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Finding my roots in Poland

Updated: May 11

I feel humbled. I feel lucky. I feel loved. My first, heartfelt, reactions on making face-to-face contact with members of my father's family for the first time.

Just 15 minutes after checking into my hotel in Poland, I fell into the arms of Emilia and Marcin Senderski (pictured below).

Emilia is a distant relative on my paternal grandmother's side of the family. Marcin helped Emilia chart her family tree, and during his research he came up with information about how my father came to spend six years in German prisoner of war camps. Marcin was a catalyst for my own research.

The next day I spent a wonderful six hours with Ewa, my second cousin, and her husband Mariusz (picture at top of post). Never mind that I was nursing jet-lag and the beginnings of a summer cold, Ewa hugged me, pampered me, and went out of her way to welcome me to Warsaw.

She spoke a little English, I spoke a little Polish, but our hearts did most of the talking. She threw her arms around me and pulled me into the embrace of the Zebrowski clan. Ewa's grandfather was a brother to my father, Stanislaw Zebrowski, the man who disappeared from my life when I was four.

We visited the Warsaw Uprising memorial, traced the lines of the walls the Nazis built to imprison Jews in the Ghetto, and visited the rebuilt palaces and homes that had been razed to the ground by the Germans. We even got caught up in a demonstration by farmers protesting their inability to maintain the small family farms that are so prevalent in Poland.

But the best sight of all was the smile on Ewa's face and the love in her eyes as we connected.

For more than 70 years I believed I had no relatives on my father's side. The discovery of an unmarked grave in Northern Ontario, the wonders of online genealogical search tools, and a speculative letter to a council office in a village in Poland changed all that.

Tomorrow and over the next week I'll be meeting I don't know how many more first and second cousins. I'm nervous. I'm overwhelmed. I'm worried that they'll tire of struggling through my faltering Polish. 

But I wouldn't miss this wonderful kaleidoscope of emotions for a single minute.

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