Today (April 11, 2017) I was invited to attend the launch of the latest ‘Life Story’ at the St John Centre in Unley (Adelaide). More than thirty people packed into the board room to hear some of the highlights of The Adventures of Wojciech Czuchra. Wojeciech (and with true Aussie acceptance, he is known to many as Chook) was born in Krosno, Poland in 1948. His father, Jan, was a Catholic resistance fighter in the Polish underground during WW II. His mother was Jewish and survived the Holocaust. Their marriage did not have any of the political or religious conflict that was still rife for many years after the end of the war.
The beauty and power of research came to light during the many hours of discussion with ‘Chook’ that led to the publication of his 35 page story. A 1932 black and white movie of the Krosno Town Square had been put online by the grandson of the photographer. The grandson lives in the US. Such is the richness and historic value of this vision that you will be moved in realising that most of the people shown as happy smiling, men women and children were, seven years later, dead. Murdered by the Nazis – either herded in to the nearby forest and shot, or transported to the death camps. This discovery led to another contact with Alexander Bialywlos-White, a 93 year-old Jewish gentleman who was also born in Krosno and was a survivor of the Nazi atrocities through the now well documented Schindler’s List.
With another twist to Wojciech’s story he met a woman, Helen, at a dinner party in Adelaide, in the early 1990s. As they chatted about their past, they discovered that Jan, Wojciech’s father, was instrumental in the rescue of Helen’s parents. Jan hid them and Helen, who was a baby at the time, in the forest away from the German and Communist armies. Since that chance meeting, Helen and Wojciech have remained close friends and share many interests.
I have not attempted to condense ‘Chook’s’ story here, but offered a tantilising glimpse in to the life that is rich in adventure, love, danger, triumph and tragedy. Flourishing Life is a program offered through St John Community Care. It captures the stories of older people to help them record and transform their memories, stories and experiences in to an anthology of oral histories, recorded, shared and held for the future. The various stories collected are not in a digitally accessible form as yet, but this is an evolving project with UniSA. If you wish to know more of the St John Community Care program visit the website at: Community Care co-ordinators, to email the project officer. The researcher for this story is volunteer Marion Burns and I acknowledge her dedicated and detailed research on which my Blog is based.