... You were my Godfather, but unknown, a stranger, unrecognised, because as I found out many years after your death, there was a reason why they never told us kids about you, and there was a reason why you weren’t around. Well, so I don’t have a picture of you, even from the day I was baptised. Were you even there? Or were you just written into the register? My Godmother, Aunt Dziubula is there – a freshly minted doctor, the devout one in the family, in an elegant, trendy suit from the ‘60s – but you’re not there. I only remember that once you came to our house, when I was little, and on a small piece of graph paper from a school notebook you drew a few Disney characters for me – quick, perfect drawings, each just one single line: Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and Snow White and the dwarves, and Bambi with spots on his back and big eyes with long lashes. And some other animals... I kept that paper for a long time – after all, those cartoons were forbidden, and we never saw those characters, not on television or anywhere, except maybe...once a year at Christmas. The paper stayed in my “treasure box,” which disappeared after I moved out of the family home at age twenty. But I can see it now, and those animals from the stories, as I write this letter to you, my absent Uncle, my Godfather.
They used to say that people share the fate of their godparents – well, for me it’s not particularly desirable, but anyway quite extreme...on one side a aunt, a prisoner in the Stuthoff concentration camp, and on the other side you, a convict, who spent many years of your life in prisons in the People’s Republic of Poland. My Mom told me after you died that after the war you worked on a collective farm, like kolkhoz – they called it PGR. You were even the director; you were a farmer by education and experience, and you could manage large farms, and before World War II you were employed as a manager of agricultural estates, those huge farms, is that right? Uncle, at our home either they didn’t talk about you, or they only said good things – that you were a great specialist, dedicated to your work, helping people, well-liked...that when you came back from the camp you experienced a tragedy, nobody knew how to tell you that your fiancée had been in the Ghetto and died in the concentration camp that you managed to come back from, because she was killed straight away, but you were an “experimental rabbit”, a guinea pig...that Wojtek (your favourite nephew) was killed in the Warsaw Uprising, and his parents, Uncle Julek, interned in Romania, didn’t know what was happening in Poland during the war, didn’t even know about the concentration camps, and Aunt Stefa couldn’t believe he had died, and they searched for him even in the Soviet gulags. Mom always spoke well of you and only later, a long time after you had died, did I find out the secret that you were in prison, sentenced to death. If they say that people share the fate of their godparents, then I suppose all the conflicts, negative opinions, unjust sentencing, prison, all of your trauma is within me. I always thought...I wanted to ask you, talk to you, find out: how did you manage to take it? That show trial, when you heard the verdict – the death penalty, and I wanted you to tell me what happened then, what helped you survive? Who helped you? And for you to tell me about the moment when you were pardoned? Rehabilitated. An unjust verdict, a show trial. An apparent fraud. But was it about something else entirely? About your Father? And wasn’t it significant that you were in the Socialist Party, did that also weigh on matters? When I think about you and about that I was too much of a silly little kid to talk with you, I regret that I couldn’t get to know you. Why do I feel this? You’re part of my history. Of me, today, here and now - You know, I know that silence, when a person becomes unnecessary...an emptiness opens up around us. You stop hearing what others think. It gets quiet around you. You see people. Sometimes you talk with them. But the silence of their thoughts grows deeper. Today you don’t need prisons or killing to get rid of somebody. Today keeping silent is enough. Forgetting. Excluding. Without prisons. Off to the side, out of sight, out of earshot. Is the suffering in exclusion like it is in prison? Is it possible to escape from this other “prison”? And I also wonder who, besides your family, supported you. I’m interested, who was it who wasn’t afraid? And when you were pardoned, did somebody support you then, when you were a broken, sickened, freed sentenced prisoner? After that I was born and you became my Godfather. It must have been my Mom who decided on this – her far-reaching empathy, to choose precisely you, to give you the possibility to meet somebody who was happy, warm, somebody close, to take care of, to love. A happy little girl. As it turned out later, a little reflective, a little curious, “questioning” (as Grandpa called me), interested in life. And you didn’t have children of your own, and on top of that you came out of prison with your health in ruins. Did you not have any family at all? Or just your god-daughter? Did you become the Dad of a girl who never got to know you. Was I close to you at all? I think you were interested in other things than a little girl who was into ponies and ribbons, asking strange questions and boring you to tears with requests for more drawings of animals. But did I mean anything? Did that warmth and heartfelt closeness exist between us -- what my Mom must have imagined when she asked you to fulfil this old-world, totally unnecessary religious-derived role? What an archaic ritual.
I remember the day when we got the news that you had died – it was in the summer, and my patents and I were on vacation at the seaside. You were the first person close to me whose death I heard about. I was six, or maybe nine? I cried, actually I sobbed terribly after your death – that was my first experience with death ever in my young life. I remember that moment well – the shock and grief that flooded over me, when I heard: “Your Godfather, Uncle Jurek has died”. My Uncle was gone. It’s no longer possible to see him, meet him. My Godfather, meaning somehow Dad – somebody close, though really almost unknown. I don’t understand why, but I remember that the sobbing and grief took me over so completely that I couldn’t calm down - I was ashamed, but I cried and cried, and Mom couldn’t comfort me. That was the first time in my life when I couldn’t stop the despair – sobbing, sobbing... I remember, I cried like that only once; it was fourty years later, when my Mom died… Yes, I cried terribly for you, Uncle – I should say Godfather – I cried for you passionately, the first loss, the first death in my life, a piece of my child-self, a somehow unknown and incomplete piece died along with you. Even today I don’t know what to call that loss.
Your goddaughter, Zuzanna"
"Letter to Jerzy Cz" is a part of art-installation "Seven Fathers",
GGM1, ul Piwna 27/29, Gdańsk
opening "Seven Fathers. Seven Dances".
Show open: 13.01 will continue until 26.02.2017