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Excerpts from "Ashes of Innocence"

Excerpts from "Ashes of Innocence"

Forward ~ page ix

My name is Alexandra. I am an immigrant – at least by some definitions. For as long as I can remember, I have lived in Canada. I do not have ties to the “old country” that many other immigrants have. When I first arrived in Canada, I did not speak or understand the two pre-dominant languages spoken here: English & French. I spoke Ukrainian and so did everyone I knew up to that point in my young life.  It was the language that I was taught to speak and the language of my Ukrainian community, but it had no significance to me.

I did not think of myself as Ukrainian. Nor did I think of myself as Polish which is what my last name would indicate. Tesluk was my mother’s name. She had never told me anything about being Polish, her life in Poland, the Ukraine or even about her time spent in Germany. She told me nothing of my family’s heritage. So, Tesluk was just my name, and I had no solid ideas from where it came.

WWII

Do you remember that famous photo taken on the day World War II ended?  You know the one with the sailor and the nurse in the heart of New York City. They were embraced in a passionate kiss. They were thrilled that the war had ended! It was totally spontaneous, yet timelessly memorable.

Now, try to imagine another couple – one that had been at mortal risk all throughout WWII. Imagine two people that had survived slave labor, concentration camps, starvation, bombing, losing their homes and their countries, and the loss of countless loved ones.  How much passion would these two people display if photographed together? These two people survived the ordeal of the Nazis. They had been abused: dehumanized. They had lived though. This couple managed being brought to camp #36/4 under the care of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Here, they were able to rekindle a sense of hope. Once again, life seemed possible. They recovered their fervor for the future, and they could again envision that life could go on - that good things could grow.

This pair of survivors were my parents ~ my mother, Ola, and “Moja Tato” – my daddy, Andreas. At least that’s how I imagined them to be. I’d like to think that kind of hope is the reason I exist – that I was evidence of life renewed. They were both displaced persons ~  refugees in Camp Lyssenko. The name Lyssenko reflected the camp’s location by Mockernstrasse Street in Hannover, a British sector of north central Germany. It also represented the area’s population, which was mostly Polish-Ukrainians or Ukrainian-Poles, depending on how you wanted to look at it.

Sadly, that passionate, loving, resilient couple was but my imagination.  However, it is to them as well as all others who have suffered abuse in any form, whether it be at the hands of a parent, spouse, or other loved ones that I dedicate this book. It is here that my parents’ story ends and mine begins. Here are the words of my life – the journey of one woman who has triumphed, despite abuse, and has overcome the negative labels associated with being an immigrant.

 

 

Beginnings – page 1

Alexandra, you are the light of my life.  I know we do not live in the best conditions, and I want so much to give you a better life.  I will.  Somehow I will. The war is over and Camp Lyssenko is only our temporary home.   Right now, I take comfort in the fact that you are here with me.  Just caring for you is a joy.  I watched with pride as Father Simeon Jrzyk baptized and confirmed you today, on October 20, 1946 at St. Joseph’s Greek Catholic Church.  You are growing so quickly. How I enjoy taking you for walks through the campgrounds and the play areas.  Our neighbors stop and admire my little girl in the stroller.  I am such a proud father.  I want us to leave this place before you are old enough to remember it.   I want you to know only a good, safe home — anywhere but here, and I will provide that for you.  I have so much to share with you and want to tell you all about my life and about your grandparents too.  There are so many that love you and are waiting anxiously to meet you for the first time.

* * *

Oh, how difficult it is to leave you.  Oh, how I pray to God to keep you safe while I am gone.  I cherish the feel of you as I give you hugs and kisses before I board the train for Bournemouth, England.  I am watching you grow smaller and smaller with your rattle in your tiny hand, as the train moves away down the tracks.  I will not take my eyes from you until they can no longer see you, and you will forever be in my mind and my heart.  I carry your picture with me always.  I will come back to you as soon as I can.  Stay safe my little one.

* * *

Where are you my Alexandra?  Where have you gone?  I came back this morning; ready to take you and our family to a new life and you are not here anymore.  They have told me you left for Canada.  How could Ola do this to me?  How could your mother take you away from me?  I was so excited to see your little face, to hold you in my arms again, and now, all I have is a picture to remind me of what you look like.  You won’t look like that for long and I want to see you grow.

* * *

I have written letters to those that knew Ola, those who knew she went to Canada.  But, I have had no response.  It has been more than two years since you left, and I am mourning my loss of you.  I will never stop mourning.  Oh, Alexandra.  What do you look like now?  You must be beautiful.  Where do you live and who is taking care of you.  I pray every day that you are safe and well cared for.  I also pray that I will see you again, but I do not know if that prayer will be answered.  I just hope you know of me and know that I love you and that I did not abandon you.  I never wanted to be without you.  It was not my choice.  My tears fall every day.

 

A family displaced, a fatherless child, a new life.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

  

A Place to Belong ~ Page 224

Krakow, Poland ~ 2003 and 2005

 

 After much research with the German government, the Red Cross, International Tracing Service and even putting ads in the newspapers in Poland, I found a place that I could belong to, another place to call home. It was during my visit with the beautiful Tesluk families in Krakow, Poland and Paris, France that I willingly lost pieces of my heart.

 

 It was through a letter that I had written to Anna Golis in 2002 – one of my customary search letters looking for information on my father Andreas, that my trip to Poland became a reality. I was reaching out to unknown names, hoping that someone would remember the family in Canada and also my father, who was left behind. I found an address in my mother’s personal papers for a Rosalie, and I decided to photocopy the delicate handwriting and tape it to the envelope in which I had sealed my letter to her. I sent the letter off never thinking I would get a response, yet hoping deep down inside that I would. Too many years had passed and little did I dream there would be a response to my search for my roots. To my surprise, about a month later, I received a letter from Anna, the daughter of Rosalie.

 

Anna wrote that she had been the one who had addressed the envelope for her mother some 23 years ago. My mother and her mother were corresponding. A chill went through me when I read her letter. I had reached out and someone had answered. There were people out there from my mother’s past, and maybe, I would find fragments of my own past.

 

The contact with Anna gave me more determination to look further for my grandmother’s grave in Krakow. I had her death certificate and I went as far as placing an ad in the Krakow newspaper: Looking for Tesluk Family Members. This same ad produced results with a letter from Stanislaw Tesluk, the first cousin that I wrote about earlier in my story. The Polish Embassy wrote to confirm that my grandmother Tekla and Aunt Josefa were indeed buried next to each other in Krakow!

 

I connected with Jadwiga, Josefa’s daughter, and we communicated fervently – each new letter exploding with information on the families. Around this time, I also made contact with Robert and Alain, another first cousin in Paris. I was on top of the world! Although distance separated us at the time, I knew that it would not be long before I would visit them. The family wanted a reunion but it was difficult to get everyone to come together at the same time due to the travel involved from the different countries. However, it wasn’t long before our tickets were purchased and Katherine, my niece and I embarked on a voyage that would bring so much beauty and love into both our lives.