Friday, January 1, 2010

Year of Freedom

Today was a celebration, not just because it was the first day of the new year, but because it was the three month anniversary of my Year of Freedom project. Back in October, I stepped down from my position as inventory coordinator for Blue Buddha Boutique. I still teach and weave for the company, but most of my time is my own. I wanted to create a situation where success or failure was entirely dependent on my actions, where I would be forced to put aside all excuses and engage in the shameless pursuit of my dreams.

I've kept it fairly quiet until now because I wasn't interested in explaining my seemingly bizarre actions to anyone. In these troubled times, I don't think it makes too much sense to step down from steady work, but I felt I had no other choice. Back in May, I had a conversation with my grandfather that changed my life. He's been suffering from dementia for several years and has spent the last year bed-ridden. He's had a difficult life--he was captured by Nazi police and sent into forced labor during World War II, and experienced a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice in order to build a life for himself and his family in the US.

Well, back in May, when I was visiting my grandparents on Mother's Day, he said to me, "Enjoy every minute of your life because it's all you get. Spend time with nice people." It was in the middle of one of the few conversations I've had with him; I think his upbringing and experience during the war made it difficult for him to communicate. He was fairly taciturn with me as a child. As a teenager, most of the time he spoke to me in order to share his experiences during World War II. And I thought, if he could fight to overcome all those years of emotional withdrawal and even fight through his illness to share this message of love near the end of his life, the least I could do was heed his words.

After hemming and hawing about it for a few months, I put in my notice at work. I've given myself a year to create a foundation that will help me achieve my dreams. I don't really have a game plan, so I'm mildly scared out of my mind. But I think about my grandfather every day, and I simply could not do anything else.

Because of all this, I want to honor my grandfather and the sacrifices he and my grandmother made to give me the opportunity to even have a year of freedom. I've started work on a website to catalog the experiences of Christian Poles during World War II. My grandparents were both Catholic, and they were both forced into slavery by Nazi forces. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were forced into slavery in Germany and Russia. There are a few excellent books on the subject but, unfortunately, the experience of Poles seems to be largely unknown outside of Poland.

I will do whatever it takes to bring into the public consciousness knowledge of what I think is an unrecognized genocide experienced by the Polish people. I'm looking for Polish survivors of World War II, or stories from these survivors passed down to children and grandchildren. Please contact me at if you are or know a Polish Christian who survived slave labor during World War II and are willing to share your story. I'm also interested in hearing from people who have Polish Christian parents or grandparents who survived World War II and how you think their war experiences shaped their interactions with you. I'd also like to post those stories, but I also selfishly want to know if my upbringing was typical.

Thanks to everyone who read this far. I usually only post about jewelry or art-related things, but since my grandparents are now in their 80's, I feel a particular necessity to start recording the memories of this dying generation.

Vanessa Walilko


  1. Vanessa - what a wonderful and important thing it is that you're doing. I wish you the very best of luck in your endeavor, and I hope you'll post about your progress on the blog - I'd love to read about it!


  2. Lavinia,

    Thanks for your support! It really means a lot that you took the time to write. I'll definitely be posting progress on all things, and once I've finally transcribed the interviews with my grandparents, I'll be posting those stories too.

    Lots of good, hard work ahead for me, and I'm happy about it.


  3. I'm mad at myself for not being blog-savvy enough to figure out that you had a blog. I thought I clicked on your name once and nothing popped up. BAH!!! (Sorry, had to let that out. Now I have some reading to do....)

  4. (By the way, not sure why I didn't say this, this post is beautiful. I'm really happy that you typed it out and articulated what you're doing. I've only heard it over the phone, so it's nice to see a kind of manifesto and/or reasoning for your Year of Freedom)

  5. I just got caught up on your blog and who knew you were doing the make something beautiful thing every day! that's a great idea. And I agree with Kate that you expressed your experience with your grandfather beautifully here. It's always good to read what you write :)