A school teacher and a member of the underground resistance, Natalia Tułasiewicz was a passionate member of the Catholic lay apostolate of Poland during World War II. In 1943, she voluntarily signed up to be sent to the Third Reich as a forced laborer in order to give spiritual guidance and comfort to other female forced laborers.
In Hanover, Germany she worked at a factory that specialized in making artist paints and inks. Suffering from the constant hunger, cold and the exhaustion that was the fate of Polish forced laborer, she faithfully lead the laborers in prayer and song, provided religious instruction and held small retreats devoted to prayer and meditation. In 1944, when the Germans found out about her secret mission, she was arrested, interrogated, and tortured. In September of that year she was condemned to death and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, number 75188. In spite of being increasingly weak and suffering from tuberculosis, she continued her ministry among the women of Ravensbruck. She was sent to the gas chamber on Holy Saturday, March 31, 1945, thirty days before the liberation of Ravensbruck .
She expressed her beliefs in her spiritual diary, where she wrote: "My mission is to show the world that the path to holiness also travels through noisy markets and streets, not only in monasteries or in quiet families."
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999. Her name is among the 108 Blessed Polish Martyrs of World War II, one of two lay women so recognized.
Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord, and let the perpetual light shine upon her.
The characteristic dish prepared on the occasion of the Green Holidays(Pentecost) was jajecznica or, as it was called in some parts of Poland wajeczyna or wajeczynica. It was a simple dish of scrambled eggs. The eggs were fried somewhere in the open air, most often by a forest or in a meadow, near a river or stream. Friends, relatives or neighbors got together and went out to the forest or to a nearby river. Using river rock or stones found nearby, they built up a bonfire on which to fry the eggs. Each housewife brought a few eggs in their aprons or baskets, a chunk of smoked bacon, or sausage, a large fry pan and a loaf of rye bread and some chives. The housewives placed portions of the scrambled eggs on pieces of the rye bread and distributed it those present. The men brought some alcohol to share and enliven the festivities. The young also invited a village musician to this scrambled egg feast because it was a great opportunity to be together to sing and dance until late in the evening.
There are many aspects to the celebration of Pentecost in Poland. The official church name is Zesłania Ducha Swiętego, the Descent of the Holy Ghost.
In Polish folk tradition, this time of year celebrated the blossoming and greening of nature and was called Zielone Swiątki, the Green Holidays. In very ancient times it marked the end of spring ( Pentecost ends the liturgical Easter season) and the beginning of summer. It was connected with many agricultural beliefs and customs and ceremonies that date to ancient pre-Christian times and the pagan cult of trees, water and fire. Among the most important among them was the triumphal "greening" of the world once again. The newly budded branches , symbolized the revival of life, fertility and the promise of a harvest. It was believed that the green branches also protected from spells, plagues and all evil and accounts for their widespread use in the festivities that centered around the home, barnyard, fences .
The tree branch that plays one of the most important roles was that of the birch tree. It comes up consistently in the celebration of the Green Holidays in various parts of Poland. It was to have the power to protect against witchcraft and the evil eye. Branches were tucked not just behind holy pictures and placed in vases, etc., but most often nailed around windows and especially the door, the entrance to the house, as well as tucked into the thatched roof of the cottage. Sometimes young green birch trees were placed in pots at the entrance to the cottage, and another entrance, the gates to the yard. Other greening branches were used as well such as maple, linden and hornbeam to decorate fences as well as church altars and roadside shrines.
The second most important greenery to be collected for the home on this holiday was the fragrant , scented sweet flag, known in Latin as Acorus Calamus. In Polish it is known as tatarak, kalmus, kalmusowym ziele or Tatarskie ziele. Growing in wet, marshy areas near rivers and streams it was placed in vases on a home altar or in the corners of the main room of the cottage. There was a saying: Zielone Świątki - tatarak w kątki (The Green Holidays, calamus in the corners). The most preferred method of having sweet flag in the house was to cut or chop it into smaller pieces and scatter it on the floors of the house. Whether a humble, hard packed floor of a cottage or the wooden floor of a manor house, the sweet smelling herb(many say smells like cinnamon) was indispensable. In the mid 1800's Polish ethnographer Oskar Kolberg described it: "On the day(Pentecost) they sweep the porch and the front of the house, and sprinkle the place with calamus..."
I think it's time to bring in some greenery and plant some calamus!
Google image. National Museum of Krakow(Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie
Pentecost is the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus. It occurs in May or early June as it is, like Easter, a mobile holiday. This year it occurs on May 20th.
The word Pentecost comes from the Greek pentecostē, meaning 50 days. On the seventh Sunday after Easter, fifty days after the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ , the church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus. In descending on the apostles with tongues of fire that made the apostles speak in foreign tongues, the apostles could go forth and preach the message of Christ to the world. In essence, it marks the beginning of the church as we know it and is one of its most important holy days of the year.
