Updated: May 3
Beata and me in the cave, Hannibal, MO. She, her husband Jim and I took a road trip from Iowa City and read Tom Sawyer on the way down; she had never heard of the book.
Beata was a co-worker I helped train, along with Brett when I worked as Assistant Registrar at the University of Iowa Museum of Art. She, young Brett, and I were like the three musketeers, sometimes like the three stooges, and became fast friends as we proceeded around the Museum doing our job. They were both at least 10 years younger than me, but it didn’t matter.
She would say to me in her beautiful Polish accent “Its pronounced Beata, like the Beatitudes.” Only her pronunciation of beatitudes and that of Americans was vastly different. I practiced saying her name until I got close to pronouncing it the way she did: Beh-AH-tah. I loved hearing her tales of growing up in Communist Poland.
She told of Soviet tanks rolling down the streets of Cracow where she and her parents lived in an apartment that they eventually left in the mid-1980s to escape communist Poland. When her Father left Poland to work in France, Beata and her mother were held as State captives until he returned. Eventually a friend of the family, who worked for the communist government arranged for them to leave the country to join her father. They packed their suitcases as if they were leaving for a weekend, left her beloved dog behind to make it convincing, then she and her mother got on a plane ostensibly to visit her father, never to return (or at least not until communism had lost its grip on Poland). Her father, Stefan Niedziałkowski, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jF83Vd7lEA0, was working with Marcell Marceauu a celebrated French mime who was a regular on the Ed Sullivan Show – the same venue that helped make the Beatles famous. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0545131/bio
Beata related to me that they were unsure until they actually touched down in France if they would end up there or in Siberia.
I met Beata’s parents in 1990, the summer after the Berlin Wall came down. They were again living in Poland, but came back to the US for the summer to make money any way they could. Her Father worked de-tasseling corn in the fields of Iowa and her Mother worked at Walgreens. They lived with Beata, her husband, Jim, and their little silky terrier Ami in a small apartment.
When I consider socialism and communism, it is not from somewhere in my imagination, I have a real person with real experiences to recall. Beata always said “In Poland. . . . ,” and then recounted something brilliant about her country, particularly about the Catholic Church there. I had grown up hearing Polack jokes, now I’d met real ones and was edified.
Poland is one of the most civilized countries in the world. I look to them for wisdom and today I found it once again. According to Deputy Minister of Justice Sebastian Kaleta, Poland has decided to fine big Tech companies large amounts ($13.5 Million), if they dare to censor free speech:
“Advancing the new legislation, Kaleta noted that Poland has spent 45 years under communism—an experience he said has taught it the value of free speech and the need to know when to draw a line amid disturbing new trends toward censorship. . . . We are now increasingly faced with practices we believed were left in the past. The censoring of free speech, once the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is now back, but in a new form, run by corporations, who silence those who think differently.”
I am glad to have met Beta and her family; feel privileged to have done so. They opened my eyes. Uh oh, I feel privileged . . . does that mean I have to confess that to the thought police?