harrigan: (war big bang)
harrigan ([personal profile] harrigan) wrote2011-06-23 10:51 am

UVS chapter 4 of 4

Under a Vast Sky
link to masterpost: here.

MacKenzie listened to the whole story, finally nodding. He told Jarek that Scharpwinkel was one of the war criminals on his list: the vicious head of the local Gestapo who was reported to have personally executed at least six of the escapees. That was what he'd come for, MacKenzie said. To find someone who could identify any of the names on his list from a set of photographs of suspects they had in custody.

Jarek looked at the photos dully, paled as he recognized a face he saw in his nightmares.

MacKenzie picked up the photo Jarek had frozen on, studied it, and then set it back in front of Jarek. "We arrested this man because the description was so close," MacKenzie explained. "We knew we were looking for a man with a scarred face. But many men in Europe carry scars these days. He claims he's a French national, employed buying wine for the officers' mess in occupied Hamburg. Are you sure this man is Scharpwinkel?"

Jarek nodded, certain. "What will happen now?" he asked heavily.

"You will know," MacKenzie said confidently, passing Jarek an affidavit to sign. "It'll take time, I can't deny that. Perhaps even a year or two. But these men will come to trial, and it will be all over the newspapers when they do. The whole world will find out the truth."

"And the families of the men who died?" Jarek read the statement, signed it and set down the pen. "Do they know?"

"They will, when it hits the news. Everyone will know that they've been avenged. That justice has been served."

Jarek remained sitting a long time after MacKenzie left. The thought of Jensen's parents opening a newspaper or magazine and reading about the tragic escape and cold-blooded murder made him feel ill.

Someone should tell them. Quietly. Personally. Respectfully. Jarek remembered Jensen, in that rare moment of honest vulnerability, admitting that he hoped his father was proud of him. It was important to Jarek that they find out the truth. That someone tell them not how Jensen died, but how he lived. That the price he'd paid hadn't been for nothing.

Taking a deep breath, he came to a resolution. I have told the story once. I can tell it one more time.

He thought a moment longer.

Perhaps two more times.

He went to the ewidencja hall in the center of the Resettlement Camp where there was a phone, took a deep breath, and called Julia Skalski. "You once said if I told you my story, you could help us? If you will wait until the fall to publish it, I have a deal to offer..."

They spent the long night on the train, Rosie curled up on the seat with her head on Jarek's knee, his coat easily covering her like a blanket. Jarek sat upright, couldn't sleep, and tried to keep his occasional coughing from waking her. One hand idly stroked her hair, and that helped calm him a little, but he was still anxious.

It was more than one thousand miles from Chicago to Montana. Too much time left to his own thoughts. Was he making a mistake?

The Polish Air Force Association had helped with the boat tickets across the Atlantic, and Julia Skalski had kept her share of the bargain and triumphantly produced an organization of Polish immigrants in Chicago to sponsor them, for it wasn't possible to emigrate without that. Now they were coming to America – but he wasn't having second thoughts about that.

It was meeting Jensen's parents.

He hadn't even told them he was coming. He tried to imagine what their reaction had been when they'd first learned their son had been captured. And then to hear nothing of him after the escape, even after the war ended. What would the RAF have told them? Would Jensen’s parents still hold any sliver of doubt, or had they accepted, as Jarek had, that he was gone?

Jarek didn't want to cause them more pain. But he was afraid that the news would come out, in radio or newspaper reports on the war crime trials. If they were destined to learn that their son had lost his life, Jarek felt he had to tell them more than that. He had to explain that Jensen had sacrificed his own best chance at freedom, so that Jarek and dozens of others could escape.

Rosie knew nothing of this. She was simply excited about the new adventure.

"It will be very, very different in America," Jarek had told her on one of their last nights in their beczka. He tucked her in, tugging the satin edge of the blanket up to her cheek the way she liked it.

"A new start?" she asked. Her hair was loose and fanned around her head on the pillow like a halo. "Like when you came and found me in the orphanage?"

He nodded.

"Then I have two requests," she said solemnly, rolling onto her back and holding up two fingers with her left hand, ticking them off with her right. "First," she said, "Nils-the-Bear has to come with us! He likes adventures, too!"

Jarek smiled. Rosie was eight now, and wasn't that too old for stuffed animals? But if that was the most important item that she wanted to take with her on their journey, they could find a way. Maybe, Jarek thought, it was having such a 'friend' that made her able to face the world so fearlessly. He knew a little something about the value of friendship.

"Of course! And your other wish, Your Highness?" he asked, bowing slightly.

She took a deep breath, like it was a request she had thought about for a long time, an important one. "Would it be alright if I called you 'Papa' when we live there?"

His eyes flashed sudden tears. "I. I don't want you to ever forget your real Tata and Mama, kochanie. They loved you very much." His hand trembled a little as he tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear.

Her fingers closed around the locket she wore always, even when she slept. "I have Tata and Mama, here. And you could be my Papa. Different names – see?" she said, blinking earnestly. "I promise I won't ever forget them." She opened the locket and turned it around to face Jarek. "You make me remember Tata, Wujek, every time you smile."

He did smile then, dimples carved deep and eyes filled with emotion, and when he caught his reflection in the mirror over their dresser, he knew she was right. For a moment, it seemed as though it was Józef gazing back at him. And his brother looked content.

