Richard – what it is to be a refugee
Most mornings Richard would appear in the staff-room before the rest of us and when we arrived we would find him hidden behind a large broadsheet newspaper. It was not a newspaper that any of us could read for it was a Polish newspaper, published in London.
His was both a terrible and a fascinating story. Richard was born in 1932. When he was seven his mother had taken him and his younger brother and fled from Poland to Russia before the German army could reach them. Behind them they left Richard’s older brother and his father, both coal-miners.
Each year for the next seven or so, Richard lived with his mother and brother in a different country, in camps that were built for what were then called displaced persons. Along with other Polish children Richard was cared for and provided with some education. Iran, then known as Persia, Iraq, Palestine and Italy provided some of his homes. After the Second World War the three of them found themselves in Britain where Richard completed his education and became a teacher.
One day during the Coldwar era, the staff joker burst into the staff-room. There had been tension between Poland and the Soviet Union and concern that the Soviets would intervene following strikes in Polish shipyards. “Have you heard, Richard? The Russians have invaded Poland.”
I watched Richard’s face. It was not a joke. He had not seen his father or his brother since he was seven, nearly fifty years ago now, and they were still in communist-controlled Poland. In moments, other colleagues had reassured our friend, but for a few seconds I saw the most dreadful of shadows cross over Richard’s face, something of what it must be to find oneself a refugee.
How do you think the writer learnt about Richard’s journey to Britain? Do any of your friends have stories to tell about their family’s history? What are the important events in your family’s history?
Why does the staff joker’s joke go wrong?