Combining history and hardship, battles and betrayal, miraculous escapes and death-defying encounters, From Exile to Eden chronicles one family's journey from deportation in Siberia to safety and freedom in America.
On February 10, 1940, the Szelazek family was deported as prisoners of war from Poland to a Soviet labor camp in Siberia, beginning a 12-year epic journey that spanned countries and continents.
In From Exile to Eden, Jadwiga Szelazek Morrison traces her family's harrowing yet inspirational flight from war-torn Europe beginning with two remarkable people--Tadeusz Szelazek born in 1909 to a titled family of the old Polish aristocracy and Helena Semerylo born on Armistice Day 1918.
Tadeusz and Helena create an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, courage, and inspiration. Helena, destined to be unusual from the moment of her birth, discovers her psychic awakening at the age of five when she is struck by lightning, followed by a second lightning strike as a teenager. Her abilities prove to be both a blessing and a curse for her and her family, and lead her on a journey to distant lands far from the land of her birth. Tadeusz follows a path of intellectual pursuits trying to unravel the meaning of life, in the end finding answers only within himself and from those he loves. A chance encounter with a world-renowned seer leaves him in possession of predictions concerning his future. With logic and intellect battling the possibilities of predestination, he finds his life unfolding in patterns which he fights to control and change.
Drawn from memoirs and family journals, From Exile to Eden weaves history, adventure, romance, parapsychology, and inspiration; sharing the story of the Szelazeks' exile as political war prisoners, their battles with disease, hardship, betrayal, death, and struggles for freedom throughout Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. The many miraculous escapes, death-defying encounters on the battle field, personal encounters with famous political figures, and numerous paranormal incidents will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
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About the Author
Jadwiga Morrison, or Jadzia (Yah-Jah) for short, lives in Burlington, Connecticut where she teaches in the Special Services Department of the regional high school. She received her Liberal Arts degree in English from Central Connecticut State University with a minor in History. After living in Hawaii for a number of years, she returned to Connecticut where she has been writing and working on various literary projects including From Exile to Eden and This Life of Mine, a book of illustrated poetry inspired by real-life truths.
Jadwiga is also a certified Transpersonal Hypnotherapist (CHt) specializing in helping people with various compulsions, phobias, bad habits, and learning disabilities.
Jadwiga has a great love for horticulture and raises many unusual varieties and species of orchids and tropical plants. Her interests in home construction and landscaping are evident in her newly renovated and restored 1920's home in Connecticut (an original Sears Honor Built Catalog Home). Some of her other interests include archaeology, travel, music, arts & crafts, cooking, psychology, reading, and metaphysical studies.
Read an Excerpt
From Exile to Eden
A Family Journal
By JADWIGA SZELAZEK MORRISON
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2012 Jadz Morrison
All rights reserved.
November 20, 1918 Biala Podlaska, Lublin County, Poland
Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Lublin was as cold inside as it was outside, but the small crowd attending Helena Semerylo's christening was too focused on the happy event to think about the cold. The priest had just entered the date of birth on her baptismal certificate as November 20, 1918. It didn't matter that she was actually born on the 11th of November; many people used their baptismal date as their birthday. Lately, not many official birthdates were being registered in her county anyway. The war was the reason. So many towns were being burned to the ground—government buildings, records, and all.
Helena was born in the nearby village of Biala Podlaska (which translates to White Village near the Forest) where beautiful forests of white birch lined the road to town. These forests were now protecting all their loved ones. Out of these woods, the Polish Resistance continued their forays against the Austro-Germans who were moving through their villages and towns.
Helena's mom, Aniela, stood at the baptismal font and thought about the events of the past week. The fear she experienced would be permanently etched upon her memory. German soldiers were prowling through their village, ransacking their homes, and stealing all the supplies and food they could find as they slowly retreated back across Poland. This same scenario was being played out all over the country. The Central Powers were losing the war and the Austro-Germans were preparing to move their forces back. It was rumored that Charles the First, the last Hapsburg emperor, had abdicated on November 12th. That was the day after Helena had been born and it was also the day on which an Austrian soldier rounded up all the ducks and geese on the Semerylo property. The livestock and fowl were all the family had to keep them fed that winter. They would all certainly starve if no one stopped the looting.
That night, the commotion outside the farmhouse woke Aniela, who was alone with her new baby. Her husband had left earlier that day, at dawn, to go back into the forest to join the other Resistance fighters. Aniela slipped out of the house, leaving the one-day-old child sleeping in her crib. Unnoticed, she ran to the side of the house where a soldier had temporarily left the trussed birds. He was busy foraging through their barn, so he did not see her as she quickly cut the ropes that bound the fowl. She shooed the ducks and geese onto their large pond, hoping that it would be impossible for the soldier to retrieve the frightened birds from the water. This done, Aniela ran back into the house. As she lay on the bed with the baby next to her, her heart pounded from exertion and from the risk she was taking. The Austrian soldier soon became aware of what had happened to his loot. He burst into the bedroom, and as he pointed a gun at her, he cursed at her in a variety of languages.
