Capital Art Apartments sounds like one of those companies that could be building luxurious flats in any metropolis. Not every metropolis had, however, managed to rise from the ashes quite like Warsaw after the Second World War.
At the end of February 2017, I was about to become God-Mother for the second time, marvelling at tiny hands and feet of my sister’s second child. High up on the 17th floor of the spacious flat beautifully crafted by the Capital Art Apartments it is easy to forget that its kitchen, overseeing the neon-lit skyline, was once a ‘ window’ to one of the biggest massacres in modern history.
It was here in the district of Wola where the clouds overcast the intensive killing of about 50 thousand civilians by German forces. Wola was the epicentre of the Warsaw Uprising and every civilian was seen as a collaborator. In the end, only the St Augustine Church survived – after all, it was an important logistical building for the German Army that happened to also store many Jewish valuables confiscated from the nearby ghetto.
On the shelf stood a thick hardback book showing photos of Warsaw through the decades. When the kids went to sleep, I flicked through these, back and forth with no particular purpose other than feeling emotional and intrigued. My sister, who is not originally from Poland, admits that she knew very little about the district’s history until they moved into the area. When I probed a bit deeper she was reluctant to elaborate on the disturbing visions and dreams she experienced initially. Acutely aware of the local practice of house blessing, they too used their local Catholic priest to perform the ritual in the flat. Apparently for decades after the war, Wola was seen as a ghost town, not suitable for raising families.
But times move on, people’s memories fade and sadly, not everyone really stops and reads all the war memorials that are dotted around Warsaw. The church where we Christened our little cousin was spacious and newly built not far from a wall where dozens of people were shot and died all those years ago. I remember the number of times I was reminded to put on an extra layer before going to church as a child but I still did not learn, surrounded by cold marble I was shivering my way towards the end of the baptism rite.
Quick February snow shower and then some brief rays of sunshine accompanied us back into the Capital Art complex, past a sushi bar, wine shop and a take-away where wide-shouldered women kneaded pierogi dough. A young woman speaking half-Polish and half-Ukrainian lost the keys to the apartment she was meant to clean and was now pleading the Security guard for help. Life in the modern city went on, in its own way, with hopes and dreams creating its own human fabric above the ashes and bones of the past.
Only our children were jumping carelessly about the baby pram, wanting to purposely wake up the 4 months’ old before the snow thawed. “Look, look it was snowing”, they chanted. “Just a well”, I thought, “they do not yet need to be reminded of the lessons from the history”.
Photos: courtesy of Gerald Nowak on bowshrine.com