Irena Jablonkowska was the only daughter of Vladimir Jablonkowski, a University Professor, teaching history in Krakow with focus on Central Europe, much like the Italian Germanist Claudio Magris half a century later. The grandparents had emigrated from the Kiev region, Ukraina, and established a solid and and increasingly successful position in Poland.
The family Jablonkowski was abducted from their apartment in Stare Miasto, the Krakow Old Town, by the SS and brought to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945. Before Irena and her mother was to be seperated from her father and her three older brothers, Irena caused the extermination of her family, promptly lined up and shot dead before her eyes. She had been obliged to promise her father, like had her siblings, to refuse to do any work for the Germans no matter what or where. She stuck to her promise.S
he paid a price of unimaginable proportions and carried the burden of guilt on her shoulder, suffering from the infamous ”Survivor´s Guilt Syndrome” for the rest of her short life.
She was raped and abused and, when thought dead, thrown on a heap of corpses, where the Swedish Red Cross found her a week later when the camp had been abandoned leaving the remaining KZ prisoners to survive, if at all.
She arrived in Sweden and the beautiful Helsingborg, a calm and sophisticated town on the Swedish southern west coast, situated on the hilly slopes by the narrow strait, Öresund, opposite of the Danish Helsingör and Kronborg Castle where the dissociative and grieving Hamlet was visited by his dead father and consequentely went mad.
Irena was instantly put to work after four weeks of primitive rehabilitation at the local hospital, the Clinic for Infectuous Diseases where she soon contracted tuberculosis from the patients, an endless irony, taking into account the fact that she survived her holocaust. The never ending tribulations were set in a breathtaking scenery with the brilliant waters and etheric beech forests surrounding the sanatorium and somehow, Irena did not go mad as did the devastated Danish prince only a mile´s distance over the strait.
Some four months after her arrival she gave birth to a healthy son, something I found out long after she and my own family were gone, who she instantly gave up for adoption. No one ever mentioned the child and I do not even think our family knew except for my maternal uncle, a vivacious, energetic, funloving man, suffering from TB, who would become her companion for some twenty odd years onwards.
I vividly remember ”Auntie Irena” standing before the kitchen stove with a cigarette dangling from her lips, steering the soup and singing ”Besame mucho” or ” Que será, será”, which became global hits in the mid fifties. She was a decisive and spirited lady, as were all the women on my mother´s side. She was a perfect match. Although Sweden was a politically backward country with virtually no immigrants except for the nobility, no apparent xenophobia existed except for in accademic circles where scientists and doctors protested against and stopped an official rescue plan for people with Jewish origin. The Swedish Nazis were to be found in elitist circles and the landed gentry.
No, that is not even true. We still suffer the collective shame of the cowardice, sin cojones, of looking the other way. Under the auspecies of neutrality we neglected to mobilise a massive effort to receive the victims of the ongoing war. Those who could not stand the disgrace went soldiering in Finland or in Spain..Our neighbour countries have not forgotten. Nor should they.
The Swedes were curious and interested in people from other countries until the competition for the jobs became fierce and polluted the relations much later. Irena was embraced by our family and relatives on all sides and highly esteemed for her stern but loving care for my Rabelaisian uncle who had an enormous zest for life and no troubles to get what he wanted. Well, until our beloved Irena made her entrance. My uncle lived the best time of his life and gave up once she had passed on.
She took to the Skåne Province, South Sweden, at once. She loved the endless yellow fields of rapeseed and barley, the daisies, the poppies, the windmills, the birchtrees, a landscape not unlike the Ukrainian countryside she had only heard her grandparents tell her about.
She died at age 43 in a hospital on Midsummer´s Eve, in a white and stately Mansion, high above the deep blue lake Ringsjön in a stunningly beautiful landscape and was dearly missed. The imagery of her last resort was as lovely as was her personality.
Nor evil, or defeating it, can be understood without a risk to fall into the pitfalls of stereotyped clichées. To have witnessed it at first hand made an impact in my formative years which cannot be exaggerated, although I did not, of course, think in these terms until in my late teens when the horrors of war became household knowledge with the escalation of the armed conflicts in South East Asia.
Nothing in this short portrayal of Irena Jablonkowska is banal except for my stylistic inadequacy.
She had deserved the eloquency of a Magris or a Borges. Or the enigmatic Astrid Lindgren, the fifth apostle...