The girl without a country
“I was acquiring adult language, and, unfortunately, I was learning to hate,” writes the author of this vivid memoir.
By Brianna Westervelt
How many children wandered the globe after World War II, displaced, disoriented, and looking for a place they could call home? Millions? That is too large a number. So instead, consider just the case of ten-year-old Krystyna “Krysia” Mihulka, whose idyllic childhood in the city of Lwów, Poland, was shattered when the Nazis invaded in September 1939. Her father went into hiding. Krysia, her younger brother, and their mother were deported. As they were leaving, she remembers overhearing a soldier say, “We are getting rid of the bourgeois rich. This world now belongs to the working class.”
Krysia: A Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood during World War II is about Mihulka’s strikingly sweet memories of the years before the war; of her family’s years of forced labor on a kolkhoz, or collective farm, in a remote part of Kazakhstan; and of numerous hardships before they somehow escaped to Africa to wait out the end of the war.
After the war she had zero interest in returning to her Soviet-occupied region, which was now part of Ukraine. “We were not willing to live under Communism, and no other country wanted us, so we remained in Northern Rhodesia,” she writes. “My country, my baby sister, my cousin, and now my father had all been taken from me because of that horrible war. I had barely had a childhood.”
And with the loss of childhood came the loss of innocence. “I was acquiring adult language, and, unfortunately, I was learning to hate.” She remembers silently thinking, “To hell with the motherland.”
Polish words and phrases are peppered throughout the narrative as Krysia reflects on her childhood. (There is a pronunciation and vocabulary guide included.) I was amazed at the sheer amount of detail Mihulka remembered — she acknowledges the help of her younger brother Antek in recalling their shared ordeal — and I share her hope when she writes, “Perhaps the legacy of my words will help history from repeating itself.”