Archive for the ‘Family Tree’ Category

TATERNICTWO: POLISH MOUNTAINEERING BETWEEN THE WARS   Leave a comment

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Last year, Józef Nyka, mountaineer, longtime editor of Taternik, and author of numerous guidebooks for Tatra Mountain enthusiasts, wrote an article about a forgotten figure in Polish mountaineering, my great-uncle Marek Korowicz. It turns out that Marek, whose experiences as a professor of international law and Cold War political refugee I have related here before, was also a keen mountaineer. I wrote to Pan Nyka, over at Głos Seniora and he kindly gave me permission to translate his article about Marek and publish it here, along with photos (hats off to trekking in suits and ties!) from the collection of another well-known custodian of Polish mountain culture, the late Czeslaw Bajer

Thank you, Pan Nyka!

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“This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Dr. Marek Korowicz, prominent political scientist and commentator, but also exemplary organizer and early advocate of mountaineering in Cracow and Silesia. He had no farewell in Taternik [publication of the Polish Mountaineering Union] and his name does not appear in WET [Zofia Radwańska-Paryska’s and Witold Henryk Paryski’s Great Tatra Encyclopedia] or WEGA [The Great Encyclopedia of Mountains and Mountaineering]; so let us save his memory from oblivion in our humble columns.

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Marek Korowicz (right) with Janusz Chmielowski, August 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer

Marek Korowicz (right) with Janusz Chmielowski, August 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer

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He was born on 11th March 1903 and completed his education in law (Doctor of Law). His father was Joachim Kornreich-Korowicz and his elder brother was the well-known professor of economics Henryk, who wrote under both names Kornreich and Korowicz and who was murdered by the Germans in Lwow in 1941. While studying law at the Jagiellonian University, Marek got together with a group of Tatra mountaineers.

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In 1922, Korowicz, John Durr, and John A. Szczepanski decided to create in Cracow a mountaineering organization for students. A draft was prepared by Durr and the future lawyer Korowicz and after some discussion it was submitted to the President of the Academic Sporting Union, prof. Walery Goetel. In October 1923, the Academic Sporting Union established a mountaineering section (ST AZS), in which Korowicz assumed the functions of registrar.

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In October 1924, he was admitted to the Mountaineering Section of the Polish Tatra Society [ST PTT]. He climbed with his Cracow colleagues. Paryski mentions his name eleven times. On the 9th of April, 1924, together with Adam and Marian Sokolowski, he crossed the ridge from Swinicka Pass across both peaks of Swinica and further on to Zawrat. During the climb, Niebieska Turnia had its first winter ascent (the lower Swinica peak had earlier been climbed in winter by, among others, Borys Wigilew). In July 1924, together with Jan K. Dorawski and Stanisław Sluzewski, Korowicz participated in the first crossing of the northern wall of Hruba Turnia and on the 20th of July, 1924, he accompanied Dorawski and Mieczysław Szczuka to the lower part of the eastern wall of Mięguszowiecki Grand Peak (WHP 892) before their famous sixth Variant D. On August 6, 1926, he took part in an attempt by the central route on the northeastern wall of Rumanowy Peak, his fellow-climbers including, among others, Dorawski, Szczuka, and Marian Sokolowski. He also climbed in the Alps.

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Marek began his work in Katowice in the 1930s and immediately became active in promoting local mountaineering, laying the foundations for Silesian alpinism. Already in 1933, we see him on the board of the Upper Silesian branch of the Polish Tatra Society in Katowice and on his initiative, in 1933, the Upper Silesian Mountaineering Section was formed within the Polish Tatra Society with Marek at its helm. Its members aimed to create Katowice’s first Mountaineering Club Federation, which came into being only after the war. Lectures were organized with Korowicz entertaining audiences with accounts of winter ascents in the Tatras and wanderings in the Swiss Alps.

