A Tribute to Stacia Grabiec Baranowski: a Woman Who Survived a German Slave Labor Camp

Stacia Grabiec Baranowski died last week at age 94. She was from Niwiska, Poland and survived a slave labor camp in Germany during the Holocaust and then was liberated and moved to America. Stacia and her sister Anna Grabiec are two characters in my upcoming historical novel set during WWII in Poland. Although I never met Stacia, her daughters have been assisting me in my research. Her death weighs heavily on my heart and I think this story might speak for tens of thousands who suffered a similar fate.

Where She Was From

By Donna B Gawell

Stacia was from a little village nestled amidst the towering pines and expansive broadleaf trees of the sub-Carpathian Wildwoods, a place where wild boar and deer freely roam. She was from an honorable home and rocked in the cradle of a loving family with a strong faith; a family who always provided and cared for one another.

She was from tradition, sometimes ones that no longer make sense to us. A few seemed superstitious, like the thunder candle her mother would place by the window when the storm blew through with its intense lightning strikes. “We are reminded to always look first to God when trouble comes into our lives,” her mother would say, “We pray for His protection.”

Stacia was from a thatched-roof cottage with a massive clay stove and a garden of cabbage, potatoes, and herbs. On a nearby hill was St. Nicholas church with candles that flickered day and night and incense that rose to greet the three bells in the tower.

It was a place where she wore a special white dress and held a lily in her hands as she marched down the carpeted aisle on the day of her First Communion. Seven-year-old Stacia’s mind imagined her future wedding day when she would walk down the aisle on the arm of her father.

Stacia was from a place of daisies, poppies, marigolds and violets, a cow that needed milking and chickens to be fed; a place where the stork’s nest brought her family blessings, although not always ones that could be held in her hands.

But the place where she came from was suddenly transformed by a dark cloud that arrived after a violent storm created by men. The cloud refused to leave as new ones formed, ones filled with only sorrow and death. Their blackness lurked, covering every wall with its shadow of death and despair. Nightmares rained down; so horrible that we imagine even God was surprised by their inhumane brutality.

Niwiska’s secluded, once tranquil forests were now its curse as out of the storm emerged the evening wolves. With gnashing teeth, the ravenous wolves circled their prey to decide who would be useful to their master plans of destruction and who was to be banished.

Where Stacia was from suddenly was no more.  It was now the enemy’s country, and she was a stranger and an alien. Thorns meant to conceal the wolves’ evil deeds began to emerge and twist to strangle the daisies, poppies, violets, and marigolds. Stacia’s storks felt the first pricks of the thorns, heard the thunder, and flew away to escape. How she wished to join them, far away from the place she loved.

Now Stacia was from a vile place whose former brightness was eclipsed by these dark clouds and shadows. A place where one impertinent comment or youthful sneer would earn her a place on the train, in a weather-beaten boxcar that took her on a long twilight journey, far from those she loved. Stacia could not hear the calls from the forests echoing the cries and tears of her family as they searched for her. “Stacia, where are you?”

Stacia awoke to find herself in a place filled with vermin, lice, hunger, and sorrow, a place with tales so horrid, so terrible that when stirred provoked nightmares. A place whose memory remained buried in her soul with scars so deep that they should not be remembered.

History says that the nightmare ended on May 8, 1945, but Stacia’s wounds never fully healed. War is constantly with us all; the world is always preparing for war, at war, or recovering from the last one. But, the places she was from taught her many lessons: how to endure and have hope and to keep alive her faith in the promises of her Lord.

Stacia now can say she is from a far more glorious place, one promised to her, one that she held fast with assurance. On April 28, 2017, the Lord greeted Stacia in her heavenly home with a gentle embrace and showed her all her tears He had kept in a bottle. He reminded her that not a tear fell of which He was not aware. Her Lord understood the despair in each drop and kept them to remind her He was always holding her, even during the storms. Her Lord knew she would be coming.

The storks have finally returned to their nests, and the forests again greet her with the scent of spring mushrooms. Heavenly flowers send their fragrance to all who mourn as Stacia was reunited with her sister Anna who sings to her this song*:

A wanderer’s fate drives you,

Far away, somewhere in the world.

Take with you into the world,

Take from your family home

A little bouquet.

Take with this song a bouquet of flowers

Daisies, violets, marigold and poppies…

 

*The song is from a poem written by Anna Grabiec

 

 

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