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  • Writer's pictureMateusz Zalewski-Grzelak

History has no clear lines.

History has no clear lines. Only simpletons want it to be that way. I’d like to share a family story to show how varied the fates of men, and how disgraceful it is to quickly draw the borders between "us" and "them" in modern times. There are, after all, common threads that run throughout what is at the basis of humanity—humaneness.

First of all, my paternal lineage, of which I know little, My great-grandfather, who was the first steersman of the ‘Gift of Pomerania’ under the Polish flag. He was of unknown provenance and buried in Sweden at the Haga Norra cemetery at his final destination, Grzelak by surname. He married a Jewish (?) cabaret dancer and singer from the free city of Danzig, now the modern city of Gdańsk. I believe her name was Eugenia von Herzberg; that is what I’ve been told. She did not survive the war. Their son was a military man and married a Tatar girl by the surname Modzelewska (Catholicized Tatars, who stemmed from Siemiotowicze, descended from Khazan Tatars).

I do have some slightly noticeable Asian features. My father, who is currently living in Switzerland with his wife, daughter, and son, is an anthropologist by training, and a great lover of synthesizers, old and new, inventing solutions for electronic musicians and

teaching his techniques to various electronic artists.

The first crew of the White Frigate before its most dramatic journey under polish flag (26.12.1929 – 7.1.1930) when with a broken engine it was towed away from St Nazaire to the shipyard Nakskov, abandoned by the tug-boats among the – 1930, Dar Pomorza.

My direct matrilinear lineage—going to one Hoffman traceable to the XIXth century, notable great-grandparents such as Pelagia Sułkowska who was a descendant of the Bielsk princes who owned a castle in Bielsko-Biała.. August II the Strong granted titles and the right to use the emblems of Saxony to Alexander Sułkowski, greatly influencing his political standing. August II the Strong was a prolific bastard-producer, and there were rumors that Sułkowski was his offspring, but they are now rejected by modern scholarship.

The mother of my great-grandmother Krystyna Olszewska was Wanda Białkowska, the latter married a lawyer from Cracow by the surname of Teodor Olszewski, and together they had Krystyna, who married Ferdinand Czajowski. I have scant memories of my great grandfather Ferdinand nurturing me when I was three years old; I remember only a photo of us taken when I was in his embrace. He passed away soon afterwards. He was an educated, German-speaking Pole whose father, Josef Czajowski, was a visiting Kapelmeister (orchestral conductor) at Hofburg, Franz Joseph's imperial palace. He also served for three years during World War I in a cavalry artillery division.

His son, the aforementioned Ferdinand, was a water and bridge engineer, taken to KL Auschwitz (the labor camp, not the extermination camp in which people of Hebrew descent perished), he was struck with a shovel on the head by an SS officer for disobedience, yet by a twist of fate, he was released early to help the Germans build bridges after the front started to move.

After the war, he ended up in a communist prison for five years, where he was burned with cigarettes by ‘fellow’ Poles, his fingernails were pulled out, and he underwent isolation and tortures for "collaboration with the Nazis." As a child, I remember him as the happiest man alive, that despite years of torment, he was a vibrant survivor and a lover of life, and that he taught me something about gratitude and joie de vivre in the face of adversity. That was my mother’s mother's side of affairs, my grandfather was of mixed Polish-German origin.

“Black raven shall stand on a trunk, with a golden ring in his beak, diamond

pointing downward (. . . ) It seems that this coat of arms took its beginnings

from Roman Corvins. Marcus Valerius, general of the Roman army was called

upon a mighty Gaul, when they combated, a raven arrived and embedded upon

Valerian helmet stormed the Frenchman, thus Marcus combated victoriously.

From Rome the name migrated to Pannonia, where Valerius Messalius Corvinus at the Tiberian time conquered the province, and in Dalmatian Ragusa left many

signia and memorabilia. The Raven was embellishing Jan Hunyadi, memorable

warrior, whose son was a Hungarian King, in 1224 Wawrzęta Korwin changed

his name to Ślepowron, and since then the two names are inter-changeable”

When my grandmother, of Ślepowron coat of arms was still alive, she told me a story. She said that she dated two men and she set an appointment in the same place, at the same hour. The first one to approach her was to win. Fortunately, the first one to jump with flowers to the tram, running after her was my grandfather, Bogusław Zalewski.

He was a young man from an impoverished noble family. Ksawery Zalewski, his father, was an elder Ulan in the 27th Uhlan Regiment (cavalry) and ran a colonial shop in Warsaw's Grochów district, where he and his brother Edmund built a four-story house. My second name is after Ksawery, which is a Basque name meaning ‘The Gate’.

After the war, my grandfather joined the communist party, and worked first as a corporal, then as a miner, and afterwards as a miner lifeguard, ending up in the Highest Chamber of Control as the general inspector for mining. He was a scuba diver, mountaineer, speleologist, and the fearless, most splendid of human beings. Fortunately, he is still alive. My grandmother was working in the barely existent IT department of the National Bank of Poland. The Bavarian and the Schwaben part of my grandfather’s family moved to Warsaw circa the 19th century, supposedly because one Bavarian Marx shot down an officer in Bavaria during a quarrel that ended up in a duel. He was on the run, escaped to Poland, and took a wife there. The son later served as a White Guard Tzar-loyalist during the Russian revolution, while his son was a Bolshevik; they both died on the frontlines in Odessa, perhaps because of the spreading of typhoid among the ranks. Anyway, they never returned, and no one heard about them ever after. His descendant, Ludwik Marks, despite being offered the position of Volkslistee as a native German citizen during the Reich's government, chose to be loyal to his Polish identity and family. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising in the 2nd Battalion ‘Carpathia’ under the name ‘Jaszko’ in the Mokotów district as an elder rifleman and ended up in Stalag IX-Altengrabow as a POW. He was released after the war was over.

There, we have a Polish sailor and a Jewess, a Tatar Muslim girl, a German loyal to Polish friends and fighting side by side, the conflict of a White Guard father, and a red Bolshevik son, an impoverished noble family, and a communist apparatchik, great Magnate families with roots reaching to pre-Holy Roman Empire times and grandiose Waltzes at Hofburg. A murderer of an officer who was treated as a criminal, and a noble lady of the Coat of Arms who, according to legend, goes straight back to the Republic of Rome and Marcus Valerius Messala Corvinus How not to bow to each individual story and ponder how the history of modern times unfolds? For, paraphrasing Goethe, "those who do not know history, are forever prisoners of their own times, not looking beyond, not looking back, but repeating the same errors that were repeated before." Nihil Novi Sub Solis: Nothing new under the sun.

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