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The Alpine Section was the first mountaineering organization in Silesia and this year the Katowice Mountaineering Club should be celebrating its eightieth anniversary. During the war, Korowicz was active in the resistance, and under the pseudonym ‘K.M. St.’, penned many pamphlets and articles, including his famous essay Poland among the Nations of the World (1942). After the war, he was an active participant in Mountaineering Club conventions. In spring of 1948, he organized a festive evening in honour of the doyen of Polish mountaineering, 70-year-old Janusz Chmielowski. He gave a course of lectures in mountaineering (April 20 – June 2) which introduced 30-40 students to varied topics including topography, philosophy, history and organization, equipment, technical climbing and mountain rescue. In February 1949, at Marek’s initiative, a founders’ meeting took place in Katowice, where attendees called for the establishment of the Upper Silesian Branch of the Polish Tatra Society Mountaineering Section, and on 12th October, 1949, it came into being. Writing in 1952, Franciszek Klosinski mentions Marek as “the founder and first chairman of the Silesian Mountaineering Society’. He continues: “During a period of intense activity of the Society, with theoretical courses in mountaineering, Marek was called to a professorship at Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, and with great regret, resigned his role as chairman on May 17, 1951.” In those years, Korowicz climbed with, among others, Chmielowski i Czeslaw Bajer (in August 1948 with variants on Pościel Jasińskiego). On September 6, 1948 a new route on Przelecz Nowicki was recorded, with Korowicz, Paryski, Dorawski, Danuta and Maciej Mischke, and Tadek Giewontem as guide. Marek’s notes in Taternik are signed ‘MSK’. Czeslaw Bajer recalled Marek as a pleasant companion, physically fit, and a true mountain lover.

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Marek Korowicz (left) with ks. prof. Tadeusz Kruszynski i Janusz Chmielowski in Dolina Stawów Gasienicowych, 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer.

Marek Korowicz (left) with ks. prof. Tadeusz Kruszynski i Janusz Chmielowski in Dolina Stawów Gasienicowych, 1949. Photo Czeslaw Bajer.

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As an academic, before the war, Korowicz worked on the issue of nationalities in Poland, and in 1938, published Upper Silesia and the Protection of Minorities, 1922-1937. After the war, Korowicz was appointed professor of Socio-Economic Sciences in Katowice. He later became a professor of International Law at Lublin University and subsequently, a lecturer at the Jagiellonian University. He published several major works, including Czechoslovakia Yesterday and Today (1948) and The Sovereignty of Members of the United Nations Organization (1949). The National Library catalogue includes 40 of his publications, mostly devoted to Silesian affairs, as well as works dealing with Slovakia and Czechoslovakia.

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In 1953, he left for New York as part of a Polish People’s Republic diplomatic delegation, whereupon he appealed for political asylum. In the US he was very politically active against Communism, a regular speaker on Radio Free Europe, and had constant FBI protection, for fear of assassination attempts by the security services of the PPR and USSR. In 1955, his book Poland Under the Soviet Yoke was reprinted in various translations, and in 1959 his still current Introduction to International Law was published. He died in exile in 1964, aged sixty-one. News of his death did not reach Poland and Boleslaw Chwascinski in the second edition of his book (1988) assumes him to be still living. Thus a figure of genuine merit in mountain matters fell into oblivion.”

DRAŻA THE SERBIAN CHETNIK IN THE POLISH UNDERGROUND   3 comments

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What follows is the story of Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović, a figure known little outside Poland and Yugoslavia. A Serbian Captain who made a vital contribution to the efforts of the Polish Home Army in South-Eastern Poland during World War II. There is surprisingly little material available. It was certainly in the interests of the Communist Polish authorities and the Soviet Union to write him out of the history books of the Second World War.  And Tito, whom he met when both were guerilla fighters (and political opponents), would tar all chetniks with the collaborationist brush. There is a cinematic wholesomeness to his character, in the recollections of his friends and soldiers, so much so that I am still searching for Ukrainian, Yugoslav, or Soviet sources which might describe him as an enemy. The information here comes from Polish sources, including Jerzy Węgierski’s histories of Home Army operations in Lwów and Rzeszów, from Draża’s own memoir Europe for Sale (L’Europe aux enchères. Paris. 1952), written in French immediately after the war, as well as the recollections of my father, who fought under his command in the 14th regiment of Jazłowiecki Lancers.