The train pulled into Wolf Point, Montana, late on a Saturday afternoon. They were the only passengers to disembark - Jarek grabbing their pair of suitcases, and Rosie clutching Nils-the-Bear to her chest. It was cold for September, and Jarek knelt to button her coat and knot her scarf around her neck. She looked up at the sky and her mouth formed a perfect 'o'. "Look how big the sky is here, Papa," she said, trying the new name on for size. "It's so blue! And it goes forever! Is it really the same sky as back home? I mean, back in England? It looks so different!"

He smiled. The sky felt expansive, embracing. He remembered then the poem he had recited once to Jensen, and his heart suddenly felt too big for his chest. "It is the same sky," he told her. "Tonight I will show you the stars here. Do you remember how to find the Plough, in Ursa Major?"

"Of course I do. Ursa Major is Nils-the-bear's favorite constellation! 'Cause it's named after him."

"Well, in America, they call the Plough 'the Big Dipper'. We'll look for it tonight. But first, we must look for something to eat and a place to stay."

And even more important - the reason why they came to Montana.

The rail station was no bigger than the hut he'd lived in at Stalag Luft III all those years - just a squat, one-story building set on a thick concrete slab, paint peeling under the asphalt shingles.

Jarek settled Rosie on a nearby bench and approached the station agent, rolling his shoulders to alleviate the crick in his neck after nearly twenty-four hours sitting up on the train. "Excuse me," he said. "Can you tell me how to find the Jensen family?" It was a small town - he hoped it wasn’t an unreasonable request.

The agent, a dwarf with a sullen expression, shrugged. "They live around here? Sorry - can't say I've heard the name." He looked from Jarek to Rosie, and when she gave him a sunny smile, his face softened. "If they're church-goers, Reverend Tollefsen would know them." He gave Jarek directions to the First Lutheran Church, just four blocks away, and sent them on their way.

First, though, they stopped for dinner at a colorful café called The Hitching Post, and then, tired and disheveled, they went in search of the church.

Reverend Tollefsen, they found, had just returned from visiting a sick parishioner. He was a tall, thin man in glasses, with a friendly smile as he beckoned them inside the rectory.

“If you please,” Jarek said with honest sincerity, “I was told you might help me find someone.” He glanced around quickly for Rosie, and found her exploring the pictures hanging on the wall along the entry way. He lowered his voice so Rosie couldn’t hear. “A Mr. and Mrs. Jensen. I have - a message for them,” he explained, keeping it simple. “It’s personal,” he added, in case the reverend offered to deliver it.

"Well, the only Mr. and Mrs. Jensen I know around these parts are Anders and Karoline Jensen," Tollefsen said, shrugging off his coat and hanging it on the antique coat rack in the corner by the door.

"A couple in their fifties? Or maybe sixties?" Jarek suggested. "Who came to America from Norway during the war?"

"That would be right." Tollefsen nodded. "Their son - "

"Please." Jarek held up a hand, glancing at Rosie, who was making her way back to them. "Let's not talk of that now." Lieutenant Jensen still lived in her daydreams, escaping from prisons and dungeons and dragons' caves. He couldn't face Rosie hearing the truth just yet. Not like this. He still hadn’t figured out what to do with her when he met Jensen's parents face-to-face.

”Well, they don't have a phone." Tollefsen scratched his jaw. "But I know they'll be at church tomorrow morning. You're welcome to join us... no? Not Lutheran, then? Alright. I'll bring them by my study here in the rectory after services.” He peered at them over the rim of his spectacles, the two weary strangers, and Jarek felt awkward and dipped his head, preparing to take their leave when the reverend suddenly asked, “Do you need a place to stay tonight? We have a spare room here you’d be welcome to.”

Jarek was saying, “We couldn’t impose –” even as he was mentally tallying the bills left in his wallet and thinking they’d have to find a market tomorrow to fix sandwiches for the rest of the trip.

“Now, now. I wouldn’t be much of a pastor to my flock, if I didn’t live by the parable of the Good Samaritan. As he helped a traveler in need, so must I. You will say yes, and my housekeeper will even fix you breakfast in the morning - a hearty Western breakfast that will put some meat on those bones! And then you can wait for Anders and Karoline in the study around 10 o’clock. Alright?"

Jarek was a bit overcome by the unexpected kindness, and just stood rooted to the floor until he felt Rosie tugging at his hand.

“The man said to say ‘Yes’, Papa!” she reminded him.

“Yes.” Jarek let go of Rosie’s hand to shake hands with the reverend. “I’m sorry. Yes. Thank you. Very much."

"Right. Now, you look like you haven’t slept in days, young man. I'll have Sylvia show you to Pastor Andersen's old room." Tollefsen smiled and raised a hand benevolently. "God kveld."

God kveld,” Rosie called after him as he went in search of his housekeeper. Then she turned back to Jarek. “Everyone is so nice here, Papa! I think I’m going to like America!”

Despite his exhaustion, Jarek didn't sleep well. He had lain awake, restless, rehearsing what he would say. How to say it so that it wouldn't cause the family more pain. But it was important for them to know what a hero their son was. To know that his sacrifice hadn't been in vain.

In the morning, after breakfast, he carried their suitcases with him down to the office. They kept their coats on. This wouldn't take long, and then he and Rosie would be on the afternoon train back to Chicago, where he would find a job and a place to live with a good school for Rosie. And he would try… to forget? No – he could never forget Jensen. He could try to move on, though. For Rosie.

Meanwhile, Jarek sat on a hard wooden chair, hands scrubbing his knees nervously, cheap suitcases and Nils-the-Bear propped at his feet. It was as if Rosie sensed he needed support and left Nils with him to comfort him. She was circling the room, exploring everything on the bookshelves with her hands tucked behind her back so she wouldn't touch.

