If you missed the first instalment of this four-part series yesterday, do catch up. It won’t make much sense otherwise, y’know? In today’s blog, Katy Carr describes the chain of events that led her to travel to Poland to meet Kazimierz Piechowski, the only remaining survivor of the 1942 Auschwitz breakout in the Kommander’s car.
* * *
After my visit to the Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the recording of ‘Kommander’s Car’, I became obsessed with finding out more about the background of the Nazi concentration camp system. I immersed myself in books, books and more books, studying every detail I could unearth about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany during the 1930s, the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, the Third Reich, everything! I must have watched the BBC adaptation of Lawrence Rees’s book a thousand times, and spent a sobering day at the Imperial War Museum in London visiting the Holocaust exhibition and remembering my own ghostly tour of the Auschwitz barracks.
I wanted to find out more about the innocent people of all nationalities, religions, social and economic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ages, classes who were murdered by the Nazis, not only during World War II but also in the mid-1930s when the Nazis began murdering politicians and journalists in their own country; any Germans who opposed their regime were targeted first. I was particularly interested in books written by survivors of the concentration camps, hoping that I might learn a bit more about the four men in the Kommander’s car. Whatever book I read, or whatever grainy, black and white footage I religiously studied, my thoughts always returned to brave Kazik and his comrades.
Then, at home one day in London, the idea came to me that it would be wonderful to actively search for him, to find out if Kazik was still alive. I wrote to Lawrence Rees who had interviewed Kazik previously for his book, Auschwitz, to find out if he knew of his whereabouts. He didn’t, so I phoned the Polish Embassy and they suggested I call the Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. Excitedly I picked up the phone and spoke to a very attentive and caring woman named Yadwiga, who happily confirmed that Kazik was alive, describing him as a lovely gentleman “full of energy and spirit”. I explained about my song and why I was so interested in talking to Mr Piechowski, and finally I had his telephone number. I would finally hear Kazik’s real voice.
It took me four months to muster up the courage to finally call Kazik in September 2008. Even though he had already openly discussed his imprisonment in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the ‘Uciekinier’ documentary, I was nervous that an unsolicited call might be very distressing for him. I wanted to approach him in the most sensitive manner possible, and tied myself up in knots with worry. What if he didn’t want to talk to me? What if he hated the song? Finally, one Saturday lunchtime, I just decided to go for it. “Hello, is that the house of Mr. Piechowski?” I asked in Polish and a lady, Iga, Kazik’s wife, answered the phone and said, “Yes, just a minute please”. My heart was racing with anticipation and I had to keep reminding myself to keep calm; Kazik would be an elderly man and I might have to speak slowly for him to understand my reasons for disturbing his weekend.“Hello, Kazimierz Piechowski speaking, how can I help you?” – “Hello, my name is Katy Carr, I am calling from England. I heard about your remarkable escape story and I was very inspired to get in touch with you. Yadwiga at the Auschwitz Museum gave me your phone number and I wanted to talk to you about something I have created” – “Good, please explain, I am intrigued” – “I know that it is a very difficult subject to approach but it is a song inspired by your escape from Auschwitz in 1942…”
From there I spoke to Kazik candidly about which part of the escape my song was about, and he listened. Even with my broken Polish he reassured me that he understood everything and that all I had to do was talk. I spoke to him for over an hour about the song, how I had found his story and been inspired by it, and a bit about where I live and what I do. He gave me his address and I felt so elated that I could send him a CD of the recording. It was the first time in my life that I was sending a song I had written to the source of inspiration. What an honour! Some days later, after Kazik had received a copy of ‘Kommander’s Car’, he and Iga wrote me an email in Polish, extending an invitation to visit them in Gdansk:Dear Katy. Thank you very much for your letter and song. You are a very talented girl and clever with such insight. We have heard your voice and the song you have sent us which displays a great drama about the subject in question. We would love to meet you one day in Gdansk. Best wishes Katy. – Kazik and Iga Piechowski
I admit it, I cried. I had invested so much time in imagining who Kazik was and how he felt, but I never imagined that I would actually get to visit him in his home. After this first email I spoke to Kazik a number of times on the telephone before I finally made my trip to Gdansk in August 2009. We discussed my music, Britain, where I live in London, politics, art, theatre… I even sang to him on the phone. It was like I had found a long lost Granddad. It was such a pleasure to share ideas with him as he was so open with his opinions. I felt I had known him all my life and knew that our eventual meeting would be a very special one that I would treasure for the rest of it.
* * *
In tomorrow’s blog, Katy describes the intense first few days of her trip to Mr Piechowski’s home.
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment