In January 2015, the world commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz, 70 years before, by the Russian Red Army. To mark the occasion, there was a week of articles and tv documentaries. I was watching one of these one night, a program that traced the lives of six Auschwitz survivors, after that day of liberation. One of these was Dr Tadeuscz Smerczynski, a Polish national interned in Auschwitz as a political prisoner.
On leaving Auschwitz, Tadeuscz vowed to devote his life to a career in medicine and particularly, medical research. He excelled in college and was well on his way when he was approached by the Polish Communist Party and asked to join. When he refused, his life became a nightmare. Separated from his family, he served for five years in the Polish army and all his subsequent efforts to become involved in medical research were to no avail. Undeterred, indeed, determined, he became a GP except the only place he could find to develop a practice was within a ten minute drive of Auschwitz.
In the documentary, Dr Smerczynski told of how there were two things that revived the nightmares of those years in the German concentration camp. One, was passing the former Camp and he lived only ten minutes drive from it. The other was an aria from Puccini's opera, Tosca, which he heard an inmate sing, one day and to this day, he could not listen to that aria.
His story moved me because, as ephemeral as it may seem, the thought that something as beautiful as a Tosca aria could be turned in to an inadvertent symbol of oppression, both angered and depressed me.
So I wrote this poem, Tosca's Tale. Then I sent it to my friend, Anna Zak in Poland, a post graduate student of translation. She introduced the poem to her classmates and together, as a lesson, they set out to translate the poem.
Then they went a step further. Anna contacted the family of Dr Smerczynski and though he's long since retired from his GP practice, his son has continued in his place. After Anna and Dr Smerczynski's daughter in law exchanged a couple of emails, she forwarded the translated poem and it was shown to Dr Smerczynski.
This is the message he sent me.