"It was you who released the birds. I should kill you. If it weren't for this little baby next to you, you'd be dead. If I killed you, she'd die as well; and I don't kill babies. You should thank her for your life because she's the only reason you're still living!"
In the church, as she remembered this terrifying night, Aniela did thank God for being alive, for her two daughters, and for her husband Wladyslaw. God had been watching over them a lot lately. The Austro-German soldiers had nearly caught Wladyslaw on several occasions. He was a commandant in the Polish Volunteer Army (Polska Ochotnicza Wojsko—it was this army that later pushed back the Bolsheviks as they tried to take over eastern Poland). The battles in Poland never seemed to end; just living was a constant battle for the Polish people. If it wasn't war, it was starvation, or sickness, and Aniela was weary of it all.
On this day, the whole Semerylo family was in the church, attending the christening of Helena. The officiating priest wasn't the one Aniela had expected to perform the service. They had requested Father Sliwonji, who was a relative of hers, but he had recently been executed by the Austro-German soldiers for spying.
Father Sliwonji had been in the church bell tower, with binoculars, watching the advance of the soldiers, and he had sent word to the Polish Resistance of the enemy's location. Unfortunately, the Germans had seen a glint of light reflected from his binoculars as he hid in the tower. When they could find no other people in the church, the Germans dragged him out and shot him. They hadn't seen the man running toward the forests with news of the German approach. The civilians had been warned and the Resistance was ready.
In the cathedral, everyone spoke in hushed voices, remembering the many good deeds of the brave priest. When they prayed that day, they prayed for him as well as their own families. Father Sliwonji met his end with courage and defiance. His parishioners, in this small ravaged town, wondered if they would also meet the same fate as the war dragged on.
November 20, 1918 Stannowo, Nieszawa, Warsaw County, Poland
His breath left steamy gray circles on the glass panes as he looked out on the gardens ravaged by frost. Those once fragrant, gloriously brilliant blooms and luxuriant bushes were now dark, blighted ruins. No longer did anyone stop to stare in amazement, as they had this past summer when everything had been a wild mass of color. There were so many unusual plants growing in their ornamental gardens; plants that some people had never seen before—except in books. The little boy drew circles on the steamy cloud covering the window. He dreaded the coming of winter, which was already leaving its mark on the flowerbeds. His mother, Antonina Zalewska Szelazek, had lovingly planted the gardens years ago, and they had been a constant source of joy for her. Not that there was much joy these days, what with the war dragging on the way it had. And what a war it was! So many people dead, so much damage and suffering!
"Why are some people calling this the Great War, father?" the boy asked.
His father looked up from the ledgers on his desk.
"Maybe it is a 'great' war, but it's just another war for the Polish people. It seems that wars in Europe always involve us in some way. Don't you have anything to do, Tadeusz, besides asking me questions all morning long? I've never heard a more talkative nineyear-old. Your brothers and sisters can answer your questions. Go bother them."
Franciszek pretended to be annoyed by his son's inquisitive nature but was obviously proud of his son's intelligent, questioning mind. Tadeusz had been born on July 26, 1909, and was the eighth of his nine children. This one resembled him in many ways. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy continued to gaze questioningly at his father. His thin face wore a determined, concerned gaze. Questions demanded answers and Tadeusz seldom failed to get them. This boy of his should do well in the future, if he lived long enough, Franciszek thought. He continued to review the household accounts as his son resumed his questioning.
"I just want to know when the war will be over."
"The armistice was signed nine days ago, but that doesn't mean that the fighting will stop."
"Is everything going to be okay now?"
"I'm not a psychic, so I can't answer that. I just don't know. Our country has been partitioned for too long and I'm worried that our sense of national unity is gone. There hasn't been a Polish nation in over 100 years. Germans and Russians are roaming the countryside, taking whatever is in their path. Our Polish people are still being forced to fight brother against brother, depending on which portion of the country they're living in and which army has forced them into service. We are being systematically murdered while other nations are saying the war's over. Eight months ago the (Russian) Tsar's army signed a peace treaty with the Germans and then pulled out of the war when the world needed them most. Now the Tsar and his family are dead and the new leaders are calling themselves Bolsheviks. Comrade Lenin is running the Russian government. Some of the Russians left for home when they signed the treaty, but then the Bolsheviks decided they should keep control of Russian Poland. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk has only caused fighting among the Bolsheviks. The world may be calling our country the Republic of Poland, but we're not free yet. Some of our Polish Resistance fighters are still battling with both the Russians and the Germans, as we speak. I wish we could keep them out of Poland forever."
