All of My Mums
Wszystkie moje mamy
© by Renata Piątkowska
© by Wydawnictwo Literatura
Cover and illustrations:
Katarzyna Wasilkowska (introduction)
Cátia Lamerton Viegas Wesolowska
First publication in this edition.
Wydawnictwo Literatura, Łódź 2016
91-334 Łódź, ul. Srebrna 41
tel. (42) 630 23 81
faks (42) 632 30 24
Iam overjoyed that All of My Mums, has found its way to you. On its pages, you will meet the figure of Irena Sendler, an extraordinary woman whose courage and goodness of heart deserves the highest admiration.
When we hear the word ‘hero’, we imagine a brave, gallant man. Not in this case, though. The hero turns out to be a woman who does not need any weapons and is armed only with a steadfast character and brave heart.
During World War II Irena Sendler, together with her colleagues, led more than 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto. Risking her own life, she tried to save the most vulnerable from certain death. But she never allowed anyone to call her a ‘hero’. She claimed that she only did her duty, what she was taught at home. She never perceived it as something unusual. In life you have to do good – that was her motto. What a wonderful example, in our modern times!
I had the great fortune of meeting Mrs. Irena Sendler in person. Towards the end of her life I knighted her Dame of the Order of the Smile, which she accepted with great emotion. I remember her words: ‘I have always preferred to give than to receive. Is there anything more beautiful than the joy in the eyes of the receiver?’ When asked, what is most important in life, she replied: ‘Love, tolerance and humility.’ She also used to say: ‘To make the world better, it is necessary to love every human being. The only division of people which makes sense is the one of the good and the bad. Nationality, religion, education make no difference. And if someone needs help, you have to give him or her a hand.’ When asked, if necessary, if she would rescue German children from the ghetto, she replied without hesitation: Yes!
There are never enough memories of Irena Sendler and this book is just one of them. I am convinced that conversation with children about our history cannot rely only on teaching dry facts and dates. To talk about emotions and human destiny is no less significant. In this case, the destiny of a little boy – Simon Bauman, one of the 2,500 children saved by Mrs. Sendler.
Irena Sendlerowa and Marek Michalak
As the Ombudsman for Children and as a human, I bow my head before Irena Sendler, a woman who, in times of trial, helped the most vulnerable regardless of the circumstances. She fought for children’s right to life, trampled by the war, and the preservation of their identity.
I am aware that it is not possible to enclose Irena Sendler’s story in between the covers of a single book, but any attempt of introducing her to young readers is important and valuable. By getting to know Irena Sandler’s achievements you will learn a lot about respect, modesty and courage. She still remains a model beyond reach.
I remember her as a person sensitive to injustice, always friendly and full of goodness. I would like to be able to kiss the hands of Irena Sendler once again, put her on a pedestal, humble and timid as she always was, shaking her head in a gesture of ‘no, there is no need’.
Judge for yourself, if there is such a need. I invite you all to read All of My Mums.
The Ombudsman for Children
The Chancellor of the International Chapter of the Order of the Smile
Mister Szymon Bauman can be seen in the park every day. He walks along the asphalt paths in his long coat and black hat and when he feels tired he sits down on a bench. He will sit like this for hours. With his eyes closed he looks as if he has dozed off. But he’s not sleeping and probably none of you can guess what he is thinking about. He told me once and it began like this:
‘It’s enough to close my eyes for those images to appear under my eyelids. Some are slightly faded, almost blurred, while others are clearly visible in every detail. They keep coming back and, along with them, a little boy in shorts and lace-up shoes. Those laces annoyed me. Dragging behind me on the ground as I ran across the yard, and when I tried to tie them back I would end up with big knots instead of bows. But why worry about shoe laces when you had to hide behind a dustbin, as my best friend Dawid shelled me from behind the coal shed, shouting:’
‘Bang-bang! Bang-bang! You’re dead!’
‘Not true! You haven’t hit me at all!’ I insisted and clung firmly to the ground.
‘Okay, so now I’ll be running away and you’ll have to catch me’ he commanded, and at once we ran outside the house, brandishing wooden rifles.
Sometimes Dawid pretended to be injured. He would wrap his knee with a handkerchief and limp across the yard moaning:
‘Ouch, you hit me in the leg. It hurts badly. I deserve a medal.’
