Award-winning journalist and best-selling author Rita Cosby spoke to members and friends of the Piast Institute on Sunday, April 14. The event, the ninth in the institute’s Dekaban Lecture series, was hosted by Waldemar and Annette Raczkowski.
Ms. Cosby related an astounding journey of discovery which began when she learned, almost by accident, that her then-estranged father, Richard Cosby, was born Ryszard Kossobudzki and that, as a 19-year old member of the Polish Underground, he had fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Surprised and intrigued, she managed, after years of separation, to locate her father, and they ended up making the emotionally intense journey together.
Cosby and her father spent countless hours, many at his kitchen table, in frank, sometimes uncomfortable, conversation. With affectionate curiosity and the skill of a journalist, Cosby gently prodded her father, helping him to expose long-suppressed memories. Gradually, and initially with great reluctance, he revealed fascinating, often disturbing, details that he had kept secret from everyone. The emotional conversations between a man who, years earlier, had left his family to begin a new life, and a daughter who had known little about him, led them, inevitably, to Poland. There, as they walked the streets of modern Warsaw, Cosby and her father visited the places, many of them now unrecognizably different, where he and his fellow fighters once struggled to liberate the city and the country they loved. While they were in Poland, Cosby helped to reunite her father with a handful of men who had fought alongside him. From them she learned more about her father’s heroism during the Uprising.
The story of the Warsaw Uprising combines almost unimaginable tragedy with incredible courage. For 63 days, in some of the war’s most brutal combat, ill-equipped but determined Polish insurgents battled furiously against ruthless Wehrmacht and SS units, as well as elements of a Russian SS brigade. Their efforts and sacrifices, however, were doomed to failure. In the end, some 200,000 people had been killed and 90 percent of Warsaw lay in ruins. Ryszard Kossobudzki and thousands of other Polish fighters spent the rest of the war as prisoners in Germany, endured more hardships before being liberated.
After the war, young Ryszard found himself in England, where he met and married a Danish woman. They came to America, began a new life and started a family. However, Ryszard, who changed his name to Richard Cosby, never spoke of his experiences. The marriage ended unhappily, and for many years Rita Cosby had little knowledge–and, it seems, little concern–about her father. Then, one day, she came across a long-hidden collection of her father’s wartime mementos. Suddenly she discovered not only how little she knew about his life, but also how little she understood about the demons that had haunted him. Her discovery marked the beginning of their journey.
At some point in their odyssey, Cosby realized that her father’s story, reflective of many other Poles, should be made public. Her best-selling book, “Quiet Hero: Secrets from My Father’s Past,” was the fruit of that realization. Published in 2010, the book is also available in Polish. Richard Cosby, the former Ryszard Kossobudzki, died on June 25, 2012, but he had reconciled with his daughter and had lived to see his story told.
Cosby estimates that, since the release of “Quiet Hero,” she has addressed hundreds of audiences. She speaks with authority and passion about the countless Poles who, like her father, fought not only for Poland, but the freedom of others. Asked about some of the reactions that she found most surprising, Cosby describes the veterans, mostly of her father’s generation, who personally thanked her for inspiring them to finally share their own stories with their families. Next to having shared her father’s story with the world, she seems to draw her greatest satisfaction from those encounters.