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Draza 5

Dragan Mihajlo Sotirović (1912-1987)

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From 1941, “Draża”, as he was known, fought as a chetnik in the Yugoslav Army, in the Ravna Gora Movement, where he served as the adjutant of General Dragoluba Mihalović, the royalist general and staunch enemy of Yugoslavia’s future leader, Joseph Broz Tito. He was captured by the Germans and transferred to a prison in Rawa Ruska, on formerly Polish territory. But his captors would underestimate his love of freedom. Draża was to make of escape a professional art. He escaped once from the Germans, three times from the Soviets, and avoided arrest countless times. Everyone seemed to have had a bounty out on his head at one time or another – Germans, Soviets, and the Ukrainain Insurrectionary Army.

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POSTCARD FROM A WAR 1915   Leave a comment


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Postcard from ‘the war to end all wars’.

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A large plastic photo frame filled with a mosaic of weather-beaten images on the shelf in my father’s bedroom contained the memories of his life. That was where my search began, the journey which would lead us to Poland and beyond. They are like relics to me. There is an unnerving mystery behind them, as though history stole these people from us and left the images in their place. There are black and white photos of Wojtek’s mother and father. And, of course, my mother, his wife. Wojtek is the last living link between these long-dead people and me.

There is one image of my grandfather, Henryk, which stood out in my mind from the time I was a child. It shows him as a young man in his officer’s uniform and was taken during the First World War. The image is mounted on a postcard. In those distant days, people would often visit the photographic studio, wherever it was that circumstances had compelled them to endure separation from their loved ones, and have a living image of themselves taken and mounted on post office cardboard. Kind words were inscribed along with the addressee’s information and within a few days, by the grace and wonder of the technology of those times, the self-same addressee would delight in the warm radiance of their distant loved ones gazing out at them.

He cuts a smart figure in his officer’s uniform. It is well-tailored, with six shining buttons, two stars on the collar, and a pill-box hat with his regimental badge. Dignified. Debonair even. Later, he would come to resemble Hercule Poirot, with a sort of studious decorum and elegant awkwardness. But here he is young. He was just twenty seven years old when the photograph was taken. The verdant background – a hospital garden – serves to soften the reality that mass carnage is taking place in the world around him. A single medal decorates his chest, attained either through some sterling act of bravery, or, by simple virtue of the fact that he was still standing when the battle declined. This was the First World War after all; when the battlelines marched out on a conveyor belt of attrition. Henryk was born a Pole (a Jewish Pole) at a time when Poland had all but ceased to exist, so he fought under the colours of an Empire, the Empire of Austro-Hungary, a strange unwieldy sounding entity to twenty-first century ears. One of those old worlds, which sit in history books and are, in name at least, no more. Entente Cordiale, Tripartite Agreement, Little Entente –  political expediencies of a now ancient Europe, which heralded peace and protection through amalgamation and somehow are no more. No more because the peace and protection they afforded some were at the expense of others.

Henryk rests his right hand on a cane to support his injured leg while his left hand is tucked dandily into his hip jutting his elbow out in a pose that seems to defy the sombreness of the moment. He is young and handsome and looks unwilling to yield to the fatalism of the clouds that have gathered in spades over Europe. Clouds that will soon blemish Vienna and Westphalia, and Waterloo. Clouds that will create benchmarks of suffering and disappointments for future generations under simple Frankish and Slavic names – Verdun, Somme, Ypres, and Brusilov. Clouds that will eventually reach their breaking point in an apocalyptic precipitation that will curse city and village, forest and vale, from north to south, and east to west, to the camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Maidanek, Treblinka, Czenstochau, Bełżec, and Sobibor.  Henryk’s records in the archives of the Austro-Hungarian Army offer a cursory outline of his personality, distilled into categories which highlight his usefulness in purely military matters. They record him as an ensign in the Imperial and Royal Siege Artillery Regiment Baron de Beschi No. 2. He is described as ‘very useful in company duties, dedicated to duty.’ There is a description of his deployment on duty (‘obedient to superiors and polite, demanding discipline from subordinates’) as well as his deployment off duty (‘very tactful, courteous’). His private circumstances are recorded as: ‘Single. Personal finances orderly.’