From the time of Pope Innocent III, red become the liturgical color for celebrating this most important holy day of the year with the priest wearing red vestments. Sometimes Christians will dress in red as well or decorate the churches with red. In the Middle Ages, there was a custom of throwing rose petals from the oculus, the small circular window in the domes of many basilicas and cathedrals, down on the worshipers during mass to symbolize the red tongues of fire that came down on the apostles. Sometimes cages of doves were released to fly in the vaulted ceilings to symbolize the Holy Spirit.
The custom of throwing down rose petals continues in Rome at the ancient 2000 year old temple known as the Pantheon that is now a Catholic Church dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs. Although this comes from Pentecost 2016, you can view it at this website:
On Saturdays the park is very active. Walking the ring around its perimeter, I pass a black man walking his sweet little poodle. There is a Hispanic couple ahead of me pushing a baby buggy while a toddler, still short of reaching his daddy's knee, is pretty wobbly on his feet. A man who has had a stroke struggles with his rehab and is as unsteady as the little toddler. On the grassy fields a group of girls are practicing their cheerleading routine. A couple of teenage boys are playing at quarterback and receiver. Families are streaming in. It's soccer Saturday and all levels of children in team uniforms are on the field. In one corner are what appear to be five or six year olds, socks bagging around their ankles, braids bouncing on their backs, running every which way.
This was the moment for me: a family enters the sidelines of a soccer field and are greeted by a friend who has been standing there. The man shakes hands with the dad and greets the young lad who's come to play soccer by putting his hand on the young man's head and ruffles his hair in an affectionate gesture. No one really sees it because the adults are looking at each other and talking but I have nothing else to do but walk and observe. I see the small smile of happiness on the boy. Genuine happiness. And seeing it, I'm happy, too, because he's happy and growing up in a world where he matters, where the adults, who are in charge of him, are in a place where they are not preoccupied with what the next moment or hour or day will bring; that they are not in fear that the next minute will bring bombs or explosions, death and destruction; that this young boy can be just that: a young boy, enjoying the attention of an adult, looking forward to a sunny morning of playing soccer.
Maybe it's because I grew up with stories of the war from my mother and how awful it was. Maybe because I've read too much on how lives were lost, families separated, children abused and exploited during that war that the moment struck me so keenly. Maybe because I know this is what my parents wanted for themselves and for us, too, when they sought refuge in America: to walk freely in a park among others no matter your, or another's, color or religion; to have your kids do cartwheels on the grass, or play kickball on a dirt lot and to laugh with their friends.
Each year on our Immigration Day, April 28, I celebrate my parents, the sacrifices and hardships they undertook so that I could be a happy kid in America, too.
I've always had a fascination with black and white photos. Maybe it began with the ones that my mother kept in an old gilded box called Schrafft's Luxuro Chocolates. As a kid I'd periodically pull out the box and examine the people in the photographs and question my mother about them. They were pictures of my mother with her siblings in Poland before the war. I could see the wooden house that she had lived in. There was one of a Sunday afternoon spent on the sunny bank of the River San with her sisters, all wearing pretty print dresses. There was my grandmother sitting in a garden wearing an apron, her hair pulled back in a bun and a rare photo of my grandfather during the German occupation of Poland with the Nazi swastika stamped on it that was sent to her after the war. I had never been to Poland. I had never met any of the people who were in those photographs, but the photographs connected me and made them real for me.
When I was researching my last book ,Wearing the Letter P: Polish Women as Forced Laborers in Nazi Germany 1939-1945, I felt I understood when I read that the women of Poland, forced to leave their homes and family and could only take a few personal items with them, chose to take a photograph of the people they loved. Sometimes I think that if there was a major catastrophe, a fire, or a bombing, that box of old photographs of my mother's family would be the only thing I would try to save. I've learned that a photograph can be a very powerful thing. It really can provide emotional comfort. It can offer details and information and most importantly, it stops time. You can go to that time and place and be there with the people or the action in the photograph long after the image was taken, study it and learn from it. The power of it is amazing.
I felt that power when I was at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland researching photographs for the book. One of the hardest things about writing history, especially events in another time, in another country is that you have no visuals in your brain for the time, the events or the place you're researching to help you better understand, to know, to see. I wanted to find photographs that would show me of what it was like to be a Polish forced laborer in Nazi Germany.
In the end it was my husband who found the above photograph in the folders he was looking through. When he showed it to me, honestly, the strength of that image, the power it had on me made me push back my chair and stand up so abruptly it caught the attention of the staff behind the desk.
