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All That Was: Chapter Thirty-Seven - Down To Earth

...we had to move out of his flat. For a short while our only alternative was to stay at a cheap hotel in the vicinity. Especially in Paris, such places are notorious for giving you the blues (le cafard). In these circumstances it was no wonder that my beloved was showing all the signs of rejection and defeat, just as my self-esteem and fighting spirit were on the rise...

Lusia Przybyszewicz and her French boyfriend Marcel, living in Paris after World War Two, realise that many unexpected obstacles have to be overcome before their plans can be realised.

Lusia's wonderful book All That Was can be obtained from her at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

It was time for Marcel to take his leave. We both dreaded the prospect of our temporary separation, but we had to acknowledge that such a moment could be postponed no longer. Most of his friends from home had already been reunited with their families in Bordeaux. Therefore, any further delay on his part would have been perplexing for his parents.

We bowed to the inevitable, agreeing to be patient for the time being, and prepared to put on hold whatever the future might hold in store for us.

Meanwhile, as a 'Deportee Politique’, I became eligible for a special holiday in the country, to be financed by the appropriate charitable organizations in France. My destination was Vesinet, a charming spot by the Seine near Paris. I was to stay at a well established convalescent centre which dates back to the 19th Century.

Amazingly, thanks to my swift relocation to Vesinet, I was spared much of the trauma brought about by Marcel's absence. I remember fondly this first post-war taste of opulence. Our group comprised about fifty victims of the Nazi terror from all over Europe. We were all in our early twenties, ready to be pampered in all possible ways.

As yet, none of the former inmates of the concentration camps made their appearance. The news that shattered the world, following the grim discoveries of the American, English, French and Russian investigators about the horror of their fate, was only just beginning to filter through.

At Vesinet, I met up with those who, like me, had miraculously survived the six merciless years of Nazi rule in Europe. We were now left with the task of putting our devastated lives together again in a foreign land, without any contacts or means of support. A kindred spirit held sway over us as we exchanged our respective experiences, compared ordeals, mused over our past or made plans for the future.

We had been famished for a very long time, and now we practically devoured the copious, delicious samples of the French cuisine. In between meals we enjoyed wonderful walks in the neighbouring Foret Saint-Germain. In the evenings we danced to the tunes of Charles Trenet songs. The songs that were famous at the time were 'La Mer' and 'Au revoir Paris’, both of which I adore to this day.

On the dance floor I met my first highly intelligent, deadly serious, Greek. He told me, in impeccable French, of the atrocities the Germans perpetrated in his home town. To me, they sounded all too familiar.

After the magic spell at Vesinet I returned to the Parisian summer in high spirits, better equipped to cope with what lay ahead.

Two matters had to be tackled without delay. In a way they were interlinked. Firstly, I had to find some other accommodation because Jojo was due to return home within a few days.

Secondly, I urgently needed to find some kind of a job to complement the modest financial help to which I was entitled by my status of 'deportee politique’. The ideal solution, of course, would have been a post that included lodgings.
Back at the flat I was pondering all the available options when, quite unexpectedly, Marcel came back from Bordeaux. He explained simply that he could not bear to stay away from me any longer. To see him back so soon was a Heavenly Intervention!

Naturally, our first separation came to an abrupt end in a sea of emotion. It was only when I had sufficiently recovered from such a wonderful surprise that I became aware of the haggard, strained look in his eyes. As he kept on talking, I could not help but notice how despondent he sounded whenever the subject of his family cropped up. Though I did not press him, the enigma slowly unravelled.

From the start his delayed home-coming did not go down well. The reason he gave to his parents by way of explanation contributed solely to the heightening of tension. I probably became the principle object of their ire. I never fully discussed the matter with Marcel, but secretly I felt relieved that I had been spared an encounter with them.
Furthermore, although I was not quite aware of this at the time, the triumphant return of Charles de Gaulle from exile to head the first post-war government meant that anyone connected with the Vichy regime was instantly tainted, and therefore maligned.

