Fig 1. Chapter Three: A Life Remembered
For all the technology – I am writing on an iPad – the book I am reading (‘A Life Remembered’ is only available in print) is on a rather rusty, heavy-duty iron book stand. Out of shot I have a lamp on an upturned waste-paper bin – an eBook would be the light, the stand and the content. It allows me to take notes, picking out moments and ideas from mini PostIts.
In some respects I feel like a Talk Show Host preparing for an interview, though many of these stories and their significance to Zbigniew Pelczynski I have heard before – I’ll be in his company this weekend so can ask questions, record the interview highlights and post the results here.
What defines him as an academic, inspirational educator and Polish patriot? How might others have behaved given the extraordinary life choices he had to make as the Second World War came to a close?
What is it about Oxford University that held him in its spell and kept him from the opportunities and temptations of other universities in the UK and abroad?
How can the oath he made to God that defines his life come from someone with no faith in religion?
Is it not ironic that despite being alive and well and mentally alert and agile in his 86th year that publication of his life story isn’t the end at all, but another mile stone as he drives on to yet more commitments and projects later this year and next including a two-day conference on Rousseau, Hobbes and Machiavelli, the book launch at the Polish Embassy then Meetings at his School fo Leaders in Warsaw.
With Zbszyek it isn’t even a case of ‘what next?’ rather it is a case of what he plans to do still beyond that.
My Notes So far :
Learning in extremis
Three Reformers Jacques Maritain
– an exegesis of the works of Luther, Calvin and Rousseau.
Zbig studied while part of the Polish Resistance in Warsaw, developing early ideas and an interest in:
KEY MOMENTS: Events that make the person
Saying good-bye to his mother Irena in August 1944 age 18 and lying about what he was up to as he went off to join his company B1 of the Basta Regiment. He saw his mother again in December 1956. (p 24)
Jerzy Kloczowski, known as Piotrus
The German campaign of mass murder in Warsaw in response to the foolhardy uprising killing, between 5th and 7th August 1944 more than 50,000 men, women and children. Perhaps 200,000 killed over the next two months.
The life defining oath Zbigniew made when rubble pinned the 19-year-old in a cellar after an attack by a Stuka.
He made a pack with God: if he got out alive, then somehow, someday, he would do something for Poland in return. McAvoy (2012:27)
DEFINING MOMENT – Traumatised
Appearance of political prisoners from Neuengamme concentration camp who fought over every scrap of food. McAvoy (2012:36)
HORROR – POLISH FARMHAND – what people will do to survive and for love.
Condemned for a ‘race crime’ with a German girl and put in a forced labour camp on starvation rations he joined the Offen Kommando whose job it was to collect and burn the bodies of dead inmates. McAvoy (2012:39) There they had witnessed systematic cannibalism.
(Though I suspect hours of cooking rather than 15 minutes would have been required).
Two lessons: the story itself and from the way it was told. Cured of social snobbery for life. McAvoy (2012:39)
A very different war defined a quite different man – my grandfather, working class and a machine-gunner in the First War, humble, conscientious and hardworking, dedicated his life to his wife and child.
What is of greater significance?
Our genetic make-up or the events in our life? People respond very differently to events and circumstances, yet the decisions they take define them. We cannot all be the same.
What am I coming to understand about education and the motivation to learn?
What bearing does this have on the struggles and wars that continue around the world and the politics that are both the cause and cure of the mess in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond to Korea and elsewhere?
McAvoy, D (2012) Zbigwniew Pelczynski: A life remembered. Grosvenor House Publishing.