Thank you for agreeing to answer our questions, Mrs. Kumiega. As I submit these questions to you it is August 1939, and we in America know that tension is mounting in Poland and across Europe as Adolf Hitler threatens one country after another. Do you mind if I use your Christian name? Sophia, I understand that you’re British. Are you planning to return to England before things get worse? Do you believe Germany will invade?
When your questions first came, I still held out hope for Poland. Surely someone would stop Hitler. Surely Germany would come to its senses. But neither has happened. Last week, the German army plowed across Polish borders. I expected any moment that England and France would declare war on Germany and fly to our aid as promised. But that hasn’t happened, and this week bombs began falling in a blitzkrieg on Warsaw. To keep my sanity and to provide a record of these early days of invasion, I’m writing my responses to your questions from a half-exploded room inside the public library where I work, though I don’t know how or when I’ll be able to mail this to you. I can’t imagine a way out of Poland now or how I’d ever get to England, British by birth or not.
Your husband is in the Polish military, is he not? Is he on alert?
Yes, Janek is a pilot. His squadron was deployed months ago in anticipation of German invasion. I know this sounds unpatriotic and disloyal, but the truth is that Polish planes are antiquated compared to Germany’s modern machines of warfare. Our pilots fight valiantly, but what can proverbial bows and arrows do against tanks? There’s already talk of Poland’s retreat and that our military may regroup in Romania to launch a counterattack. I’ve no idea if Janek is alive, how he’ll be able to get word to me, or what will happen next. Sometimes I feel as if my insides will burst through my skin. Before, being a military wife sounded so fine. Now it’s simply terrifying, and I wonder if our child will ever know their father.
Poland is a world apart from England. What do you think of it?
Poland is beautiful—a bounteous, fertile land that excels in music and poetry and great literature. I’ve often teased Janek that it is the “old-world land of flowers and finger kissing.” Fine manners and courtly behavior are still prized here. But now, with the war and our best and bravest gone to fight, I have no idea what will become of this culture. Hitler’s attitude toward Poles is that they don’t count—that they’re inferior to Germans, who, under Mr. Hitler, consider themselves a superior race. What that will mean for Poland I can’t tell, but I do fear—especially for the many Jewish citizens here, knowing what Jewish people have endured at the hands of the Nazis in Germany.
Do you and your husband expect to raise a family in Poland?
I shake my head at how much has changed in these few short weeks and how little we know of the future. When Janek left, I was pregnant. We held such hope. I’ve lost two babies in the few years we’ve been married and desperately hope I will carry this child full-term. We had every expectation of living our lives out in Poland. That has long been our deepest desire.
What will you do if you are unable to leave Poland and return to England?
What would youdo? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude. Like anyone, I’ll do what I must. If we are fully, truly occupied by the Germans for the duration of the war, there will be resistance and rescue work. I’ve already heard it spoken of in hushed whispers between the library stacks—the need for secret rooms, hiding places, ways to stash food and water and develop escape routes for those at risk, and partisans to fight. There will be—there already are—orphans who need taking in, families in desperate straits now that their homes have been blown to bits. We’ve no running water or electricity. I’ll do whatever I can—for as long as I can. I’ll do everything possible to protect my unborn child, but it’s all so uncertain. How can we tell when we’ll be hit by a bomb or a stray piece of shrapnel, or be strafed in the street by a low-flying plane? I want my life to count for something, for someone, for more than myself.
Do you and your husband have family or friends where you live, people you can turn to during this time of national unrest?
It was through Janek’s godfather, Pan Gadomski, that I obtained my position at the library—a real coup for a woman and a foreigner. I know that I can go to him with every concern. He seems to have unusual connections inside and outside Poland—ones I don’t really understand, but have learned to value and respect. My best and dearest friend is Pan Bukowski, an older Jewish man living in our apartment building. My faith tends to waver, especially since the terrible loss of my babies, but Pan Bukowski constantly reminds me that God can make a way when there seems no way forward—just as He did when parting the Red Sea for the Israelites. The sea ahead and the Egyptians behind—what could they do but look up? In my mind I see him shrug and smile, lifting an eyebrow to make certain I’ve taken his meaning to heart. I remember the words of my friend as I face each day.
If things go badly in Poland, what can we in America do for you?
Pray. Pray that God will make a way where there seems no way. For your own good, my friends, carefully observe the reasons we’ve been overcome so that America can avoid the patterns of Germany’s aggression and/or Poland’s coming capitulation. Know that belief in one’s superiority to others fosters a myth, and that anti-Semitism or any form of hatred is vile and a portent of evil to come. Pray that God gives you the courage to take a stand where one is needed before it’s too late. And, please, don’t forget us. Come to our aid.
Thank you, Sophia Kumiega. We look forward to receiving your answers to our questions and pray that the world will come to its senses in time to avert Hitler’s threatened invasion of Poland.
Note to readers: The crumpled paper of this interview was found in the weeks after V-E Day—Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945—amid the rubble of the Warsaw library where Sophia Kumiega had worked until the war in Poland began. We apologize for its delay in publication.
About the Author
Three-time Christy and two-time Carol and INSPY Award–winning and bestselling author Cathy Gohlkewrites novels steeped with inspirational lessons, speaking of world and life events through the lens of history. She champions the battle against oppression, celebrating the freedom found only in Christ. Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traveling to historic sites for research, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their grown children and grandchildren. Visit her website at www.cathygohlke.comand find her on Facebook at CathyGohlkeBooks.
The Medallionby Cathy Gohlke releases in June
ISBN: 978-1-4964-2966-7 | Hardcover: $24.99
ISBN: 978-1-4964-2967-4 | Softcover: $15.99