Voices could be heard from the hallway. A man and a woman. Too low to be understood, but Jarek thought he recognized the accent from when the Norwegians in Stalag Luft III had spoken amongst themselves.

The door creaked open and Jarek rose politely.

A small man, bald on top with leathery skin that told of years of outdoor work, pushed the door open and then paused just inside the room. His wife, round and soft like a potato dumpling, followed him in and then stopped, pressed against his side.

Jarek held out his hand, concentrating on keeping it steady. He’d forgotten completely about Rosie being in the room. "Mr. Jensen? Mrs. Jensen? My name is Jarek Podlacki. I have come to tell you about your son."

"Nils?" Karoline Jensen took a step back.

Rosie crept next to Jarek and slipped her hand in his. "Nils, Papa?" she whispered, picking up her bear by its paw.

There were more steps in the corridor, and the Jensens stepped forward to allow another man to follow them into the room. But it wasn't the expected reverend.


It was...

It was unbelievable.

It was Jensen.

"I thought..."

"I thought..."

They spoke at the same time.

And then, despite everything he remembered about Jensen's infamous Nordic reserve, Jarek grabbed him up in a bear hug and lifted him off his feet.

And Jensen hugged him right back.

For a long time, there wasn’t a sound in the room, until Rosie’s inquisitive “Papa?” brought Jarek back to earth with an embarrassed chuckle.

Jensen disentangled himself from Jarek's long arms and crouched down in front of her. "You can't be little Roza, can you?"

Her face furrowed in childlike disdain. "I'm not little any more. Papa had to buy me a new coat because I'm growing so fast." She looked up at Jarek, all the way up till she could see his eyes shining. "Someday, I'm going to be tall like him, too!"

“Not quite so tall, I hope.” Jensen grinned, straightened and made introductions all around.

"Your name is Nils, too?" Rosie asked doubtfully, her bear dangling from one hand.

He nodded, still smiling. “Nils Jensen, Miss Rosie, at your service!” He leaned down to shake her hand.

"Oh!" Rosie’s face lit up in sudden understanding. “You’re Lieutenant Jensen!” She quickly pulled off her scarf and reached up to try to drape it around his neck. "Papa told me this was yours. I guess we came all this way to return it to you!"

Karoline Jensen raised her hand to her mouth.

It was then that Reverend Tollefsen made his belated arrival. “I see you’ve all met,” he said, rubbing his hands together briskly. “Everything is alright?”

“Everything is…” Jarek didn’t have a word in Polish or Yiddish or English or any other language to finish that sentence.

It was Jensen this time who threw his arm around Jarek’s shoulder, and that was answer enough.

It was much too long a story to unravel in the formal study in the church rectory. They had hours before the train back to Chicago, so when Anders and Karoline offered to tuck Rosie between them in the front of their truck and take them home for a hot lunch, Jarek was happy to accept. He climbed into the bed of the pickup alongside Jensen, where they sat comfortably with their backs propped against the cab, legs sprawled out in front of them. And on the long dusty drive to the Jensen ranch (ranch! - Jarek thought, still in shock), Jarek went first. Because Jensen wanted him to, and at that moment Jarek would have given Jensen anything he asked for.

He told Jensen everything, but as abbreviated as he could, more anxious to hear Jensen's story. He made Jensen laugh when he told him about hiding in a pig sty his first day of freedom. He didn't go into as much detail when he described trying to wade through waist-deep snow in the Bezkydy mountain range in Slovakia, nearly losing his feet to frostbite before the Novaky Brigade - a Jewish resistance unit - found him.

Jarek glossed over the rest of the journey back to England and the months in hospital there. He talked more eagerly about tracking Rosie through the Red Cross. In a pause, he could hear Rosie chatting animatedly with Jensen's parents in the front seat, like they’d been friends for years. Or even like family. He caught Jensen watching him with a fond expression on his face as they both listened to her working out the funny coincidence that her bear was named Nils, too.

Jensen let Jarek ramble on about finally finding Rosie in a Quaker orphanage and then making a home for them in a Polish Displaced Persons Camp in England.

And then, Jarek had to tell him the rest. Learning that most of the captured escapees from Stalag Luft III had been executed. That a few survivors had been returned -- but Jensen hadn’t been among them.

"No," Jensen explained, when it was his turn to tell his side of the story. "They rounded us all up at the train station, but they didn't take me wherever they took the rest. I never saw them again."

"Where -" the truck clattered over a steel truss bridge, and Jarek had to stop and wait to be heard.

"The Gestapo," Jensen said when the road smoothed again. He drew up one knee, and picked at the cloth in his cheap Sunday suit without meeting Jarek's eyes. "When they were through with me, I ended up at the concentration camp at Sachenhausen."

What MacKenzie had suggested might have happened, had, Jarek realized. Jensen's name had never been given to the Red Cross. No one knew he'd survived.

But a concentration camp!

The color drained from Jarek's face. "Jensen -" Jarek didn't know what else to say.

Jensen raised his head but looked away, gaze locked on a lone tree in the distance. "It wasn't that bad," he said, but his voice sounded rough. "They put the POWs in Sonderlager A - it was... civilized. Much like Stalag Luft III. But we had to go into the main camp every week to shower. And Jarek - " His voice broke. "Jarek-"

Jarek didn't want him to go on. He’d seen the newspapers, he knew, and he couldn’t bring himself to hear what Jensen had seen there in the main camp first-hand. His vision blurred and his eyes burned. He glanced at Jensen's profile and saw his chin trembling, and Jarek shifted his weight so that his shoulder pressed against Jensen's, and they sat in silence for a while.

