LETTERS FROM THE BOX IN THE ATTIC
An homage to debut author Sipe’s mother, who survived struggles in Poland during World War II.
After the author’s mother, Stanis?awa Emilia “Emma” Krasowska Serbinski, suffered a stroke in 2007, Sipe found two boxes of memorabilia in the attic of her mother’s home in Pennsylvania, which contained hundreds of letters. The correspondence, which began in 1941, was written in Polish, so the author had to enlist the help of a translator to decipher it. She was born in the early 1920s in Kosów Huculski, Poland (now Kosiv, Ukraine), and enjoyed a happy childhood. In 1939, when she was 19, she met Zdzislaw Eugeniusz Serbinski, the man she’d eventually marry, and she had designs on going to college. But that same year, everything changed: Adolf Hitler ordered the German invasion of Poland, and Josef Stalin began the Soviet invasion less than three weeks later. Sipe grippingly recreates her mother’s ordeal, telling of how Emma participated in the underground resistance and helped to smuggle Polish soldiers out of the country, among other tasks. For this, she was arrested by the Soviets and sentenced to eight years of toil in a labor camp. In 1941, the Sikorski-Mayski agreement provided amnesty for Polish prisoners, and both Emma and Zdzislaw made their way to Bukhara to join Ander’s Army, a new Polish military within the Soviet-controlled territory. She was eventually sent to Iran to train as a nurse, reunited with Zdzislaw in Iraq in 1943, and married him the same year in Palestine. The author presents Emma’s life as cinematically dramatic as she lives through both world wars, and through Poland’s brief independence between them. Sipe’s meticulous research is impressive, as she also furnishes a concise but thorough history of Poland’s travails and a moving account of her reflections on her own connection to Poland: “I have grown from being a reluctant Pole, to a person who is proud of her heritage.” Her prose is unfailingly clear and engrossing, and she fills the book with beautiful personal and historical black-and-white photographs.
An engaging biography, coupled with an equally captivating national history.