A Journey through Photographs

As a young couple, Zdzisław and Antonina married in the turbulent year of 1938 in Lwów, Eastern Poland, before the outbreak of World War 2. Zdzisław, a fighter pilot in the Polish army, was seized and sentenced by the Soviet Army to imprisonment in the Siberian Labour Camps, the Gulag, in 1939. In September of that same year, Lwów was overtaken and absorbed into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic  and Antonina found herself, with many other citizens, deported east into Siberia.

They spent years of enforced labour in the system with no contact or knowledge of each others’ fates. A treaty in 1942 oversaw the release of a number of Poles from the Gulag system, Antonina and Zdzisław amongst them. As soldier and nurse, Zdzisław and Antonina, respectively and separately, travelled and worked with the Allied Forces. One day, via the Red Cross, Zdzisław heard news that a unnamed family member had been located in Iraq. He travelled there to find his wife Antonina waiting for him.

This visual narrative documents the couples’ earlier years, their joint story, their long awaited reunion, the time they spent traveling with the Allied Forces thereafter, and their eventual resettlement in Ireland where they found their new home.

Curated Data-Driven Narrative

There are two goals when presenting data: convey your story and establish credibilityEdward Tufte


The objective of this project was to analyse data from publicly available datasets in order to set a narrative in motion with visualising accompaniment. The Central Statistic Office’s 2017 introduction of an online application based around baby names in Ireland served as inspiration for this assignment. My paternal grandparents were Polish and moved to Ireland shortly after World War 2. In keeping with Polish tradition, my parents christened me Antonina in 1979, and my brother Karol in 1981. Both were highly uncommon names in that era in Ireland. In more recent years, I have noticed an increase in the names Antonina and Karol in today’s society. This assignment will focus on these two names and measure the popularity of their usage over the years in Ireland. In tandem, it will examine and chart the presence of Polish people in Ireland. These findings will be presented side by side and connections will be illuminated, and any outliers or factors that arise along the data journey will be examined.

Thanks to the popular and intuitive CSO application of Baby Names in Ireland, there is significant data on hand pertaining to the subject. It was necessary to filter down the Girls/Boys Names in Ireland with 3 or more Occurrences by Name, Year and Statistic (1964 – 2017) datasets to specific boundaries of name (Antonina and Karol) and time limit. The parameters of 1970 to 2017 were chosen, as any years previous to 1970 proved redundant in nature due to lack of relevant data. This data was then downloaded in a CSV format and structured within the Excel file so as to prepare it for the visual rendering process. Experimentation with Tableau, Datahero, Voyant and RAW’s various capabilities was an educational exercise in emphasizing the manner in which various tools are undeniably suited for specific data and purposes. Ultimately, Datawrapper proved to be a best fit for the purpose of the data being interrogated and showed itself to be an intuitive and user/reader friendly option. The column format below was chosen in an initial analysis of the data for its ability to display the information proportionally and convey to the audience concrete numbers of names in a given year.

Fig. 1: Babies named Antonina from 1970 – 2017 in Ireland. Get the data here.

Fig. 2: Babies named Karol from 1970 – 2017 in Ireland. Get the data here.

Information on the numbers of Polish people within Ireland over the same time period proved to be more elusive in nature (concrete data on the years prior to 2000 proved impossible to locate) and the decision was made to base the interrogation upon allocation of PPS numbers in the State. Data.gov.ie acts as a portal for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection page which grants access to data on the allocation of PPS numbers via a collective chart of non nationals, ranging from 2000-2009 and, individually, the years thereafter. It was necessary to mine the data pertaining to Polish nationals into one complete Excel sheet. In order to create a streamlined comparison for this study, and operating on a position of full disclosure and transparency, the decision was taken to include the earlier years of 1970 – 2000 and enter these years as null of entries, as seen on Fig. 3.

Fig. 3: Allocation of PPS numbers to Polish people, 1970 – 2017. Get the data here.

The resulting data from Fig. 1 shows that there were no babies registered Antonina in 1979. The name falls under what the CSO deems a “limit of discretion/uncertainty” indicating that there were 3 or less babies named thus in the years preceding 2007 and the name was duly omitted by the CSO due to confidentiality reasons. 2007 witnesses the entry of Antonina into the chart, with 8 females being registered that year. 2017 sees the name peak in popularity at 19.

More variation is evident in the second visualisation, Fig. 2, which sees a significant spike in popularity in the name Karol, evident in 1979, which then continues over several years before waning in existence and re-emerging again in 2005 in a steadier guise.

