Saturday, October 3, 2015

Main Street, Sylvania: Red Bird Art Walk

First Red Bird Art Walk featuring Main Street galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Opening of River Centre Gallery; some art in the gallery; Dani Herrera collages, glass work; people admiring the variety of art.  Upper right, art piece by Matthew Squibb at Gabe's computer store Spacebar.  
Hudson Gallery photo, a Main Street gem.
 Owners Scott and Barb Hudson helped
create the new Art District and Art walks
with Sylvania Community Arts Commission
Art and nature were in harmony on Main Street Sylvania last night for the first "Red Bird Art Walk," sponsored by the Sylvania Community Arts Commission. I liked the Red Bird logo. The beautiful cardinal is, afterall, Ohio's state bird! And a gorgeous red sunset added to the theme. All the art galleries were open and welcoming, the boutiques and specialty shops had great sales and offered snacks, and the restaurants were crowded.  

"More people than I've seen on Main Street for quite a while," someone said as we sampled pastries at the new River Centre Gallery, which just opened after a long renovation to the old Main Street building. Everyone seemed to like it.  Kudos to Dr. David Garner, the founder of the River Centre Clinic, which treats eating disorders, and the new Gallery. Dani Fuller, the River Centre Foundation's Art Director, did a great job of selecting a variety of art in a range of mediums, all beautifully displayed. Dani Herrera and other artists were around to talk art. The River Centre Gallery will continue the tradition of the venerable American Gallery by showcasing local and regional artists.

Elissa, Mark, and I strolled up Main in the setting sun, with Philip in tow. Even nature cooperated: the sunset was amazing.  Blazing red.  Sylvania was aglow!  We look forward to the next Red Bird Art Walk on the first Friday in November. Philip was rewarded with his favorite pizza from J&Gs afterward.
Our beloved Philip with his GranE and Nana Franna at another time, because I didn't get photos at the Art Walk
Philip's 8th Birthday.  He likes art!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pope Francis Afterglow: Esto es maravilloso

Pope Francis on his way to a final mass in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP photo.
  Esto es maravilloso.   This is marvelous.
Pope Francis on the profound abiding love of God for all people.  God is Love. When Francis says it, it radiates.  It  means something.

It's not that I'm a fervent religious person, but I am moved by Pope Francis and what he embodies, personifies and clarifies.  He embodies the values of family, la familia; of caring, the Common Good, the Golden Rule.  He personifies peace, justice, and good will.  He clarifies what it means to be compassionate and accepting of all people across ethnic backgrounds, ages, countries, religions. He is indeed the people's Pope.

Pope Francis effortlessly conquered the super great cities of New York and Philadelphia, after he had done the same in our nation's capital. These cities, each with its own history and greatness, are not easy to conquer, but they have never been so full of light, so luminous in spirit and hope.

CNN asked people to describe the Pope in three words.  The responses
were great!  Heart of Gold.  Caring, Compassionate, Humble.  God on Earth. Soul at Peace. Loves all People.  Changing Hearts Worldwide. Do Good Things.  Better than Beatles. Reluctant Rock Star. 

The Pope visited three cities in six days, attended over 20 events in a variety of awesome venues, spoke before the US Congress, at the UN, at the 9/11 Memorial. His message, his very being, was powerful, authentic, palpable, and touched so many. It was as if he had been in every city in our country.

Nor would this 78-year-old pontiff let the weakness of the flesh overcome his devotion to sharing God's love. There were times he looked exhausted, could barely go up and down stairs, get up from a chair, step into a group of people longing to be blessed. It was stunning to witness. Such unconditional love.

And those crowds! Those huge, enormous crowds!  Multitudes followed him everywhere, as if they were following in the footsteps of prophets like Jesus or Mohammed, or leaders like Martin Luther King or Mandela. Millions just wanted to be near him. Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Millions wanted to be blessed, accepted, understood, receive forgiveness, feel kindness and mercy.

It was overwhelming, and surprising, I think because we seldom hear the voices of these millions in the media, and certainly never as a full-blown chorus.  Media headlines scream evil, dishonesty, political intrique, war and terror at us.  We are daily fed manufactured news or profit-induced horror stories that distort reality.