Finally, Jensen cleared his throat and started talking again. "In the final weeks of the war, when the Allies pushed closer and closer, the Germans panicked. They closed Sonderlager A, and other prison camps, too, and packed us up on trains to take us to the concentration camp at Flossenburg. And then to Dachau. And still the Allies pressed closer, until they drove us into the Austrian Alps. Our convoy was always just one step ahead of them, always with an elite execution squad as our shadow. Every morning, Jarek, I woke up and thought, today will be the end." He shivered, as if the Alpine cold still chilled his bones.

"What happened?"

"The Germans' trucks ran out of fuel!" Jensen twisted to look at Jarek and shook his head ruefully. "Can you believe it? I decided then that if I was going to die, it was going to be on my terms. As a free man. So when they started us on a forced march, I made my last escape."

The pickup rattled over a rut on the road and Jensen grabbed the side panel to steady himself. "I got away." He gave Jarek a sidelong glance. “I suppose you already figured that out, huh.”


“So. I got lucky and connected with the Italian partisans, and they got me out. And by the time they got me to the coast, the war was over. I just – I never went back to England. Or Norway. I just came home."

Home. This was Jensen's home now.

“And you’re. You’re… alright? Really?” Jarek couldn’t help but remember the last time he saw his friend, barely able to hobble.

“So, I have a job where I ride horses instead of being on my feet all day.” Jensen shrugged. “It’s a good life here, Jarek.”

Jarek had to admit, it must be true. Jensen looked healthy. He had a smattering of freckles from days spent in the sun. A hint of creases at the corners of his eyes made Jarek long to see them deepen into laugh lines.

Then he coughed self-consciously. "You know," he said, "the RAF has no idea what's become of you."

"I suppose I should have told them. I didn't care. The war was over. I just wanted to forget."

Jarek nodded. All that mattered was to be with family. Home.

"I did try to find out what happened to you," Jensen admitted, leaning back and crossing his legs at the ankle. "Do you remember Rex Moore? Our camp tailor?"

"Of course I do. I remember all the men on the Escape Team."

"He's American. Lives in Indiana. He was trying to track down the 'kriegie alumni', as he called us. Somehow, he found me. And so I asked him if he knew what had happened to you."

Dust sprayed up around them as the pickup turned on a patch of dry dirt, and Jarek felt a cough tickling his throat, but he tamped it down. He really didn't want to interrupt.

"Moore told me you'd made it out. Hit a home run, he called it! But he thought you'd gone back to Poland after the war. And you know, with Poland behind the Iron Curtain now. Well. I figured that was the end of it."

"No." Jarek stared up at the cobalt-blue sky. The same sky that stretched far away over Poland, too, but he didn't think he'd ever see his homeland again.

Memories of 1939 and the September Campaign filled him with such bitterness he couldn't speak. Germany had invaded Poland and driven the overwhelmed Polish military back to the southeast corner of their country, where the Soviet Red Army poured in ruthlessly to help carve the country up. The Polish soldiers and flyers who'd fought in vain to protect their people, men Jarek had known and called friends, so many of them had been killed or captured. Hundreds of thousands of Poles had been sent to die in slave labor camps in the gulags.

And now the Allies had just given Poland to the Russians?

"No,” he said again, still watching the clouds scudding eastward toward his homeland. No longer home. “I – we cannot go back. There is nothing left for us there."

"So. What are your plans then? Are you going back to England?"

"A Polish organization in Chicago sponsored us, Rosie and me, to come to America. They offered to help me find work." Jarek lowered his gaze and found Jensen watching him carefully.

"Well, if you're looking for work..." Jensen's face took on a naive, hopeful look. "We could use another hand on the ranch. I think - since the war – well, I've changed my mind about some things."

Jarek quirked an inquiring eyebrow, as the truck pulled up a long gravel drive to a big two-story house with a wrap-around front porch and an enormous oak tree in the back. "What do you think now?"

"I think, maybe, I'm not better alone."

Jarek absorbed the words slowly, searching Jensen's eyes. And then?

His answering grin seemed as wide as the Montana sky.

Epilogue - Montana, 2011

Inside the trunk, there was a small leather portfolio, and Alice opened it with a shiver of anticipation. It was filled with loose sheets of art - a child's art. Bold crayon drawings at first: a boat poised on a curly blue sea, storm clouds roiling overhead. Next was a very recognizable portrait of Nils-the-Bear. As Rosie matured, her pictures softened. There was a quite good watercolor of the house Alice now sat in, a study in perspective against an old oak tree.

Most curious of all the pages was a charcoal sketch. Just two silhouettes, men in cowboy hats sitting on a log in front of a campfire, heads dipped low in quiet conversation. All in shadow. Two horses, unsaddled, standing easy behind them. A moon like a silver coin hanging low in the sky.

The picture touched Alice, although she didn't understand why.

As she pawed through the rest of the keepsakes again, she sneezed in the attic dust, and decided to take her finds outside to ponder in the fresh air for a while. But where?

Then she remembered: there was an old family cemetery under that giant oak tree behind the house. She didn't know anyone buried there - her parents were still alive, and her grandparents had all been laid to rest in Billings, where they'd moved when they grew too old to work the ranch. But Alice had memories of trying to catch fireflies in the yard one summer evening when she was a little girl, finding a grave marker out there for a couple named Jensen, and wondering idly if her dad was somehow related to them. Then it had gotten dark, time to go inside for her favorite TV show, and she’d never asked.

