Monika was born to a Jewish family in Poland just before war broke out in 1939. Her father,owner of a hosiery factory, was eminent enough to have the privilege of being arrested and shot within a month of the German invasion. Her mother, following a rumour that he had been moved to Warsaw, set off to look for him. And so began months in the Warsaw ghetto and Monika’s first memories.
Her mother bought false identity papers, identifying her as Christian and they escaped to the Aryan Side. Her mother became Ciocia Krysia ( Aunt Christine), Monika became Marysia (Mary) and the surname of Rozenfeld mutated into Szczepanska.
Then there was also Ciocia Pola, the young Christian Polish woman who had worked for the family before the war and now risked her life to help save the child. When she could Pola took Monika out of Warsaw. She took a job on a farm and passed off Marysia as her own little mistake. Now Monika became Marysia Binkowska. When the questioning of the paternity of this brown haired, brown eyed little girl became too pointed, Pola took her back to Ciocia Krysia in Warsaw. The shuttle happened quite often.
The memories of those years went beyond the memories of sunny childhood. Fear was her normality. She saw Warsaw burning, her playmate shot as they walked hand in hand, rats and jackboots and bombs. She had grown with hunger and cold and no crying ever.
The war came to an end. Monika’s father had a beautiful sister who had married a French war hero, now a diplomat in South America, and he procured the tickets and the permissions from the Communist authorities to let them leave Poland and start a new life in Chile. Ciocia Krysia broke the news that she was not really Ciocia Krysia but Mummy and that Ciocia Pola was no relative at all but a servant girl who had been paid a lot of money for the risks she took. Pola did not quite see it this way and did all she could to stop them leaving, including trying to wrest Monika away from her mother at the railway station, as they were boarding the train.Marysia never saw Pola again and for many years felt that the wrong Ciocia had won the tug of war.
Waiting in London for a passage to this terrifying destination, Monika’s mother was introduced to a widower who had been stranded in London at the outbreak of the war. Within a few weeks she had married him and he who became Monika Wandstein. Monika, with no English and no manners, was packed off to an unsuspecting boarding school which knew nothing of jackboots and men with glassy eyes and black uniforms.
By this time Monika had been told that she was Jewish. Since Pola had told her that Jewish children did not go to heaven, this was not welcome news. She was also told that on no account was she to divulge this dangerous information at school because her mother was yet to be convinced that ‘they’ weren’t coming back. Life was not easy and Monika was on her own among odd people preoccupied with gymkhanas and the courtesy of sharing food! Her survival equipment was of a different order.
After four years, limned to a passable imitation of a good English girl, Monika was accepted at an excellent London day school. She was determined to be like the other girls, to worry what they were worried about, namely clothes, Latin homework, tennis and holidays.
So the years passed. She took a degree in English, married and acquired her fourth surname, Monika Sears. She had three sons and forged important friendships which helped fill the void left by a family almost entirely wiped out; what was left was scattered round the world. With one of these very close friends, she ran an antiquarian book shop. Her marriage collapsed. She remarried and that safe haven disappeared all too soon when leukaemia struck.
The sons left home and one by one they married. The eldest, Paul, settled in Italy with his Italian wife and when their first son was born Monika decided to go back to her childhood about which she had kept silent all her life, and to write him a letter, which became FROM MY WAR TO YOUR PEACE, A Letter to My Grandson.
She has now been happily married to a zany Frenchman for over twenty years and they now live half the year, the warm half in, yes, Chile. She finally reached the destination after fifty years.
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