My dad Jan Guzlowski was born on Dec. 11, 1920, in Poland on a farm north of Poznan.
By the time he was five years old, he was an orphan living on his uncle's small farm.
In 1941, he was captured by the Germans during a round-up and taken to Germany. He spent four years in Buchenwald concentration camp as a slave laborer. Every day he saw friends of his beaten, starved, and killed.
After the war, he spent another six years in refugee camps. When he came to America finally, he had nothing with him but his family and the lessons he learned as a boy in Poland and Germany.
Here is a poem that I wrote about what my dad's experiences taught him. The poem appears in my book about my parents,Echoes of Tattered Tongues.
He didn't know about the Rock of Ages
or bringing in the sheaves or Jacob's ladder
or gathering at the beautiful river
that flows beneath the throne of God.
He'd never heard of the Baltimore Catechism
either, and didn't know the purpose of life
was to love and honor and serve God.
He'd been to the village church as a boy
in Poland, and knew he was Catholic
because his mother and father were buried
in a cemetery under wooden crosses.
His sister Catherine was buried there too.
The day their mother died Catherine took
to the kitchen corner where the stove sat,
and cried. She wouldn't eat or drink, just cried
until she died there, died of a broken heart.
She was three or four years old, he was five.
What he knew about the nature of God
and religion came from the sermons
the priests told at mass, and this got mixed up
with his own life. He knew living was hard,
and that even children are meant to suffer.
Sometimes, when he was drinking he'd ask,
"Didn't God send his own son here to suffer?"
My father believed we are here to lift logs
that can't be lifted, to hammer steel nails
so bent they crack when we hit them.
In the slave labor camps in Germany,
He'd seen men try the impossible and fail.
He believed life is hard, and we should
help each other. If you see someone
on a cross, his weight pulling him down
and breaking his muscles, you should try
to lift him, even if only for a minute,
even though you know lifting won't save him.