Paynesville Press - July 3, 2002

Community Perspective

Heartened by Polish response to 9/11

By Robb Hoiseth

As many of you know, I grew up in town and graduated from PHS in 1983. Now I teach overseas and come home to enjoy Paynesville and the surrounding areas in the summer.

My wife and I and our two children currently live and work in Warsaw, Poland. I teach sixth grade at the American School of Warsaw. This school is for the embassy children and the children of foreign workers in Poland.

This summer, many family and friends have wondered about the reactions to the Sept. 11 tragedy and the response from people we meet overseas. I would like to tell you the response of the Polish people that I encountered and also tell you a little bit about how our lives have changed since that terrible day.

The day was very ordinary in Warsaw. The afternoon classes had started, and the students were all in their classrooms when a Polish teacher listening to the radio came by to say a small plane had hit the World Trade Center.

The rest of the day was a quick succession of innuendos, false reports, and, finally, the facts. By the time my soccer practice had finished, it was clear the United States had experienced a major attack.

School was called off the next day, and I raced home to see the complete coverage on CNN.

When I got home, my Polish nanny, Basia, was there with tears in her eyes and a solemn hug. She had lost both her parents to the Nazis in the fall of Poland in 1939 at the age of 10 months and spent World War II with her grandparents. She knew all about loss and suffering.

We all watched the news with shock and disbelief. I went out later that evening for a walk, and my Polish neighbor, an older gentleman, stopped me to say how sorry he was and to see if we needed anything. I thanked him for his kind words.

As the next day progressed, I received a call from a fellow teacher saying how flowers, cards, and candles of support from the Polish people were engulfing the front entrance to the U.S. Embassy. We drove downtown later that night and marveled at the thousands of candles that flickered in the cool fall night. Hundreds of Poles stood by and read the cards or lit candles of their own. Many were in tears.

By now, other neighbors had stopped Linda and I to wish us condolences and ask if we knew any of the people from New York. (I personally did not.) When school started the day after the attack, ten or so Polish police were guarding our school. Also, we had cards and flowers from the other foreign and local schools in Warsaw. The French School sent a tree to be planted, and the British School sent a card signed by every student from their school.

We heard stories from students of relatives who survived the Pentagon attack and the sad story of an uncle lost in the Twin Towers.

Life resumed to normal.

When we got home this past Christmas, the realization that the United States had changed became clear at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Military police with M-16s greeted us as we stepped off the plane. Armed guards are a common sight in most airports around the world, but to see them by McDonalds off the Gold Concourse was quite a surprise. The random checks, the removal of shoes, the metal detectors are all now a way of life for all American travelers. Which I, for one, appreciate.

This summer, I was asked again and again about the rest of the world's reaction to 9/11. I am heartened to tell my family, friends, and you that the rest of the world, or at least my part of the world, supports America. They felt our pain and suffering, and they realize we must fight terrorism.

Poland probably knows more than any other country in the world about pain and suffering, and from my experience they support us and what we have gone through. It is nice to have friends in times of need, especially friends on the other side of the world.

Robb Hoiseth teaches in Poland and spends summers on Rice Lake.

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