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‘A kiss and good wishes to all! -Henryk’

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According to the postmark on the back of the postcard, it is the ninth day of August 1915 and Henryk is recuperating in a hospital for officers in Bistra, Silesia. He writes in the elegant hand of that time when so much was written by hand. The original addressee of this military portrait is given his titles in German, Herren Wohlgeboren Joachim Kornreich. The double honorific hints at the politeness of the age and the standing of the addressee: Mister Well-Born Joachim Kornreich.[1] The main message appears in Polish: A kiss and good wishes to all. Henryk. It seems surprisingly cheery for a postcard not simply from a war, but from a war which was christened ‘Great’ and bore H.G. Wells’ unfortunately inadequate sobriquet ‘the war to end all wars.’  This Joachim was then living at the centre of the Empire, in Vienna. He is Henryk’s father, and so my great-grandfather. Their surnames differ, father’s and son’s, out of no family dispute. Our family were in fact the Kornreich-Korowicz’s, a double-barrelled conjunct of good Austrian and Polish surnames. A sign perhaps of my progenitors’ life under Austrian rule and in particular in eastern-most Galicia, an Austrian-administered territory whose capital Lwów held a majority Polish population. The names were used interchangeably, with a preference for using each in its respective milieu, the Polish name in Polish circumstances, the Austrian when dealing with more international issues. This was certainly true before 1918 when Henryk, who was to become a successful economist, began to publish books and papers on monetary issues affecting the global economy and the Austrian Empire under the name Kornreich. After Polish independence, when the best of his career was achieved, the name Korowicz dominated but he was known professionally in Kraków and Lwów both before and after Polish independence as Dr. Korowicz.[2] This was not remarkably strange in those times, in those circumstances, in a multi-ethnic Empire, before the clash of nationalisms and ideologues. The use of multiple names also hints at another more sinister aspect of Europe one hundred years ago. It was not uncommon among minority groups and especially the Jews to adopt a name of the land where they lived. This was both a salute towards integration, and a form of protection against the pogroms which had become a disturbingly repetitive feature of the Jews’ European migrations. The Polish King Casimir III had famously bucked a trend once and invited Jewish immigration in the 14th century but these were different times. This was the age of the scapegoat, the birth of populism and people power, when political shifts demanded the unmasking of a hidden enemy. Anti-Semitism would soon find a warm niche in the new Polish Republic, which had been starved of nationhood for so long: while to the east and the west of Poland, the Jews would fare far worse.

The changing game of Europe’s Empires and dominions was about to lead to a bloody re-christening of the past in the years that were to follow Henryk’s Great War. In a brutal atmosphere of blind nationalism and radical social experimentation, names became badges of honour and marks of shame. Names would lose the nuances that described the communities they had lived in, the neighbourhood recognition of interconnections, local histories, friendships, and loves lost and gained. A time would come when your name would denote only your national allegiance, your ethnicity, and your social class- three elements which marked your cards before your interview with destiny, when the knock on your door might be the last time you opened the door. Many names disappeared forever. On a wisp of wind, like grains of dust. Some names remain only on gravestones, on brass plaques, on stone monuments, in history books, or on the lips of the old.

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[1] Wohlgeboren (‘Well-Born’) was a honorific title, used by lower noble ranks and civic notables.

