn for the first time. Your poem is a wonderful tribute to the victims of that atrocity.

An interesting side note about the Katyn is that it is perhaps the only place in Europe that boasts old growth forest, and even where the forest was cleared long ago, the forest has now reclaimed much to the point that you can barely find the human imprint. Somehow, that seems appropriate for a place that witnessed such human-caused tragedy.