Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Austrian connection - Post 21


Kacper just got off his phone. He finished talking with his mother, who had given him updates of his father and news on his chemotherapy. It was still difficult to conclude whether the treatment was fighting the tumour in his lungs. Dad just received his second dose of the medicines, and there were still more to go. Only after some additional series of drips, his father would undergo additional tests determining how successful the chemo has been.

Kacper felt worried. ‘He is not responding to the treatment that well’ his mother reported. ‘The blood results are quite bad, and he feels quite sick’ she continued. She also mentioned to him that despite all of this news, the doctor asked not to panic, and to give the treatment a chance. The doctor reassured that many patients did not feel well in initial stages, but eventually got better. ‘Optimism is the best thing that he needs now’, she concluded.

He felt so guilty! Here he was far away, somewhere in Chad, when his father, and his mother would have preferred him to be home with them. ‘There are no easy choices’ thought Kacper sadly. On one side, he wanted to support them morally – be there for them, on the other hand, Kacper realised that he needed to work, and it was not only for sake of his career. It was a prosaic reason of not being able to afford not to work. Some consolation was that his older brother and his family lived in Nowy Sacz, and they looked after their parents on daily basis. Kacper knew his sibbling would do a great job… he just wished he could be there now.

Kacper loved his father. He loved him, the way sons love their parents, and parents love their children – unconditionally. His love to him never got shaken, despite many tests that life put their relationship through.

His father was an alcoholic. Around 20 years ago, he stopped drinking, following a treatment that he had eventually agreed to undergo. The treatment, which became a fight for his life that he managed to win for himself, as well as for his family.

There had been many painful memories, before he enrolled to the programme. There were tears, beatings, and fear of not knowing what might happen next – what might happen to the family, but also to dad himself… Mum’s beatings were the most painful memories of all. Kacper would never forget them, but he forgave, as did his brother, and mum herself. They all knew, that after all, dad had a heart of gold, and it was just his disease that was destroying him…

Dad had a great sense of humour, and people loved him for it. Then, he had this great ability of fixing everything. He was very creative too. He would produce the most magical toys for Kacper and his brother. Lots of them were wooden. He was very good with wood, which was his favourite material to work with.

His father was a very simple man. He never finished his primary school. His own father had passed away, before he could remember him. It was his wonderful mother, who was then bringing him up on her own… ‘Babcia’, Kacper used to address her grandma sweetly. They never had an easy life, and faced existential problems on daily basis… There was simply no good environment for dad to attend schools. Things were different and tough those days.

Quite strangely, Kacper’s father had a dual nationality. He was both a Polish and an Austrian citizen. In fact he was born in Neunkirchen, a small town outside of Vienna, in 1947.

Soon after the World War 2 had broken out, Kacper’s Babcia, and her older sister were arrested, and deported to the III Reich to work as slave labourers. They both ended up working in one of the farms near Vienna. Compared to other people, they were lucky. They were never treated with cruelty, separated, and worked with one family, throughout the war. Their lives were obviously difficult, but not unbearably so.

A year after their arrival to Neunkirchen, Babcia seemed to have managed to charm a young and handsome Hans, an Austrian guy, from a middle class family. They first met during a service at the local church. During following masses, they kept on looking at each other shyly and whether they liked it, or not, their hearts were beating a little bit faster, each time they looked. Shortly after, they started talking to each other too – obviously very discreetly – after all Babcia was a prisoner from Poland, and it was too dangerous for both of them to do it openly.

The adoration that Hans had for her kept on growing… Babcia proudly told Kacper, how Hans had risked his life, and reputation for looking after the two Polish sisters. He used to bring them extra food, chocolate, basic goods they might have needed. Sometimes, he even succeeded bringing along some wine, and they all celebrated late at nights in stables, when everyone else was asleep.

The war finished, and the dramatic political changes took place all over Europe. Austria was now free, but half of Europe towards the eastern side unwillingly became a part of the Soviet Union’s influence.

Babcia and her sister decided against going to Poland. They were scared returning to their Communist ruled homeland.

Eventually, some time later, Babcia’s sister got married to a Polish chap from Warsaw, who had worked in a neighbouring farm. Babcia got married too; of course, it was Hans, who became her husband! Getting married was a difficult decision, for both of them. Hans’ family disapproved the idea fiercely, and threatened that he would not be able to associate with them, should he decide to spend his life with ‘that Polish worker’.

Kacper’s father was born in the town of Neunkirchen. He was baptised in the same local church, where Babcia and Hans used to look at one another with admiration. They then moved to Vienna. Living in a big city was easier for the Austrian-Polish family. The big city did not stop Babcia miss her home, her people, her mountains though. ‘Listen Hans, I love you more that anything, but I am not able to stay in Austria anymore. I want to return to Poland!’ she announced one day. ‘My place is where you are’ he answered without a second of hesitation…

They settled in southern Poland, in the town where Babcia came from. Hans learnt Polish very quickly, and got accepted by the community without any reservation. ‘You are one of us’, some of his new Polish friends would tell him. ‘You were helping our people’ added the others.

Hans, or Janek, as the locals started calling him, became a bus driver. He serviced a long distance routes between Nowy Targ, and cities like Katowice, or Wroclaw. One night, he did not return, his bus collided with another vehicle. Both drivers died instantly.

Technically, Kacper was a quarter Austrian. His parents never applied for his citizenship, before he was 18, and therefore he lost his right to do so afterwards. Once, just before the Marital Law was introduced in Poland in 1981, Kacper’s parents nearly decided to move to Vienna. The Austrian Consulate in Krakow encouraged, Kacper’s father, the citizen of Austria, to move back. They deemed it was too dangerous to live in Poland, and could not offer protection for their citizens. They even offered the repatriation for the whole family of their Austrian citizen, and promised social help on arrival.

Kacper and his older were excited, they were going to live in the WEST, just to learn with disappointment that their parents refused going. ‘We have managed to live here all these years, we will manage some more’ decided his father with strong approval of mum. At that time, Kacper and his brother did not understand… they were just kids… It took years, before they finally comprehended their parents’ decision to stay.

Kacper has tears in his eyes thinking of his dad. He wished so much, he got better, he got strength to fight again, the way he did so many times in the past, the way that he taught his own son, Kacper…

PS. Kacper has put a fan in his bedroom on. It is time to go to sleep!

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