[2] Henryk’s publications, written for the specialist and the student, in both Polish and German, include the following titles: “Gold Currency in Light of War” (1918); “Proprietor and Peasant in Poland and particularly in Galicia”; “Studies on the Depreciation of Currency and Other Economical Questions”;  “An Outline of Commercial Politics” (1930); “Politics of Trade” (1931).

CITY OF LIONS   3 comments


This is the story of a city and a man who was a citizen of that city. It is a city which history seldom forgot to visit when wars ignited and washed over Europe. The citizen is my father and the city is Lwów. Others know it by other names. Today it is Львів, in Western Ukraine. Once it was Lemberg, when Austro-Hungary reigned and later when Nazi Germany invaded. Russians who occupied it in both World Wars call it Львов. Jews, who once thrived and were annihilated here, called it לעמבעריק. In medieval times, it was known as Leopolis. The city was founded by the Ruthenian King Danylo in the 13th Century and was named for his son Lev. Lev means ‘lion’, and a fashion developed to place lions in all symbolic representations of the city, its crest, civic seals, and on the facades of administrative buildings. I knew the city of Lwów firstly as the place my father fled from, and only later began to put the pieces of the shattered jigsaw of his life back together. City of Lions has its origins in my childhood pestering. I had many questions for my father, accumulated over the years and stemming from my own mixed identity as his son – the son of a refugee, who after more than half a century living in Ireland still spoke with a Polish accent. I remember the stories he told me as a child: they carried an air of both fairy tale and nightmare. They described a lost world; and those vibrant descriptions and foreign names wove a spell which was irresistible. My childish imagination was often populated with wild bears, campanulas, and gun battles in the Carpathian Mountains. And if I did not comprehend the historical significance of such events, I understood that the land he came from, whence he brought all his stories, could never exist again. That added a fearful excitement to them.

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Before the world came crashing down. My father with his parents on holiday. Norway 1938

Before the world came crashing down. My father Wojtek with his parents on holiday. Norway 1938

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As I got older I began to appreciate the journey he had taken, and reflect on how it might have left certain historical or psychological traces within me. He was the last of his line. He had nobody left in that lost land of his. But he seemed to carry the archives of those memories with him in his personality. He rarely brought up the topic of Poland himself in conversation but when you asked him something about it, his eyes would light up and he revealed a treasure trove of characters and events. On a good day, he would describe his early life in the grand old city of his birth, relate the dark days of occupation by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, describe how he joined the underground resistance, tell you about the girl he loved and lost, and round it off with some ancient poem or a rousing song in the dialect of his home. And once he was warmed up, the stories began to flow. The detail and the intimacy he offered made you feel as though he had taken his home with him when he left and was now not describing it but showing it to you. If later I loved my father’s stories because we were so similar, in the beginning I loved them because we were so different. For a start, he is Polish, a refugee whom time and fate forced west: and I am Irish born and bred, as Irish as any other, if I didn’t have my father’s name. We come from different worlds. In school, I was taught, among other things, about the Irish rebellion, how English tyranny was overcome by the sacrifice of her Fenian martyrs, from the safety of my desk and chair. My father’s youth, on the other hand, was marked by war and invasions, true horror and strife. I remember Ireland’s Troubles like her winter weather, a constant grim rat-tat-tat on the window pane of my childhood. My father’s teenage years were spent in combat, in urban warfare or guerrilla operations high in the mountains, fighting not only Nazis and Soviets, but other factions our history books forgot to mention.

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Several years ago, I decided to find out what had happened to my father and his family. It was not that he did not wish to speak of his past, but that he had had no-one to tell it to. Ireland, his adopted land, had given him sanctuary from the war and its aftermath, but also deprived him of the company of those who shared his fate. He arrived in Ireland on an autumn day in 1948, on a scholarship to study medicine at University College Dublin. Barely a quarter century a ‘Free State,’ Ireland was still peeling back the layers of her often tempestuous relationship with Britain, in an attempt to free herself from shackles which were as much psychological as political. Three months after he arrived, Ireland became officially a Republic. Ireland was as far as my father could hope to get from the war-ravaged mainland of Europe. Here, he was greeted warmly, as an exotic visitor, in a land whose insular homogeneity, while creating its own internecine strife, had meant it had remained largely untouched by the war. This was a land neither for tourists nor refugees. Even a quarter of a century later, long before the Celtic Tiger, European integration, and labour migration, I would be known as the Polish boy. In school, I would sit next to the Italian boy, in a sea of Irish surnames, and wonder why exactly I was different.

