Saturday, June 16, 2012


This was written in 1987, and published in The Ukrainian Weekly.

My father, Vasyl, died almost nine years ago. The day after my sister's
wedding, he suffered a severe heart attack, spent two months in a coma, and
died without regaining consciousness on November 1, 1978. For some reason,
Father's Day is the hardest day in the year for me, more painful than the day
of his death, or his birthday.

Tato lived a life similar to that of thousands of Ukrainian men of his
generation (born right before and during the First World War). He was born
and grew up in the Boyko region. His mother died when he was very young,
and the stereotypical evil stepmother came into his life. He finished the
schooling available under Polish rule to the children of the village (selo). The
family was strongly aware of its national and cultural ideals, and participated
in the organized life of the selo.

During World War II, my father was one of the 2.5 million young
Ukrainians taken as forced laborers to Germany. He was lucky. Instead of a
munitions factory or a mine, which were prime targets for Allied bombs, my
father wound up in a dairy. There he met my mother, who was a forced laborer
on a nearby farm. I was told that there were even those who volunteered for
work in Germany because ''Hitler promised us a free Ukraine...''

From what I remember of my parents' reminiscences, in the human turmoil
during the middle and end of the war in Germany, the Ukrainian slave
laborers did not just do their forced jobs for the Reich. A Ukrainian anti-Nazi
underground was very active. The one incident I do remember my parents
retelling, was when my mother stole (yes, stole) her brother and other
Ukrainian political prisoners out of a jail carved into the rock of the Alps
(that's another story). Without everyday clothes, identity papers, and a
knowledge of the German language, they were as good as dead. The people in
my father's underground group forged identification documents for the
escapers, who could then move about the country, even go back home. I
remember being told long ago, "If I had stopped to think what I was doing —
and the danger involved - never would I have survived." For most
transgressions, it was execution on the spot, or the Lager (concentration

I suppose in today's anti-Ukrainian climate the Ukrainian slave laborers in
Germany are next on the list of our diligent Nazi hunters. After all, they did
work for the Reich (what difference does it make whether it was voluntary or
not?), then they even forged documents, stole and spied (what difference does
it make if it was against the Nazis, a crime is a crime - even during war ~

During that war, my parents suffered through the death of their first-born.
Lesia, the older sister I never knew, died of pneumonia at 14 months. There
was no medical care for the Üntermenschen (subhumans, i.e., the Slavs). My
mother was convinced it was the travel on cold military trains, their windows
shattered, which contributed to the baby's death. Now, I'm afraid to ask for
more details, because those memories may devastate an already fragile

After the war there was no going home. It's hard to imagine the inner
turmoil of these idealistic young adults, torn between family and home, and
the reality of the foreign political system now ruling that home. For the
members of the nationalist underground, going home meant Siberia or
immediate death. After what they saw of the forced repatriation in the DP
camps, their choice was made for them. Those from western Ukraine could
prove they were Polish citizens. The others, from eastern Ukraine (under
Russian rule) lied. What irony - desperate people felt grateful for having
been under the heel of one cruel foreigner instead of another!

Once in the United States, my father worked. Hard. Not knowing the
language, he had little choice of jobs. His first, in a mattress factory, left his
hands cut and bleeding. Then, there was the truck manufacturing company,
and the factory where they made the brass horses with clocks mounted into
their stomachs. Along with his day job, and my mother's night job cleaning
offices, my parents were janitors of their building in Jersey City. Is there any
DP family whose parents were not janitors of an apartment building in 1948-

In spite of the drudgery and exhaustion of work, Ukrainian life was not
forgotten, with the family participating in church and organizations. Soon I
was receiving my own "Miy Pryiatel" (My Friend), a children's magazine
published in Winnipeg and edited by Father Semen Izyk, a survivor of many
death camps.

After all these years, a scene from my childhood stands out. In our
apartment on Grand Street, in Jersey City, my father is lying on the couch,
quietly weeping, in his hands a letter written in purple ink. Mama is pacing the
rooms, also crying. The letter was from home. After Stalin's death in 1953,
separated families could write to each other again. Only now did my parents
learn of the deaths in their families right after the war — my father's father,
and my mother's mother and brother.

