Alan Crosby: My family's wartime Christmas

By Guest, 17 December 2015 - 2:41pm

This Christmas, Alan will be remembering the plight of his ancestors, who were imprisoned in Nazi-occupied Warsaw in December 1944

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 17 December 2015
Alan Crosby
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Warsaw residents inspect damage to the city in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War

Warsaw residents inspect damage to the city in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Christmas approaches. Each year since 2002 I have given a ‘Christmas Event’ at our local adult education college, a presentation in which I do readings about Christmas and winter subjects – poetry, prose, memoirs and reminiscences, diaries and journals.

There’s such a wealth of material about Christmas itself, and many poets and writers have loved to describe wintertime and its special magic (as well as the cold and the dark). This is the last such event – the college is closing on 31 December because of brutal local authority spending cuts.

One reading I’ve chosen several times is the last part of Władysław Szpilman’s autobiographical masterpiece, The Pianist, which recounts how he, a Jew, miraculously survived the Holocaust and the destruction of Warsaw by the Germans.

The book (which was made into a brilliant film by Roman Polanski in 2002) describes the bitter winter of 1944-45, as Szpilman desperately struggled to stay alive in the devastated and deserted city.

For me it has a special family resonance, because my English great aunt, her half-Polish son, her daughter-in-law, and their small baby, were incarcerated in a German transit camp on the edge of Warsaw during that same terrible winter. They were among the hundreds of thousands of citizens driven out of the city by the Germans during the Warsaw Rising.

How they survived, I do not know. It was an unimaginable nightmare and Christmas 1944 must have been, for all the wrong reasons, the most memorable of their lives… except perhaps Christmas 1945, when they could look back and celebrate the amazing reality that they were all still alive.
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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