Fig. 3 demonstrates the economic impact of EU membership on the number of Polish in Ireland over the years. 2004 saw Poland gaining EU membership, and Ireland granted Poland full access to the labour market at this time. The inflow of Polish entering Ireland peaked in 2006 at 93,787 and until the recession in 2008 numbers of Polish in Ireland accessing PPS numbers remained relatively high and sustained.

The use of line graph in Fig.’s 4 and 5 is conducive in showing the shape of the trends over time. The dual peak in popularity of both names is undeniable over the time period between 2004 and 2017. This peak is observed in a similar manner in Fig. 5 which visualises the arrival of Polish people on the shores of Ireland. The striking similarity of the data, seen through the narrative structure of the line graph, holds statistical significance and establishes connection between the occurrences.

Fig. 4: Comparison of Antonina and Karol from 1970 – 2017

Fig. 5: Allocation of PPS numbers to Polish people in Ireland 1970 – 2017

An interesting outlier is evident in the earlier years of Fig. 2 and Fig. 4 and warrants further attention. An examination of the events in Ireland at that time points to a link between the visit from the Polish Pope John Paul II (Karol Jozef Wójtyla), in 1979, and the peak in the name Karol. The Papal visit had huge impact upon the people of Ireland and this is certainly reflected in the choice hundreds of Irish families made in naming their baby boys this uncommon name for the time. This impact is concretely supported by the data and corresponding visualisation. The name Karol lingered in residual popularity for several years following 1979, before the visit faded from the public consciousness to some extent, and the name shows a sharp downturn in usage in 1984.

Additionally, in Fig. 2 and Fig. 4, a more subtle increase may be witnessed further within the second spike in popularity (after the advent of the Polish arrival in Ireland) in the popularity of the name Karol. This outlier may well have remained undetected without the aid of this visualisation. In the year 2011, we see a significant increase in the presence of the name. An investigation into cultural events at the time points to a specific influence in this respect. The formal beatification of Pope John Paul II took place in 2011 and appears to influence the baby naming choices of the year. While it may be said that the spike is significantly minor so as not to lead to a solid conclusion, it would be negligent not to highlight the finding in light of its relevance to this project.

Data visualisation expert Edward Tufte famously critiqued the adage “Correlation does not imply causation.” The peak in popularity of the name Karol seen in the years surrounding the Papal visit is highly evident. The increase in registration of the name in the year of the beatification, combined with the fact of the Pope’s Polish heritage and the presence of a Polish population in Ireland, highlights a subtle further correlation and implies causation between certain baby naming practices and Papal influence in Ireland in this instance.

Edward Tufte, Correlation/Causation, print on canvas, via edwardtuft.com

Finally, in order to further emphasise the definitive influence of the 1979 visit upon baby names in Ireland, a supplementary investigation into two additional names was conducted.

Fig. 6: Babies named John/Paul from 1970 – 2017 in Ireland.

The line graph evident in Fig. 6 demonstrates the popularity of the names John/Paul, and the spikes in popularity seen in Fig. 6 directly mirror the arc of the name Karol across the same years as seen in Fig. 4, indicating, once again, the influence the Papal visit exerted. Tufte states “Empirically observed covariation (correlation) is necessary but not a sufficient condition for causality. Correlation is not causation, but it sure is a hint.”

In charting the popularity of specific names over a time frame in Ireland, and placing them in the context of economic and cultural shifts and occurrences, this data story has elucidated some specific instances of influences upon baby naming practices in society. Additionally, it showcases the manner in which large datasets may be mined and rendered in order to produce engaging narratives and visualisations for a wider audience.





“Baby Names of Ireland.” Central Statistics Office. www.cso.ie/en/interactivezone/visualisationtools/babynamesofireland/  Accessed 15 Feb. 2018.

Brule, Joshua. “A causation coefficient and taxonomy of correlation/causation   relationships.” Semantic Scholar, 05 Aug. 2017. pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7cdf/8ae48c7191130b8c19b17ec1af4a9a0a9e9c.pdf. Accessed 18 Mar. 2018.

“Design Principles.” Data Depiction. datadepiction.wordpress.com/design/ Accessed   17 Mar. 2018.

Edward Tufte. www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/  Accessed 10 Mar. 2018.

“Enrich your story with charts, in seconds.” Datawrapper. www.datawrapper.de/  Accessed 14 Mar. 2018.

“Statistics on Personal Public Service Numbers Issued.” Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, 22 Mar. 2017 www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/Personal-Public-Service-Number-Statistics-on-Numbers-Issued.aspx Accessed 16 Feb. 2018.



Project Proposal

At the core of my research is the story of my grandparents’ experiences during World War Two with specific emphasis placed on their time spent in the Gulag and the aftermath of this tenure.