So maybe not all Americans are blindly following Trump into oblivion, or the Tea Party into their next obstructionist political maneuver.  Maybe the American people are not, en masse, being led like sheep to the slaughter.  If those crowds meant anything, I think they meant that people are hungry for goodness and authenticity.  For truth.  For meaningful dialogue.  We are hungry for peace and justice in the world.

AP photo.
Now it's back to "normalcy."  It didn't take 24 hours.  After hearing the Pope, it churns my stomach to hear Putin's dissembling justifications for occupying Crimea and waging war in Ukraine. It hurts to hear about the refugee crisis created by Assad's war against his own people; about building fences to keep immigrants out; about POWs and journalists imprisoned; about human rights abuses and violence against women and children.

I'm trying to block out the noise, but it's hard.  I want to hang on to the good words and deeds of a good man, but I feel myself sliding down the slippery slope to despair. Remember the beauty of the Pope, I'm telling myself.  Remember that millions flocked to him, because there is good in the world, as well as evil.  "My peace I give you, my peace I leave you."  Francis Means Hope. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Powwow! "They Danced Here Before Us"

With Elissa, Philip and Chase at Seven Eagles' Powwow. 
The Woodland Indians of Northwest Ohio along the great Maumee River, which includes over 200 different tribes, a few sadly extinct but most thankfully still very much with us, celebrated their annual POWWOW at Seven Eagles Park in Grand Rapids, Ohio, this weekend.  And we were there! Philip, Chase, Gran E, and me.  It was a gorgeous fall day.

We celebrated our Native American past, present and future through song, dance, drumming, and heartfelt comaraderie. I especially loved the flute music of award-winning musician Douglas Blue Feather, of Cherokee heritage. I read in the program afterwards that he is a retired Dayton Police Officer, now doing full time what he loves most, "playing music and sharing the spirit."

The powwow is sponsored by the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Native American cultures and increasing awareness of their richness and persistence into the present.  We shared bison burgers and pumpkin spice bread, lively and colorful dancing with dancers in beautiful regalia (which I learned not to call costumes), and great arts and crafts. Exhibitors and vendors included Bear Tracks, Arrow Trading, Black Stone Drums, Mayan Treasures, Native Creations, Tribal Expressions Catering, the Seven Eagles Historical Center and the Woodland Indian Education Center.

It  was great to see Martin Nagy, former art teacher at Maumee Valley Country Day School, where my daughter Elissa went to school and had Martin for art. He is now director of the Seven Eagles Historical Education Center, which organized the Powwow.  Martin channels the spirits of our Native American past and is known for his enduring commitment to multi-culturalism in all its forms.

I was also happy to see my friend Elizabeth Balint, the awesome program director of the Great Lakes Consortium for International Training and Development (GLC), who does such good work in international exchanges.   Of course she brought visitors from Hungary to the powwow!

I learned that the dancers' clothing, or regalia, is usually handmade, beautifully designed, covered with feathers, bells and traditional symbols. There are lots of different dances that are performed by dancers across different tribal cultures : Men's Traditional, the dance of warriors and hunters; the Women's Traditional dance, honoring the dignity and central role of women; Women's Fancy dance, performed by women in colorful shawls dancing like butterflies; the Women's Jingle dance, which hails from the Great Lakes and is known for the metal cone jingles that adorn the dancers' regalia; and Men's Fancy, known for turns, twists, spins and jumps, the dancers in clothing that features multi-colored feather bustles, worn at the neck and back and decorated with beautiful beadwork and clothwork.

Boys in their new t-shirts.
Chase is down for the count.
What a great day! We left the Powwow in high spirits. Well Elissa and I did. The boys were kind of dragging.  When Chase lay down on the ground as if to say I'm ready for a nap, and don't tell me again not to touch things, we decided it was time to go!

We reminded each other that one day the kids would understand the meaning of our little educational adventures. They might say to their own kids, "I remember going to a POWWOW with my grandma," or "Now I see why Nana dragged me to these things!"

"I hope the kids learned something about the American indians," I said to Elissa. "Well, mom, it might take a few more years for that to sink in, but we can keep at it." Here's to another Powwow! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pope Francis Graces our Nation's Capital

Pope Francis and the president at the White House,
the interpreter between them.  AFP/Getty.
I am not a Catholic, but I love Pope Francis. The minute he took that name, I knew he  would be a special spiritual leader. And he is.  My daughter Elissa, who is Catholic, now calls me a “Pope Francis Catholic.”  My daughter Michelle thinks Pope Francis is here at this time for a reason, because "We need God on earth."  Boy, that's for sure. The Pope's visit to our nation's capital moved us, like it did tens of thousands of others, even members of Congress.  Amazing and awesome. A humble, authentic, compassionate Pope. "And don't forget to pray for me."  I have so many thoughts.      

