Former-GT-editor-turned-author Greg Archer has long looked for signs from the universe to point him in the right direction. When it came to his Polish family’s mysterious past, they arrived in abundance.
One came in the form of a handshake—a Masai handshake to be precise—that his Uncle Stanley taught him. When Archer asked him where he learned the tribal greeting, his uncle referred to the orphanage in Tanzania where he lived as a child. Another fell off the wall of Archer’s GT office, when the broken frame holding two black-and-white photographs of his relatives was waiting for him on his desk one morning, his grandmother’s invincible eyes demanding his attention. One could even be said to have come from Chris Pine, who he interviewed about a film, when the actor mentioned his belief in serendipity and the idea that “you will be led toward that thing you need to realize.”
Whatever the case, a restless curiosity took hold and eventually swept Archer to Poland, where he began an investigation into his family’s exodus from Stalinist Russia. Through them, he uncovered the history of millions of Poles, whose deportation and displacement spread from labor camps in Siberia to orphanages and refugee status in places as far afield as Uzbekistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Africa, and even New Zealand and Mexico, their diaspora scattered across the globe.
Archer will be returning to Santa Cruz on March 12 to talk about the resulting book, Grace Revealed, and I was excited to catch up with him.
You’ve opened a forgotten door to WWII. I had no idea how widespread Polish deportation was.
GREG ARCHER: Not many people are aware of where Poles ended up after the war. It’s an under-reported part of history that nearly got swept under the rug. It seems like my generation—filmmakers, documentarians, writers—are just beginning to get the word out in creative and journalistic works.
What was the catalyst for such a difficult journey?
It’s going to sound very Californian, but I was in a yoga class and asked for a sign to tell me what I should be doing. The broken picture frame happened soon after. It was a hint to keep following a thread I’d been thinking about and working on but hadn’t taken far enough. We’re not often told that learning and healing isn’t comfortable, but discomfort is what growth is all about.
Are you planning to explore this history further?
I’d love to do a documentary that retraces their journey. It would be an amazing pilgrimage. We’ll see.
What’s going on with you now?
I finished the book in the Midwest, and wanted to be here when it came out so I could connect with the Polish community. We had an amazing vigil at the Copernicus Center that I coordinated on Feb. 10, which was the 75th anniversary of the Polish deportation. I’m finding a hunger across generations to talk about it. When people who have gone through it come up and say, “I never really healed from this part of my life,” it’s eye-opening. Unlike the Jewish population, who were able to rally together after the horrors of the Holocaust, the Poles didn’t have a similar opportunity. Poland was a communist country for many years, which made things difficult. I wanted to illuminate the ripple effects that remain as those events live on through us.
Have you taken any part of Santa Cruz with you in your travels?
Probably the esoteric part of me that can’t help saying ‘evolving,’ when people ask how I am. But also the inquisitive, soul-searching part of me.
I have to ask your favorite interview question. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been learning about yourself lately?
Good one. That I’m a hundred times stronger than I think I am, and that I don’t have to be led or dictated to by the threads of the past.
Are you working on anything new?
Another book. The theme is about home, where it is, what it is, and why we long for it.
We’re looking forward to your homecoming.
Greg Archer will discuss ‘Grace Revealed’ at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, Free. PHOTO: Greg Archer on how curiosity about his family’s past led to his new book, ‘Grace Revealed.’