My grandfather’s name was Zdzisław Lapot and he was born in Warsaw, Poland, on March 5, 1915. At 13, his entire family moved to Lwów, where his father set up a crystal factory and the young Zdzisław began apprenticing in the family trade. He later trained as a fighter pilot before the outbreak of the war.

My grandmother was born Antonina Jacek on September 12, 1916 in Ternopil, close to her family town of Lwów. The couple met at a dance in Lwów in 1935. They were a social and well-liked couple and were known to sing their trademark song together at parties. They married the day after Christmas in 1938 in the Roman Catholic church of St. Mary Magdalen in Lwów, Poland.

World War Two broke out on September 1, 1939, and Zdzisław was mobilised to fight with the Polish army. Not long after, he was seized for his role and was sentenced by the Soviet Army to imprisonment in the Siberian Labour Camps, the Gulag.

The term Gulag is the acronym for the Soviet Bureaucratic institution, Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh LAGerei, (Main Administration of Labour Camps) that operated In the Stalin era. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published The Gulag Archipelago in 1973, and it was at this time that the term Gulag came to represent this vast concentration camp system.

September of 1939 was a turbulent time across Europe, and Lwów was certainly not spared. The Soviet and Nazi forces divided Poland and Lwów found itself absorbed into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Large numbers of Jews and Poles were deported east into Siberia. Antonina was amongst them. The deportees endured long train journeys. Cramped cattle trucks were fitted out with wooden shelves or bunks and troops packed in as many people as possible. There were sometimes up to seventy people in one trunk, with little or no amenities, for several weeks at a time. The destinations of these trains were some of the most inhospitable parts of Siberia.

At its height, the Gulag consisted of hundreds of camps, each holding 2,000 to 10,000 prisoners. Inmates worked in mines, lumber production and in railway and canal construction. Mining and logging were the most common, and the harshest, activities, and it was in one of these camps that Zdzisław spent almost three years. He endured twenty hour days, cutting down trees in up to five feet of snow, which then had to be hauled tens of miles back to base camp. The men wore mere issued overalls. In particularly harsh conditions, the only concession they were granted was access to petroleum jelly which they were permitted to smear on their faces. Many prisoners lost fingers, toes and limbs to frostbite. Escape was futile. My grandfather recalled to us over the years instances of friends attempting to do so, only in some cases to return to their prisons voluntarily, others did not survive the return at all. Zdzisław and his fellow inmates regularly picked frozen leaves from the trees and smuggled them into camp at night to concoct a soup with the melted snow. Fatality rates ran as high as 80%

Meanwhile, Antonina had been sent to what was termed an ‘Open Village’ where security was not as stringent, but the remoteness and harshness of the environment ensured a natural barrier to escape. She reported on parole, weekly, for a nonexistent crime. Her task was the making of cement blocks with her bare hands. She recalls this work being performed to the tunes of an accordionist who would play on a raised platform above where they worked.  Hard labour was payable with scant food supplies and sub-human living conditions. Very few people survived these camps for longer than two years.

Following Operation Barbarossa, the USSR faced its own former ally, Germany, and in July, 1941 signed a treaty with Poland that saw amnesty being granted to the Polish people. Two large scale evacuations took place from March to August 1942, and Zdzisław and Antonina were both released from their respective camps, each still not knowing the fate of each other, or that of their families.

A substantial amount of Polish were sent to Tehran and Antonina was amongst them. She underwent health rehabilitation, trained as a nurse and was sent to Egypt to practice her new skills. Zdzisław was sent for medical treatment in Italy for the ordeals he had endured in the camps, the marks of which he bore with him his entire life. Upon recovery, he underwent intensive training for battle.

At this time, the Red Cross were compiling names from the evacuated Soviet Camps. Zdzisław, having had no news from his wife or family for over three years, heard through the Polish community that his sister’s name had been tracked to a camp in Egypt, and he travelled there to reunite with her. Mass exodus and confusion had led to inaccurate records of names. In bittersweet circumstance, he found not his sister in Egypt, but Antonina.

Together, they travelled with the Allied Forces throughout the Middle East. They were both present at the Battle of Monte Cassino where Zdzisław fought at the mountain and Antonina worked at base camp as a nurse. Harsh conditions saw the couple lose their first child at the base of the mountain. Zdzisław was later awarded the Monte Cassino medal for bravery for his acts on the battle field. A Polish memorial at the base of the mountain cites Feliks Konarski’s anthem Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino (The Red Poppies on Monte Cassino) in tribute to the Polish contribution:

Red poppies on Monte Cassino, | Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino

Instead of dew, drank Polish blood. | Zamiast rosy piły polską krew…

As the soldier crushed them in falling,| Po tych makach szedł żołnierz i ginął,

For the anger was more potent than death.| Lecz od śmierci silniejszy był gniew!

