State of Grace

By Morgan Karpiel

I’m currently sitting under gray skies in Krakow as preparations are being made to welcome no less than eighty planes carrying dignitaries from foreign governments to attend the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria. The President and the First Lady will be laid to rest on Sunday, in the tombs of Wawel Castle, alongside kings and saints.

It would be natural to write about the crash that took their lives, the Katyn Massacre that they had intended to observe with their visit to Russia, or the mood here in Poland. Those subjects have, in my humble opinion, been explored by writers far more suited to the task than I. Being a complete foreigner here, with no Polish ancestry on either side, I simply don’t have the perspective to do it all justice.

I can, however, tell you something about ghosts. I live in a small apartment in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, a few blocks away from Wawel Castle. This is where Oscar Schindler built his factory. It’s the neighborhood where hundreds of people were taken from their homes and sent to their deaths not far away. Down the road a bit, there’s a cement platform outside the train stop, where those same families left their furniture and their luggage after they learned they would not be allowed to take anything with them.

I’ve always found the mixture of past and present jarring, especially in Kazimierz, which is now a hotspot for nightclubs and chic restaurants that thrive in the same basements where children hid. It’s a place where giddy laughter and the thump of turntables and speakers have replaced the silence that must have fallen after all those trains left the station.

If those images seem impossible to reconcile, then you might know what it feels like to be Polish. So much has changed, so much lost to the merciless pace of the modern world, so many memories buried under fresh coats of paint and stage lighting.

I can’t say as I knew much about the President and his efforts on behalf of his country. Nor have I become involved in the debate regarding his burial site. The only thing I’m certain of is that an important act of remembrance will take place on Sunday, an act that merges the pain of the past with the pain of the present, the loss that sits shrouded in fog in a Russian forest and the loss that many in Warsaw woke up to on April 10th. My hope is that, with so many dignitaries in attendance (including those from Russia), it will also bring a moment of reconciliation, an acknowledgement that the past not forgotten, no matter how much the world may change.


  1. I've come back a few times to comment, but words sometimes seem so inadequate. How sad for the country. Hopefully Poland's people will recover and a new president will bring renewed strength.
    How eerie it must be to live in that area. A camp survivor once came to our night class to speak. She showed a film detailing the rescue, and the horrors. My heart went out to her, not only having lived through the ordeal but being afraid for so many years, even after coming to America, to share her story with others for fear she'd somehow be captured again.
    Thanks for your poignant post.

  2. Really wonderful piece, Morgan. I can understand your not wanting to presume about the feelings of the grieving Polish nation, but you've captured the sense of all of us gazing upon such unexpected loss in a long history of loss. I also really like how you put this:

    'So much has changed, so much lost to the merciless pace of the modern world, so many memories buried under fresh coats of paint and stage lighting.'

  3. Thanks Joanna! It's great to be able to share it :-)

  4. Hi Cate,

    It is eerie to live here, but inspirational too. I hope you'll be able to visit someday and truly take in. The Polish are strong willed and passionate. It was incredible to watch them express their grief today and venture forward.

  5. Thanks Julia! I'm grateful my descriptions were able to strike a chord. It was an amazing funeral. It seemed like the entire city took to the streets with Polish flags. I was left in awe at how dignified it was, respectful and very powerful.


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