Friday, September 15, 2017

First Christmas -- DP Camp

A Photo from the DP camps -- Bob Jensen, a producer, is making a video presentation of some of my writing from my book about my parents and our lives as refugees after the war, and he asked me for some photos that he could splice in. Here's one of them, my first Christmas: 1949 in a DP camp in Fallingbostel, Germany, my sister and me in front of a tree.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sept 11, 2001 -- The Short View

I got a letter on Sept. 12, 2001, from my friend Bill Anderson who tended to take a cynical view of people and government and the human animal in general. The following was the response I wrote to him that day:

I wish I could take the long view the way you do, Bill: look at the attack, and see it the way it probably is: Bush seeing this as his way of putting a lock on his second term, Americans showing their true nature by making money on increased gas prices, Hollywood being angry because this will put the next Bruce Willis film on hold for 2 weeks. The long view: we're all self-serving crooks.

I'm not good at the long view. I'm more of a short view guy: One of my wife Linda's cousins saw the first tower go down from her office. Her name is Lisa. She was a wonderfully fat baby. One time her mom, Linda's Aunt Anne, dressed her in a tutu, and Linda's dad Tony laughed and laughed, and still 25 years later the family talks about the tutu and how much we all loved her in her tutu and laughed with joy at her beauty.

Lisa got out okay. She was evacuated, and finally found herself across the river at a phone booth in Hoboken, New Jersey. She called home to Aunt Anne and Uncle Buddy. He’s also a short view guy: He was with Patton's soldiers when they freed the first concentration camps. He still shakes and cries when he remembers the piles of corpses.

My niece is an emergency room nurse at NYU hospital (I think I saw her in the background on an NBC spot about the hospital--but I wasn't sure. She looked old and tired and gray with pain). Her dad, Linda's brother Bruce, was calling her and calling her to make sure she was okay. Finally she got through to him late in the afternoon on Tuesday. He begged her to leave the hospital, said he would drive down from Connecticut and get her. Cried and begged her. He said he was her father and she had to listen to him. (Bruce isn't much of a crier. He's a jokey, tough Brooklyn guy.) But she was his baby and he wanted her away from all of it. And she said she couldn't leave. He cried some more and pleaded, and she hung up on him. She had to get back to work.

And all those people looking for their relatives and friends, holding pictures up to the TV cameras and telling us about how some guy was a great friend, and he was a waiter in a restaurant at the top of the building. And I see this picture of this poor foreign looking schmuck with a big nose and a dopey NY baseball cap that's way too big, who probably came here with a paper suitcase and thought that working up at that restaurant was the greatest thing possible in the world. And the friend hoping to find this guy thinks this guy is alive someplace, maybe in a coma in some hospital. 

And I know there's not a chance in hell this guy or any other guy or gal in any of these pictures is alive. They're dead, all dead, but I wouldn't tell this guy holding the picture.

Boy, these are stories that touch me so hard I can't think about the other stuff, the long view.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Echoes of Tattered Tongues Reviewed by the Harvard Review

Okla Elliot's review of my recent book about my parents and their lives as slave laborers in Germany and refugees in America.

John Z. Guzlowski has been writing about his parents’ experiences during and after the Holocaust for years, working through the surface and subterranean hurts wrought by that calamitous world event upon a single family. Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded should be read as a capstone project to Guzlowski’s years of processing this cultural and familial material.
The body of the book, after a brief introduction, is broken up into five parts—a preface, three “books,” and an epilogue—the classical structure for a drama. Each section of poetry is introduced by a prose section in a style that might be called “critical creative nonfiction.” These add much and detract nothing, despite the usual injunction against poets commenting on their own work; if anything, they enhance the memoir-like effect of the entire book and offer a theoretical context for the larger themes. 
The preface is a poem titled “My People.” It has little to do with the Holocaust directly, but is rather about the Polish-immigrant experience and, perhaps, in a broader sense, about poverty. 
My people were all poor people,
the ones who survived to look
in my eyes and touch my fingers
The poem speaks of deaths and, knowing the context, we might assume these are deaths that occurred during the Holocaust. But Guzlowski doesn't mention Poland or concentration camps in the poem, instead using this preface to establish a wide conceptual background for a book that is at other times staggeringly intimate and specific to the experience of his family. 
According to much research, trauma disrupts time and dislodges the self from linear experience, and it is interesting to note that Guzlowski does not organize the book in chronological order. The first full section is titled “Half a Century Later.” In other ways, too, the book is commendable for its psychological accuracy. 
In the poem “My Parents Retire to Arizona,” the speaker describes the odd and useless items his parents want to give him: 
They give us things we don’t want: blades
for hacksaws I don’t own, canna lily bulbs
in Ziploc bags even though I am death on them,
four cans of Comet cleanser
And the list goes on, subtly layering these useless gifts until the end of the poem, when the mother says, "Please take these things.” Then, finally, the speaker understands what the mother cannot say: 
“Think of us as you use these things.
Once we were as young as you, cleaning
the house, dreaming over the backyard
of bright red lilies, counting these pennies.”
Echoes of Tattered Tongues is a formally coherent, challenging, and important book, chronicling the lasting scars of one family with deftness and narrative depth. Guzlowski is often bluntly direct, and occasionally lyrically oblique, but both to great effect. Emily Dickinson admonished poets to tell it slant, and Guzlowski certainly takes her advice, but he also sometimes ignores it in favor of Chekhov’s equally sage admonishment to tell the most monstrous events in the coldest and most direct fashion.


