Etobicoke resident pens book based on family stories from WWII
Every year on their wedding anniversary, Mark Creedon’s mother-in-law Jadwyga Paskevicius would sit at the dinner table at her home in Etobicoke and tell the story of how she and his father-in-law, Antanas, met. She would also share all the events leading up to the moment they wed — in a secret ceremony in Lithuania on a stormy winter day during German occupation in 1942.
The family, who had heard the story many times before, would listen politely and pass the perogies as she rehashed the tale, but something about it always fascinated Creedon.
It wasn’t a typical love story — and he wanted to know more.
When Creedon retired from his career in child welfare and family services in 2013, he decided he wanted to write a novel about the stories he would hear at family gatherings, so he took novel-writing classes at the University of Toronto and spent nine months interviewing Jadwyga about her experiences during the Second World War.
They worked slowly, at Jadwyga’s pace, taking breaks when things got too emotional, until finally she grew too ill to tell the stories as sharply as before. In 2014, she passed away.
But in those nine months he got to spend chatting with her, Creedon said Jadwyga was sharp as ever and more than willing to share as many of her memories with him as possible.
Caught Between Two Devils, which was born of these stories, is centred on Jadwyga, Antanas and his sister Maria, and the struggles they endured while spending 10 months at a work camp in northeast Germany during the Second World War, before finally risking their lives and escaping to Bavaria in early 1945.
Once the war ended, they spent four years in a Red Cross camp, before they were able to come to Canada. Maria emigrated first and become a dishwasher at St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto. After a year, she sponsored her brother and sister-in-law.
While writing the novel, Creedon said his mission to his readers transformed and became twofold.
“At first when I was writing the book, it was primarily because I wanted to do tribute to Antanas, Jadwyga and Maria because they were exceptional people,” he said.
But he soon learned the importance of sharing with Canadians what happened on the Eastern Front during the war.
“Most of us in the west think D-Day was the biggest battle of the war — but it ranks about 10th in terms of importance,” he said. “The biggest battle of the whole war was Operation Barbarossa when the Germans sneak attacked against their former ally the Soviets … most Canadians are very unaware of what happened on the Eastern Front and so it became important to me.”
And so, with both of these goals in mind, and with the help of his wife Chris and his educators and editors along the way, Caught Between Two Devils came to life — a story about resilience and refugees, which Creedon said is just as relevant today as it was back then.
He said he hopes his story will elicit a new appreciation for how much suffering people in eastern Europe went through in the Second World War and all they were able to overcome — in his family's case, through having each other and their religious faith — as well as more empathy for the refugees coming to Canada today.
“People forget, there were tens of millions of refugees after the war. Now, there’s just as many,” he said. “The refugee story was important then, it’s important today and it’s only going to get bigger.”