The trial of Petain for treason was afoot. The French who were known to be collaborators with the Nazis were rounded up everywhere. French women who had befriended the enemy during the occupation had their hair forcibly cut off in public squares. Revenge was in the air throughout France.

Because of Bordeaux's war record the revenge must have been at its worst there. I did not give much thought to such matters at the time. Marcel never spoke of it.

Throughout the summer of 1945 I kept in touch with the Polish authorities in Paris. I was well aware that my best chance of securing a job would be through them. The Polish Red Cross was actively supporting any such endeavours on behalf of the Polish survivors who were in exile in France. But there was one major impediment! Poland had two consulates in Paris. One represented the government of the Right, with its headquarters in London, and the other represented the Communist regime, established in Warsaw by the Soviets.

In those early post-war months the Russians were immensely popular, especially amongst the French youth. Their massive contribution to the German defeat won praise from everyone. People fell in love with their army choirs and their folk dancing. The Soviet ideology, somewhat romanticized, became the latest tenet. Without doubt, the French Left was drawing strength from this new phenomenon. This further influenced public opinion in the process.
Before I could even venture to apply for a teaching job within the Polish community, I had to choose one of the two political systems. Marcel suggested that I toss a coin, but in my mind I had already decided to follow the prevailing trend towards the left. The coin confirmed it: Warsaw won!

After I had attended a very abbreviated teaching course at the Consulate, I received a posting for the school year 1945/46 at Nogent-sur-Seine, a township in the vicinity of Troyes.

My task amounted to teaching the Polish peasant children whose parents had emigrated to France before the war. Mostly illiterate, they were steeped in their Catholic traditions and fervent beliefs. The youngsters, who had been attending the local French State school, neglected altogether their Polish heritage.

On the secular side, I was to instruct them in the rudiments of their native tongue. At the same time the parents expected the Consulate appointee to strengthen their offsprings' grasp of Catechism and to teach them the Lord's Prayer, Our Father, in Polish.

At that early stage, the Communists' anti-religious campaign was not yet fully launched, especially not against the long-suffering, backward peasants. To entice them into the fold, the Soviets relied on their seemingly subtle, yet all pervasive, system of indoctrination.

Marcel and I spent the better part of July 1945 together in Paris. I was preparing for my new teaching career at Nogent-sur-Seine. He was still awaiting a posting to a school around Bordeaux. Meanwhile, he had little money, and, unlike me, no support from the authorities. In spite of being a French citizen, he appeared worse off than a Polish-Jewish refugee. The situation was quite odd. Naturally, we shared my special food rations, meal coupons, subsidized access to transport and all the other related benefits.

Because Jojo was due to return any day, we had to move out of his flat. For a short while our only alternative was to stay at a cheap hotel in the vicinity. Especially in Paris, such places are notorious for giving you the blues (le cafard). In these circumstances it was no wonder that my beloved was showing all the signs of rejection and defeat, just as my self-esteem and fighting spirit were on the rise.

I felt distraught at seeing him in such a vulnerable state. Instinctively, I took upon myself the responsibility of making him feel whole again. It was obvious that to counteract his crisis of confidence, he needed lots of love and support.
Consumed by a renewed upsurge of energy, I responded to the call with all my heart. In retrospect, it seems that in my determination to lift Marcel's spirits I unwittingly assumed the role of a motherly counsellor. As we recast a clear goal for our future together, our commitment to each other grew stronger than ever, yet at the same time its balance was imperceptibly changing.

No wonder that we barely left each other's side during our last days in Paris. My impending departure for Nogent-sur-Seine hung over us like a dark cloud. I felt guilty about it, but we both knew that I could not miss such an opportunity.

Our unavoidable second parting was very distressing indeed. We were slowly coming to grips with the painful discovery that even after the Liberation we had to confront new, unexpected hurdles before our envisaged plans for the future could materialize. There was no fixed time frame in place either. Our early separation gave way to gloom, and it made us feel wretched.

We eventually left Paris at the end of July 1945. On the same day Marcel headed for home, and I headed for the country and my new career.


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