Friday, August 19, 2016

"The Rainy Bread: Poems from Exile" ... of Poles Deported to Siberia and Displaced by War

by Maja Trochimczyk. Moonrise Press, August 2016

ISBN 9781945938009, paperback, 64 pages, $10.00
ISBN 9781945938016eBook, $10.00

Moonrise Press announces the publication of “The Rainy Bread: Poems of Exile” by Maja Trochimczyk. This volume includes 30 poems about forgotten stories of Poles living in the Eastern Borderlands of Kresy, who were killed, deported, imprisoned, or oppressed after the invasion of Poland by the Soviet Union on September 17, 1939.  Some of these brief portraits capture the trauma and resilience, ordeals and miraculous survival stories of the author’s immediate family. Her maternal family comes from Baranowicze and the surrounding area near Adam Mickiewicz’s Nowogródek and the mythical lake of Świteź in what is now Belarus. Their experiences of displacement, hunger, cold, and poverty during the war are typical of Polish civilians. 

These fictionalized memories are coupled with depictions of survival of other Poles deported to Siberia, the Arctic Circle, or Kazakhstan; who left the Soviet Union with the Second Corps of the Polish Army under General Władysław Anders; were transported to refugee camps in India or Africa; and ended up in Argentina, Canada, Australia or the U.S. The book is a companion to “Slicing the Bread: Children’s Survival Manual in 25 Poems” (Finishing Line Press, 2014), with which it shares some poems, including vignettes from the author’s childhood in Warsaw, permeated by the strange rhetoric of the Polish People’s Republic, yet still overshadowed by the war.


Unwavering in its honesty, The Rainy Bread is a thought-provoking look at a brutal chapter in history: the Soviet occupation of Poland during World War II and the deportations and repressions that took place in the country's Easter Borderlands, known as Kresy. Trochimczyk gives a public face to this history but also reveals the private heart of a family that endures despite horrific loss.  With simple language and stark imagery, these poems create a powerful testimony and bear witness to the hate that destroys, to the truth that restores, and to the poetic vision that honors our common humanity.

Linda Nemec Foster, author of Amber Necklace from Gdańsk (LSU Press), 
winner of the Creative Arts Award from the Polish American Historical Association

Maja Trochimczyk’s poems draw you into a bestial, almost inconceivable history.  Using objects—bread, potatoes, trapdoors, high heels—she guides you through an experience with the madness of World War II and its aftermath when a dictator is judged worse or better by how many fewer millions he has slaughtered. This book needed to be written.  This is a fascinating, tragic, and instructive time in history which should not me neglected. Trochimczyk doesn’t lecture; you are riveted by the power of her poems; their narratives flow from her hands as if a Babcia were still guiding them. And maybe she was. You will remember the taste of this book.

Sharon Chmielarz, author of Love from the Yellowstone Trail


1.             What to Carry ≡ 2
2.             Starlight ≡ 3
3.             Charlie, Who Did  Not Cross ≡ 4
4.             Five Countries in Venice ≡ 6
5.             Eyes on the Road ≡ 8
6.             The Baton ≡ 9
7.             Diamonds ≡ 10


             The Odds ≡ 12
              Wołyń ≡ 13
1            Kołyma ≡ 15
              Amu Darya ≡ 16
1            Shambhala ≡ 18
1            Reflection ≡ 20
          A Piece of Good Advice to Stuff in the Hole  in the Wall ≡ 21
             A Pilot in Pakistan ≡ 22
 .           Under African Sky ≡ 23


            Kasha ≡ 26
           The Trap Door ≡ 27
            Slicing the Bread ≡ 29
             Peeling the Potatoes ≡ 30


2        Of Trains and Tea ≡ 34
          Once Upon a Time in Baranowicze ≡ 35
                    Ciocia Tonia ≡ 37
          Asters ≡ 39
          No Chicken ≡ 41
          The Coat ≡ 43
          Short Legs ≡ 44
                    Standing Guard ≡ 46
          Losing Irena ≡ 47
          Language ≡ 48


  • My previous book of war-themed poems, Slicing the Bread (Finishing Line Press, 2014) was prefaced with a rhetorical question: “If I were born in Warsaw, a city that lost 700,000 of its inhabitants, shouldn’t I at least try to remember some of them? The 450,000 Jews and 250,000 non-Jewish Poles died before October 1944, when everyone left in Warsaw after the Uprising was expelled to deportee or labor camps, while the buildings of an empty city were dynamited into a sea of ruins.”  Then, the Soviets came…

  • This chapbook, written for the Kresy-Siberia Conference in Warsaw in September 2016, takes the story further east and around the world as it traces the displacement of deportees, their ordeals and miraculous survival stories. After the war, my parents, Aleksy Trochimczyk (25 September 1927 – 11 May 2001) and Henryka Teresa Trochimczyk, née Wajszczuk (16 December 1929 – 4 July 2013) came from provincial villages and towns in the Easter Borderlands, or Kresy, to study engineering at the Polytechnical University of Warsaw. They met while picking bricks off the ruined streets of Warsaw (“The Coat”). My father’s family was Belarussian, with roots in the Ukraine and beyond; during the war, they were hungry and impoverished, but  stayed on the family farm in Bielewicze, now in Poland. 