God is Italian 
Okay, it’s my heritage.  His name is Francis like my dad and after my grandmother Francesa, after whom I am named.  His beloved grandmother was Rosa, like my mother's name, Rose. But the funny thing is my Italian-born grandparents, on both my mom and dad’s sides of the family, were protestant. Yes, and they were irreverent toward the Pope. “Just an ordinary guy, nothing special.” Oh, the great discussions the adults had, in Italian, around the dinner table in Buffalo, NY, as we stuffed ourselves with my grandma’s home-made bread and garlic encrusted pork roast!  I think I always thought that if there is a God, he must be Italian. Pope Francis proves it! If God is love, then this Pope, this son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, is God. Because I think God is not just “out there” or “up there,” he/she is transcendent and everywhere: in nature, in the grandeur of the universe, and also within us and among us.     

God's Interpreter on Earth is a little Latino guy
And God’s interpreter on earth is not a grand person or prophet preaching and proselytizing, but a young bespectacled Latino priest who hardly reaches the Pope’s shoulder but faithfully follows him everywhere he goes.  Like a Pancho Sanchez to Don Quixote. This anonymous man, never introduced, not Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, was right behind the Pope from the minute he got off the Alatalia plane from Rome and was greeted by President Obama, to the moment he left Washington, accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry. Our little interpreter was with the Pope at the White House, in Congress, at Catholic University, at St. Matthews, at St. Patrick's. He followed the Pope into the crowds. He stood behind him on the balcony at the US Capitol.  He helped us understand. He interpreted the Pope's prayers. Otherwise, he just left us to our own conclusions.  He's now with the Pope in New York.

The Pope’s Fantastic Four
In his wide-ranging and beautiful talk to the US Congress, in English, which I know from experience is so hard to do, the Pope mentioned four Americans who embody the ideals of our country and moral principles for the world: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King,Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.  For the Pope, these four, the latter two less known but maybe now more prominent, represent the highest of American ideals.
*Abraham Lincoln, Liberty for all
*Martin Luther King Jr, Freedom, justice, and "freedom in plurality"
*Dorothy Day, organizer of Catholic workers in the 1930s, social justice and social activism. 
*Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk who died in Thailand in 1968, friend of the Dalai Lama and admirer of Zen Buddhism, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.  

From the balcony of the US Capitol. AFP/Getty.
People are hungry for spiritual sustenance and simple goodness.
Wow the crowds! I’ve been to plenty of marches and protests in DC. I've walked crowded streets and pushed my way into the Metros to get to the Mall and back to Dupont Circle, where I lived for 17 years. But I’ve never seen so many people of all backgrounds and ages lining the streets of DC with such joy, such emotion, throngs of people at every venue and along the Popemobile route, just to be near him, in the same place at the same time.  When the TV cameras panned the huge crowd at the Pope's mass at the National Basilica at the Catholic University of America, I spotted Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC's only elected official in Congress, without a vote but with a voice. Here she was, just a face in the crowd. A huge multitude.  And what cheers, applause, elation, euphoria. Even in Congress. Like the cheers at a World Cup soccer stadium!      

The Golden Rule -- The Common Good -- America, a land of dreams
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Pope intoned.The Golden Rule is so simple and so true, yet somehow so difficult to implement. But the Pope makes it sound easy, and shows us the way. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for those in poverty, for refugees, the sick, the elderly. Remember we are all immigrants. I am an immigrant; we are all immigrants.  This is what unites us; it should not divide us. How can we turn away refugees seeking a better life. How can we turn our backs on the most vulnerable among us. We can work together for peace and keep the "common good" paramount. "We can create an economy that is modern, inclusive and sustainable."  We can create "a culture of care."  The Pope had lunch with 200 clients of Catholic Charities at St. Patrick in the City. He went into the crowds, to touch, to bless, to give hope, and to receive it.  We can join him. "I am so happy that America is still a land of dreams," he told us. 