Tato was a quiet man. He didn't express it to us much, be we knew he loved
us and was devoted to his family. But I knew that above family, above
everything, his whole being was devoted to his Ukraina. He longed for home,
he prayed for Ukraine's freedom, he lived for his homeland.

The only way he could practically express his devotion was to belong to the
Organization for the Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine. Tato always
attended meetings, served on the executive, went carolling to raise funds.  I
wonder if the top brass fully appreciated what the rank and file did. He was
one of the foot soldiers, who worked because he believed in The Cause. A long
time ago he had pledged himself to Ukraine, and had sworn to obey the
organization. He believed, and obeyed.  I hurt him deeply once when, during a
discussion, I reminded him that during the war Ukrainians fought amongst
themselves and, maybe, for the greater good, they shouldn't have. To him, his
cause was right. It was for the good of the nation. No discussion.

Ukraina and his family there were always in his thoughts. When the parish
in Newark voted to change the calendar, and celebrate Christmas on
December 25, Tato went along unwillingly. And on January 7 he quietly went
to church again, because then he would be celebrating with everyone back
home. The understanding pastor held services for the fiercely stubborn people
like my father.

Tato was so anti-Communist that he even objected to the red color of my coat.
When we talk about the immigrants after World War II who still kept their
emotional suitcases ready, my father was one of them. Rationally, he knew
there wouldn't be a change soon in the Soviet political situation. But deep in
his heart, he hoped against hope. He wanted so much to believe that one day
he would go home.

When Mama traveled back in the early 1970s to see her family after 30-some
years, Tato would not go along. There was no way he was going to give
“them" (i.e., the Russians) any of his money. And yet I know how he longed to
touch his Ukrainian soil. Tato was very proud of my defense of Ukraine in my
writing. I didn't know this until after his death, when a friend of his told me
how he always bragged about my latest letter to the editor. I knew then, that in
spite of all my normal childish and teenage transgressions, I did OK in my
father's eyes.

About those eyes. Tato was a handsome man, with bushy eyebrows over very large, very blue eyes. My sister and I inherited his big eyes, as did all our children. You can tell those Paszczak eyes a mile away.  As most immigrants, Tato was a devoted American citizen. He always voted — Republican, of course - because they were anti-Communists. In a sad way, I'm relieved that he's not here today to endure what his friends and compatriots are going through. He would have felt betrayed, totally
devastated by Ronald Reagan, the Republicans, and the U.S. Justice
Department's Office of Special Investigations (OSI). Tato knew what he
worked for and against during the war. And now the country that welcomed
him is betraying all Ukrainians because of a lie. His heart and soul could not
have taken it.

Maybe Tato died from happiness. At the wedding reception he told a friend
that this was the happiest day of his life, because now both his daughters wеге
married to good Ukrainians. To him that meant everything. He was
surrounded by friends, including a wartime and DP camp buddy whom he
hadn't seen in decades, who had come all the way from California. After the
collapse, there was hope at first that he would come out of the coma. Then
slowly the realization sank in that he would not. We had the time to accept
this. At least he was not in pain.

To me, Tato's funeral was something I floated through. We were in a daze. I
remember the funeral director asking if we wanted flowers from the family.
Thinking that he meant another wreath, we decided instead to donate the
money to the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) veterans. And so, through a
misunderstanding, there were no flowers on his coffin, і still regret that. But
Tato would have understood. I'm glad he's resting at St. Andrew's Ukrainian
Orthodox Cemetery in South Bound Brook. At least there all our people are
united, no matter what political stripe or religion.

In our post-funeral thank-you announcement I wrote: ''Sleep peacefully,
Tatu. May the hospitable American soil take the place of that Ukrainian
earth, which you loved above all.''

(THE UKRAINIAN WEEKLY.  June 21, 1987)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vichnaya Pam'yat --and honorable Ukrainian patriot