I am writing this account on behalf of my father Tadeusz Korfanty, a concentration camp survivor of Mauthausen-Gusen and Polish political prisoner No 48938. My name is Marysia and I am the eldest daughter of Tadeusz and Sheila Korfanty (nee Denham). I was born in 1952. I have a younger sister, Helen who was born in 1957. This story is written as accurately as I can, based on documents I hold, stories I remember, from a tape recording of my father recounting his childhood and war memories and from my visit to the concentration camps of Mauthausen and Gusen to make the account as true as I possibly can. It is written in sections and each section can be read independently of the others.
My father told us many stories when we were children. From being small I knew in my heart and head I had to remember them because one day someone might want or need to know what happened to my family. When I was growing up, those around me had no real idea or understanding of the enormity and responsibility I felt about my family story and my Polish background.
Portrayal of the Second World war in the fifties and sixties, the time I grew up, mostly seemed to show Prisoner of War camps and the heroic work of the underground in an almost idealised way through television films. The real pain suffering and tragedy of the time wasn’t always apparent. Occasionally and briefly something about concentration camps was shown and illustrated the dreadful tragedy of the Holocaust. Political prisoners seemed to get little or no mention. It felt to me like they weren’t important and as if no-one really wanted to know, see or think about what happened to them and the suffering they endured. It was if it was all too awful to talk about. I don’t recall seeing or hear anything about the camps my father was in. Camp Gusen was never mentioned as far as I was aware and until very recently nothing was shown about the mother camp Mauthausen. As a child I only knew they existed through my father's stories. It was like growing up in a parallel universe from others around me who were unaware of the enormity of what I felt was my families tragic and painful story.
As a child I saw my father's broken nose, his ripped nails, his damaged and painful neck and spine from the beatings, his inability to eat a full meal because of his shrunken stomach as a result of the starvation, and of his emotional and psychological problems and the screaming in the night.
When I asked my Dad, how, how did you do it? How did you survive such awful things, he would say we all tried to help each other, sometimes my life would be saved by a little kindness from someone else and I would try to help others, we just survived the best we could and well, I always thought ‘tomorrow will be better’, I kept telling myself ‘tomorrow will be better’.
A little kindness in the midst of horror saved his life on more than one occasion, and he did the same for someone else in return, and reached out to help others. Though the childhood of myself and my sister were different from our friends, what I learnt from my Dad was, it’s not easy to be a hero. I am no hero, but that it is important to have courage, to stand up for what you believe is right, fair and honest, to hold out your hand to those who need your help, regardless of their colour, religion and beliefs and look after those who are persecuted and bullied, they need your kindness the most and then, then tomorrow will be better.
I have tried over time to faithfully remember the stories I was told and pieced them together. I recorded some of my Dad’s account on tape to try to unlock the full story and wrote down what was not recorded. After my fathers death in 1992, I felt a strong need to visit the place where my father spent such a dreadful time in the camps. While others around me in England were preparing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of VE day, I felt the need to be elsewhere and travelled alone to the village of Mauthausen near Linz(Austria) unaware that the Mauthausen mother camp has been preserved as a museum. I walked into the camp, down the open area between the huts, smiled with tears in my eyes, raised my fist in the air and shouted out (not too loud) in defiance. ‘You didn’t get him you xxxxxxx’s. I am here’. As a result making that journey, so many stories began to fit together and make sense. I began to understand the relationship of Gusen to Mauthausen.
I discovered that there was a 50th Anniversary liberation event being held at Mauthausen, Austria and the day after my first visit to the camp, I returned. I met two other second generation survivors also walking up to the camp, who like myself felt the need to be there specifically at that time. We walked together, talked together and then each parted to go to our respective memorials. One friend by the name of Martha went to the Jewish memorial and the second friend, Boja went to the Yugoslavian memorial. Boja was very disturbed about what was happening in Yugoslavia at that time and deeply concerned that our families experiences would be repeated. Sadly, in hindsight, we now know how things developed. I never managed to make contact with Boja again after that meeting.
While standing alone by the Polish memorial, it was hot and the sun was shining. A kindly looking old lady stood beside me and offered some food and water to me. We talked and before we parted she gave me her address, ‘Lady Ryder of Warsaw, Cavendish, Suffolk’. Once again, ‘A little kindness in the midst of horror’.
The importance of telling the stories and learning from the tragedy of war is so important. I have since discovered that a memorial centre has been built at Gusen. The funding to build this came mainly from survivors of the camp and their families. A local committee continues to preserve the memory and the stories of camp Gusen and try to promote a greater understanding of what happened at this forgotten dreadful camp. They also have a website to help in educating others about this 'Hell of hells'.
Please learn from the stories lest it happens again.