Mother Earth: Care for our "Common Home"  
St. Francis loved the earth, the natural world, and all its animals.  Pope Francis is the reincarnation of St. Francis in our time, and he is addressing the harm we have done to our planet that can be controlled if there is a will to do it. We need to take care of our "Common Home," he wrote in the first-ever encyclical on the environment; this cannot wait for the next generation. He repeated this message to Congress: "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity."

"God Bless America."
I have never, ever been so moved at anyone saying "God Bless America," as I was when I heard the Pope say it.  He said it so meaningfully, so sincerely, with a passion, with deep appreciation and a beautiful smile. He said it as if he were really asking God to bless this country, to bless its ideals, to bless its diverse people. When the Pope said "God Bless America" after his speech at the White House and after his speech to the US Congress, it was actually thrilling.  If anyone can pray for us, and get God to listen, it's Pope Francis.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Valient Struggle for Civic Reform in Eastern Ukraine

Promoting Citizen Participation in eastern Ukraine:
East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initiatives (EUCCI) 

"EUCCI sincerely hopes that local officials will be brought to their administrative responsibility to promote compliance with the principles of transparency and openness in the education departments of Poltava."  East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initiatives (EUCCI) 

Step by step.  City by city.  Town by town. Day by day. The East-Ukraine Center for Civil Initatives (EUCCI), an NGO dedicated to promoting transparency and citizen participation in govenment at the local level, valiently pursues its mission.  It is still going strong inspite of the Russian proxie war in eastern Ukraine that has decimated parts of Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts (counties). Vovo, a EUCCI founder and its director, was forced to flee Lugansk for his life. But he has never given up. 

St. Volodymyr Cathedral
I worried about him for a long time when his website went down and he went silent on social media. Where is Vovo? I was scared he may have fallen victim to the Russian-led terrorist gangs who destroyed his beloved city of Lugansk. I spent a lot of time there, the hub of my universe when I served with the Peace Corps.  Vovo knew the history and culture of the city, and his city tours were highlights of my eastern Ukraine experience.  
Lugansk Train Station

The city now lays in ruins. The University doesn't function, having moved its faculty to its branch in Starobelsk. The Biblioteca is quiet. The NGOs scattered.  The bustling cafes and bookstores, the shops and street life silenced.   The train station, where I came and went just about everywhere in Ukraine, is a war zone.  So I worried about Vovo, about his co-workers, about the large network of NGOs of which he was an integral part.   But then he surfaced, with his humor intact. 
Lermontova st at night.

We messaged. Vovo, are you okay, are you safe? "Yes, I'm okay. I was put on a list by the rebels."  I received similar messages from one after another NGO leader, messages from Kiev, Khargiv, Lviv, and other cities. The  war has killed the Lugansk reform movement.  It has sent thousands upon thousands of people, including young community activists, intellectuals and scholars, librarians and teachers, women leaders and civic reformers, to other parts of their country.  Many of those who didn't make it out of Lugansk were jailed, tortured or "disappeared."   Friends of friends have still not been heard from in months.   

My counterpart Vera, of NGO Victoria
in Starobelsk, attends one of Vovo's
workshops, and luckily took me
 along.  We visited women's NGOs
 in Lugansk on that visit, as well. 
Vovo continues his work from Kiev, but spends half his time on the road in eastern Ukraine, valiently conducting training and development workshops that encourage transparency in local records, city planning, and local decision making.   Chernigov, Poltava, Severodonetsk, wherever he is welcomed, Vovo is a traveling reform agent for change from the bottom up. He dreams of a Ukraine free from corruption, fear and human rights abuses, a Ukraine open to change, education and self-determination. An intrepid spirit, dedicated, Vovo is Ukraine. Vovo is Ukraine's future.      
In front of the Lugansk Public Library,
the Lugansk Biblioteca,on one of many visits. 
Its "Windows on America" program was wonderful,
 an English-language library
of American classic literature for the public.