"So, what you're saying is that the war is over, but it's not, right?"
"Probably not for a while.... Now that the Russian Bolsheviks are in power, we'll start seeing changes soon enough. Perhaps they'll liberate some of our household belongings the way the Germans have."
Tadeusz looked around at their comfortable home. He imagined it being "liberated" by Bolshevik soldiers and wondered what they'd take and what they'd destroy. Periodic German occupation of his household over the years had resulted in sparse furnishings. However, his home still had some nice pieces of furniture, and his parents' upper class status showed in them. Their house was the nicest one in the area and he was glad he had been born there. The building's construction was good enough to last a few centuries if need be. The outside walls were made of white-painted stucco. The house and the other structures on the property were surrounded by gardens, several acres of forests, and fields for farming. All of it belonged to them, the Szelazeks. At least it had remained theirs through this war, and maybe it would get through this new Bolshevik problem as well.
"How will our country be treated by the Russians now that we are independent?"
"They'll treat us the way they always had, as a weaker neighbor who can be pushed around."
On June 3, 1918, the world powers had declared Poland an entity. They were to be liberated by the Allies, and Poland was now considered an independent nation. Tadeusz remembered the celebration they threw on July 4th. His parents had celebrated that day, as had their Polish countrymen, announcing their independence. It had seemed an extremely appropriate date for an Independence Day celebration. The Americans were celebrating their Independence Day along with the Poles. It was a wonderful day; and, fortunately for them, most of their family was alive and present for the celebration. Tadeusz thought about his family and how they had come to be called Szelazek.
"Father, why do you call great-grandfather Lord Zielinski and not Lord Szelazek like everyone else?"
He liked hearing the story and Franciszek began retelling the old family history.
Zielinski had been a freeman of good lineage who ran the estates of an earl (hrabia). He was the chief administrator: he kept all the accounts and supervised the running of the entire village that belonged to the earl. The earl's son was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris when the old earl died and left the entire estate to his son. The newly titled earl arrived home and began a life of grand excesses—booze, women, gambling. Everyone knew that, if he continued at this rate, he would soon run through the inheritance and put the entire estate into jeopardy. The situation came to a head one day while the young great-grandfather Zielinski was looking over a pair of workhorses with the new earl.
Apparently, the new heir was talking about his plans to sell these workhorses and to purchase some racehorses in their place. This would mean the existing stables would need to be expanded and a great deal of money would need to be spent. This blatant extravagance was something to which Zielinski was vehemently opposed. He tried to reason with the young man, explaining how it was the earl's responsibility to look after the people who were in service to him. The serfs needed workhorses to plough the fields, not racehorses for entertainment. The earl had already squandered so much money that the threat of bankruptcy in their future was quite real. The serfs couldn't pay any more taxes and the estate's expenses were exceeding its income. The new earl objected to being lectured by Zielinski about his finances. To make matters worse, Zielinski was a fairly young man at the time. If the earl were to be lectured, he would have preferred to have someone older (and his social equal) doing the lecturing. He was infuriated by this serious, capable, young administrator who was so different from him.
"You're just a paid servant. Who do you think you are, telling me what to do?"
With that, he slapped Zielinski in the face and tried to use a horse whip on him. That was the wrong thing to do. No one dishonored the Zielinski name and got away with it. Family honor demanded satisfaction. However, waiting for satisfaction by way of a duel, would take too long ... particularly if one was being whipped in the meantime. So, Zielinski defended himself by grabbing some chains (which were used to control the horses) and beating up the supercilious earl. Zielinski then ordered the grooms to hitch up a team of four (of the earl's best horses) to a carriage. He made a quick stop at his home where his manservant packed their belongings, and drove them into Prussian territories. There he set up a new life for himself, believing that he must surely have killed the earl. He gave his manservant the name of Psiarski (a name that emphasized the servant's faithfulness and companionship, like a faithful dog). He gave himself the name of szelazek, a derivative of szelag, a coin of the times worth two pence or one shilling. This was a fitting name because he had always been good with money and investments. His choice of the new name was an interesting play on words. Zielinski meant greenery, vegetation, or weeds, while the word szelazek also meant a type of common, rapid-spreading weed or plant. In this way, Zielinski kept the basic meaning of his name.
Zielinski bought a large estate in Prussia, and with his quick wit and financial savvy, he soon made himself a fortune. He bought himself a title and became Lord szelazek. He gave his servant, Psiarski, his freedom as well as a small income to support his new status as a freeman. The new Lord szelazek had always believed in the equality of all men, and he disliked the feudal treatment of the serfs in Poland. He admired the beliefs of Tadeusz Kosciuszko who advocated freeing all slaves—American slaves as well as Polish serfs.