  • My mother’s family of Polish gentry and city folk living in Baranowicze and the surrounding area near Adam Mickiewicz’s Nowogródek and the mythical lake of Świteź in what is now Belarus, was particularly affected by the deportations: the families Wajszczuk, Wasiuk, Ignatowicz, Gliński, Hordziejewski…Six poems are based on the memories of grandmothers and great aunts, my mother and father. “Slicing the Bread” documents my Mom’s obsession with saving and hoarding food, due to the years of war-time hunger. “The Trap Door” commemorates my Dad’s family survival in an isolated hamlet of Bielewicze near Gródek Białostocki. It was so close to the forest, it was constantly scoured for food by the “partisans” – but also fed the Germans, and the Soviets when they came. I admired the courage and resilience of my Belorussian Babcia, Nina Trochimczyk, née Niegierysz. 

  • “The Odds” is about my Mom’s uncles, Catholic priests. Father Karol Wajszczuk (1887 –  1942) was a prisoner of the Lublin Castle since April 1940. He was moved to Sachsenhausen and then to Dachau, on December 14, 1940. He died on 28 May 1942 in the Castle Hartheim: in a gas chamber, originally built to exterminate the disabled in the Euthanasia program and later used to kill prisoners from Dachau. His father, Piotr, was the brother of Franciszek, the patriarch of the Wajszczuk-Trochimczyk family branch, and the father of Stanisław Marcin Wajszczuk (1895-1973), my grandfather from the village of Trzebieszów in Podlasie. Father Feliks Wajszczuk (b. 1902 – d. 1973), Karol’s cousin, was in Sachenhausen, then in Dachau since 14 December 1940. He was liberated by Americans on 25 May 1945 and spent the rest of his life in a monastery in France. 

  • In my poem, Karol and Feliks are paired up with another set of brothers, Artur Gold (1897-1943) and Henryk Gold (1902-1977), Jewish composers and musicians from Warsaw.  Henryk survived by joining the musicians of the Second Corps of the Polish Army commanded by General Władysław Anders (1892-1970). Artur died in Treblinka. The group of Jewish musicians included Henryk Wars (Henry Vars, 1902-1977, “The Baton”) and many other survivors.

  • My Grandma and her sisters, my Mom’s maternal aunts, appear in several poems. Babcia Maria Anna Wajszczuk, born Wasiuk (1906-1973) in Baranowicze, wore her head high in the peasant village (“No Chicken”) and taught me the skill of “Peeling the Potatoes.”  

  • Ciocia Tonia, or Antonina Glińska lost her husband to a Soviet bullet, and survived exile to Siberia, to return to Poland in 1954. Alas, her sons did not do as well: the older lost his life, drowning in Yenisey, the younger, indoctrinated in Soviet schools, lost his soul to  a  career  in  economics, the government, and PZPR. 

  • Aunt Antonina is commemorated in “Ciocia Tonia” and her sister, Ciocia Irena, married name de Belina, appears in “Losing Irena.” She was deported with her whole family, and came to America as an orphan, whose path from Siberia through Iran, Switzerland to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico never ceased to amaze me.  

  • Ciocia Jadzia, married name Hordziejewska, was resettled with her noble-born husband, Dominik in the early 1950s. They were sent from their estate near the lake Świteź to a drab settlement house in Gdańsk-Oliwa, emptied of its German inhabitants (who, in turn, were resettled further West). Their portraits are in “Asters.” More details may be found on the family tree,, compiled by Waldemar Wajszczuk and Barbara Miszta, née Wajszczuk of Trzebieszów.

  • In addition to these rich and varied  reprinted four poems based on my own childhood experiences in Warsaw, the capital of the socialist Polish People’s Republic where I went to school and wondered about the shadow of the war: “Short Legs,” “The Coat,” “Standing Guard,” and “What to Carry.” Even though these poems focus on my native Warsaw, the intergenerational trauma that they express stems from my Mom’s experience escaping from Soviet-occupied Baranowicze back to German-occupied Poland.

  • A sizeable portion of new poems commemorate deportees to Siberia and Central Asia. “Eyes on the Road” is based on an episode in the life of Roma King, author of Footsteps in the Snow: A True Story of One Family's Journey Out of Siberia (2010). Carlos (or Charlie) Stalgis (“Charlie, Who Did Not Cross”) was born in Argentina and his family took the unsuccessful trek to the Polish border from the environs of Baranowicze (“Charlie, Who Did Not Cross”), while my grandparents, Mom, and uncle made it across the river Bug (“Starlight”). 

  • Baranowicze was also where the father of Lucyna Przasnyski had his roots (“Once Upon a Time in Baranowicze”). As a child deportee, Andrzej Dąbrowa took the infernal boat-ride along Amu Darya to the Aral Sea. Zofia Janczur had diamonds hidden in her shoes that saved the life of her whole family. Roma King waited for her Dad to come and get them, and he did (“Eyes on the Road”). 

