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In One Suitcase – Instead of the church

Fragments of an interview with Countess Anna Wodzicka, Princess Sapieżanka of the Sapieha family of Grodno, and one of the characters in Beata Golembiowska’s book “In one suitcase” about the life of Polish aristocrats who emigrated to Canada.

In 1944, a few days after escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp, my father, Prince Eustachy Sapieha, was caught by a German division and led in an unknown direction. Fearing for his life, he promised God that if he survived he would build a church near his hometown of Grodno.

~3.Trzech braci Sapiehów

Sapieha brothers. From left: Eustachy, Lew and Jan

Only many years after the war, in distant Kenya, he decided to keep his promise, but as he had no money, he built a wayside shrine with his bare hands. It is where I got married to Franek Wodzicki.

My grandfather, Prince Eustachy Jan Sapieha, got to Lubyanka in 1939 where, facing a death sentence, he was imprisoned for a year. Luckily, General Anders saved my grandfather and assigned him to be a Red Cross Co-ordinator within Polish camps in East Africa.

~~1. Dwór Sapiehów w Spuszy - okres międzywojenny

The Sapieha family’s mansion in Spusza – the interwar years

My parents were married in Paris in 1945 and settled down in Belgium. Grandfather was still living in Kenya and kept encouraging my parents with his enthusiastic letters to move there. After some hesitation, they finally decided to leave Europe for ever.

It was easier for my father as Spusza – the family estate – was lost in 1939, and after “the liberation”, it remained on the Russian side. It was much more difficult for my mother, Antonina Siemieńska. She truly loved her hometown Krzepin, and even more she loved Poland. She was a member of the Home Army (AK) and she took part in the Warsaw Uprising. After the failure of the uprising, she did not listen to the German order to surrender, but instead she joined the underground army with whom she fought until the Red Army stepped in, and her name was moved from the German arrest warrant to the Soviet one.

6.Wnętrze kapliczki w Nairobi

Inside of a chapel in Nairobi

My mother never told us about the Warsaw Uprising, neither did she want to write a diary. The only thing I know is that she watched her fiancé being shot, and that she lost two of her best friends during the Uprising. She named her two daughters after these friends, myself Anna, and my sister, Maryjka.

I became engaged to Franek Wodzicki at the Niagara Falls, and we were married in Kenya. He was a great husband and father. The whole family suffered a great loss after his early death. Three weeks later my mother passed away. Only after her death, from the book written by my father, “This is how it was – non-democratic memories of Eustachy Sapieha”, I learned some details about her past.

Going to war, my father managed to take with him only one silver knife for slicing fruit. When in 1999 he visited his homeland, an old man he met told him about Sapieha’s family estate in these words: “Spusza is lost, the bridge is destroyed, and the palace and manor were robbed and burned down.”

My uncle Jaś, my mother’s brother, who also lived in Kenya, went to Poland at the time of Gierek, when landowners were allowed to visit their homeland. When he got to Krzepin, owned by Siemieński’s family for more than 300 years, all he saw were the ruins of the house. Then an old lady came to him, and she greeted him crying.

8. Para mloda Antonina z Siemieńskich i Eustachy Sapieha

Wedding photo of Eustachy Sapieha and Antonina Siemieńska – Paris 1945

She used to work at the manor as a housekeeper and she was curious to learn about the fortunes of the family. She took him to her house and fetched out a box from underneath her bed, saying, “I knew you would come back, I took it from the manor when it was being robbed.” For more than twenty years, hidden underneath the countrywoman’s bed, awaiting the opportunity to return to its owners’ hands, there was a stunning set of Limoges “Vieux Paris” porcelain, as well as some silver, new tablecloths and armorial serviettes made from Irish linen. My mother was overwhelmed with joy when some of these treasures arrived at our home. Up till now, the only souvenir we had was a knitted jumper with its sleeves cut off by a Russian soldier, who had used them as stockings.

The ashes of both of my parents are in Poland: my father’s in Bialystok Region, Boćki, in
a tiny, eighteenth-century church, one of many funded by the Sapieha family.

Beata Gołembiowska