Taras Schevchenko statue in front of
the National Taras Schevchenko University
in Lugansk, once one of the best in the
country, now dysfunctional because of
Putin's war in eastern Ukraine. Vovo and
many intellectuals, civic leaders,
 and progressive thinkers
attended the University.  I weep for Lugansk

Monday, September 14, 2015

Gulag Survivor: Elizabeth Pawlicki Frankowski

Celebration of the Toledo public library's digitization of Elizabeth Pawlicki Frankowski's
diary about her experience as a Polish prisoner in the Russian gulags of World War II. Elizabeth is a long-time resident of Toledo, a heroine in our midst. Marcy Kaptur presented a US Congressional resolution in Elizabeth's honor, and Toledo City Councilmember Tom Waniewski presented a Council resolution.  Elizabeth's family joined the celebration of this extraodinary story of survival and courage, now available online to a wide audience. See also "Diary of life in Soviet work camp online," Toledo Blade, September 1, 2015. 
It was a rainy morning, September 17, 1939, in the village of  Veteranowka, Poland, not far from the Russian border. Hitler's army was on the march, occupying Poland on September 1. Another World War burst upon the planet.

Elizabeth Pawlicki, almost 13 years old, looked out the window of her home, and stood frozen in terror. Her mother, pregnant with her 8th child, was sitting at the window, crying. Her father, a Polish cavalry officer during World War I, was out guarding the border against a feared Russian advance. He had left the family solemnly the night before. Elizabeth had a premonition that something terrible "weighed on his soul" and was about to happen.   She was right.

As she looked out the window, she saw a fearful sight, which she records in a diary she wrote several years later:  "The fields were full of soldiers, cavalry, columns of army trucks and tanks.  The ground trembled under the steady march of their power."

"Maybe it's the Polish army going to fight the Germans," Elizabeth said, trying to calm her mother's worst fears for the safety of her husband and family. But it was not the Polish army, not the Nazi army.  It was the Red Army of Joseph Stalin's Russia that overran the fields of eastern Poland, just a few weeks after Hitler had invaded western Poland.  "The fields overflowed with the Red Army and the sky was filled with the terrifying sounds of war planes constantly passing over us."

Elizabeth's life changed forever.  In one tragic and everlasting moment, Elizabeth lost everything she held dear.  Her father was killed that very night by Russian soldiers.  Her home and land were confiscated. She and her family were rounded up and herded in filthy crowded trains to northern Siberia, prisoners of the infamous hard labor camps in Siberia known as the Gulags. Her worst fears had come true.  Elizabeth lost her childhood.

Thus did Elizabeth's life became enveloped in the carnage of the "Bloodlands," innocent civilian victims caught between the brutal ambitions and extermination policies of Hitler and Stalin.

This terrifying history is told in Yale historian Timothy Snyder's well-researched and prize-winning book, Bloodlands (Basic Books, 2010). It's a story I began to learn about while serving with the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  It's a story Elizabeth lived, as did many of the Ukrainians I met. It's a story that reverberates to this day, and that most Americans know little about.

Between 1939 and 1945, Snyder writes, Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany committed mass killings of an estimated 14 million unarmed non-combatants, the majority outside the death camps of the Holocaust.  Snyder's thesis is that the "bloodlands," a region which comprised what is modern-day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and the Baltic states, is the area where "the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler interacted to increase suffering and bloodshed many times worse than any seen in western history."

Snyder pointedly notes he is "not counting soldiers who died on the fields of battle," but deaths caused "by deliberate government policies of mass murder." The mass murders included executions, such as the Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish army officers and POWS; orchestrated famine, such as the three million Soviet prisoners of war who were deliberately starved to death, this following the Holdomor in Ukraine, punishment for resisting collectivization; and outright killings and death camps on both sides of the Nazi/Soviet line in the Borderlands.
Wrzesien2, wikimedia. I didn't
realize Hitler sought the total 
destruction of Poland, all of it,sharing
a goal with Stalin and the Soviets.

It is a disturbing history of the deliberate mass murder of civilians and the deadly human cost of totalitarian extremism in the 20th century.  It is, sadly, a story repeating itself in the 21st century, with the same horrifying results.

Elizabeth Pawlicki Frankowski's story, which she recorded in a diary given to her as a birthday gift when she was in Isfahan, Iran, after being freed from the Gulags, is a part of this history. It is a survival story of incredible courage against the odds and faith in the midst of evil.

