Sunday, 26 July 2015

I have a first edition print of the book framed hanging on my wall...

Interview with Jeremy Podolski
by Agnes A. Rose

Jeremy Podolski is the grandson of Antoni Joseph Podolski – the author of his autobiography entitled “23 Days: A Memoir of 1939”. Antoni was born in 1923 in the town of Baranovichi which until 1945 had belonged to Poland. Currently these areas are located in Belarus. Joe died in Norfolk in 1999. During the Second World War Antoni Podolski fought against the Red Army, and he became a fighter pilot in the Polish Air Force in Great Britain. His heroic struggle against the eastern invader resulted in the fact that he was arrested and eventually he spent twenty-three days in a condemned cell, waiting for his execution. Jeremy is going to tell us not only about his heroic Grandfather, but also bring the facts associated with the creation of this very moving book, which undoubtedly are the Antoni ‘Joe’ Podolski’s war memories.

Agnes A. Rose: Jeremy, welcome on my blog and thank you for agreeing to give me this interview. Could you tell us something more about your Grandfather? What was he like?

Jeremy Podolski: Growing up he was everything that you would expect from a Grandad. He was kind and loving towards us. He let us get away with far more than we would at home with our parents. He even covered for us a couple of times when we cause a little more trouble than usual. He had suffered a very large stroke in the early 1980s and I was born in 1983 so my memories of him were after his stroke. He had a more sedate life after his stroke. He stopped flying, teaching Judo and his work of boat building and glider repair and being a jeweler. I would have loved to go up flying with him as from the stories I have heard he was an amazing pilot.

This is a photo of Joe Podolski with his Squadron in about 1945. 
You can see Joe in the front row as the first on the right hand side. 

Agnes A. Rose: When did you first meet the story of your Grandfather? Do you remember what you felt then?

Jeremy Podolski: The first time I read it was about 2 years after he died. I would have been about 18 at the time. He willed his manuscript to my brother and myself. The story was harder to follow then compared to how it is now. It jumped about more in time as he had dictated the story and so when he recorded bit he would jump about in his memories. I was amazed at the story. It was unbelievable that he had gone through this situation. I could not imagine going through that hell at 16. His life as a 16 year old was so far removed from mine as an 18 year old living in a safe and peaceful country. I knew he had been a pilot during the war and I imagined it was actually an exciting way to fight a war but the first few years were brutal for him. I was amazed how normal he was after the war. How he could go through such horrors and then just settle down and build a normal life.

One thing did 'click' after reading the book was the fact that when I would stay at his as a child if I would wake up during the night he always seemed to be awake. I don't think he slept too well due to nightmares.

Agnes A. Rose: What happened that Joe Podolski decided to write down his dramatic wartime memories? What was the process of preparing the diary like?

Jeremy Podolski: After his stroke he had some pioneering surgery that saved his life and gave him a good 10+ years more with us. He wanted to get this story down for the family. He was hoping to get it published as a book at the time but did not have any luck.

When he dictated his memoirs he used a tape to tape recording machine to dictate his story. A friend of his got his audio typist to type up the story from the tapes. This produced a 600+ page double spaced manuscript. This was the format I originally read the book in.

Agnes A. Rose: Why was the book “23 Days: A Memoir of 1939” released just after your Grandfather’s death? Didn’t Antoni Podolski during his lifetime want his story to find its way into wider audience’s hands?

Jeremy Podolski: As far as I know he did try a number of publishers during the late 80s to see if they were interested. At that time the cold war was at an end and Russia was not seen as the great enemy that it once was. The communist government is the main 'bad guy' in the story and I think politically it was not the right time.

Also with most book publishing the publishers are looking for what will make them money and if they don't feel it will sell then they are not interested. At that time printing was very expensive and big runs were needed so I think most books like there were seen as a gamble in the publishing world.

Joe Podolski also taught Judo. In this picture Joe is standing between 
his two colleagues from the Norwich Judo Club.  

Agnes A. Rose: What was the process of publishing “23 Days: A Memoir of 1939” like? Why did you eventually decide to publish the Joe Podolski’s wartime memories?

