In WWII, a Polish woman pretends she has an out-of-wedlock son in order to save a young boy. Paul Zakrzewski meets the woman who saved his dad.
It was a story I’d been trying to tell for years: the distinct kind of grief you feel for an absent parent. In this case, the parent in question was my father, who died in 2004. My parents divorced back in the mid-1980s, soon after I left for college, and my dad spent the next two and a half decades far away from family, in the Dominican Republic. Despite annual visits, our estrangement deepened, fueled at times by misunderstandings on both sides.
In 2005, the year after his death, I decided to explore different parts of my dad’s life in an effort to better understand the man and his choices. I traveled to Warsaw where I met with Genia Olczak, then in her early 90s. Genia had been my dad’s nanny before World War 2. During the Holocaust, she’d raised him as her own (Catholic) son, born out of wedlock. After the Warsaw ghetto was erected, she also helped to hide several members of my family at one time or another.
Only my dad and an older first cousin would survive.
Meeting Genia was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. In 2008 I returned a second time to Poland, this time with my ex-wife and then 13-month-old son. My reflections on this second trip are the background to “A Wrinkle In Time” — 3-minute video essay—a digital story—that I created with the help of The Center for Digital Storytelling a couple of years ago.