Saturday, November 13, 2010

Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki

Krakow.

A May morning, before the dawn of a Golden day of clear sunshine.

It is the early 1990s. I have walked from the Krakow Glowny station to the Main Square in the dark. The Square- Rynek- is empty and I am alone. It will be many hours before I can go and find a place to stay.

I sit on a stone bench, resting my rucksack by my side. The Rynek then was uncluttered, so the full sweep of the magnificent cloth hall was unhidden. To my left the Kosciol Mariacki loomed, smoky, with a single gleam of bright light behind a shutter of a room high up on one of the towers.

The sky was growing lighter by the minute. across the City the bells of churches, monasteries and Wawel Cathedral began to ring for 5 o'clock. A chorus glorying in the new day. High up in the tower, the shutter opens, and a man holding a silver trumpet can be seen.

It is him and me in the whole square.

Then he begins to play. The Hejnal Mariacki - the warning to close the gates against the Tatars, the Mongols, the Austrians, the Germans, the Russians. Always it ends in mid note. four times: for each of the points of the compass he plays, then the shutter is closed.

I have been entranced. The sun floods the square.

Finally, I think, I am here.

I have come to beloved Poland, whose language I have tried to master and whose history I have tried to understand and whose future I hope to help, and I have come for the first time.

A few days later.

A train back to Krakow from a small industrial town whose German name is a byword for evil.. I have found the first part, despite the room of shorn hair, the room of shoes, the room of suitcases, the Death bloc, the trial gas chamber, strangely familiar.

Then I went to the place of the birch trees: Brzezinka, Birkenau.

The gate.

The forest of brick chimneys marking where wooden huts have rotted away. These were the places for the lucky ones who survived the choice of slavery or death. Mostly it was death, often death by slavery.

The concrete monument, ugly. In the seven languages of the United Nations it says in front of the altar of the gas chambers and the crematoria and the pit and the pond: "Never Again".

And I am crying because I know in Omarska and Prijedor it is happening again right then.

And it happened again in Cambodia, in China, and Korea, and the Gulag, and will happen again in Rwanda and Sudan and Congo.

And at Auschwitz no birds sing- it was true. I too am silent on another summers day.

And in the train I listen to the Symofonia piesni zalosnych. As I travel from horror to humanity I am listening to the souls of the tortured, and they are alive and they sing of the joy of life and the sorrow of the end of life.

I am comforted.


Niech Bog blogoslawi Henryka Mikolaja Goreckiego.

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