Echoes of Tattered Tongues is available as a hardbound book, a Kindle, and an audiobook.  Here is the Amazon link.  Click HERE.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sept. 1, 1939 -- Landscape with Dead Horses

78 years ago on September 1. 1939, the Germans invaded Poland. Their blitzkrieg, their lightning war, came from the air and the sea and the sky. By Sept 28, Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, gave up. By October 7, the last Polish resistance inside Poland ended.  In the six years that followed, more than five million Poles died.

A couple years ago, I received an email from a friend passing on some links to US Army films of the invasion of Poland that were compiled from captured German films. I thought I would share these films of what the Blitzkrieg was like. They are in 3 parts (each about six minutes); and if you click on the part you want to see, you will be taken to the appropriate site.

Invasion of Poland, Part I

Invasion of Poland, Part II

Invasion of Poland, Part III

The world had not seen anything like it, and it was the prelude to a lot of things the world had never seen before: the Final Solution, Total War, the concentration camps, the atomic bomb, the fire bombing of civilian populations, and brutality on a level that most people still don't want to think about almost 70 years later.

When the Germans attacked on that September 1, My dad was 19 and working on his uncle's farm with his brother Roman. Their parents had died when the boys were young, and their uncle and aunt took them in and taught them how to farm, how to prepare the soil in the fall and plant the seeds in the spring. My mom was 17 and living with her parents and her sisters and brothers in a forest west of Lvov in eastern Poland.

The summer had been hot and dry, and both of my parents, like so many other Poles, were looking forward to the fall and the beginning of milder weather.

The war turned my parents' lives upside down. Nothing they planned or anticipated could have prepared them for what happened.

By the end of the war, they were both slave laborers in Nazi Germany, their homes destroyed, their families dead or scattered, their country taken over by the Soviet Union.

I've written a number of poems about the first days of the war and what happened to Poland, but none of those poems ever captured, I felt, the struggle of the Polish people to throw off the Nazi invasion.

A couple of years ago, I tried again to describe what my parents and the Poles of their generation felt. Here's the poem.  It's from my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues:

Landscape with Dead Horses


War comes down like a hammer, heavy and hard
flattening the earth and killing the soft things:
horses and children, flowers and hope, love
and the smell of the farmers’earth, the coolness
of the creek, the look of trees as they uncurl
their leaves in late March and early April.
You smell the horses before you see them.


Horses groan, their heads nailed to the ground
their bodies rocking crazily, groaning
like men trying to lift their heads for one
last breath, to breathe, to force cold air
into their shredded, burning lungs.
For these horses and the men who rode them,
this world will never again be the world
God made; and still they dare to raise their heads,
to force the air into their shredded lungs.


Look at this horse. Its head torn from its body
by a shell. So much blood will teach you more
about the world than all the books in it.
This horse’s head will remake the world for you—
teach even God a lesson about the stones
that wait to rise in our hearts, cold and hard.


In the end Hitler sat in his cold bunker
and asked his generals about his own horses,
“Where are they?” He asked, “Where are my horses?”
And no one dared to tell him, “They are dead
in the fields with the Poles and their horses,
bloated with death and burning with our corpses.”


To read more about my parents, their experiences in the war and after the war, my book Echoes of Tattered Tongues is available at Amazon and most bookstores.

Here is the Amazon link.  Just click here.

The photograph of re-enactors in 1939 uniforms was taken by Mr. Mazowieckie at a re-enactment of the Bzura River Battle.

Friday, August 18, 2017

My Mother and the War

My Mother hated the way men talked about the war.
It was like they were seeing the conflict, its chaos and brutality, from a great distance.  
They talked about divisions and armies, threw around numbers like scientists or university professors:  The 4th Army and the 3rd.  The 8th and the 10th, and the 10th's Army XVI Corps.  And what about the XVIs 14th Infantry Division, and the 11th, the 53rd, and 116th regiments?
It was like some intricate game with codes and rules no one could understand unless he was born to it.
She wanted to be free of the war and all its secrets and structuress.
When men started talking like that, she always left the room, went to a bedroom and sat with her thoughts, her memories.


Here's a poem I wrote about my mom and her war experiences.

What the War Taught Her

My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.

She learned that if you are stupid
With your hands you will not survive
The winter even if you survive the fall.

She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.

She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.

She learned that you don't pray
Your enemies will not torment you.
You only pray that they will not kill you.


To read more about my mother:

"All of History's Polacks"


The photo above is of my mom and her sister.  They both were taken to Germany as slave laborers. They were reunited in a refugee camp after the war.

Monday, August 14, 2017

White Supremacists

My parents suffered under German Nazism

White supremacists told my parents they were subhuman, just mules and pigs.

My parents were enslaved for years and saw their family and friends slaughtered.

My family spent 6 years in a refugee camp in Germany waiting for America to allow us in.

We were told that America would be different.  

We were told that in America we wouldn't have to fear Nazism.

I want to believe that again.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Little Schoolboys!

Little Schoolboys!

I finally got my copy of my most recent crime novel, the sequel to Suitcase Charlie.

This one's got everything!

A murdered nun.  A kidnapped high school girl.  Rival street gangs.  Miss Kansas of 1963.  Comic book collectors.

And stoned-out drug dealers galore in the psychedelic 1960s.

Get your copy.  Available as a paperback or a kindle.  Just click:

Paperback: Little Schoolboys.

Kindle: Little Schoolboys.