- My husband-- Sybirak and Anders Army veteran Aleksander Topolski-- turned 90 last week.... but which day? He always thought his birthday was Feb. 20, 1923,Message 1 of 1 , Feb 26, 2013View Source
My husband-- Sybirak and Anders Army veteran Aleksander Topolski-- turned 90 last week.... but which day? He always thought his birthday was Feb. 20, 1923, the date his mother told him. That’s the date he used after he was released from the Gulag under the “amnesty” and joined the new Polish Army being formed in the USSR. For years, Feb. 20th was the date in all his official documents from passport to marriage license to gov’t pension, etc. (and still is). However, when he finally got an official statement of his birth—his baptismal certificate—it said he was born on Feb. 19. How could that happen?
Here are some possibilities:--
+ In those days, most births were at home, not in a hospital, i.e. where careful records are kept.
+ In areas such as Poland and the Canadian Province of Quebec, there were no government records of births because those records were kept by the churches (and synagogues?). Thus, as a Roman Catholic, his baptismal certificate acted as his official record of birth.
+ Baptisms were not always done when the child was an infant. Aleks was baptised as an infant but one of his sisters was walking about on her own by the time she was baptised. That could lead to varied family guesses about the actual date.
+ At least when he was growing up (and still today?), Polish Catholics did not make a fuss over the date of one’s birth. The important day of the year to celebrate each person was their Names Day, i.e. the name of the saint whose day it was. Perhaps that is why the R.C. church only allowed the given names of official Saints to be used to baptize a child. Poles didn’t have birthday parties, they had Names Day parties instead. Back then Polish Christians could look at a calendar and know when anybody’s special day was. ( NB to Sys--That made it easy to be reminded and to get the date right.) Our Polish delicatessen’s annual free calendar still has a Saint’s name or two printed in the box for each day of the year. Thus the day marking a person’s birth could slip by year after year with little or no attention paid to the crucial date.
+ Aleks’s father was apparently the one who gave the information about the date of birth. Aleks’s mother told her son that he was born in the wee hours of the morning of February 20th, i.e not long after midnight. Perhaps in looking back and figuring out the day, his father remembered that Aleks was born in the evening of such and such a day of the week and so reported the day leading up to the birth, ie. 19th. Maybe he was like me. I don’t consider it tomorrow until I’ve slept overnight! That could be why legal documents of death have the wording “on or about” such and such a date. It is an effort to foil useless wrangling about whether it was hours, a minute, or even a second before or after midnight, or even longer from the precise time of the event.
There is another reason for date discrepancies: they were deliberately fudged! Reasons varied :--
+Aleks mentions in his memoirs Without Vodka (Rebis edition: Biez Wodki) that, as a teenager, he changed the year from 1923 to 1922 in his passport himself in hopes that he would be accepted into the army without questions about whether he was old enough to join up.
+Some families feared their true identity and past activities might be discovered or their backgrounds easily searched if they gave the true dates of their birth or even their true name. They didn’t want to make it easier for the NKVD or SS to persecute them. And so they deliberately gave the wrong date to obscure the facts.
+ Parents might lie about a child’s age for specific reasons. If their child was younger (according to his documents), he or she might be excused from hard labour, for example, or allowed to stay with their parent(s). On the other hand, if declared a year or two older, they might get more privileges such as bigger helpings of food.
+ My husband was sent to prison at the age of 16 for trying to leave Soviet-occupied Poland. In Chernigov prison, his Polish cellmates, all older, found out about the extra foods to be given to juvenile prisoners and asked the governor to arrange that diet for Aleks. Next day, the only difference was that his bread ration was reduced. And so, as Aleks explained [Without Vodka: 2001. P.110]:--
I raised Cain and didn’t stop until the Corridor supervisor came
and explained what happened.
“Yesterday you asked prison governor tovarish for the special
ration for underage prisoners. These rations include butter, eggs,
meat and cod liver oil. You are entitled to these, but we cannot give
you something we don’t have. However, we did cut your bread ration
down to the prescribed 450 grams for the underaged. You understand?”
I had to wait another day to have my name struck off the “list
of those eligible for special rations.”
Adult prisoners received 600 grams of bread a day, watery soup and little else.
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Mon Feb 18, 2013 1:38 am (PST) . Posted by: "ryszardsys" ryszardsys
The dates of the family members are all wrong! I have about 12 documents signed
by my dziadek and in each, he has the birth dates incorrect. To top it all, I
only found out a couple of months ago that my father has been celebrating not
only the wrong year, but the wrong day and the wrong month!
It must be genetic and explains why I forget my wife's birthday!!!!!
On a serious side, I had assumed he was simply "imprisoned" in some way. I
hadn't realised he was given 10 years hard labour and the tiny amount of food he
was given. . . .