She remembered it being a peaceful corner of the property, and it suited her contemplative mood perfectly now.

The sky was cloudless, a vast sapphire blue, when she left the attic and walked out onto the creaking porch planks and down the warped steps, carrying the small crate of possible family treasures with Nils-the-Bear balanced precariously on top. It was just a short walk to the small plot of graves.

Flanking the big oak tree, Alice found a cluster of older tombstones etched with Scandinavian-sounding names of men and women and children, too, who’d died in the early 1900's.

A short distance away, under a flowering crabapple tree in full bloom, there was the marker she remembered for Anders and Karoline Jensen - one shared granite stone with both names carved upon it. She did the math. They'd each lived into their seventies, and had died the same year, like many old couples where neither partner wants to go on without his or her beloved.

On the other side of the tree sat two more smaller stones she didn't remember, set close together, stark in their simplicity. The newer stone said Nils Jensen 1915-1980. The older stone read: Jarek Podlacki 1919-1952.

She walked around the markers and read the engravings on the back. On the older stone was carved RAF, 303 Squadron. The other carried RAF, 331 Squadron. So they didn't fly in the same unit, Alice deduced thoughtfully. She wondered how they met.

If they were the men in the charcoal sketch.

Nils Jensen...

Since Grandma Rose had a stuffed animal named Nils-the-bear before she ever came to America, Jarek and Nils must have met before that. Then Alice remembered the compass. Made in Stalag Luft III. She would have to research that. Perhaps they were POWs together in World War II. A tiny gust of wind sent a crabapple blossom floating down from the tree, and she moved around to face the fronts of the tombstones again, still thinking.

So young, Alice thought. Jarek was only thirty-three when he died. And then - Rose would have only been fourteen or maybe fifteen. Poor Gran had lost so much, so young, and now even her Uncle Jarek was taken from her. She had no other family - who would have raised her? Did they have orphanages out here then?

But then again - Rose had named her son Jensen. Looking at the two tombstones set together under the shade of the tree, she felt sure that Nils Jensen had taken responsibility for the young orphan girl and raised her as his own.

Alice sat down on the grass, set the bear down beside her, and stared at the sketch of the two cowboys for a while. Part of a poem from her master's thesis came to her, and she closed her eyes, letting the words wash over her.

Well, at long last.
On a certain ordinary night,
between a humdrum Friday and Saturday,
they suddenly appeared exactly as I wished them.
Seen in a dream, they yet seemed freed from dreams,
obedient only to themselves and nothing else.
All possibilities vanished from the background of the image,
accidents lacked a finished form.
Only they shone with beauty, for they were like themselves.
They appeared to me a long, long time, and happily.

I woke up. I opened my eyes.
I touched the world as if it were a carved frame.

Then she opened her eyes, and turned back to her little crate of family treasures to see what secrets she could unravel.


Author's Notes: The film The Great Escape depicted the actual planning and construction of the tunnel and 1944 escape from Stalag Luft III as accurately as possible, but invented characters and adjusted timelines and added certain elements for entertainment purposes. I did, too. And while I tried to draw mostly on non-fiction references, I must gratefully acknowledge James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, who wrote the movie screenplay, for inspiration and for one or two anecdotes they may have invented out of thin air that also occur in this story.

In addition, the following poems are quoted in the story. (They were, I must confess, published after World War II.)
  1. "Sicily" by Zagajewski, Adam. Eternal Enemies (translated by Clare Cavanagh), Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. NYC, NY 2008

  2. "Niebo" (Sky) by Szymborska, Wisława. View with a Grain of Sand, Harcourt Brace & Co. Orlando, FL 1993 (translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh))

  3. "Pamięć nareszcie" (Memory at Last) by Szymborska, Wisława. Sounds, Feelings, Thoughts (translated and introduced by Magnus J Krynski and Robert A Maguire), Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ 1981

I couldn’t be more excited about the art [livejournal.com profile] 5rin9 provided – it’s such a privilege to have these images that so perfectly capture what's been rattling around in my head for so long. She was a pleasure to work with, too! You can go here to leave her feedback.

The gorgeous icon is courtesy of the talented [livejournal.com profile] muffymorrigan.

Hugs and thanks to my beta readers: [livejournal.com profile] geminigrl11 (multiple passes!) and [livejournal.com profile] miz24601 for their generous time and invaluable advice, to [livejournal.com profile] scullspeare for Brit-picking and everything else she did, Adina for her perspective as a Jewish reader, and Sandy for her insights on growing up in a family of Polish immigrants. Any remaining mistakes are all mine. I appreciate their help - and friendship - more than I can say!

Thank you, too, to [livejournal.com profile] wendy and [livejournal.com profile] thehighwaywoman for running an incredibly massive challenge with such warmth, welcome, and awesome organizational skills!

And finally, to the readers, thanks for making this fandom such a fun place to hang out, and for coming along on this ride!

[identity profile] linnet-melody.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 07:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh. Oh, lovey, this is too awesome for words. Such history, such *meaning* behind the scraps that Alice found. I honest-to-god cried when Rosie wrapped Jensen's scarf around his neck.

This was so beautiful. I wish I could do more than squee and flail incoherently, but I'm reduced to squee-noises and incoherent flailing. :D

Very, very well done!


[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 07:59 pm (UTC)(link)
Sending you a virtual ice cream cone for being the first to pat me on the head. Thank you SO much!