This is was what T/Sgt. Rickard of the U.S Signal Corps with the 1st U.S Army saw on April 13, 1945 near Meggen, Germany: Polish civilian forced laborers, including their children, behind barbed wire. There's a low rough looking, wooden barrack behind them. There is some kind of rough sketch on the barrack wall. Caricature of a German? The children are young, one, I think, not of an age to walk. The mother looks tired? Unhappy? She does not look toward the camera. In contrast, the dad's smile is ear to ear, maybe an automatic response to a camera, maybe overjoyed to see American troops. Their gehenna, as the Polish people called their experience as forced laborers, their hell, is over. But mostly I notice that the barbed wire fence is so very high and the people behind it, prisoners. With the click of the camera, Sgt. Rickard stopped time, took me to 1945 and helped me to see.
Thank you Photographs and Prints Division at National Archives at College Park, Maryland.
Wielkanoc is a small village located on the Gołcza River, about 19 miles north of Kraków. There's a lot of speculation about how the village got it's unusual name. One theory is that it was a place where the Passion Mysteries, the mysteries associated with death of the Messiah, was actively celebrated but no one really knows for sure.....
The first documented evidence of the village can be found in the Jagiellonian Library. It appears that a certain man named Wilko and another serf named Jan were in dispute over a cow that was supposedly stolen from a pasture. We don't know who stole or who was the injured party but there you have it -people being people- even back in 1382, shortly after the time of Casimir the Great.
Wielkanoc is so small it doesn't have its own church. The faithful travel to nearby town of Gołcza, where the first Catholic church was built in 1214, then burnt down by invading Tartars, rebuilt again in 1326, then in 1585 and 1757 and again in 1983. There has been a Catholic Church in Gołcza even before the founding of Wielkanoc.
During the time of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648), under the tolerant reign of King Sigismunt II Augustus, Lutherism and Calvinism gained many followers in Poland especially among upper classes and intellectuals. In 1613, the tiny Wielkanoc is chiefly Protestant.
Here comes the Swedish invasion (1655-1660). It not only significantly reduces the number of residents of Wielkanoc but Charles Gustav's retreating army robs the Protestant church treasury and burns the church.
Things change. There is a slow decline in the numbers of Protestants and in the village itself. Poland suffers the partitions by Austria, Prussia and Russia. There are Uprisings and revolts against the foreign powers. According to the Polish gazetteer, Słownik Geograficzny Królestwa Polskiego i Innych Krajów Słowianskich, there are 12 houses and 130 inhabitants in Wielkanoc in 1827.
Another change. The new owner of Wielkanoc is a Jakubowski, a Catholic who marries the Lutheran daughter of the previous owners of the village. The last Protestants move out. Those that remain convert to Catholicism and the village is once again Catholic.
What does a small, ancient 600 year old village with a name like Easter do at Easter time? They do what their Catholic ancestors have always done.
On Palm Sunday they make tiny crosses from hazel twigs blessed in their church on Palm Sunday. They place the crosses in every field, so that "clouds of hail can see that this field belongs to the believer, " and pray with these words: "Lord, let the sign of your passion protect this earth and its fruits from all misfortunes and crop failures."
Good Friday is an important day in the life of Wielkanoc. There is spring in the town that emerges out of limestone rock. It is said that the water has special curative powers. Village lore says that the waters saved a supposedly uncurable child with cancer who was brought there and submerged in the freezing waters by his grandfather as a last hope.( People have attributed special magical powers to the origins of springs and streams since pagan times, since way before the founding of the village in 1382). After two weeks of struggling with the disease, the boy got better. And since that time people come to the spring on Good Friday seeking good health. Here's the catch: you have to come here on Good Friday before the sun rises. Only ablution before sunrise is effective, because then the water has the greatest power. Everyone first submerges their hands in the icy stream, rinsing their eyes with water and then the entire face. They wash their eyes so that they can better see the world, so that they can see the truth. They wash the face to ensure good health. And sometimes they take a pitcher of the water home, to make themselves a pot of tea.
On Holy Saturday the inhabitants bring their baskets of food to the roadside chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima for their food to be blessed as faith and tradition dictates.
On Easter Sunday, the faithful travel to their parish of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gołcza, in the diocese of Kielce, in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, to the church that they have been tied to since time forgotten. The Resurrection Mass begins with the rising of the sun. The vigil of Easter, called the Wielka Noc (later put together into one word of Wielkanoc?) or Great Night, has passed into the dawn of Easter Sunday and the church bells ring with the jubilant words of "Chrystus Zmartwychwstał" (Christ is Risen).
Footnote: The known origin and history of Wielkanoc is chiefly due to one Ludwik Duda, an inhabitant of the village who took it upon himself to research records at the Jagellonian library and to write the story of his little town and left it in the safekeeping of his family so that descendants could know (and through knowing, appreciate) the life of a place called Easter.
Happy Easter( Wielkanoc). Wesołego Alleluja.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.