How did I get here? How did we get here? What happened before us?
These are heady questions, sure, but certainly most of us ask these questions—of ourselves and of our loved ones—at some point in the course of our lives. I did.
More than a decade ago, I had encouraged my Polish uncle to “jot down” some notes about what had happened to him and my Polish family when they were children … when they were living as Polish refugees in Siberia and beyond. When, on that fateful September day so many years ago, I opened up a letter that my uncle had sent me, I could not believe my eyes. He had actually done what I had asked. Suddenly I was filled with dread.
Growing up, I always heard about my Polish family’s unique survival story—how they, like many millions of Polish people living in Eastern Poland in 1940, had been taken by force by Stalin and sent to the Siberian Gulags; how, in 1941, they were released from confinement by Stalin as part of an arrangement/ stipulation was made after he joined the Allies to defeat Hitler; how the Poles wound up in Uzbekistan, The Middle East, India and later, entered the fold in a Polish orphanage in Tanzania that was overseen by the British. The story fascinated me as it played out in my mind. But something about actually receiving the information my uncle had sent disturbed me greatly. Suddenly, it was no longer just that story playing out like a fantasy-movie in my head. No. It was far more dramatic. These were real events that happened to real people. And those real people happened to be my family.
As a soul-searching Californian who had fled his hometown of Chicago years before ever receiving this information, I took my uncle’s letter as a “sign” to explore the family tale more deeply. However, it would take nearly a decade until I did just that. Through a series of recorded video and audio interviews with family members, I became a Living Ancestry Titan. I wanted to make sure I knew what really happened—every detail. My family’s unique survival story—and the plight and resilience of nearly 2 million Poles—is illuminated in my book, Grace Revealed, a kind of Eat Pray Love by way of a Polish Alex Haley.
Because 2015 marks the 75th anniversary year of Stalin’s deportations, I wanted the book to be published (through NorLights Press) this year, mainly because I felt that the world was very aware of one kind of Holocaust—what Hitler had done to Jewish people—but that few people really knew about the “Other Holocaust”—Stalin’s. The news had not penetrated the collective and the masses knew very little about the extent of Stalin’s wrath and what he inflicted on the Poles, and how many of them, like my family, managed to survive. Beyond that, it seemed that the timing was also ripe to explore how much we all are influenced by our own lineage—that the threads of the past live on through us, whether or not we are aware of it.
At recent book events, people have asked me: “What can I do to learn more about my family’s past?” The answer is quite simple and perhaps easy to execute. I always encourage people to seek out their eldest family member first and just sit down and have a discussion with them—about what they remember about their childhood; their parents, and the stories that their parents may have told. There’s some rich material to be found in this kind of inquiry. Ultimately, I feel it allows us to know something deeper about ourselves and the lives we are now living.
For me, I never imagined my initial inquiry would have taken me on a global adventure to uncover the truth. But it did, proving to me, perhaps, that with even a modest dose of willpower and willingness, there lies a fascinating bit of growth, grace and serendipity.
GREG ARCHER is an author, cultural moderator, award-winning journalist, television host and motivational speaker. His latest book, GRACE REVEALED: A MEMOIR, goes from glitz to the Gulags as the popular entertainment reporter takes a step back from Hollywood to explore his Polish family’s mesmerizing tale surviving Joseph Stalin’s mass deportation of Poles during the 1940s. What he uncovers along the way fuels his mission to not only expose the nearly forgotten odyssey that befell nearly 2 million Poles 75 years ago, but to also expose the ripple effects that remain today.
“Powerful, touching and heartfelt.”—The Huffington Post
It all began with a broken picture frame and actor Ewan McGregor. But not at the same time. And a photograph of Ewan McGregor was not even in the picture frame. Nor did the Hollywood hotshot have anything to do with breaking it.
Allow me to explain …
One morning, I walked into my third-floor office of the weekly magazine at which I was the editor in Santa Cruz, California. To my surprise, the double picture frame housing two different black-and-white photos of my Polish family lay face up on my desk and the glass from the frames broken, the remnants arranged in a clumsy collection of jagged shards right there atop of it.
My Polish grandmother’s disenchanted eyes stared up at me with haunting concern from one of those photos and her tightly drawn lips refused her powdered, solemn face to soften. Next to her lay a group portrait of my grandmother, my aunt, my three uncles, and my mother, all at various ages in their youth, sitting on a bench outdoors in Tanzania, Africa, during the 1940s.
I sat down behind my desk and quickly assessed the situation, glancing at the top shelf on the wall nearly three feet away. The picture frame typically resided there and during the course of any given week, I would peer up at those photos more times than I could accurately assess and ruminate—on my family’s strength, their will, how World War II affected them. At times, these deep thoughts temporarily assisted me in avoiding a life-long habit I had yet to fully overcome: Mood Swinging.
I would not necessarily call myself bipolar.
Emotional? Of course. But bipolar. No. (Not yet.)
AUTHOR Bio and Links
Author, Journalist, Cultural Moderator, More …
“Powerful, touching and heartfelt.”—The Huffington Post
**** GREG ARCHER’s work covering agents of change, history, travel and the entertainment industry have appeared in The Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine, San Francisco Examiner, The Advocate, Bust, Palm Springs Life, VIA Magazine, Jetset Extra and on variety of cable television outlets. A four-time recipient of the Best Writer Award in a popular San Francisco Bay Area Readers' Poll, he shines the light on change agents near and far, and other under-reported issues in society. His splits his time between his hometown of Chicago, and Palm Springs.
GRACE REVEALED: A MEMOIR SITE: www.graverevealedbook.com
GRACE REVEALED / FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Revealed-A-Memoir/835500373138365?ref=hl
BOOK TRAILERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbxpaZiDod4
Greg will be awarding $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour, and a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn host.
a Rafflecopter giveaway