What called us is a mystery to most of our loved ones and even to ourselves at times; a complete conundrum. Not every step of this journey has been an easy one, so why are we here and why do we stay?
The reason is contained in this photograph. It was taken shortly before the war at Wójcza, the home of my husband’s mother, Rose Popiel Kieniewicz.
At first glance, you wouldn’t imagine that in nearby Germany Hitler is marshalling forces to occupy Poland, to annihilate the near whole of its Jewish population while simultaneously, systematically destroying the Polish nobility. The inhabitants in this picture look so peaceful, so relaxed. Nor could you even conceive to what extent their lives will be forever changed as some will not live to either achieve exile or be ultimately obligated to communism; unfortunately, the final choices in the end game of war.
This is my family by marriage. While they struggled to establish a democracy, tending to their newly found independence, fate had other plans in mind. Nothing from those twenty years of freedom would last. Nothing was to last except the essence of what might have been. This is not a story of privilege without responsibility. It is a story of commitment and love and faith.
It is what they valued that is most respected. And now, dare I say, considered most sacred. We admire vintage photographs and the nostalgia they summon within us. We imagine the faces staring back at us to have had fewer troubles, less heartache, reduced stress; in general, a less complicated life. In many respects this is likely the case, but in terms of the day to day, the financial struggles, the broken hearts, and the physical decline brought about by age and illness, our ancestors endured the same existential predicaments as do we as this is the substance that identifies us as humans. These challenges, simply put, are basic to our condition. Still, it is tempting to romanticise the dwellers of these photographs as having transcended the banality of everyday life especially when you see them gathered as they are here in what appears to be a slice of paradise. The camera freezes their personal narrative and creates a collective image of what we imagine it was like nearly a hundred years ago.