Family House in Biezen Polska

I grew up in a fall of communism and start of democracy in a small village of Biezen near Czestochowa, Poland. Like with most people, our family had lost nearly everything during the WWII, when both of my grandparents were sent to labour camps in Silesia and Potsdam near Berlin. Upon their return some six years later, the house was occupied by a number of displaced people and it was only thanks to other locals who returned to Biezen my family was able to reclaim the farm, or rather what was left of it.

The house I grew up in was first occupied by German and later Russian commanders during the WWII. It has marks of shells and bullets still hidden in its walls. When it was cold, sometimes the frost would glitter the walls! One day in the 90s me, my sister, dad and grandma drove to visit the camp where my nana spent 6 years as a POW. It was a huge day for everyone. Despite being quite young, I remember it clearly and felt it was important to witness it.

When I was growing up, I was surrounded by nature, hard physical labour and rather harsh Polish climate, which I loved and hated at the same time. You know what hardship is when you’re close to giving up, but still, the experience somehow makes you stronger. In our working class neighbourhood, in the communism era prior to 1989, nobody had much money to go out and be entertained. Everybody’s social life happened at a house or while working, or on a street outside your home. I learnt to play a piano accordion and together with my childhood friend, we entertained anyone who was willing to listen, children from the neighbourhood, random passersby, listening… Sadly, when my friend turned 18, he died in a car crash. I created an artwork about it 19 years later, it’s called the ‘Balancing Act.

Balancing Act limited edition print Aldona Kmiec red dress pregnant Polish mother Magda Kazmierczak artist
Balancing Act, 2014. Photo: Aldona Kmiec

Life as a child under communism was not a luxury. I vividly remember queuing for hours outside the grocer’s to buy rationed food. The queues sometimes buzzed with lively conversation, or, more often with resignation.

As a child I made a promise to myself to learn foreign languages, leave my neighbourhood and explore the world. It was an absurd dream to have in communist times. The world we grew up in was the world where men played cards, women cooked food and children tuned in to war stories, all veiled in thick cigarettes smoke. I wish I had a camera back then, when hidden behind the bed, my eyes were wide from both fear and excitement of stories being told, stories of war being relived once more.