Herzog Family Chronicle
1866 - 2000
Written in Polish by Franciszek Herzog
Translated by Franciszek Herzog and Ivona (Herzog) Verbeke
Mother’s Distant Family
On mother’s side we had only three cousins, children of uncle Wacek: Jola, Ludwik and Mikolaj. The rest of mother’s siblings died at a young age, or unmarried as in the case of mother’s half-brother Witold. He stayed in Lithuania and managed the remnant of the once large estate. After the war he returned to Poland and soon afterward died.
In 1939 when the Poznan Province was annexed to Germany, uncle Wacek and his family were evicted from Rybin. They settled in Central Poland on the estate of a family’s friend or aunt Hanka’s relative. Uncle Wacek worked there as a forester and was a member of the Polish Underground Army. I have no idea how contact between them and us was established after the war, probably through the Red Cross.
The oldest of Uncle Wacek’s children was Jola. She finished agricultural college and was working on an experimental farm, involved in developing some new varieties of wheat. I visited her on that farm once. Work on the farm was hard, but she enjoyed it. She did not care much about her appearance. Her face was weather beaten and she looked much older than she actually was. She smoked a lot of the strongest brand of cigarettes, “Sport.”
When I went to Poland after the war, my first stop was with uncle Wacek in Poznan. Kama went to Poland ahead of me to visit her parents in Gdynia and come to Poznan a few hours before I arrived there by train. It was well past midnight when I rang the bell to uncle Wacek’s apartment. Half asleep, an elderly woman in her nightgown opened the door. I thought it was aunt Hanka and wanted to greet her as such. Luckily, Kama was standing behind her and seeing bewilderment on my face, saved the embarrassment by shouting: “Franek, don’t you recognize Jola?”
Jola married an older man, Zbigniwe Zielonka. He was divorced and they could not be married in church. That really distressed uncle Wacek, who was a deeply religious person. Jola had one son, Witold, with who I am in touch.
The last few years of Jola’s life were spent as a widow in Warsaw taking care of her mother. When we visited her in 1988, just before Poland’s liberation from communist rule, she was full of energy, engaged in Solidarity and very much against the government. She took us to the grave of Fr. Popieluszko, the young priest who was murdered by the Polish secret police. His grave at that time, same as the three huge crosses erected in Gdansk by shipyard workers to honor fallen comrades, were the symbols and focusing points of the Polish defiance to the communism.
We went with Jola to the Powazki cemetery to see graves of the Warsaw’s Uprising fighters, many of them young scouts and legendary heroes to me. There was also the grave of marshal Rydz-Smigly, a great soldier (father served in the Polish Legions under his command.), but not so great commander-in-chief of the Polish Army in 1939. He was interned in Rumania but managed to escape and returned to the occupied Poland in 1941, hoping to join the Underground. He died prematurely, soon after his return.
In the cemetery was the symbolic grave and cross with the inscription, Katyn 1940. Many times that cross was removed “by mysterious” forces at night, and again “by mysterious” forces a new cross was placed on the grave.
I saw Jola for the last time in 1993. At that time she was gravely sick with lung cancer. She died a few months later.
Ludwik studied shipbuilding at Gdansk Polytechnic, and worked in the shipyard there as a designer of merchant and navy ships. He was married twice. From his first marriage he had a daughter Agata, who in childhood and then another daughter. Marriage ended in divorce. I never met his first wife or that second daughter.
It was in the nineties that I got better acquainted with Ludwik. He, with his second wife, Bozena, a very charming and elegant lady, visited us in the States and stayed for four weeks. It was a very pleasant visit. Now, when I go to Gdansk I usually stay with them.
There is an amusing story I have to write about. I am getting deaf, but Ludwik is twice as deaf as I am. When I visited them with Stephen, my grandson, a few years ago, they gave their bed to us and they slept on the couch in the sitting room. In the middle of the night Bozena probably had to go to the bath-room and on return trip, half asleep come to the bedroom and started getting into the bed on my side. You can imagine my surprise. She just uttered a loud, “Oh!,” and ran out of the room. Next morning at breakfast I was relaying the story. Ludwik pretended that he heard what I was saying and when I finished, he said with a straight face, “Yes, Bozena always does that.”
