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My life


The wartime left our family with nothing. The estate of my grand grandparents in the eastern Polish borderlands, in the territory of today’s Ukraine, was lost. The flats of my grandparents from both sides in Kraków and Poznań were occupied first by the Nazis and then the Soviets, so there was nothing to come back to. My parents’ wartime involvement in the Underground Polish Forces (AK) attracted attention of the secret police (UB). Because of that my family had to move far into the mountains, close to the present Slovakian border, to Krynica. We moved into a wooden house that was offered to my father by a friend from the concentration camp, from which camp the friend was never to return.


 I come from the mountains. I was born there on a wintry night in February 1953, during a snowstorm. I was born in a wooden house that, according the local custom, had its name Biała Róża (White Rose) carved on the gable beam. The house cracked in windy weather, had crickets chirping by the chimney and mice squeaking in the cracks of a wooden floor...


When my father came home from work and saw the child on the table scroll midwife cried ruefully : "- Again, girl ? " I used to sign his genitals opposition to run a huge fountain on the table ... Since then , damn it , I still have something to prove to someone in my life!

My parents could not find peace in the new, post-war, communist reality. My father tried to stay independent from the socialist authorities by running a small cafe, but the revenue office made him bankrupt and he was left with nothing again. What is more, we were deprived of the house and offered a one-room flat with no running water and no bathroom.


To make matters worse, someone decided to raise me, then still a child, ‘for a tough man’. Every morning I was made to wash in a freezing, mountain brook, so cold that I thought my teeth would fall out while being cleaned. That had to end in a severe joints inflammation. Monstrous doses of benzathine penicillin that I took to cure the joints, caused a severe heart disease. The condition of my heart was so bad that doctors categorically forbid me from any dynamic movement, including running a few steps, which is an obvious tragedy for a child and a reason to be bullied by peers.


Because of the worsening standards of living my family moved to central Poland, where my mother received a job in a sport club. My father desperately tried to find work, but there was no job at that time for a person who spoke six languages fluently (especially that he was a pre-war officer cadet, a fugitive from Katyń and an AK soldier). Finally, he decided to emigrate to the USA.


My mother had three jobs (as a sport journalist and instructor) in order to provide for the family. Because of that, she often left at dusk and came back late at night and travelled to many groupings and tournaments. We were hardly brought up by our parents.


In that situation my parents decided to make a deal with a certain girl who wanted to complete the secondary education part-time and looked for a place to live in the city. She was given accommodation and food for taking care of the children in the afternoons.


I think my parents never fully understood that they had left their children with a cunning and merciless psychopath. On the surface everything was as it should be – the flat was always shiny and the dinner was always prepared, but for a dramatic price. My duty, as a child, was to rub the wooden floor with steel wool that wounded my fingers and then to wax and polish it until it shined. I have also peeled the potatoes, cleaned the dishes, scrubbed the bathroom, took out the rubbish, washed clothes, made shopping, cleaned the windows etc. As I was too ill to play with my peers, I was told I could at least be useful at home.

I was used to being painfully hit with a leather strap, being mocked and humiliated. For any reason. For being late, for an untidy bed, for getting a bad mark. However, when my mother was back, the girl would complain on my behaviour, my laziness and lack of obedience that should be dealt with severely.


 Moving to a different city did not help at all. When I look back today I see a small, ill boy who knew no one and had no physical opportunity to make friends while running, climbing trees or playing football. He had a foreign, German-sounding name that at that time aroused pure hatred. To make matters worse, the wartime activities of his parents and the fact that his father emigrated to the USA were an excuse for teachers to mock him (it was even their ideological duty imposed by the authorities). Teachers also inflicted corporal punishment. They hit children’s hands with a hard pencil case or with an elastic pointer. They pulled children’s hair and ears very strong, sometimes until blood came out. Children with learning difficulties were sneered at, ridiculed in front of the whole classroom and seated at a special bench by the blackboard.

This boy had learning difficulties. He was tall and thin so the teachers asked him to sit at the back, not to block the other’s view. Unfortunately, the boy had bad eyesight and could not see what was on the blackboard. No one realised that he might need glasses.

When he complained about his problems the school nurse, whose attitude was like the teachers’, told him to stop being foolish as only elderly ladies have such bad eyesight... So he still did not get glasses. The only thing left for him was to squint in order to see anything, for which he quickly earned a new nickname Hindus (Hindu) (although a clear association should be rather with a Chinese...)


The teachers’ open dislike for the boy was a justification for children who continuously bullied him. Their most frequent ‘games’ were to throw nails into his shoes, prick him on the back with a needle (so that he would turn around and be punished for not sitting still), trip him up, push, kick, hit him on the head with a hard backpack, steal his things or snatch his backpack and throw his notebooks into the mud.