[identity profile] gooferdusty.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 09:29 pm (UTC)(link)
that was heartbreaking, that jareks headstone read that he died in 1952. that he got to experience so liitle peacetime. and that jeansen lived till 1980... omg it broke me!

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:26 pm (UTC)(link)
Poor Jarek. But he never expected to find such joy in his life, so it's a good ending, right? Even if short?

Thanks for reading! And taking the time to comment!

[identity profile] geminigrl11.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 10:32 pm (UTC)(link)
CONGRATULATIONS!!! I will say it again, it's a msterpiece. Brilliant work and so touching and so completely J2 while being completely faithful to the movie. You are wonderful, chica! And hope you sleep a little easier tonight. ;)

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 11:57 am (UTC)(link)
Can you believe we started talking about this story over a year ago? And I have no writing commitments or plans on my plate right now. It feels weird...

I can never thank you enough for your help and support. But I owe you 30+K of beta-reading for this beast: I'm happy to split that into 15 stories each 2K if you want! ;->

[identity profile] nickitynackity.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 10:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, what a fabulous little story you've written. I was quite interested from your summary, but I must say your story exceeded my expectation. I loved how you wove the story of Jarek telling Roza bits and pieces of his time as a prisoner into the storyline of the Great Escape. I expected a scene for scene re-telling but this was so much better. I loved every moment up until the end when Jarek dies at such a young age. So heartbreaking! I may have to edit that part out of my brain as I am sure this story will stay with me a long while. Kudos to you for such a great tale!!

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:06 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I wrestled a lot with that summary this week - I'm not sure it was the best way to go, but I'm glad it drew you in and then didn't disappoint!

I always knew Jarek would die young. (In my mind I know exactly how/why, and I even have scenes in my head of Jensen walking Rosie down the aisle at her wedding.) To me, Jarek is a tragic hero in that he has all this sadness and these burdens and he tries to shoulder them as bravely as he can. And Rosie is a gift, but he worries about her, too. Finding Jensen is like a brilliant, unexpected (to Jarek) source of pure joy, and Jarek lives the rest of his life completely and unutterably happy.

ext_418363: (Default)

[identity profile] notragicmercury.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 10:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm always a little hesitant to read fic based on real events, but you handled it perfectly. So many little elements woven into you story with lovely prose. I'm glad I took the chance. I even got a little teary-eyed when I saw what year Jarek died in. It was excellent.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm glad you gave this a try! I made a conscious effort to be sensitive to the fact that these were real events used as the backbone of the story, and real people were affected by these tragedies.

Yes, Jarek didn't have a long life. (Although I didn't spell it out - it's a consequence of his time in the tunnels.) But his last years were happier than he ever imagined!

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

[identity profile] heather03nmg.livejournal.com 2011-06-23 11:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Such a heartbreaking story but throughout there was always hope. Beautifully done. You made me cry.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Sniff! Thank you!

[identity profile] greeneyes-fan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:13 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, yes. Totally yes. Jarek is freaking perfect here, and Alice, with her curiosity about family stories that were just too painful to have been passed on. (Most of my own grandfather's early life is a blank to us, he believed his wife and children were better off not knowing.) The history is brutal and terrifying and ugly, and the people are so filled with life and humanity.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:25 pm (UTC)(link)
It's so interesting that you mention your grandfather being likewise reclusive about his past. I was inspired by the book After Long Silence for that aspect of the characters.

The history is brutal and terrifying and ugly, and the people are so filled with life and humanity. - Oh, thank you so much! That's exactly what was I was trying to convey! Thank you!

[identity profile] jhunnay.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:20 am (UTC)(link)
...so I might love you a little, with tears in my eyes...

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 12:28 pm (UTC)(link)
♥ ♥ ♥

[identity profile] magnolas.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
This was beautiful. . . elegant in its historical backing, yet so simple in so many ways.

Wonderful job.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I ♥ history and research - and had a lovely time imagining Jared and Jensen in these roles. I'm so glad you liked it.

[identity profile] scullspeare.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 01:43 am (UTC)(link)
Gorgeous story – so much history and detail and wonderfully written, multi-faceted characters. And such a beautifully bittersweet ending *sniff*

I love the scene, written from Rosie’s perspective, when they’re walking down the road from the train station. You captured her child-like wonder so perfectly. In fact, Rosie throughout is such a marvelous O/C. After reading this story, I am as much under her spell as Jarek.

“(For Jarek) She kept the darkness at bay.” Meep!

“"Well, he was smaller than me -"
"Everyone is smaller than you, Wujek!" – Hee! I love when SN pokes fun at Jared’s size, and this is right up that alley.

“And yet, you spend every day underground, like a birch mouse in winter." – I think I’ve been watching and writing Dean too long because, on first pass of that sentence, I read it as a “bitch mouse in winter” –*g*

Thanks to this story, I now have whole new reasons to love The Great Escape (one of my favourite movies) – and an even stronger wish to see Jared in uniform in a movie. :-)

Fabulous work, my friend. Absolutely awesome.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:19 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank *you* for making this story better! ("Nail varnish"! I had no idea! But then, who ever thought I'd write a fic that mentioned something like that! hee...)

And here's to seeing Jared and/or Jensen in a war movie one day!