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That larger question of identity, and historical curiosity, would spur me towards understanding more about the world beyond my name, or any name for that matter. I read the histories, memoirs, and polemics. I followed the Cold War and the political residues of the Second World War with the knowledge that somewhere, at the back of all the threads of these so called great events, I would somehow find my father and a world which perhaps had left faint traces in me. As though above and beyond history, I would locate his own story. In school, we learned by rote the themes of the Second World War like a political liturgy, absorbed the lessons to our age of the threats of unchecked democracy and one-party states. I knew the names of dead heroes and the ageing villains who even now come to the surface to strike a solemn warning that justice is endless and always incomplete. But my own search was always something personal and pragmatic; it had to do with chasing knowledge, with filling in the gaps, restoring a sense of family where there had been only shadows.

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When I was a child the story came to me. My father’s old world threw up surprises, which were also challenges and puzzles to my young mind. When I was five years old, I and a handful of other Polish refugees and exiles who had made Ireland their home, were granted a special audience with Pope John Paul II, on an official visit to Ireland in 1979. This was both the politics of the age and was also somehow connected with the battles my own father had fought long before. Once every few years we would receive a letter or even a visit from my father’s few surviving relatives. None of them lived in Poland then of course. They came from America, Austria, and Israel, brought old photographs, and embraced us with what I now realize was the wonder of rediscovering family, a precious commodity in their world. As I grew up, I realized that, one day, this generation, neither these international relations of mine, nor my father, would be here to tell their story. It wasn’t the momentous events I wanted; those I could read in history books. It was the simple, the day-to-day, the personalities, the human setting – the things that I could not read in books. I wanted firstly to add faces to history, to see the big beside the small. Then I would measure our History (upper-case ‘H’, of text books and political rhetoric) against my (humble, human, lower-case)  history, and discern the irony and the tragedy that lie between.

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I studied Slavic languages at university and went to see the world. I found myself attracted unconsciously to the places where refugees conglomerated, and only later consciously found in their movements an answer to my own. East Timor, Dharamsala, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. I eventually found a home of sorts in former Soviet Central Asia, the place Stalin had once sent the exiles of his empire, from throughout the territory of the Soviet Union, from the Caucasus, the Crimea, the Far East, and Europe. It was there too that I met ethnic Poles whose parents and grandparents had been forcibly relocated during the Second World War. I remembered my father once telling me we had some cousins who were among them. I had the thought one day, that in the bazaar in Samarkand, or on the streets of Almaty, I might pass my own bloodline and never know about it. That thought alone brought me home. I told my father we should go to Lwów, to the city he grew up in, and he should tell me about the family I had never known, and the circumstances which had all but destroyed them. Before he had joined them.

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The Empire before Nationalism.  Austro-Hungary: an ethnographic map 1911

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City of Lions is a series of conversations, descriptions, questions and answers, historical puzzles with human solutions.  Sometimes I added to the story, if I discovered what happened to an old acquaintance, an old enemy, or found a distant relative my father had thought long dead. After I had taken him back to Lwów in 2005, when I had pulled all the threads of this family saga together, interspersed with photographs and with a picture of my father on the cover, I proudly presented it to him one day, not long before his death. I told him: “This is the story of your life, Wojtek. I put all our conversations together, and bound them in a book!” He put his glasses on, leafed through the pages, and smiled. Then he handed it back to me.

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“Don’t you want to read it?” I asked.

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“Oh,” he laughed, “I lived it. Once was enough!

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