Letter from Warsaw

Catherine Lucy Czerkawska

My dear friends, I have been thinking about you and wondering if you were worried about us. What can I tell you? It isn’t good, but it’s better than it was, politically. Economically it is bad, but it was bad before. Now at least we know all about it.

You must have heard and read more about Poland recently than at any time during the last thirty years, though I doubt if you can fully realise what is going on here. For the last half year we have lived with enormous uncertainty. We are all engaged with the new Trade Union, ‘Solidarity’. It keeps us very busy; I never suspected that meetings lasting many hours could be so interesting; that the time could pass so quickly.

You know, although I am a Polish woman, I have never concerned myself much with the majority of my compatriots. I already knew that we were brave. Now, I am convinced that we are a splendid nation. People are being kind to each other, disciplined and sensible. They seem to be putting the interest of the country, the region and even the factory first. We were not so kind to each other before. We did not care. But still, deep inside us there lurked some germ, some fossil of our old selves, and it made us at once a cynical and a romantic people.

It was as if our true selves had been imprisoned for many years. Trapped, like those delicate little fossils inside the chunks of yellow amber I work with sometimes.

You know that as a silversmith I have been living and working in Warsaw for some time now. I am, I suppose, known in my field, good at my work. I have even had one or two official commissions, and that, for someone who has resisted all invitations to party membership, is indeed an achievement. Oh, the invitations have come – once when I was working for Stokowski the jeweller: ‘Be realistic Lilia,’ he said. ‘You must be realistic about these things. It will bring you twice as much work, twice as many commissions.’ Well, I refused. And once, much later, there was a second invitation from the official who commissioned a silver water-set as a gift for some visiting Western dignitary. ‘Why don’t you join us?’ he said. ‘Join the Party.’ One cannot join, you know, except by invitation. He was a handsome man with hard, knowing eyes. I expect he was a realist too. ‘You will get much more work,’ he said.

‘But I have enough work,’ I told him and I remember he made a scornful little sound, pursing his lips together, frowning. ‘Real work,’ he said. ‘Real money. You could be well off with your talent. You should use it.’ But I shook my head politely and nothing came of these offers or my refusals. Nothing good, but nothing bad either, which was a mercy. My father died in the East. In the war. I had no real temptation to join the Party.

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