By Kinia Adamczyk
For twelve intellectually stimulating days and eleven sleepless nights, I joined a Newsweek senior editor, a Globe and Mail journalist, along with assorted scholars and students for a conference in Alberta’s beautiful Rocky Mountains called “Poland in the Rockies.”
Now, I had no choice but to think about my dual identity as a first-generation Polish immigrant in North America.
It was the conference’s second edition. What we shared, beyond our common roots and interests in all things Polish, were questions about the complexity of identity. “I found out that I am not alone,” said Eric Bednarski. The 29-year-old documentary filmmaker from Nova Scotia added, “There are many other people like me out there, born-again Poles with a dual Polish-Canadian identity. Educated and assimilated Poles that still have a strong connection to Poland.”
We heard from Adam Szostkiewicz, a journalist and activist with Poland’s Solidarity movement in the ’80s. During those dangerous times, he said, any member might get shoved into a truck and receive a good beating just for wearing a Solidarity pin. Now, this former political prisoner writes freely for a Polish news magazine similar to Maclean’s.
Andrew Nagorski, a senior editor at Newsweek, also experienced Soviet oppression first-hand. During the conference, he regaled us between lectures with reporting anecdotes from around the world. In 1982, he gained international fame after Soviet authorities expelled him from the U.S.S.R. for what he called “enterprising reporting.” Nagorski launched the Polish edition of Newsweek in 2001.
Stan Oziewicz, a journalist at the Globe and Mail, told us the story of his father, a Second World War bomber pilot. After fighting for the Allies, Oziewicz told us his father felt betrayed by the Yalta Agreement that turned Poland into one of Stalin’s satellites. “It was particularly painful and bitter for people like my parents,” Oziewicz said. He said that many freedom fighters against Hitler were later rounded up and sent by rail to Soviet slave-labour camps in northern Russia and Central Asia.
As part of the conference, we heard a dramatic reading of Inside a Gestapo Prison 1942-44: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska. Written by a young woman condemned to death after being captured by the German secret police, Wituska’s letters express hope in the face of despair. “I am first a human being, and only then a Pole,” Wituska wrote in one letter.
For the last 17 years, I’ve been questioning my identity as a Canadian and as a Pole. But finally, here in the Rockies, I found a balance between the two identities.
The seminar was not only an intellectual journey but a chance to discover others who share similar cultural experiences and interests. We discussed some of those interests as we sat around campfires long into the night.
Who needs sleep when you’re celebrating new-found peace?