A WILLINGDON hair salon owner who went to see her father’s farmland in Poland found a whole new family she didn’t know existed.
Anji Mianowski, 53, runs Anji in Church Street Willingdon, and this Easter she travelled to Poland with her sister Christine to see the place where her father Edward grew up.
Anji and Christine (below), who works at Eastbourne Academy, lost their father around eight years ago and knew very little about his childhood and time in the war.
Anji said, “He was a strong man and he didn’t talk very much about the past. All I wanted was to see the farmland, that was all I expected.”
But against all the odds, without doing any research and not being able to speak a single word of Polish, the sisters experienced an unexpected emotional roller coaster when they stumbled across their family.
Anji explained her sister had booked the tickets to Poland but two days before they were due to fly she realised she had booked the wrong town and the location they required was hundreds of miles away.
Anji said, “She was putting away father’s passport and birth certificate and the passport fell on the ground face down and when she picked it up she saw the place of birth which had a similar spelling to where she had booked.”
They re-booked the trip but met more obstacles when they arrived at the hotel in Warsaw following a five-hour train journey.
Anji said, “The hotel in Warsaw was an hour and a half away from where my father was born.
“We had thought we might take a bus but the hotel reception said we shouldn’t because no-one in the area of Garwolin would be able to speak English.”
Anji was struggling to find interpreters to help her find the farmland, but as she turned around to head back to her room from reception the hotel cabbie came in and offered to make a call to the hotel bell boy who spoke good English.
Anji said, “He took out his phone and made the call and it turned out the bell boy was from Garwolin. We could not believe it.”
Anji and Christine set off in the taxi a few days later and went to the small village of Wola Rebkowska where their father was born. They first went to the village shop where they were told to visit the oldest resident in the town.
Anji said, “We knocked on this old man’s door and he looked at my father’s passport picture and said, ‘I know this man. He is alive. I saw him at a wedding recently and I can take you to where he lives’. I didn’t know what he was talking about, I thought he may have lost his marbles.”
However, the man took Anji and Christine to a house in the taxi and the cabbie and interpreter went and knocked on the door, leaving the two ladies in the car.
Anji said, “Gerrard the bell boy came out to car and said ‘come in, your aunty Barbara is in here’.
“Aunty Barbara is my father’s younger sister and she was clutching exactly the same photograph of her parents that we had. She was almost having a heart attack.
“She thought my father died years ago and didn’t know anything about us.”
Word in the small village started to spread and another aunty called Uzepher and cousins started to turn up at the house.
“We couldn’t see through the tears,” said Anji.
The last person to arrive at the house was their uncle Kashic and Anji said he was a ‘spitting image’ of her father.
“I don’t know how I managed not to pass out,” said Anji.
“He was my dad’s double. He had the same hair, moustache, ears, eyebrows, walk and he was the same height.”
The emotional meeting took place on the site that Anji and Christine’s father grew up. The Mianowski family home was bombed during the war but rebuilt on the same site.
Anji told the Herald her father Edward was taken to a concentration camp in Berlin at the age of 18 during the war but managed to escape during a bombing.
He then served in the army and decided to go to England after the war.
He wrote letters to his mother when he first arrived in the UK but that stopped and he never returned to the village of Wola Rebkowska.
Anji, Christine and their other sister Maureen are looking forward to a return visit to Poland in August with some of their family.