This one-man play, written and acted by Matthew Zajac, tells of his journey to discover what happened to his father during WW2. It took the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival by storm and went on to win many accolades. A memoir of the same name was launched in 2013. It is an excellent book and has prompted this blog. The play is brilliant artistically and brilliant historically, and I say this because it highlights the dilemmas faced by the many of mixed race living in eastern Poland (Kresy and Galicia) at the start of WW2. Children of different genders, born into mixed marriages, were recorded by different registrars, boys as Polish, girls as Ukrainian. There were also many Jews, other minor nationalities and several religions to add to the melting pot.
Matthew’s father was always hesitant to say what had happened to him during WW2. He claimed to have been deported to Siberia, joined General Anders’ army and fought with the British in Italy. Following his father’s death in 1992, and the collapse of the Iron Curtain three years earlier, Matthew visited his father’s home village, now in central Ukraine. There he met many relatives and more in western Poland. Many thousands were deported by the Soviets in 1945 from what had been eastern Poland to what had been eastern Germany, Poland’s borders were shifted westward. It emerged that his father’s story was a fabrication. The most likely scenario is that he fought in the Polish army in 1939, returned to his village, was conscripted into the Soviet army, was taken prisoner by the Germans, joined or was forced into the German army, was taken prisoner and joined the Polish Second Corps under British command. Wow! All this just to survive when all he wanted to do was work as a tailor! It highlights a complexity of dimensions not known or understood in post war Britain.
The full story includes family complications which I will not mention as I don’t want to spoil a good book! Read it for yourselves and do try and see the play.