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Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska, 1942-1944. Edited and translated by Irena Tomaszewski, 127 pp., several black and white photographs. Published by Wayne State University, 2006.

Review by Deborah Greenlee

Haven't enough World War II diaries been published already? For a Polish perspective the answer is "No," especially in English.

This book is a translation of hundreds of letters written by Krystyna Wituska during her imprisonment by the Nazis between 1942 and 1944. The letters were gathered from several people with whom Wituska corresponded during her confinement.

Krystyna came from a fairly well-off family in Warsaw and enjoyed a peaceful life until the Nazis invaded Poland. She was 19 years old when arrested as a Polish spy. Krystyna's last years on earth were spent in four Nazi prisons, three of them in Germany. Though she tries to put on a happy face in her letters to avoid worrying her parents, Krystyna paints a horrific picture of her time in prison waiting to be sentenced. Krystyna's experiences are certainly no different than millions of other Poles who were imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Nazis. Here though, we experience the day-to-day gruesome details.

Tomaszewski was able to translate Krystyna's letters (most were written in self-taught German so the Nazi censors could read them) in such a way as to convey Wituska's personality. Tomaszewski has succeeded in maintaining what she calls the "emotional nuances" of this young woman's letters-difficult to do, considering the precision of the Polish language. Krystyna's saintly attitude towards her captors, cell mates and family is almost unbelievable. She was more concerned about the suffering of others than her own adversity. The book leaves the reader hoping that they too, can some day attain a similar philosophy towards life as Krystyna. This books is more than just an account of suffering, it is a memorial to Wituska.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Krystyna turns out to be a modern woman who believes in the higher education of women and saw no reason why a woman could not work outside the home and still have a husband and children.

The author includes a few photos to help the reader to connect even more with Krystyna and her situation. Included in the appendix is an annotated list of her family and friends. These people are mentioned so often in Krystyna's letters that Tomaszewski sees fit to alert the reader as to the outcome of their lives. Clearly this took some research.

Many people ignore the introductions in books. To do so would be a mistake in this case. The introduction to Krystyna's letters must be read because the amount of background history and little-known information provided is surprising and useful well beyond what is needed just for an understanding of the letters. People who read this book will come away knowing a great deal more about what went on during World War II concerning Poland and her people.

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International Vital Records Handbook

Reviewed by John A. Drobnicki, PGSA Spring 1995 Bulletin

By Thomas Jay Kemp, 3rd edition, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994. $29.95, soft cover.

Thomas Jay Kemp, the author of numerous genealogical publications, has revised this excellent source in an attempt to provide the most current information and to reflect recent political developments in the world. Divided into two sections, the first covers every state and territory of the U.S., providing addresses, the most recent schedules of fees, a brief description of when civil registration began there, and, most importantly, the actual relevant forms. Thus, if one needs a birth certificate from Oklahoma, the form is right there, ready to be photocopied.

The second half of this handbook deals with the rest of the world, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and it is here where the information is in some cases sketchy. In many countries, civil registration of vital records is still incomplete, so Kemp can only supply an address; for others, he again supplies reproducible forms and fee schedules. In the case of Poland, Kemp correctly says to write to the Civil Registration Office where the event occurred, or also to the National Archives in Warsaw, but since he is dealing only with civil registration he does not mention the value of writing to local parish churches. When appropriate, the author also refers the user to the LDS Family History Library.

PGSA members, of course, are not going to learn anything new from this book about Polish records; but who among us is one hundred percent Polish, especially the way borders have been shifted over the years? This book should prove valuable for tracing the other lines in our families that came from other countries, whose vital records system(s) we might be less familiar with.

Aside from its genealogical value, Kemp's book can also be used for practical purposes: for those who have moved around during their lives, tracking down certified copies of birth and/or marriage records should no longer be a problem, even if you're living in Florida and the event occurred in Montana.

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In Their Words - A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin & Russian Documents - Volume I: Polish

Reviewed by Rosalie Lindberg, PGSA July 2000 Bulletin

If you'd like help making sense of the Polish records your research has generated, In Their Words - Volume I is the book for you. It is a detailed work written by Jonathan Shea and William (Fred) Hoffman, linguists who are familiar with the language in vital records and other documents used by genealogists.

For those in the beginning stages of their research who have yet to find foreign records to translate, you might discover ideas and suggestions that will lead you back to Europe in the section on locating U.S. records. If the records you find are in Polish, section 4 may prove helpful in translating them.

When that elusive village name finally reveals itself, you can consult the book regarding gazetteers to help pinpoint the location on the map. If you choose to write directly to the Polish church or archives, you can consult the helpful letter-writing guide.

Because of its size-almost 400 pages-and detail-reprinted documents, word lists, and grammar analysis, few people will pick it up In Their Words for recreational reading. However, it is this detail that is most helpful in interpreting Polish foreign language documents with almost half of the book dedicated to that pursuit. Some of the material is repeated to insure those who focus on specific problems don't miss anything. But, as the authors urge in the introduction, "use the index" as it can find what you need and bypass what you don't.

Finally, an almost sixty page vocabulary is far more than just a dictionary listing. It includes specific words, and their variations, most likely to be found in Polish language genealogical documents.

If your normal reaction to Polish documents is to look around for a translator, you should check out In Their Words. It could be the analysis tool that allows you to interpret the records you have worked so hard to find. Ordering information is available at http://www.langline.com or write to: Language and Lineage Press, 8 Lyle Road, new Britain, CT 06053-2104.

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