The diary tells how Elizabeth survived the Gulags, although she lost three siblings from diseases, illness, starvation and hard labor, and her mother never regained her health.  After a Soviet/Poland-in-exile government "Amnesty" pact, Polish prisoners were freed from Soviet gulags, but they could not return to Poland. Thousands, Elizabeth among them, made it by foot and any transportation available to Turkestan and Uzbekistan, then part of southern Russia, where they found work, mostly on collective farms, in order to survive.   Only the kindness of strangers kept them alive, although Elizabeth lost another sister to typhoid fever, an illness she herself barely survived.

From this place, in the depths of despair, Elizabeth found her way to Isfahan, Persia (now Iran), through the humanitarian work of the Polish army-in-exile, the Red Cross, and other international aid organizations. She had been separated from her mother, which caused tremendous anxiety on top of what we would today call post-traumatic stress. Still, Elizabeth, just a teenager, put one foot in front of the other, went day by day by day, prayed and carried on.

In Isfahan and Lebanon between 1942 and 1949, then a most beautiful oasis in a troubled world, Elizabeth finished her education, which had been so brutally interrupted in Veteranowka.  She also got a nursing degree with high honors from the American University of Beirut, after a rigorous course of study, and having to learn English.    But Elizabeth had found her "calling," and she began a new chapter in her life with high hopes.  She was happy when she got her first job in Petersboro, Ontario, Canada, in 1950.

How ironic that the Middle East today, where Elizabeth found solace after her Gulag experience and discovered her lifelong calling to become a nurse, is so mired in the same kind of extremism and violence that befell Poland and eastern Europe during World War II.

When US Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D, Toledo, Ohio) met Elizabeth and learned about her experiences and her diary, she knew something had to be done to make them known. Here was a long-time resident of Toledo who had an incredible story to tell.  Elizabeth had moved to Toledo with her new husband, Edmund Frankowski, in 1952.  He was a decorated Polish army officer and a POW in Russia so they shared these tragedies.  Mr. Frankowski also miraculously escaped the Katyn Massacre of Polish army officers and prisoners. In Toledo, Elizabeth raised a family, become part of the Toledo community, and worked fulltime at Flower Hospital as a skillful and highly regarded nurse.

Rep. Kaptur recognized  Elizabeth's bravery and the constant faith that kept her going even in the worst of times, including the death of her beloved son Richard from Leukemia in 1964.  Rep. Kaptur contacted the library, helped get the diary and the book on which it is based (Przezylismy, or "Tears of Faith") translated from Polish to English, and encouraged their preservation and public dissemination.

"Elizabeth's story is about the meaning of liberty and the cost of liberty," Rep. Kaptur told an overflow audience at the West Toledo Branch Library on September 3, there to celebrate the digitization of the diary.  "These stories need to be told, and shared."

The Toledo Public Library's "Local Human Memory" project is doing just that.
In cooperation with the Toledo/Poznan Alliance, local Polish organizations, and the Lourdes University Sisters of St. Francis, the Library has made Elizabeth's diary, over 70 years old, available online to historians, geneologists, researchers, and the general public, in both Polish and English.

Library director Clyde Scoles and Library Local History manager Jill Clever noted that the project "preserves history for today and future generations."  They encouraged the telling, preservation and digitization of more Toledo stories.  

Sister Ann Frances, active in the Toledo/Poznan Sister City Alliance, noted that such projects are "like a pebble thrown into water, its ripple effect spreading ever outward and reaching many lives."

Elizabeth's life encompasses one of the most violent and challenging times in world history.  It's not surprising that she hears the news of the world today and shakes her head: "We have learned nothing from the horrors of the past," she said to me during one of our meetings. I am working with Rep. Kaptur to learn more about Elizabeth's story up to the present.  "Human beings are repeating all the mistakes, all the evils, that my generation lived through.  It's so hard to understand."

Yes, it is hard to understand. "It's beyond understanding," I reply.  Elizabeth nods her head sadly.  "If only people would learn that violence and hate accomplish
nothing but more violence and untold grief."

