Catholicism and Edinburgh’s
Polish Community - Stefan Boron
I was born not far from Edinburgh, my parents came across here after the war, from Poland. When Poland was invaded my father was drafted into the German army, finished up in Norway, as a driver. My mother was taken into Germany for forced labour during the war, making bombs. And then when the war kicked in they finished up in High School, Germany, and that’s where they met, and then came across to the UK [as refugees]. They couldn’t go back to Poland because people were disappearing, the communists were trying to establish rule, and anybody else who had any other kind of affiliations were discouraged. In fact most of that generation didn’t go back to Poland because of that very reason, having been cheated by the allies: at the end of the war when Roosevelt and Stalin and Churchill carved up Europe between them, Poland was left on the Russian side.
[My parents] were down south originally, that’s where they got married, and then came up to Edinburgh from London. In general people found Scotland more amenable than they found England: there was a bit of the “Poles go home” stuff down south. Also the British Government didn't allow Poland to take part in the victory parade in London, whereas Scottish people, when they had a service in St Giles Cathedral, the Poles were invited. So there was a different approach obviously. During the period after the war all the way up till 1989 when Poland gained it’s freedom, we were active in denouncing the Polish regime, and the consulate.
Statistics say that over 90% of Poles are currently Catholic. And certainly during the war, we know that in our family, if it wasn’t for prayer, I don’t think that many people would have returned from the war. Roman Catholicism is paramount in Poland, it has been for centuries, and in terms of community building it is absolutely essential, crucial. I don’t think there would be a Polish community if there wasn’t a church community. Polish tradition has embodied in it Catholic feast days. At Easter there’s the tradition of [Swieconka]: the food which is prepared for Easter morning breakfast is blessed in church on Easter Saturday. If you were to go to the Cathedral, or many churches in Scotland, you would see throngs of Polish people with little baskets making their way to the church; even the ones who don’t go to church which just goes to show how greatly Polish tradition has been influenced by religion.