Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. One of the most beautiful and revered Polish Christmas traditions is the “breaking of the Opłatek” or “Opłatki”. The ‘Opłatki’ tradition originated in Poland during early Christian times. This custom began with a simple white wafer, baked from flour and water; the wafers display Christmas images, such as the Nativity.
Usually, the eldest member of the family will begin the ritual by breaking off a piece of the wafer and passing it to another family member with a blessing. This blessing can simply consist of what you desire for your loved one in the upcoming year – whether it be good health, success, or happiness. The purpose of this act is primarily to express one’s unconditional love and forgiveness for each member of the family.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. May is a busy month for Polish Catholics because 8 year olds have their First Holy Communion. The church ceremony is a watershed event in the life of Catholic children, and their parents.
The Catholic Church’s view is that First Holy Communion aims to prepare a child for a religious and pious life. In the build up to the event, children receive instruction in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Girls wear white dresses with garlands (crowns) made of white flowers on their heads to show their innocence. Boys carry candles. A party follows the church service.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Loughborough’s Polish priest Father Juliusz Kaczorowski was born in 1909 in Rzeszów, south-east Poland. He graduated from Lwów Seminary, studied at the Theological Faculty of the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów, and was ordained a priest in 1932. He was vicar of a parish and a religion teacher in Stanisławów and was there at the time of the Soviet occupation at the outbreak of World War II.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Catholicism was a major source of strength to my parents’ generation, and was seen as so important that the Poles in exile had their own network of priests and parishes in Britain. Much of the Polish community’s life in Loughborough centred around the local Catholic church and Polish Social Club.
Religion was an expression of nationality, and the practice of Catholicism helped everyone to retain some sense of identity and culture.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s. Organising and supporting Polish Saturday morning schools was considered by the local Polish community as one of their most important tasks, i.e. a duty towards their children.
An integral part of keeping the flame of Polish freedom alive in exile was a struggle to maintain Polishness in the new generation. Thus, a morning school was held on Saturdays for British-born children of Polish families to teach them Polish history, geography, religion and the Polish language.
Documentary photographer Czesław Siegieda recorded life in a Polish community in England from 1970 to the 1980s.
The Polish Social Club located at True Lovers Walk, Loughborough, was founded in 1966. It became the centre of social and cultural life for the Polish community in exile in Loughborough and nearby villages. It served to provide a home for Poles to meet and build friendships, as a place where Polish culture and history was kept alive and where Polish identity and independence were maintained.
My family – mother, stepfather, a younger brother and sister, two stepbrothers, and a brother from my mother’s marriage to my stepfather. Mother married twice. Her first husband (my father) suffered severe injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1964, and died a few weeks before my 10th birthday. Life suddenly became challenging, not least because my mother spoke only broken English. For the next 8 years, I was the translator for our family and helped to deal with all official correspondence.
Background – how my parents ended up living in England. Following the partitioning of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, my mother and her family were deported to the East. Thus began an extraordinary ordeal that took them, and many thousands like them, on a journey stretching from Siberia to Pakistan, and beyond. Their male relatives endured a parallel journey; arrested, exiled, and held as prisoners of war. Countless numbers were summarily executed by the Red Army.