Jeremy Podolski: Preparing the book after his death was a lot of work but it was spread out over almost 15 years. After I had first read it I wanted to preserve the book so I had to get it on to computer. After a little trial and error I used some OCR software. This takes a scan of the page and reads the text on the page and puts it in to a word document. As this was originally typed on a typewriter the OCR software got a lot of bits wrong and picked up some very weird formatting. The software was also very basic compared to today as this scanning was done in about 2003.

I had to go through all the 600+ scanned pages and correct the mistakes and formatting just to get it looking normal.

Many years later I found a company that does digital book printing. As with the development of most technology it meant that printing a short run of books was cheap enough to make it worth printing a small run. I also found someone online to do some editing. This was just to correct some grammar and spelling that I had missed. My dad then did a big edit to move the story about in to a better and more readable order.

This was just going to be a digital printed book for the family but as the story was edited it just developed in to this incredible story. So we decided to take a chance and self publish the book. We have never removed anything from the book or added anything. We have only moved the story about to make it flow better.

Agnes A. Rose: On the Internet there are a lot of very positive and extremely moving opinions on the book of your Grandfather. While preparing this publication did you ever think that people would treat the Antoni’s memories in such emotional way?

Jeremy Podolski: No, I did not. It was a lovely surprise to have this feedback off people. It makes all the hard work worth it when you read honest reviews about the book. It was also nice hearing other people's memories of my Grandad. These are stories that we did not know and would never have found out if we had not self-published the book.

Agnes A. Rose: And how do you personally treat this book? What is it for you?

Jeremy Podolski: I treat this as probably the most important thing I have ever done and maybe will ever do. It is an amazing connection to a very sad and harrowing part of human history. I have a first edition print of the book framed hanging on my wall with some newspaper articles about my Grandad underneath. I will treasure this book forever and hopefully if nothing else comes off it there will be an amazing historical document to pass down our family.

I am really proud of the book and the amazing positive feedback we have had.

Agnes A. Rose: I know that your Grandfather never returned to Poland, but certainly he missed the country where he had grown up. Had he ever thought about going for broke and returning to the places of his childhood and adolescence before he died, although currently these lands do not belong to Poland?

Jeremy Podolski: What my dad wrote about him not returning to his home he was referring to his childhood home in Baranovichi. He did return to Poland a number of times and met up with some family and old friends. As Russia was still in control of Poland there was some element of risk and he never pushed his luck by trying to go to his old home.

Agnes A. Rose: It seems to me that last October you were in Krakow where you promoted the book during the International Book Fair. How do you remember that event?

Jeremy Podolski: I personally was not at the book fair. My Dad, Mum, Cousin and Brother and his family were at the book fair. It seemed to go well and they spoke to a lot of people. There was some interest from a Polish publisher but in the end they decided that it was not for them.

Published by
United Kingdom 2014
Agnes A. Rose: May we expect the Polish translation of “23 Days: A Memoir of 1939” despite the lack of Polish publishers?

Jeremy Podolski: I would be lovely to have a Polish translation. We have had one Polish publisher interested but that did not come to anything in the end. If anyone reading this is interested in publishing a Polish version then please get in touch!

Agnes A. Rose: Have you ever been to Baranovichi? If so, what was your following of your Grandfather’s footsteps like?

Jeremy Podolski: No, I have never been there but I have been thinking about it. Maybe in the future I will take a trip there. Sadly I have no idea where his childhood home was compared to how it looks now.

Agnes A. Rose: And what do you think about Poland? While your staying in Krakow did you also visit any interesting place in our country?

Jeremy Podolski: I love Poland and Krakow! I have never felt instantly at home as I did when I first visited Krakow in 2012. I have visited Warsaw a number of times since 2001. Half of my Grandad’s ashes are with his dad’s grave in Warsaw. I would love to explore more of Poland and I have a rail trip around Poland in the back of my mind. One day in the future with enough money and time I will do it.

Agnes A. Rose: Jeremy, thank you for this interview. I hope that very soon the war memories of your Grandfather will be translated into Polish and everyone will be able to read them without a language barrier. Would you like to add something as a conclusion? 

Jeremy Podolski: I would just like to say thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about my Grandad's memoirs and his incredible life. I would just love to see this book do well as I feel this is an amazing story and there are less and less of them about now. 

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.
If you want to read the book review, please click here.
If you want to find out more about the book and its author, please click here.
If you want to buy the book, please click here

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