on 18 April 2010
This memoir is a refugee story. The author was ten or eleven (born 1929) years old when the second World War broke out. He recounts his Polish/Lithuanian family's experience at the hands of the Soviets, when his father was imprisoned and his mother, with the children, deported to Siberia - apparently nearly a million Poles were deported or imprisoned by Soviet Russia at this time. Through courage and work and chance and some improvisation, by themselves, and by others trying to help, some of the family were able - after a couple of years of subsistence, at the lowest level, in Siberia - to leave Stalin's USSR and come to the West. The tone of the book is restrained and balanced, there is not a shred of self-pity, but it is suffused with human feeling. The subject matter is very serious and often hard and always fascinating. Really worth reading.
on 5 February 2016
“My mother began circling the perimeter of Słonim prison, hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband. Suddenly, in one of the prison windows, she saw his silhouette – a chance in a thousand. My father had just enough time to make the sign of the cross in her direction. She was then surrounded by an armed patrol, and taken inside . . . Later the news filtered out that my father paid for that glimpse of his wife with solitary confinement. It was to be his last sight of her.”
There are many searing moments like this one in CRATER'S EDGE, Michał Giedroyć’s extraordinary memoir of his childhood in Poland at the onset of World War II. There is a cinematic sweep to Giedroyć’s writing as Stalin’s reign of terror descends on his family: father imprisoned; mother, homeless with three children, then forced into exile in Siberia. Their eventual escape, a perilous journey thousands of miles to freedom, is nothing short of miraculous.
Giedroyć does a great service to remind readers of the “forgotten” war in the East and the tragedy which befell the Polish people. As a memoir, it could become a model. The reader is immersed quickly and easily into the author’s world, sharing the curiosity – and horror – of a 10-year-old who grows up much too fast.
Giedroyć’s father, Tadzio, descendant of royalty, was a military hero, senator, judge, and benevolent estate owner. His staunch patriotism made him a target when the Soviets invaded Poland. When Tadzio is arrested, Michał’s world turns upside down, as the family is forced into the streets. Soon they are part of a desperate mass deportation of hundreds of thousands to the East.
CRATER'S EDGE gets its title from the writer Melchior Wańkowicz’s apt description of life in wartime: “Grass shoots struggling on the edge of a crater.” Enduring deprivation, maltreatment, and humilation, the Giedroyć unit survives, thanks largely to Michał’s mother, Ania. She emerges as one of the great heroic women of her age, sustained by faith but also an ingenuity and cleverness that wins the daily battle of life.
One can spot the finger of God throughout this memoir. Out of nowhere, with hope all but gone, a stranger will appear, with food, transportation, or, in one amazing instance, a simple potato. Fleeing Siberia, Ania and her children come to a crossroads, lacking the necessary papers to board a crucial train. A Polish sargeant in a British uniform offers his assistance, carving the impression of an official transit stamp out of a potato. It worked. “We missed several heartbeats at every check, but the potato stamp created by our guardian angel in battledress passed the test every time,” Giedroyć recalls.
In 1938, one year before the war, Ania gave Michał a prayer book on his First Holy Communion. Inside, she wrote, “May this little book always remind you that he who remembers God, and prays fervently, never strays.” The book, like the author, survived, thanks to God – and his remarkable mother.
Read CRATER'S EDGE. It will stay with you a long time, and remind you just how precious are life, family, freedom, and Faith.