Postscript: The Katyn Massacre of Polish army officers and Polish Nationals

The Wikipedia article on The Katyn Massacre, April - May 1940, of Polish army officers and Polish nationals by the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police and precursor to the KGB, notes: The massacre was prompted by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria's proposal to execute all captive members of the Polish Officer Corps, dated 5 March 1940, approved by the Soviet Politburo, including its leader, Joseph Stalin. The number of victims is estimated at about 22,000.[1] The victims were executed in the Katyn Forest in Russia, the Kalinin and Kharkiv prisons, and elsewhere. Of the total killed, about 8,000 were officers taken prisoner during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, another 6,000 were police officers, and the rest were arrested Polish intelligentsia that the Soviets deemed to be "intelligence agentsgendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests". [1]

I learned about this massacre when I lived in Starobelsk, Ukraine, because many of those killed had been in POW camps in Khargiv and in Starobelsk and were buried on the grounds of the Starobelsk Cathedral and Monestary.  Polish citizens came to honor them, on pilgrimmages, when I lived there and to this day. My friend Olga was the first person to tell me this sad story, a chapter of WWII I never knew.   She often hosted and led these tour groups of Polish citizens to Starobelsk.

Then I started talking to Elizabeth, helping Rep. Marcy Kaptur with an oral history project, and learned that her husband Edmund Frankowski had narrowly escaped the fate of the Katyn Massacre because the car of the train taking Polish officers to the murder site at Khargiv had (miraculously) become separated and left alone on a track. When Mr. Frankowski and others in his car, who had been held prisoners in gulags and were tortured, starved and beaten, discovered this, they escaped into the forest, and somehow made it out alive.   It's another incredible story.  It was made into a film by a Polish filmmaker in 2007, which I hope to get soon.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mad Destruction: "Cultural Cleansing"

Destroying the Past 
"Reports of the destruction of Baal Shamin temple on Sunday came less than a week after IS militants beheaded Khaled Asaad, who worked as head of antiquities in Palmyra for over 50 years. The 81-year-old scholar had been detained and interrogated by Islamists for more than a month." (, August 25, 2015). Yahoo/Getty image, Baal Shamin destruction, below.   
So ISIS terrorists,  inhumane savages, really, have used sledge hammers, power tools, assault rifles, tanks and explosives to destroy the priceless antiquities of Iraq and Syria, the cradle of civilization from which come our major religions and cultures on the planet.  They are laying ruin to mankind's shared heritage. They have destroyed ancient artifacts, temples and shrines, the architecture and archeaological sites of ancient cities, most of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, most over 3,000 years old. 

They gloat that they are killing false idols in the name of their Sunni Allah.  I think the desecrations stem more from a propaganda and political agenda, however, than a religious one.  In any case, they are heinous acts, which the terrorists film, document and share on social media, gleefully, with the intent to shock and awe the world.  They do. Like filming the hundreds of beheadings of journalists and anyone they deem "infidels," so sickening and disgusting in every way.  

Historical and human obliteration in one fell swope. It's hard to believe we live in the 21st century, and this patriachal devastation is still going on. I look at Hubble's awesome images of the endless universe and wonder: How can the universe be so grand, so large, and the minds of men so small?  We seem to learn nothing from history. We repeat the same mistakes over and over. The human propensity toward evil is never ending. The struggle against it always falls short.

Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, has labeled the mass destruction of ancient religious and cultural heritage sites "war crimes" and "cultural cleansing."  Yes, and to what end?  They are certainly  "an immense loss for humanity."   Yes, and who can stop it?

The latest victim is the Baal Shamin temple in Palmyra, which dates back to the early first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rain.  It came a week after ISIS butchers beheaded 81-year-old Khaled Asaad, the chief of antiquities in Palmyra for over 50 years.  (, August 23, 2015)  

Khaled Asaad, an 81-year old scholar, who hurt no one, who only helped preserve humanity's heritage, tortured and beheaded. 

These tragedies follow the similar heartbreaking desecration and destruction of Christian and Shia World Heritage Sites in Mosul, Nimrud, and Hatra in neighboring Iraq. Every depraved act brings horror and outrage.  The disgust multiplies, the feelings of helplessness in the face of evil grows.  What can be done?  We're trying to bomb ISIS into oblivion, but is this the way to go?  Can you destory evil with bombs?  

ISIS is "erasing cultures from the memory of the world."   These antiquities are just bricks and sandstone and mortar, but they embody the aspirations and achievements of our past, the actions and dreams of real people in real time.  They hold countless stories that connect humankind in a great chain of being. 

The chain has been broken.  It is terribly sad to witness this rampage of destruction, this evil obliteration of our past and its defenders, with no end in sight.  
Interesting Sources:
"ISIS continues to bulldoze its way through the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria, releasing a new propaganda video showing its fighters destroying Iraq's ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in March 2015."