Years will pass and ages will roll, | Przejdą lata i wieki przeminą,

But traces of bygone days will stay, | Pozostaną ślady dawnych dni!..

And the poppies on Monte Cassino | I tylko maki na Monte Cassino

Will be redder having quaffed Polish blood. |Czerwieńsze będą, bo z polskiej wzrosną krwi.

Courtesy of Anna Mieszkowska

By 1945 over 200,000 Polish troops of the Polish armed forces in the West were serving under the high command of the British army. Many of these men and women were originally from cities in Eastern Poland including Lwów. The Polish Resettlement Act of 1947 offered British citizenship to displaced Polish troops. It was the first ever mass immigration legislation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It offered citizenship to over 200,000 displaced Poles and enabled Poles who could not resettle on their native soil for a number of reasons the opportunity to settle in Britain and provide labour.

The couple made the move to London, and from there followed a job lead to Ireland, where Zdzisław found himself in the role of designer and production manager at Waterford Crystal, once again practicing the trade of his family. It was at this time he designed, amongst many other works, the renowned Crystal Swan series.

I feel the reason why I wish to embark on this research is evident. These are narratives that have fallen through the cracks of time and are at a very real risk of disappearing entirely. My grandparent’s story is a small body of delicate history and my aim is to expand it for those who knew my grandparents while they were still with us but were not aware of the intricacies and details of their lives and to also preserve it for future generations. There is a definite sense of regret in my family that we did not explore the story more while they were still with us and with this project I would like to go a little way towards rectifying this .

My research will be divided into a few different areas. My family have relatives remaining in Lublin that we have sadly fallen out of contact with.  It is believed that Antonina’s brother returned to Poland post-War and became an actor, while her sister migrated to Canada. To this end, there is a dusty box of correspondence in an attic that must be explored and I am hoping it will produce a solid lead. In Dr. Mike Cosgrave’s Teaching and Learning in Digital Humanities module, I am formulating a class on family tree research and it is my aim that this will aid me in this particular aspect of my research.

I possess a cautious sense that the ideal of building my research 100% around the experiences of my grandparents may be a little ambitious given the information I have to work with, and I am hoping this will change. However, on a broader level, it is my aim to discover which camps and villages were more specific to the conditions they endured and build a narrative around these.

I have compiled a catalogue of readings that recount personal experiences of Poles who were in similar situations. I also hope to source other interviewees willing to speak of their family’s stories in regards to the camps and aftermath. I expect social media and some specific online forums to prove particularly useful in this respect. I am also particularly interested in interviewing Lyudmila Sadovnikova of the Gulag History Museum in Moscow and gaining insight from her perspective on the unique experiences of Poles at the time and also possibly garnering some directives from her expert knowledge.

I recently read Anne Applebaum’s Gulag, a non-fiction book which offers an overview of the Soviet Gulag system and explores human experience within its vast history. In Gulag, Applebaum describes part of her methodology as working with the fictional texts of Russian writer, journalist and poet Varlam Shalamov, his works being based on real events and personal experiences. I am interested in the intertwining of facts and figures with fictional narratives in the re-presenting of my grandparent’s experiences.

As regards to my digital artefact, I would like to convey memory and evoke a sense of family and inheritance. I believe the best manner in which to do this is through the creation of a website. Through discussion with family and friends, I sense the need for my digital artefact to be inherently accessible for a broad spectrum of users, and not overly complicated. I have a strong aim that its interface be friendly towards the needs of an older generation whose interest in it is palpable.

My grandparent’s story is to be the main focus of the site. I intend to digitize their photos, family and official correspondence, documents and personal belongings. This will introduce a personal tangibility and aura to the artefact. Leading off this main focus shall be subsections; synopses of the history of the Labour Camps, elaborations on daily life for inhabitants of the Open Villages and the camps, and experiences for Poles after their release.

I am playing with the notion of creating a simple story map for insertion to the site, documenting my grandparent’s travels from Poland through Siberia, Italy, the Middle East and London, to their final home in Ireland. I expect the practicalities of this to become more evident as I further explore my options in Tools and Methodologies in Semester Two of the course.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that I do not intend my research to be focused on history, the Gulag system or repression. I certainly intend to elaborate on these aspects in order to provide very pertinent context to the story I am telling but overall the aim of my research is to record the losses and recount the triumphs of two resilient people against immense obstacles.




Applebaum, Anne. Gulag. Penguin, 2004.

Kizny, Tomasz. Gulag: Life and Death inside the Concentration Camps. Firefly, 2004.

Krupa, Michael. Shallow Graves in Siberia. Birlinn, 2004.

Service, Robert. A History of Twentieth-Century Russia. Penguin, 1997.

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago. Harper Collins, 2002.

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