It’s unbelievable how Ludwik reminds me of Tadek! Same facial expressions, smile, eyes, mannerism and even his sarcastic outlook on life. He is extremely intelligent and his capacity of knowledge on different topics is amazing. He can talk knowledgeably on any topic, be it history, architecture, various religions, finishing, birds or flowers. He has a huge repertoire of jokes and a unique way of delivering them. He is a polyglot; he knows Polish, French, Russian, English and some German. I only hope that his accent in these languages is better than in English. To illustrate how well he knows English will be the fact that when he was with us he was solving crossword puzzles in English papers without too much difficulty.
The youngest of uncle Wacek children was Mikolaj. In 1956 as a student of Poznan University he took an active part in the revolt against the communist regime. He was imprisoned and stood trial with the 13 most involved leaders of the riots. When W. Gomulka got into power, all were released and Mikolaj could continue with his studies. But his passion was fencing. In time he was in the elite group of best Polish fencers, in all three categories: saber, epee and foil. He was in the Polish Olympic team of 1964 in Tokyo. Unfortunately he did not win any medal. He traveled a lot with the Polish National team, at first as a competitor and later as a trainer. For the last 15 years of his sporting career he was a trainer for the Italian team in Milano. There he was known as Count Pac-Pomarnacki.
Mikolaj is married to Monika Lukaszewicz and they live in Gliwice in Salesia. They have two children. Ania came to England to improve her English. At that time she frequently visited Tadek’s house. Her studying culminated in marrying an Irishman Kevin O’Reilly. They live in London and have two nice daughters. When I am in London, I usually visit them.
Ania’s brother Pawel, after a failed marriage come to London and for some time lived there. He got tied up with an English girl and I believe that at present they live in Poland.
In general, contact with other members of mother’s family was rather loose. Probably father’s transfer from Wilno to Chorzow, the other end of Poland, was one of the reasons. Secondly, marrying my father, in the eyes of some members of her family was a misalliance and hence she cut herself off from them. Jola told me, that apparently mother was supposed to inherit one of the houses in Wilno, but after marriage that decision was annulled. Not that this matters now, as everything is now lost.
When we were in Wilno in 1938, I remember visiting with mother’s many aunts, uncles and grand-aunts. I remember some of the names: Strumillo, Minkiewicz, Mackiewicz, or Rymszewicz. All good Polish-Lithuanian gentry names ending with the suffix “wicz.” Thanks to mother’s cousin, Marian Strumillo, luck, or God’s will we exited alive from Russia. During the war, Uncle Strumillo held some important posts in the administration of the Polish Government, first in England, then with the Polish Embassy in Russia and finally in the Middle East. After the war, for a short time, he was working for UNRRA in China. Eventually, he settled in down in Australia, got married
and after that we lost contact with him.
His brother, Justyn Strumillo was a banker and a businessman. He married a Polish Tartar woman, Achmatowicz. When we were in Wilno we visited them. From aunt’s first marriage there was a daughter Halina (Tadek’s age). I was very proud to have a Tartar for a cousin. I remembered that there in the room was a playpen in which a small girl was making noise. Her name was Irena, or Isia. I met her again, after many years in Boston, now a mother of two girls: Paula and Ama. Her name is Sikorska. Occasionally we visit her.
There was another of the Strumillo brothers in London, Kazimierz. Wacek had some contact with him. If I remember correctly he worked for the British Intelligence. When I was going to Poland for the first time in 1962, he asked me to take some money for his mother. I went to see her. She lived in a huge house in central Warsaw, Nowy Swiat 35. The house used to belong to the Strumillo family. After the war uncle Justyn rebuilt the house from ruin. The government confiscated the house and left them only an apartment on the 4-th floor. Recently Isia repossessed the house, which is worth a few million dollars.
Anyhow, at that time in the apartment I met my grand-aunt, and Tadek’s godmother. She was there with her daughter-in-law, that Tartar woman, my aunt. I introduced myself. The old lady wasn’t quite sure who I was. Because of the same name of Franciszek, she mixed me with my father and sometimes addressed me as a colonel.
There was yet another, so-called uncle in London, Antoni (Ata) Minkiewicz, a very nice and distinguished gentleman. In the family we referred to him as a spy. In reality, before the war, as a colonel, he was the Polish Military Attaché in Moscow. During the war he worked for the Polish Intelligence and after the war in a similar position for the British. Once, he visited us in the States.
