By Thomas Deliduka ’95
Fall ’93. It was our first trip. Nine of us from Gaming were going to head to Krakow, Poland, to see then Blessed Sister Faustina’s monastery. Our group consisted of Mike Najim ’96, Joe Koopman ’96, Paul Portenlanger ’97, Mary Tuskey ’94, MA ’99, Colleen (Gilboy ’94) Carrigee, Alexis Christopher ’97, Ann (Riley ’94) Schmitzer, and Christina (Mangan ’95) Stokman.
We didn’t know much of anything about how to travel to Poland. We knew the train operator at the Kienburg-Gaming line said to buy a ticket only to the border of Austria and then to buy a ticket from there. So, we got to the border of the Czech Republic, and we were wondering what we were going to do.
There happened to be a man there who knew German and Polish. This other guy knew German and English … Well, a little. We were going to buy tickets all the way to Krakow, and the guy convinced us through his interpreter only to buy a ticket to the next border of the Czech Republic. That was about $2 per person. If we had bought all the way through, it would have been like $60 per person.
After we got on the train and were headed out, we all drifted off to sleep; it was fairly late.
I woke around 3:00 a.m., and the guy who had helped us out was out smoking in the corridor. It was a beautiful night, and we got to talking. (At this time, I knew a great deal more German than I do now.) His name was Zbeginiev—please don’t ask me to pronounce it. Turns out he was a great fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He lived in Auschwitz and commuted to Vienna to work because the work was much better there.
He asked me if we had any Polish money for the ticket at the Polish border. I admitted that we did not. He told me not to worry. At 3:45 a.m. we pulled into the train station, and he took me out to buy the tickets for all nine of us. The woman at the window would only take Polish money, and he didn’t have enough to pay for me. He pleaded with her, but she wouldn’t budge.
He told me not to worry; we could buy from the conductor. He said that whatever the conductor told us to pay, we would have to pay. If we didn’t have the exact amount, we would have to pay more and not expect any change. For all nine of us. The conductor took $20 USD for the trip to Auschwitz.
At 5:00 a.m., Zbeginiev woke me as we were pulling into Auschwitz station. We all got off, and he asked us if we had a place to sleep for the next few hours. We didn’t, and he suggested a hostel. He said he’d take us there. We were walking with him when he flagged down a friend of his in a public bus, and he picked us up and drove us to the hostel.
Zbeginiev negotiated with the hostel worker (who was quite hostile) for a room and the price for a bed per person was going to be $16. We all said, “No way.” And so, our friend said to me, “Come, and stay at my house.” I said, “Really?” And he said, “Yes, I’ll call my wife.” I sat back in my chair, and since this was all in German, the others were wondering what was being said. I was stunned. They said, “What?!” I was then shocked into telling them what was up. We couldn’t believe it.
We walked to his apartment, which was quite small, and we all slept in the living room for about three hours.
In the morning we left him some money, rosaries, and other things. He took us on the bus to Auschwitz and paid for it. He ushered us in and suggested an English-speaking tour and then left us; he had to get to work. I received two letters from him over the next year. I haven’t heard from him since though.
Auschwitz was a whole ’nother story. Needless to say, I will never be the same person again after seeing that place. We took a bus to Krakow and slept most of the way there.
On the bus we met a girl from Brazil who was studying in Poland. She got to know some in our group. As we were on the edge of the city in Krakow, one in the group had drunk too much water and had to get off the bus. She was prepared to simply get off without us and meet us at our destination without knowing anywhere to go!
We all got off the bus, and this girl got off with us. She was concerned we’d be lost. She had a map. She then said, “I think I know where we are, I have to go,” and left us the map of Krakow!
Before we had left on this trip, one of the eastern European students gave us a letter to give to an Augustinian priest at a parish in Krakow. He gave us his phone number and we asked, “Does he speak English?” His reply was, “No, but he speaks fluent German.”
We called and the priest talked with me. It was considerably harder to talk with him on the phone. He mentioned something happening that evening and gave us directions. We got showers and headed out.
We arrived at the monastery/church just after Mass was over. That us what he was trying to tell me on the phone! When we arrived, he introduced us to a girl named Elizabeth. She knew English! We mentioned we were hungry, so she was happy to take us to a pizza place to eat.
While there, we mentioned how we were part of the charismatic movement, which we described as praying and singing with our hands in the air, etc. She nodded and smiled with no words. After dinner we returned to the church and right in the chapel in front of the exposed Eucharist was a festival of praise! These were charismatic Catholics! It was quite nice and humbling at the same time.
During the course of the weekend, Elizabeth was our guide. We went to Sister Faustina’s convent and spoke with the sisters there. It was a wonderful time. Elizabeth’s home was walking distance from the monastery; she took us there, and we ate a little.
Saturday, her friend who is a tour guide, took us all around Krakow to see so many things. Elizabeth translated the whole time. We were so blessed to have so many wonderful people brought into our lives.
The group at the church treated us to goodies and drinks before we left that night. I have never had the Lord work and guide me so much before or after in my entire life. It was truly a blessed weekend, and we made many good friends from it. A month after our trip out there, we treated Elizabeth and her friend with a trip to the Kartause for a weekend, but that’s another story.
Thomas Deliduka ’95 lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works as the director of Information Technology for MedOne Health Operations.