Artymiuk’s debut work is worth reading this Christmas.

A daughter’s search for her father’s story

I have just finished reading Lucyna Artymiuk’s debut work chronicling the life of her father Janek (Jan) Artymiuk.

The book represents a decade of painstaking research as a daughter investigates a period spanning 8 decades. Most of the key characters have passed on and the trail is cold. It is a tale of life-long connections forged across the globe, discovering family you never knew existed and finding clues where you least expect them. Lucyna’s love and devotion to her father underscores every page.

Jan was born in 1915, in a remote village in Eastern Poland. His parents were farmers but he, and later his brother, had no plans to work the land. When they came of age each of them left the family plot to join the Polish Air Force. Little did they know that at this time in history, the world would lurch into another catastrophic world war in which Poland would occupy centre stage.

The breadth of Artymiuk’s book is extraordinary. In telling her father’s story, she explains the toll of the War on Eastern Europe. For example, I did not know that after the Germans invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, on 17 September 1939, the Russians invaded Poland from the East. The Poles were overwhelmed such that their government and armed forces fled south to reunite with the Allies in England and France. In fact, Poland had a government in exile until 1989 when Lech Walesa was democratically elected leader of Poland!

At the conclusion of the book, you realise that Artymiuk has covered the history of most of the 20th Century!

Jan Artymiuk was among those who evacuated Poland after the Russian invasion and later joined the RAF. He flew many successful sorties. He was highly decorated. But in 1941 his plane was shot down over Belgium and Jan and the surviving crew were taken prisoners.

The narrative then follows the many deprivations and hardships of prison life as Lucyna records her father’s movements over the latter years of the war. I was impressed by the level of research undertaken in this work as the author uncovers official records, correspondence and newspaper reports to piece together her father’s ordeals during this testing time. We are even taken to Stalag Luft III, the scene of the Great Escape, as Jan was held there between 1942 and 1943.

We are reminded that the war concluded badly for the Poles. Even though they fought alongside the Allies and lost many of their own, they enjoyed an empty victory. While the Poles won the war, they lost their homeland to the Russians. Lucyna writes with bitterness

“Amid the clamour that greeted the Victory in Europe, the voice of Poland was strangely inaudible in the proceedings. The Polish forces that had been the toast and pride of British society a matter of a few years before had now melted away from public consciousness and became a forgotten footnote in the ultimate victory.”

Post-war Poland was chaotic. Families and relatives urged their sons and daughters not to return home. Disorder was rife. The new Soviet regime was not tolerant of dissension. Russian atrocities such as the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Poles to their death in Siberian gulags, is also captured in this work.

After the War, Jan was tired of the machinations on the Continent. As such when asked where he wished to be settled, he simply answered “gdziekolwek na świecie” “wherever in the world” hence the title of the book.

In the second half of the book, Lucyna takes us to Melbourne in the 1940s and 1950s, as the young and single Jan searches out a new home. Lucyna Artymiuk carefully describes the challenges of migrant re-settlement and the establishment of a strong and vibrant Polish community, a story that was repeated for many of the ethnic groups settling in Australia after the War.

There are tales of reunions after many decades of separation, of lost love, of births and deaths. One story that moved me was that of grateful Belgians erecting a memorial to the Polish airmen (including Jan) who crashed in their fields while defending their freedom. Lucyna and a handful of relatives attended the unveiling ceremony. They looked on, eyes wet, overcome by the generosity of strangers.

The book contains a number of stories and vignettes. It is crammed with photos, no doubt from Jan’s dusty cardboard suitcase that had been secreted and forgotten in the family shed.

As the author says

Lives were fractured and destroyed, then built on fresh new continents through sheer determination and inner strength. What they built was not necessarily according to their dreams but they had a greater impact on the community. One of these modest heroes was my father Jan Artymiuk.”

For anyone interested in a great read about a daughter’s search for her father’s story against a backdrop of events that shaped the 20th Century, then this book is for you. Highly recommended reading.

The book can be purchased by emailing polishmuseumarchivesaustralia@gmail.com or by calling Lucyna on 0403 655 044.

http://markjattard.com