That’s how Nula remembers him. “Mum and I were regular visitors to his flat in Ealing. It was always a delight to spent time with him. I particularly remember all the military paraphernalia he collected. His flat was staffed to the gills with paintings, medals, artifacts and memories. He always made for us some tea served in his best china. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. We were very sorry indeed when he died.
And just one more story. When we came to America we did not have any family or friends, there. At work there was another Pole, like me, hired by the company from England. From time to time he would come to us for dinner. Once he asked whether he could bring a Polish friend of his. Olek Andrews (Andrzejkiewicz) turned out to be a very nice, cultured man. During one of the visits Olek in casual conversation said:
“My uncle Rymszewicz . . .”
“Was he in the Polish Navy in England during the war?” I asked.
“Did he have two sons that were killed in the Warsaw Uprising?”
“Did he return to Poland after the war?”
“Yes,” he replied very puzzled.
“That’s strange,” I said, “he is my uncle too.”
Checking the family tree we established that my great-grandfather and his great-grandmother were brother and sister. And so I found another lost cousin. Now, Olek and his wife live in California and, on occasion, we visit them. How small this world is!
I elaborated a bit on the fortunes and misfortunes of both, father and mother’s families. In my opinion family is more than just father, mother, brothers and sisters. As time goes on some will die or move away and you might be left on your own. And believe me, to be alone in this world, without roots, without feeling of belonging is very depressing. I wanted to show that there are many of us “of the same blood” and in today’s language of the same DNA. All that we have to do is reach out.
Inter-war Years – 1918 - 1939
Officially, the 1st World War in Europe ended in November of 1918. An independent Polish State was created by decree, but the frontiers were not established, leaving the Polish Government to negotiate these with their neighbour states. The Polish Army had to fight for every yard of territory. Occupying enemy forces had to be expelled and many open battles were fought.
In the summer of 1920, Poland was again at war; a mortal war with Communist Russia. Russian Armies were at the gates of Warsaw. Then, on August 15, the “Miracle of the Vistula” occurred. The Polish Army, under the command of Marshal Pilsudski, defeated and completely annihilated the Russian armies.
At about the same time, the Inter-Allied Commission unjustly partitioned the disputed territory of Cieeszyn in Silesia province. The Majority of the territory was given to Czechoslovakia. Poland, being engaged in war with Russia, could not defend her rights. Therefore 2nd Lieutenant Franciszek Herzog, who since 1919 had been in command of the Polish insurgent forces in Cieszyn (the Polish Military Organization – POW) returned to his original unit, the 1st Legionary Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and given command of a company. With his unit he took part in the closing phases of the Polish-Russian war of 1920. After the cease-fire, the regiment moved to Wilno, its designated headquarters.
More or less at this time my parents met. I do not remember how it happened, as I was not born yet, so I have to go to Uncle Jozek’s writings for the details:
“In 1920, Wilno was another of these disputed areas. The province was called Middle Lithuania. It formed a semi-independent state but was in alliance with, and finally joined Poland in 1922. At this time, the frontier between Middle Lithuania and Poland had not been established. It was marked by wisps of straw atop long poles, which were often shifted at night by the Lithuanians, or Poles – always to the advantage of the side doing the shifting.
As many Polish people lived in Lithuania and wanted to see the two countries united, the POW was established there, and was very active. Its aim was to bring down the Lithuanian government, which was hostile towards Poland, and was supported by Russia and Germany – traditionally Poland’s enemies. A further purpose of the POW was the re-creation of Lithuania within her historical boundaries and in union with Poland.
The Polish army meanwhile, patrolled the ‘wisp’ frontier. In the spring of 1921, the 1st Legionary Infantry Regiment was sent to guard a section of the frontier. One day, Lt. Franciszek Herzog received word that through his sector, between the hours of 23:00 and midnight a young Polish emissary and her guardian, an older woman, would be secreted across from the Lithuanian side. It was his duty to oversee her crossing and escort her in safety to the Polish H.Q. in Wilno forthwith. Lt. Herzog waited at the appointed crossing with a cancelled backup of soldiers. Midnight approached and passed. There was no sign of the women. Suddenly, very nearby on the Lithuanian side, he heard shouts, footsteps, female voices. . .
While still a non-commissioned officer in the Polish Legion, Herzog was renowned for his bravery and his decisiveness. Likewise, his excellent reputation as a scout and patrol leader was well known. He worked for a year as a conspirator with the POW in Cieszyn, a price on his head, yet he was never captured. For that work he won the Independence Cross with Swords, one of the highest of Polish military honors. He had to be an exceptional man.
