Polish Londoner

These are the thoughts and moods of a born Londoner who is proud of his Polish roots.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Ewa Brzeska has died

Ewa at the Giles Hart memorial in Ravenscourt Park with Sean Bamford (TUC), Janusz Sniadek (NSZZ Solidarnosc) and Olgierd Lalko, current POSK Chairman

It is such terrible news about Ewa Brzeska.She was the shining star of our post-war second generation UK Poles, destined, in my mind, to be the new leader of the Polish diaspora in the UK, whether as Chairman of the Federation of Poles in GB or as Chairman of POSK.
She showed great promise when she became assistant secretary of the Federation in 1991 and played a great role in bringing in her various contemporaries into the Federation through her UK wide network of former scouts and student activists. We worked very well together and we became very close friends. During the Polish Communities Abroad Congress in Krakow she played a key role and chaired the commission on "Polish Youth Abroad". In a speech I described how Ewa and I "were like two water taps flowing into the same bath, with her being the warm one."
However she had to resign after several years because of the long illness and eventual death of her husband Kazik, followed by her prolonged care in turn for her father and her mother before they too passed away.
However some 5 years ago she was elected as Secretary of POSK, the Polish Centre in Hammersmith, and in 2008, she was elected Chairman.

Everyone greeted her election with great joy. She was like a new broom with a clear self-imposed mandate to humanize the building and open it up to young mothers of the new generation of young Poles, whose arrival had not been universally welcome. She opened up a creche and a mothers and toddlers group and drew new organizations like the Polish Deconstruction Group to hold meeting in the Jazz Cafe and other POSK venues.
However within a year she had to refrain from standing again because of the onset of cancer. Last year to everybody's relief she was pronounced free of cancer but her body had weakened and succumbed to a new cancerous growth in the brain. She was in her 60s and my God I will miss her. So will the Polish community at large.
She was the heroine of two of my stories in my new book "Hello I'm Your Polish Neighbour" (see extract below).

As much as I will miss Aneta Naszynska the 54 year old film editor who had cooperated with Jagna Wright in the film "Hidden Odyssey" where elderly Poles were interviewed about their experiences as deportees to Siberia, and in "The Other Truth" with some superb interviews with Poles and Jews about the thorny issues of Polish-Jewish relations in the Twentieth Century, and especially during the Holocaust. After Jagna's untimely death in 2007, Aneta ploughed her own furrow and followed up a number of projects, including the life of XIXth century Polish patriot and entrepreneur Ignacy Domeyko, which took her this Christmas to Chile. There too she was afflicted by the same calamity as Ewa, cancer of the brain. After 2 months of suffering she died in a Chilean hospital in June.
Like Ewa, Aneta, was warm, affectionate, patriotic, dedicated and imbued with great feminine charm. I shall really miss them both.


From "Hello, I'm Your Polish Neighbour"

Lady in charge of POSK - 16th May 2008

The Polish Social and Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which we all call “POSK”, has just undergone a sea change. The grim fortress-like building in King Street with its grey balconies but welcoming wide front entrance has allowed a wind of change to sweep through its many corridors. For the first time in its 40 year history it has elected a woman president. Hillary Clinton, don’t give up yet!

Like her avuncular predecessor Olgierd Lalko, the new President, Ewa Brzeska is a child of the old Polish veterans’ generation that had once dominated Polish London society. Certainly a charismatic figure with her magical smile and soft but authoritative voice which had enchanted the children she once taught at Villiers High School, she oozes femininity and warmth through every fibre of her generously proportioned being. She is well prepared for her task both by her upbringing and her experience as a voluntary worker and she had been General Secretary of POSK for three years.

The meeting at which she was elected last Saturday was an exceptionally well attended 7 hour marathon with a 15 minute break. More than 330 people stayed till the end participating in the AGM of this Polish bastion of democracy, alternatively roused by provocative speeches and dozing through the more boring reports. Attempts to skip the democratic formalities through voting “by poll” were firmly brushed aside as Ewa and her newly elected Council obtained a clear mandate to clear out the cobwebs of POSK’s 40 year constitution. The membership fee fixed back in 1967 had been a single lifetime payment of only £10. It needs to be upgraded and changed to an annual payment.

She has promised that more cobwebs would be cleared out. “Armed only with a pencil” she has promised to locate savings which will reduce POSK’s current running deficit, maintain the vital modernization programme of POSK’s facilities and assess whether POSK can afford a paid Chief Executive.

Ever mindful of the need to draw in new visitors and members from the recently arrived Polish diaspora she has promised to find the facilities around the POSK site for a crèche, and perhaps eventually a nursery. The pitter-patter of tiny feet around POSK’s nooks and crannies may fill some of the older sedate members with dread, but there is already a popular children’s theatre company, Syrena, which regularly uses the building and the crèche will bring young parents into more contact with the older institution. Those children could guarantee the social and the commercial future of POSK and, with all her respect for the older generation of POSK’s founding fathers, it is on this new generation, as well as on her own, that the new POSK President’s eyes are firmly fixed.

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