Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mosaic by Diane Armstrong

Mosaic - A Chronicle of Five Generations by Diane Armstrong

Diane Armstrong was born Danuta Baldinger in July 1939 in Kraków, less than two months before the outbreak of World War II. Her father wanted to call her Diana, but the registration clerk did not let him. Children of Polish citizens usually must have names considered Polish at the time of registration. Exceptions are made when one parent is a foreigner. Today, the name "Diana" would not be a problem, but back in 1939 it was not considered a Polish name. A side note: I am actually assuming here that the author was born Danuta. In the family tree and throughout the book she uses the name Danusia, but I haven't heard about anyone who would have the diminutive form as the official name.
"At home [in Australia] my parents spoke Polish to each other, but soon I was replying in English. Changing your language in childhood is not just a linguistic loss. Apart from losing a world of subtleties, nuances and connotations of the words themselves, you also lose part of yourself. Language and culture influence the way you form thoughts and express feelings. English is more concise, blunt and matter-of-fact; it has a larger vocabulary but a smaller range of emotional expression than Polish, which is the language of affection. Nowhere is this contrast more obvious than in people's first names. While in English we truncate them into impersonal monosyllables devoid of tenderness, in Polish names are lengthened by endings which in themselves are endearments. Danuta, for instance, became affectionately softened to Danutka, Danusia, Danushka and Daneczka."
Mosaic is a story of the author's family. Starting in Kraków in 1890 and ending in 1990s in Australia. The story is mostly chronological, but it is freely jumping through time, and between people and places. Without an index and only with numbered chapters it is hard to navigate its almost 600 pages.

Danusia's personal experiences and stories told or passed in letters or memoirs by members of the extended family are augmented by well researched historical facts. Sometimes, I wished for a bit more background, but it's ok, this is not strictly a history book. For example, a quota system for Jewish students in pre-war Poland is mentioned a few times, but we don't learn much about it. Here is the starting point, if you are interested:

We see communities that no longer exist, and homes that often still do, but with different occupants. It is a moving journey, often heartbreaking, but also uplifting. There are bad and cruel characters there, but there are also friendly ones.
"Centuries of Jewish blood runs silently and secretly through millions of Polish veins [...]"
Diane's immediate family miraculously survived the war in Poland posing as Catholic Poles. Diane's father got a false identity document in March 1942 and since then he was known as Henryk Bogusławski.
"It was hard for a Jew to find a hiding place in Poland in 1942 as for a deer to hide from a pack of wolves on a treeless plain. Our only hope of survival was to pose as Catholics, [...]"
Diane's parents told her that she was Jewish only when she was 7 years old. They migrated to Australia in 1948.

Diane's father left this grave warning shortly before his death:
"Jews should never become complacent, even in a tolerant society like Australia. All Jewish children should know that anti-Semitism can occur anywhere at any time so that they're prepared."
Official website:

No comments:

Post a Comment