An accident or a miracle?
Fr Jozef Brzostowski
Irena from Detroit always associates Christmas with presents. Christmas Eve is the most beautiful day; she cannot wait to open the surprises. She was given a doll on that memorable day. Her mother asked her, ‘What will you call her? Irenka answered, ‘Janina.’ Then her mother’s face became pale and there was a long silence. Irena Lukasiewicz always felt she had a sister. She used to talk to her although she was the only child. Nobody knows whether she had some hallucinations or some strange and unexplainable intuition. She bought double toys, not knowing for whom and why.
She was born in the German labour camp Hohenfels on 1 April 1946. Her mother was subject to German doctor’s experiments. The prisoners were tortured in refined ways. The specially trained dogs clawed at her legs. The doctor who assisted the delivery said, ‘The mother and daughter will not survive!’ But she was lucky. The mother with her one-year old child went on a ship to America. When people saw the land and then the Statue of Liberty they began crying out of happiness. For them this symbol meant the beginning of their new lives. The first years were very hard. They did not have a flat and food. They moved from one place to another. Finally, they found a flat in Hamtramck, the district of Detroit where there were thousands of Polish immigrants. Until now Irena recollects that house and her mother’s words, ‘Remember, if you get lost here look at the church tower. This is the sign thanks to which we are alive.’ Then she remembers some fact that will always remain in her memory. Some day Irena bought a big dog, a Doberman. When her mother saw it she began shouting, ‘Why have you bought such a big dog. Don’t you know what such dogs did to people during World War II?’ Evidently, the sad experiences of her mother haunted her till the end of her life. Irena’s life in America was filled with work, extremely fast tempo of life and frequent changes of flats. A strange telephone call broke this natural pace of life.
Mysterious telephone call
In January 1997 Irena received a call from the Red Cross in New York. Someone said, ‘You have a sister and this is a twin sister! She is living in Poland and is a nun.’ It was like a thunder. Irena’s husband and the whole family were moved by this sensational news. The Polish Red Cross found her sister and her place of living. It was on Ash Wednesday in 1997 when Irena called her twin sister for the first time. She began the conversation with broken Polish. The sisters did not know what to talk about. The dialogue was broken by tears and sobbing.
Half a century of separation
Another memorable day was in April 1997 when Irena with her husband and family were waiting for her sister at the Detroit airport for hours. When they met after 50 years they could hardly say anything. Those were only casual, lapidary words. There were silence and two bunches of lilies of the valley. Both loved these flowers very much. When the doors of Irena’s house were closed before the reporters they could be alone. They had long talks, asked questions and saw the family photos. They looked at the photos trying to find their biological father. There were various assumptions. However, that remained a secret. During the talks Irena learnt about the long and dramatic story of her sister Janina. They were both conceived in the camp in Germany. The doctor who assisted the delivery decided to give the healthier sister for adoption whereas the weak mother and barely breathing Irena were left to themselves. The mother and the adoptive parents swore on the crucifix that they would keep the secret of the adoption. Janina with her foster parents returned to Poland. She spent her childhood in the atmosphere of village idyll till some dramatic episode with her neighbour. Then she rushed home from school crying and she shouted at the threshold, ‘I am not yours. I am a foundling. You have taken me.’ Then her foster mother began explaining her in a peaceful voice, ‘My child, a foundling is a man who does not love anyone and is not loved. You are and always will be ours.’ This assurance made her satisfied for a long time. When she was fifteen her parents told her the truth. Then her foster mother suddenly passed away. Janina could not cope with that. She began smoking, drinking and being around strange people. Only a talk with her foster father changed her life. He said, ‘My child, your mother died. We have nobody. You have began living your own way. If you have secrets I cannot bare that and I will die. If you want, please smoke.’ This was the best lesson of humbleness in Janina’s life. She entered the Congregation of the Pallottine Sisters. She chose the religious name of Konsolata. When she was several years in the congregation her father asked her to look for the documents confirming his work in the German camps. Some friends in Germany began looking for the traces of his stay in the labour-forced camps. Sr. Konsolata was extremely astonished when she heard the voice speaking, ‘Sister, there are no documents confirming your father’s stay in Germany but we have a joyful message. You have a twin sister. We will help you find her.’ The world turned upside down in Sr. Konsolata’s head. I remember that when making the documentary about the twin sisters in Detroit they stood at their mother’s grave, with the heads cuddled up and said, ‘Our mother Maria died. Our mother Teresa is not alive. They are in heaven. From heaven they prayed, ‘You must find each other’. And so it happened.
The secret concerning the biological father of the twin sisters was hidden for 50 years. Irena’s mother did not reveal anything. She died two years before meeting Janina. She took the secret to the grave. It was only Janina who asked her foster father that nagging question after having lived several dozen years in the congregation. Then he answered, ‘Don’t you know it. I am your father.’ After so many years of hiding the secret it turned out that the adoptive father was also the biological father. Irena heard her father speaking, ‘My daughter, what have I done?’ when she was in Poland for the first time.
An accident or a miracle?
The twin sisters consider their meeting after 50 years to be a miracle. Not knowing anything about themselves, among the storms of the war, separated by the ocean, they found each other. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. What was impossible became a fact.