We made the medals from buttons wrapped in gold foil from chocolate Hanukkah gelt . Because we were both brave generals, at every opportunity we awarded each other a medal. At home we heard time and again that the war was coming, so we decided to keep watch from the tallest tree in our backyard.
‘And what shall we do when we see German soldiers?’ asked Dawid.
‘What do you mean? We’ll tell my dad! Their noses will be out of joint when they see whom they have crossed’ I shouted, because my dad is obviously the strongest in the world. ‘We can also shell them with apple cores’ I added as an afterthought.
‘Or we could be spies’ Dawid always had crazy ideas. ‘We will sneak into their camp at night and take all their pistols. And piss into their helmets, too’ he chuckled.
‘Yes, that’s exactly how we imagined the war’ Mr Bauman sighed. ‘But when it actually did break out, our wooden rifles were good for nothing. Our apple cores and the tree lookout were no good either. All over Warsaw you could hear explosions and the rattle of machine guns. When the German bombers flew over we could hear a strange buzzing sound, which grew louder and louder with each moment. Then we had to hide in the basement while they hovered over us like angry wasps. Their big bellies were full of bombs that dropped down onto the city with a whistling sound. Once, we’d just barely reached the nearest basement, when there was a terrible roar and rumble. I don’t know how long it took. I plugged my ears, my mum took me in her arms and I could feel how, with every explosion, she would tremble and hold her breath for a moment. My older sister Chana clung to my dad in fear. White powder fell from the ceiling and everyone looked as if sprinkled with flour. It’s strange, but before that I would never go down to the dark and damp basement, not for the life of me. I was afraid of dimly lit stairs, spiders and of what might be lurking around the corner. But now the basement was the only safe place where everyone ran to as fast as they could. Now, all the horrible things were happening above.’
‘Chana, what will happen when a bomb like this hits our house?’ I asked.
‘What?! They’ve already knocked down so many houses, why should they destroy ours too?’ Chana reassured me.
Even so, this thought made me uneasy. And then it happened. The huge house with balconies and a red roof, a spiral staircase and railing on which you could slide down when no one was looking, was reduced to a pile of rubble in a single moment. I couldn’t believe it. Just this morning everything was in its place. My room, a shelf with cars, my brown teddy bear and a magic eye radio.’
‘Look at this piece of the wall with a broken window, that’s our kitchen’ Dawid, who lived above us, was now standing next to us weeping.
‘At least he had all his gold foil wrapped button medals in his pocket. I had nothing’ Mr Bauman fell silent. After a while, he resumed his story. ‘After the Germans bombed our house, we went to live with my aunt Róża. It was awfully crowded because my aunt took in two other families who were also left homeless. I didn’t even have my own bed. I slept on a mattress that lay on the floor and to make matters worse Kuba had to fit in next to me. I really wasn’t happy with that.’
‘Dad, Kuba is elbowing me. He’s fat and takes almost the entire mattress. And at night he pulls the quilt to his side’ I complained. ‘I’d rather sleep on the sofa-bed like Chana’ I argued.
‘Oh, if I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have complained. But he sat on daddy’s lap all the time and would never let him go out. Especially on that cloudy winter morning’ Mr Bauman shook his head sadly. ‘But nobody could have known that on that very day my dad would fall into a terrible trap. It was a street rounda bout. Everyone who was caught by the Germans went to a camp. This is all I found out from my mother. Kuba showed me exactly what this roundabout looked like.’
‘See, here is a street. Miodowa, for instance’ he said making two rows of houses out of bricks. ‘And there are people walking this street’ Kuba put a lot of little plasticine men along the street. ‘Now, the Germans come and close the street from both sides’ he put a squad of tin soldiers at the end of the street. Another line of soldiers stood on the other side. It was clear that the little plasticine men would not escape from them. ‘There is no way out, they all have to go into the lorry’ Kuba kept repeating: ‘vroom, vroom, vroom’, as he arrived in the lorry and crammed in all the plasticine figures with his small fingers. After that the tin soldiers freed the road and the lorry went to the camp, which was under the dining room table. ‘Well, now they have to stay here’ ordered Kuba, putting the plasticine men behind a table leg, covered by the hanging table cloth.