Back at home, there was a severe corporal punishment waiting for him for having dirty notebooks (This will teach you how to keep your notebooks clean – his ‘nanny’ used to say).

This child had to cope with mortal fear every single day and with a lack of help from anyone. He was afraid to go out, afraid to go to school and afraid to come back home...

There was no father to help (he was far away). His mother was never there (she had to work a lot). She did not believe his complaints as she trusted the ‘nanny’, who was very convincing in saying: How those children make things up is unbelievable. And then, if the boy had tried to complain, he was beaten even more, for being a spy, as soon as his mother was out...


When I look at the life of this boy, who was humiliated, hounded and mistreated every day, at school, on the playground, at home... I have to say it, with all certainty:

If a good God said to me: You had a successful life. You became a Head of a most prestigious rescue team. You became a Member of the Parliament. Would you like to be reborn and live your life once again? I would have to beg him, not to do it. Oh God, do not make me be a child again...


 One day I decided to make a scale model for the teacher who was mocking me the most, in order to get a better grade. I took me a week of hard work to complete it. I was cautiously carrying it to school like a promise for a better life, for being treated better by the teachers...


Unfortunately, on my way to school I met, as usually, a group of local hooligans. They snatched the model, kicked it and destroyed, laughing hard. I took a brick laying nearby and I threw it at my tormentor’s head, with all the desperation and frustration I felt. Luckily, I missed, but for a split second I saw something that changed my life. I saw fear in his eyes.

It was a turning point of my life. I realised that if my desperation is stronger that fear of being beaten, I could become an unconquerable rival for those who had been bullying me for years. I came to believe that one has to fight till the end, even with no chances to win. I understood that a highly determined person can oppose a group of rivals whose goals are not unified. I understood how important it is to believe in yourself, believe in your goals and fight.


I began opposing the bullies. At the beginning I was beaten as usual, but then I started training martial arts (without telling anyone). After years of secret trainings, fierce street fights, bleeding nose and broken teeth, there came a time when no one would provoke me for a fight any more.

I became a lonely, scarred wolf who would furiously bite the attacking pack of dogs. I became too difficult a rival for the hooligans and they concentrated on other, easier victims.

My fortune changed...


I finished primary school. Our ‘nanny’ moved out and disappeared.

Soon, our father came back to Poland. In the afternoons our flat would smell of wiener coffee that he liked so much or sometimes also of his pipe. Every evening we could hear piano concerts from my parents’ room. My mother, who was now at home more often, would lay on the sofa and listen to Chopin piano concerts broadcasted by the Polish Radio every night.


It turned out that sun shines brightly and flowers smell beautifully....

My fortune changed...


Surprisingly, with no apparent reason, after the period of quick growth and secretly applied sport, my body became strong enough for me to start official trainings. The sport doctor, whom I had to visit to become a member of a sport club, found no abnormalities in my heart... Desperately needing exercise, I started training judo, skating, biathlon, climbing...

My fortune changed...


 Why do I share my story? Because we should remember that sometimes, in the so called ‘normal’ families, there are children who are secretly being tormented. Most often with parents having no idea of the problem. Sometimes it is a friendly neighbour, a ‘friend of the family’, who will molest a little girl, and sometimes a canny psychopath who will physically and mentally bully a little boy...


You are probably wondering why don’t I hate people after such a childhood.

I don’t hate them because my experience made me immune to the wickedness.

I found out that you can get much more satisfaction from creation that from destruction. You can help someone who is suffering or dying thanks to your efficiency and skills, you can change his or her life and save him or her from a difficult situation.


A long time ago one would become a knight for being especially chivalrous and brave. Then, without clear justification, the title was automatically granted to all descendents of such a person. I think it was not just, as people are diverse and their biological roots do not guarantee the continuity of noble qualities. I think that today becoming a mountain rescuer, a lifeguard, a mine rescuer or a fire fighter and then helping people in need, is like being knighted, like being granted a title for special qualities.

Like a certificate for being special.


When I get to a suffering person, somewhere on the ski slope or deep in a cave, I am not interested in his faith, race or political views, I do not know whether he or she is a good or a bad person. What I know, however, is that my ability and skills can diminish his or her suffering, feelings of loneliness, fear or cold... I know that at this moment I am the most welcomed person in the whole world.

Because thanks to me, he or she will live...

Because every rescuer has the power to stop death...


I deeply believe that relieving people from pain and fear as well as struggle for their lives is priceless.

It is even worth one’s life...