  • I heard their stories during an event about Sybiracy organized for the Helena Modjeska Art and Culture Club in Los Angeles by Dorota Olszewska, herself an heir of Polish deportees to Siberia, repatriated to Szczecin (Stettin). On a sunny afternoon of June 5, 2016, they were joined by other survivors, Zofia Cybulska-Adamowicz, Wiesław Adamowicz and Elżbieta Nowicka in revealing their painful memories of Siberia or Kazakhstan (“On Trains and Tea,” “A Piece of Good Advice…” and “Kasha.”)  The four pathways to California in “Five Countries in Venice” were shared by Carlos Stalgis, Roman Solecki, and Stefan Wiśniowski, the founder of Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum and the Facebook Group that brought us together. 

  • Another poem, “Under African Sky” emerged from the biography of painter Julian Stanczak (b. 1928) who lost the use of his right hand in a Soviet gulag, and re-invented himself as an artist in the refugee camp in Masindi, Uganda. The “tiger’s eye” I put in his hand is fictional but reflects the main idea of a re-oriented, yet immensely creative life. The Polish American Historical Association gave him theirs Creative Arts Prize in 2014 and thus I was introduced to his sublime and monumental and art. 

  • At the Polish Film Festival in Los Angeles I watched an astounding documentary about Polish pilots training the new Pakistani Air Force. Established in 1947 during the division of India, the Moslem Pakistan needed help in creating its military; a task assisted by about 30 Polish pilots, veterans of the Battle of Britain. Polish Eaglets Over Pakistan (Polskie orlęta na pakistańskim niebie) presented their stories and the two vivacious female pilots particularly impressed me.

  • The suffering of the Polish victims of massacres by Ukrainians in the region of “Wołyń” (Volhynia, Волинь, since 1945 in Soviet Union, since 1991 in the Ukraine) only recently started to attract any attention. It was, and is, a political hot potato, just like the Armenian genocide by the Turks. 
  • The region of Kołyma (Колыма́) partly above the Arctic Circle includes many mines, to which the Polish Home Army soldiers were sentenced through the 1940s and 1950s for continuing to fight a guerilla war against the Soviet occupiers. Known as żołnierze wyklęci (the cursed soldiers), they were remnants of units that counted nearly 80,000 at the end of the war. The last of them, Józef Franczak, was killed in 1963. 

  • I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the individuals whose stories I transformed into poems. This book is meant to honor their sacrifice and document their resilience and survival. In addition to the members of my extended family, I’m especially grateful to Stefan Wiśniowski, and Sybiracy in California Zofia Cybulska-Adamowicz, Wiesław Adamowicz, Roma King, Zofia Janczur, doktor Bożena Gryglaszewska, Elżbieta Nowicka, Andrzej Dąbrowa, and Dorota Olszewski who encouraged them to share their painful recollections.

  • Sincere thanks is also due to the Finishing Line Press and its team of editors that published the original ten of these thirty poems in Slicing the Bread  in 2014.

  • Finally, I would not be able to finish these poems without the assistance of fellow poets and writers whose comments have been as valuable to me, as is their friendship: Elżbieta Kańska, John Guzłowski, as well as the Westside Women Writers: Millicent Borges Accardi, Lois P. Jones, Georgia Jones-Davis, Susan Rogers, Kathi Stafford, Madeleine Butcher, and Sonya Sabanac. Thank you. 

Photo by Susan Rogers, 2013

MAJA TROCHIMCZYK, Ph.D., is a poet, music historian, photographer, and non-profit director, born in Poland and living in California. She published six books on music and five volumes of poems: Rose Always - A Court Love Story, Miriam’s Iris, and Slicing the Bread: Children’s Survival Manual in 25 Poems, plus two anthologies, Chopin with Cherries and Meditations on Divine Names that offer “rich poetic material selected and collected with great sensitivity” (Grażyna Kozaczka, Polish Review, 58/4, 2014). Hundreds of her articles and poems appeared in English, Polish, as well as in German, French, Spanish Serbian, and Chinese translations, in such journals as Angel City Review, The Loch Raven Review, Epiphany Magazine, Lily Review, Ekphrasis Journal, Quill and Parchment, Magnapoets, SGVGPQ, The Cosmopolitan Review, The Scream Online, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology, Lummox Journal, Poetry Magazine, Poezja Dzisiaj, OccuPoetry, as well as anthologies by Poets on Site, Southern California Haiku Study Group, the Altadena Library, and others. 

The Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga (2010-2012) and the founder of Moonrise Press, Trochimczyk presented her work at over 70 national and international conferences in Poland, France, Germany, Hungary, U.K., Canada, and the U.S. She received fellowships and awards from the American Council of Learned Societies, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, USC, McGill University, MPE Fraternity, the Polish American Historical Association, the City and County of Los Angeles, and Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. ( 

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