Achieving the heights of capability
26 Jan, 2010 10:50 AM
By Donna Kelly
I LAUNCHED a book on Sunday.
I felt very honoured - it was a first for me and, as someone who writes 300 word articles for a living, I am always in awe of authors.
Zygmunt Tratkiewicz has been a Daylesford resident for many years. He is well known at the bowling club and a keen handyman and gardener.
He is 94 years old - and has been married to his English sweetheart, Gladys, for 62 years.
But it is not how he spends his retirement or his family _ there are two daughters and many more grandchildren and great-grandchildren - that fill the pages of This Soldier's Fortune.
It is his remarkable journey through World War II, from the very opening shots in his native Poland, to harsh prisoner of war camps, betrayal by so-called friends, survival against the odds, victory and a final bloody closing battle. But sadly no return to his now communist homeland for many years to come.
In his introduction Mr Tratkiewicz says: "most people will never come to understand or achieve the heights of which they are capable, or what they can and will do when they see no other option".
They are "heights" he is continually confronted with, from enduring 10 days of solitary confinement to being forced to battle a Nazi armed with a rifle and bayonet and then run for his life - over barbed wire fences and through unknown hostile lands.
Mr Tratkiewicz also came across decent German soldiers who almost certainly saved his life with their actions, and good farmers who were willing to offer him nourishing food and comfortable lodgings.
The book also gives Australians like myself, armed with a very rudimentary understanding of the European battles, a much-needed history lesson, without a hint of the dryness of the classroom.
Mr Tratkiewicz lived this history and despite his age, and the gap of 65 years this year since the war ended, he has a razor sharp memory.
As he told me at the launch, "there are some things you never forget" and as his eyes welled in memory, I realised I was talking to a man whose emotions have only grown stronger as the years have passed.
This Soldier's Journey is an amazing story and a great read, and I must admit as I turned the pages, I wondered if today's generation of Wii Fit enthusiasts would have the ability, let alone the courage, to echo the efforts of a man conscripted from his simple farming life at just 23 years of age.
Of course, my real hope is that we never have to rise to the challenge, but I still wonder.
I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of Mr Tratkiewicz's book but, if you're interested, it's available at the Daylesford Newsagency or from Ballan publishers Connor Court at connorcourt.com
The cost is $22.95.