Updated: Jan 15
Finally. After 75 years, I can hold in my hands a photograph of my birth father.
Last year I set out to learn the truth about my heritage. I wanted to know about my grandparents in Ukraine, about my mother's life as a slave for the Nazis in WW2, and about the Displaced Persons camp in Germany where I was born.
And I wanted to know about my father. I wanted a photograph of the man who was cut out of my life when I was just four years old.
Cut out, literally. When my mother gathered me up and left my father in Timmins, Northern Ontario, she took the scissors to every photograph she could find and cut him out of the picture.
And so I started searching. I found a group photo taken in the Weiden DP camp. My mother, pregnant with me, is standing behind a man, her hands on his shoulders. Was that man my father, Stanislaw Zebrowski? I had a hunch it was.
Then I found a couple more pictures, my mother Mary standing with - or close to - other men. Which one was my father?
The breakthrough came in Kirkland Lake, Ontario. I discovered that Stanislaw died in a nursing home there, in 1978.
And then I discovered Sonia Pietrasik-Lang, who had nursed my father in his last years.
I showed her the three pictures of the men I thought could be my father. She picked a photo that was not my first choice. Bear in mind the photo was taken 30 years before she met him, and it's 40 years since he died.
But Sonia was not sure. So she called her friend Laurie Wein, who had worked with her at the nursing home. Laurie also nursed my father.
Sonia and Laurie studied the pictures. They reminisced about nursing the proud Polish man who'd been crippled by a stroke.
Sonia stared at the nose and the jaw. Laurie was drawn to his eyes.
And they agreed. Photo number two was the man they'd nursed. The man with the soldier's cap on.
And that was the man I thought was my father, the man in the group photo with my mother's hands on his shoulders.
In her message to me this week, after her meeting with Laurie, Sonia said: ”I recognize nose and jaw line for sure. Laurie his eyes. So we’re are absolutely certain (it’s) number two with the hat.”
I had spoken to Laurie earlier. She told me my father was a quiet man. He seemed to enjoy being in the nursing home. I’m sure he did after his hard-scrabble life as a prisoner of war, a refugee, and then working in the lumber camps of northern Ontario.
Sonia added in her message confirming my father's identity: “Hope this makes you happy.”
It makes me very, very happy. Intuitively I felt the soldier was my father but I had no proof. Now Sonia and Laurie have provided that proof. I’m so grateful to them.
I’ve been staring at the picture. Standing behind my father, with her hands on his shoulders, is my mother. If you look closely at her belly, you can she she was pregnant - with me. In some bizarre way this is a family photo. The only one I have.
Within a couple of days of posting this blog, I received another confirmation about the identity of my father.
This time the assurance that the man in the cap (bottom right in the group photo) was indeed Stanislaw Zebrowski came from Sherry Yee, another nurse's assistant at the Chateau Nursing Home back in the 1970s.
Sherry saw the blog on Facebook, after Sonia shared it. Sherry remembered my father as a heavy smoker, with limited English, and a man who got frustrated because of his paralysis.
But she was definite in her identification of the photograph.
So that's three people who nursed him in his last years who have confirmed his identity.