My father was born in Poland and brought up in Paris. He considered himself to be French, but his official designation was ‘Displaced Person’. At the end of the Second World War he was assigned to the Polish Resettlement Corps and ended up in Scotland, where he met and married my mother. In a sense, she too was a displaced person, having arrived at her aunt’s house in Morison’s Haven as an eight-year-old orphan.
I knew all this as a child, but what I didn’t know was that my parents had a secret they did not share with anyone else, not even their children. I was only five years old when my parents announced we had a new name. It’s not something that’s easy to forget, but at that age, I easily accepted my mother’s explanation that our name had changed from Grynszpan to Grayson only because it was easier to spell. Nor did I question the fact that I had no clear idea of my father’s life before he married my mother, though I did know about the cousins I once had, who died during the war.
I suspect they did mean to tell my brother and I the truth when we were older. We knew Dad’s family, after all, even though visits were infrequent and we didn’t share a common language. But they never did tell us, because my father died a few days before my twelfth birthday.
My mother must have known she couldn’t keep her secret forever, or she would never have allowed me, aged 15, to visit my father’s family, armed with my new - and slightly wobbly - ability to speak to them in their own language. It took a while for what they were saying to sink in. My father was a Jew, something he and my mother had kept hidden from her family and friends. That was, of course, the real reason for the change of name - and for the vagueness of his family history during the war. Only gradually did I come to learn that that my cousins and many other family members had not been bombed, or starved or accidentally killed. They were murdered. The last contact my father’s brother had with his wife and children was a letter smuggled out of the train that was taking them to Auschwitz. It was written by Hennette, age 12:
‘Dear Madame GilletHennette and the others are not forgotten: http://www.memorialdelashoah.org/
I am writing these few lines in the train. We do not know where it is taking us, or where we are being deported to. We only know we have passed Metz. Please tell papa that he should not worry – we are in good spirits and hope the journey will soon be over. Papa must not worry about us. We are bearing up as I hope he is. I hope you are in good health as well as papa. We are all well. I finish this brief note with kisses for you. Please give papa a hug from us.’
I can understand that Dad’s family were angry with him for turning his back on the Holocaust, but somehow, I can’t blame my father - or my mother either, for their determination to protect themselves and their children by hiding from the past.
All the same, I couldn’t forget the dead – especially the children. I didn’t want them to die. I wanted to save them, even though I knew it was far too late. And that’s what leads me back to Charlie’s Promise. As a writer, I could create a different ending for one child, at least, and I am very grateful to Cranachan Publishing for giving me the opportunity.
My father’s history was the catalyst for the story I wanted to tell. My mother’s childhood in Morrison’s Haven and my own in Edinburgh provided the backdrop. And in telling how Charlie and Jean help Jozef find his way to a place of safety, I discovered I was writing a story that celebrated the people who faced their fears and found the courage to do good, not evil.
From e: Learn more about Annemarie Allan on her website. This is Annemarie's favorite place to write, at the Prestonpans Library, because "[it] is the one place I am guaranteed peace and quiet - and the staff are lovely!"