[identity profile] spangielka.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 03:10 am (UTC)(link)
This was a really nice story.
I'd say particularly interesting for me to read as I'm Polish. There are some details that don't add up from historical perspective, but overall I'm genuinely impressed by your knowledge about Poland; you must have done a lot of research. I'm glad that you mentioned Soviet invasion of Poland since, from what I gather, the fact that Hitler and Stalin made a deal (The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact) to fight Poland together and divide the country between Germany and Russia is often overlooked.
Anyway, I liked the characters (especially Rosie) and the plot was engrossing... I haven't seen the movie but now I think I might.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow! I'm so pleased to get feedback from you!

One of my best friends in high school was the daughter of Polish immigrants, and I picked her brain for some tidbits I could include for authenticity (e.g. all the Christmas stuff - and so much more). Then I made her read the draft after (even though she has no idea who Jensen and Jared are, I don't think!) to offer any corrections.

I love research. The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War is one of the references I used.

I did play a little loosely with the timeline (for example, I know the Polish Resettlement Camps in the UK weren't up and running yet in 1945), but I'm glad there wasn't anything that made you stop reading.

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment - I'm really excited to have a reader from Poland! And I hope you'll watch the movie and enjoy it!

[identity profile] catnthecradle.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:02 pm (UTC)(link)
The Great Escape is one of my all time favorite movies, and this story just slots right in there like it belongs.

I loved the way you made Jarek so old-time formal, (so different to the Jared we are used to) and yet I still see glimpses of Jared in him.

A truly moving story, thank you for sharing.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:17 pm (UTC)(link)
This feedback means a lot to me - thank you! Jarek was a challenge to write, but I would love to see Jared play a role like this one day. (And since he said here that he'd like to do a war movie one day, maybe I'll get my wish!)

(I'd like to see Jensen in a war movie, too!)

[identity profile] quellefromage.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I have enjoyed this muchly. The sexual tension was stunning. *G* Lovely work, m'dear.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-24 08:53 pm (UTC)(link)
LOL! Even the movie at least had a shower scene, ya know?

[identity profile] gomustangs2002.livejournal.com 2011-06-25 01:50 am (UTC)(link)
This was a wonderfuly written story! It is my favorate Big Band story. I laughed and I cried and it really touched me. My favorate POW was LeBeau ,because I have always loved Hogan's Heroes. (BTW, did you know Robert Clery who played LeBeau was a POW in a concentration camp as a child?) Again, this was a beautfly written story that I couldn't stop reading.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-25 02:27 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! Yes, I did know that about Robert Clary, and I named the character LeBeau to honor him (and let him have a small part in helping Jensen, too.) Someday I hope to read his autobiography: From the Holocaust to Hogan's Heroes. I'm glad someone caught the reference, and thanks for taking the time to comment it!

[identity profile] spn-2008.livejournal.com 2011-06-25 07:04 pm (UTC)(link)
I love it, utterly.

Was so real and touching, without being over dramatic, was perfect and human!.
I'm happy you give us something more complex that a regular fic, with layers and feelings, broken people with parches, and a little bit of hope too. And I love that some parts of the story were in the sidelines but were still there.

Probably my favorite BigBang this year.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-25 08:01 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you so much! This really makes my day!
Edited 2011-06-25 20:01 (UTC)

[identity profile] cookiemom6067.livejournal.com 2011-06-26 12:40 am (UTC)(link)
This is simply wonderful. It is epic in scope, yet moving on a deep emotional level. Fabulous writing. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-26 01:04 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you so much for your kind words!

[identity profile] weesta.livejournal.com 2011-06-26 10:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh gosh! I adore the movie The Great Escape and I love that you didn't do an exact retelling of it, but that knowing the story enhanced the characters of Jarek and Jensen. I really liked the format - bookending the story with Alice and the momentos but having Jarek tell the story to Rosie in the middle. LOVED when Jensen walked in with his parents, and that his name was Nils - that was great.

So much love for this fic. Going right into my favorites!

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 12:46 am (UTC)(link)
Gosh - thank you so much! I was curious if any of the readers were familiar with the movie or not. I had a lot of fun being 'inspired' by the events, but telling it in a different way and with new angles. I'm always excited when you like one of my stories! Thanks for taking the time to tell me!

P.S. Love your icon!
embroiderama: (Jared - howdy)

[personal profile] embroiderama 2011-06-26 10:30 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh wow, this is an amazingly good story, though it was really sad and hard to read in places. I'm so glad Jarek and Jensen found some kind of happiness together, even if it was so brief.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 12:49 am (UTC)(link)
I'm so pleased you liked it. You know, I always knew it was going to have a sort of sad ending, but I feel like Jarek's character was always burdened by so much (and even though Rosie was the light of his life, she's a responsibility, too). So the fact that Jarek found this completely unexpected source of *joy* that he got to have for the rest of his life... makes me happy.

(no subject)

[personal profile] embroiderama - 2011-06-27 12:31 (UTC) - Expand

[identity profile] mollya.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
What a perfect gem of a story! you can't imagine how happy I am to have read it.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 01:58 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you kindly! You can't imagine how happy I am to hear that!

[identity profile] cordelia-gray.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 07:15 am (UTC)(link)
This was just wonderful. I think it's my favourite BB this year. So impressed with the level of research, and the characters were beautifully drawn. So sad that Jarek didn't get to see Rosie grow up :(

Just an excellent story, thank you for writing it.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Wow - thank you! I'm sad that Jarek didn't get to see Rosie grow up, too, but I'm glad that in the end, he had Jensen, and he knew Jensen would always be there for her.

[identity profile] flowerhead101.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 01:20 pm (UTC)(link)
This was absolutely lovely - I enjoyed every minute of it! I was so involved with the story that the voice in my head (which reads out stories) sounded like he had either a Polish or a Norwegian accent.

