How I rediscovered my family story during Kraków’s lockdown (Summer of Solidarity)

Photograph from the archive of Maria J Davies

Like many Polish families, especially those from beyond the Polish heartland that straddles the Vistula, we are not really all that Polish at all – at least in our origins. We are not products of the soil, but of contingency – of events, of wars, of border changes, of decisions made by imperial bureaucracies, of migrations borne of persecution and economic opportunity. As Galicians – and now as Europeans – our family stories are characterised as much by our experiences of separation from home and from one another as they are by a shared connection to a particular place.

I have published a personal exploration of my Central European roots, written as I sat alone in my mother’s apartment in Kraków during lockdown. 

The piece weaves together several themes that were personal to me but that might also resonate with many people across Europe: what it means not to have one’s roots in any one place; what it means to have a transnational identity; what it means to feel the tensions between East and West within myself (in my case, what it means to be an Anglo-Polish European at a time of rising authoritarianism in Poland and Brexit-related turmoil in the UK); what it means to be a member of the so-called ‘Generation of 1989’ who were promised the fruits of European unity; what it meant to be alone and separated from my loved ones in a city full of reminders of my own past. 

Published by the Summer of Solidarity project, the essay is ultimately a treatise on our relationship with borders, and the impact of borders on our relationships: how their imposition threatened the lives of my grandparents, how their existence complicated the lives of my parents, how their elimination promised me a life free from the challenges they faced, how their reimposition forced me to reflect on their experiences and to confront a different future – personal and political – than the one I had long imagined. 

You can read it here.