Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Night Sky: A Journey from Dachau to Denver and Back

Early in my third decade, I became much more interested in finding out the "truth" about my family. I wrote a screenplay about someone searching for her uncle in Prague. I did research about a great uncle, and got very little information, thanks to the FBI. But these questions and others continue to take up parts (perhaps too much) of my brain.
Maria Sutton was dealing with much more concrete questions, and closer relatives, than I was. Sutton was born in a German dp camp, and immigrated to the US with her sister, mother and the man she thought was her father. Her mother was Julia Czeczerska, a Ukrainian (Galicia, since the borders change so frequently) arrested by the SS and sent to Dachau for forced labor. She was placed with a family outside of Munich who ran a biergarten. Her fellow laborer was a Polish man named Jozef Kurek. When she was 13, Sutton found out that Kurek was her father. It took years for Sutton to put together the pieces of her biological father's life, not the least of which was letting go of what she thought she knew about him. Sutton thought he was an officer in the Polish military, a graduate of the air force academy and an educated man. None of those things were true. Sutton wrestled with her feelings of abandonment ("if Dad's so great, why doesn't he want to know me?"), and was unprepared to deal with the animosity of his younger children. The younger Kureks didn't resent Sutton, they resented Kurek himself (even after he'd been dead for a decade). Her mother loved Kurek, but he did not treat her well at all. Eventually, Czeczerska admitted that Kurek had physically abused Sutton and her older sister.
Sutton was undeterred- she did not hide under the bed (I would've been tempted to).
Sutton went on to be successful in other searches; most notably, she was able to reunite her mother with her long lost brother, Wasyl Czeczerski (who'd lived in Bethlehem, PA for decades). This search went much faster, in part to Sutton employing an ex-KGB agent.
If you are at all interested in how even the close families can be dispersed, and in particular dispersed by that particular war, your time would be well spent with Sutton's memoir. It's available on

Disclaimer: Maria Sutton supplied me with a review copy of her memoir.


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