I am just in love with this!

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:26 pm (UTC)(link)
That's such a lovely comment! I had two friends with Eastern European immigrant parents and/or grandparents read through the story to see if the dialogue sounded right to them! So it's great to know that paid off, esp. for readers like you who "hear" the story!

[identity profile] madebyme-x.livejournal.com 2011-06-27 03:44 pm (UTC)(link)
Gosh, what a touching, beautiful and bitter sweet tale. A delightful mixture of historical fact, your own imagination and some fabulous characters who you can't help but get invested in.

The format works perfectly, stories within stories sandwiched with Alice in present time as she delves into the box of treasures. And I loved all the tales Jarek told Rosie, of a very crafty and lovable Jensen – I really can't blame her for falling a little in love with him!

There was so much heart to the story too. Small and quite moments filled with emotion and told with an understated subtlety that spoke so well of the characters and their tragic experiences. I guess, like the Winchesters, some thing don't need saying out aloud, whether to spare loved ones feelings or to protect yourself much like Jarek, whose character changed so much due his experiences.

The reunion was perfect and the hug...I wiped away a tear or two! As you know, for me its always about the small details; Nils the bear being named after Jensen, Rosie returning the scarf and the monopoly card. It was a joy seeing these items in the first chapter and then learning their historical importance to everyone involved as the story developed.

The ending really touched me. A mixture of relief and happiness that Jarek finally got the sky and quite family he deserved after all his sacrifices and sadness that it was cut short. But I had a feeling it was going to happen, all the years tunnelling and then mining taking it's toll.

Y'know I'd love to read more of this. I'm sure you have all sorts of bits and pieces filed away in research files and plenty of scenes that you add in or expand on especially when it comes to Jarek's and Rosie's new life in Montana. But then again, maybe I'm just being greedy.

Anyway, this was an enormous pleasure to read, it's a beautiful piece of work that speaks volumes of your writing skills and you should be very proud of your achievement. Thanks so much for sharing. Take care

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:34 pm (UTC)(link)
awww... thank you! You always write the best reviews!

And you're right - I have scenes that play in my head but will probably never see the page. I've imagined Alice finding a shoebox of photographs, one of Jensen walking Rosie down the aisle at her wedding... I've imagined how Jarek died, not in a hospital but alone out trying to mend a fence on the ranch and has something like an asthma attack... but that would be too sad to write.

And as sad as this story was, it was mostly a happy ending me. That Jarek, who always tried to hard to put others first, found such unexpected joy that he got to hold onto for the rest of his life.

I loved Nils-the-Bear, too. He was one of the first things I imagined, when I started plotting this over a year ago. I love that my artist found a 1940's bear to include in her images. I hope folks are giving her kudos, too!
shallowz: (TWD)

[personal profile] shallowz 2011-06-27 11:07 pm (UTC)(link)
This doesn't read like fanfic. This is a story. A wonderful, fabulous, well-researched story. Awesome work and simply put - beautiful.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you! I genuinely appreciate that you took the time to read something in a genre you don't usually! I'm so glad you liked it.

(Wonder where I got my love of WWII from, huh?)
ext_21612: (jared :: dimple)

[identity profile] britomart-is.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 03:16 am (UTC)(link)
Gorgeous. Quiet and slow-building and completely enthralling.

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:37 pm (UTC)(link)
Reviews from writers I hold in such high esteem are cherished! Thank you!

[identity profile] timian.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 05:31 am (UTC)(link)
I have so little time these days to devote to reading, and the probable heavy emotional content of your story led me to very nearly avoid it altogether. I am so pleased I didn't.

I've heard of the Great Escape, both the real life feat and the movie, though I've never seen the film and know shamefully little about the actual exploits of those tremendously brave men. Now I'm quite determined to read about this episode in history, and was wondering if, in researching this story, you found any single text particularly helpful. Any suggestions?

At any rate, I found this story beautifully, sensitively written, and I applaud your reserve in quietly relating moments and themes a less skilled writer might have hit too hard: a story such as this provides its own drama. I also appreciated many of the terribly sad details you provided concerning Jarek's short life, Jensen's long one and especially, I think, the myriad losses poor Rosie endured right from the beginning.

Once I finished the story, I discovered that I didn't find the conclusion as sad I would have expected. Yes, Jarek died so young after braving so much so selflessly, but for one such as he I believe the sum of his life's happiness shouldn't be measured by the happiness he himself managed to find, but instead by all the happiness and joy others found thanks to him. And how humbling to remember that while Jarek is fictional, there are real people beyond counting as brave, selfless and determined as he.

Thank you for sharing this story. I have a feeling it will stay with me for a long time to come.
Edited 2011-06-28 05:36 (UTC)

[identity profile] harrigan.livejournal.com 2011-06-28 11:49 pm (UTC)(link)
That's... an amazing comment! Thank you so much - it really means a lot. I'm so glad you took a chance on it!

The best reference for the actual escape is the non-fiction book that the movie was based on: The Great Escape by Paul Brickhill. Brickhill was one of the men on the escape 'team' who was not granted one of the 220 slots because he suffered from severe claustrophobia, and Big X felt he'd put the escape at risk if he panicked while in the tunnel. It's the most readable, as the author was actually there. (There are other references I used, too, by authors who interviewed the survivors. In fact, I'd be happy to identify any references - I'm delighted to be asked! In case it's not obvious, I'm a bit of a research junkie.)

Thank you again for taking the time to write such a treasured review!

(no subject)

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