As the young Tadeusz listened to this tale, his father told him that he was named after that Polish freedom fighter. Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a hero in Polish history as well as in the American Revolution. (Later in his own life, Tadeusz szelazek would have the opportunity to drink vodka with the great grandnephew of Tadeusz Kosciuszko.) His father then continued the tale.
News of home was eventually brought to Zielinski/szelazek. He was informed that the young earl did not die from the beating. The earl had, apparently, realized the error of his extravagant ways after he nearly bankrupted his estate and lost most of his inheritance. so, when the earl found out where szelazek was living, he sent a messenger offering him a pardon. The earl asked szelazek to come back and work for him again. Lord szelazek accepted the pardon but told the earl that he would never work for anyone ever again.
This offer of a pardon might also have been timed with the formation of the new Polish constitution. The newly formed government was offering pardons to any expatriated Polish citizens living in foreign countries. They were being pardoned for any previous misdeeds that kept them from returning to their newly liberated country. After selling off everything in Prussia, szelazek returned to Poland where he married and settled in Kujawa. The fortune and title he brought back assured his family's comfort for a long, long time.
The tale ended and Franciszek went back to work on the ledgers. Through the window, Tadeusz watched two of his brothers walk a matched pair of Arabian stallions near the stables.
"Did your cousin, Adolf Szelazek, give you those horses, Father?"
"Yes, he did, son."
Adolf szelazek, one of Lord Zielinski's grandsons (born August 1, 1865), was a Catholic priest who would eventually become the Bishop of the Lodz diocese. As was the custom in those days, the eldest son inherited the estate and title, while the younger sons became soldiers or priests. Adolf, although wealthy in his own right, decided to enter the clergy. He was a generous, intelligent, creative member of the Szelazek family. As a member of the Polish delegation, Adolf would eventually become famous for negotiating the Bolshevik Treaty of Riga, Latvia, in 1921. In addition, his work with Prince Janusz Radziwil, who was the minister of Foreign Affairs, would lead to the Concordat in Riga. (A concordat is an agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and a secular government on matters that concern the church in that country.) He would also go on to write several books and papers on church and secular themes. Bishop Adolf would eventually die at his home in the Palace Bierzglow on February 9, 1950, and would be buried at St. Jacob's Church in Torun.
Excerpted from From Exile to Eden by JADWIGA SZELAZEK MORRISON. Copyright © 2012 Jadz Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Ancestry, Legends, and Early Memories of the Szelazeks
Chapter 1: November 20, 1918: Biala Podlaska, Lublin County, Poland
Chapter 2: November 20, 1918: Stannowo, Nieszawa, Warsaw County, Poland
Chapter 3: Summer 1920: Biala Podlaska, Lublin County, Poland
Chapter 4: Summer 1920: Stannowo, Nieszawa, Warsaw County, Poland
Chapter 5: Summer 1922: Biala Podlaska, Lublin County, Poland
Chapter 6: 1922–1927: Biala Podlaska, Lublin County, Poland
Chapter 7: 1927: Stannowo, Nieszawa, Warsaw County, Poland
Chapter 8: 1928–1935: Helena's Developing Psychic Abilities
Chapter 9: 1936: The Prophecy of Symbolerus (Hermanta)
Part II: The Approaching Exile and Fulfilling Fate
Chapter 10: Meeting and Marrying Helena
Chapter 11: A Stolen Visit Home
Chapter 12: Poland Is Invaded
Chapter 13: The Last Days in Poland
Chapter 14: Travelling to Siberia
Chapter 15: Life in the Camp
Chapter 16: Geniusz
Chapter 17: An Offer Declined
Chapter 18: Waiting for Deployment in Uzbekistan
Chapter 19: Stationed in Persia
Chapter 20: Palestine and Italy
Chapter 21: A Baby Is Born
Chapter 22: Avoiding Bullets
Chapter 23: War, Peace, and Relocation
Chapter 24: Life in England, Loss, and Progress
Chapter 25: Last Days in England
Part III: Coming to America: Predictions Fulfilled
Chapter 26: Life in the Tenements
Chapter 27: A New Home
Chapter 28: Brushes with Death
Chapter 29: Settling In
Chapter 30: A Tragic Accident
Chapter 31: Helena's Dreams
Chapter 32: The Expanding Family
Chapter 33: Where There Is a Will There Is a Way
Chapter 34: Tying Up Loose Ends
Chapter 35: Fulfilling the Prophecy
Chapter 36: Helena's Last Years