A silence fell once more; Lt. Herzog roused his men, slipped across the frontier and without a sound, surrounded the rustic shack which lodged Lithuanian guard. All at once they burst inside. The Lithuanians froze, and then slowly raised their hands in surrender. There were about 10 of them, while the Polish soldiers numbered more than 30. Inside the shack, sitting on a bench by a wall, an elderly woman was crying loudly. Next to her, young woman lay on a table, her leg bandaged.
Immediately sizing up the situation, Lt. Herzog swept the injured girl up in his arms. One of his soldiers took care of the older woman and they rushed out, leaving only the bewildered Lithuanians, stunned by the swiftness of the episode.
Lt. Herzog and his men returned to the Polish side without a single casualty aside from the young emissary who had a light wound in her leg. Her name was Ludwika Pac-Pomarnacka. That very night, Lt. Herzog personally escorted the women to the Polish H.Q. in Wilno.
And so it was that Lt. Franciszek Herzog won for himself a fiancée, wife, and mother of his three sons.”
After the war Father decided to stay in the army, but first he had to graduate from high school. Toward the end of 1921 he was sent on a special matriculation course. As it happened, his youngest brother Jozek was also a student there. They rented a room somewhere in Wilno and for the time being lived together. Uncle Jozek told us this amusing story:
At that time uncle Jozek was a 2nd Lieutenant and Father was a Lieutenant. When they needed some bread, Father would send him on an errand, saying: “Jozek, go and get some bread. See, you have only one star on your shoulder strap and I have two. It’s not appropriate for a Lieutenant to stand in a line”. In 1923 both of them matriculated and both got promotions, Jozek to a Lieutenant and Father to a captain. When they needed some supplies, Father would say: “Jozek, go and get some food from the store. See, you have only two stars on your shoulder-strap so it’s OK for you to stand in line. It’s not right for a captain with three stars to stand in the line. You understand that, don’t you?”
In the spring of 1923, my parents got married in the small church of St. Nicholas in Wilno. I went to that church on my last visit in 2002. Uncle Jozek describes the wedding in the following way:
“Marriage was sanctified by the former chaplain of the Pac- Pomarnacki family. Tension filled the air as the guests gathered in the church. On one side sat the aristocratic clan of Pac-Pomarnacki, the bride’s weeping mother at the head. On the other side stood a group of these young officers, Pilsudski’s Socialists. Obvio- usly, there was little fondness between the two groups. The only thing that united them, beside the young couple, was their sincere love for Poland.”
Father was transferred to the 75th Infantry Regiment, at that time stationed in Wilno. The youngcouple rented a small apartment on Gimnazjalna Street, and there on March 15th 1924 Wacek (Waclaw) was born. Apparently he got that name to pacify Mother’s family. Tadek was also born in Wilno on July 28th 1926. He was supposed to be a girl, and then a boy comes into the world. Naturally a traitor – Judas. But no priest would baptize him with that name. However, there was another Apostle, Jude Thaddeus. And so my brother became Thaddeus – Tadeusz – Tadek - Tadzik. Such was the rumor.
In 1928, Father was promoted to the rank of Major and at the same time transferred with his regiment to Krolewska Huta, now Chorzow, in Silesia. Besides the duties of a Battalion Commander, he was also in charge of the paramilitary organization of Strzelec (Riflemen’s Association). I have a copy from the
Central Military Archives in Poland of Father’s appraisal form. It states:
“Has an opinion of a very good officer, extremely ideological. Strong character, conscientious, dutiful and with initiative. Very solid in his work. Disciplined and loyal. Very good organizer. Resistant to external influences. Good mind and can quickly adjust to new situations. Serious, with the ability to inject his ideas into others.”
In Krolewska Huta, or Chorzow on April 28th 1931, I was born. I also was supposed to be a girl – Krysia, but as a boy they gave me the name of Franciszek. Mother wasn’t very keen on that name, so I was called Niusiek and so it stayed in the family till today. (Franciszek – Franus – Franiusiek – Niusiek).
I do not remember anything from Chorzow, so I will go now to Tadek’s diary:
“We lived in a big officer’s tenement building. Here we had one good friend, Zbyszek Sobol, the son of a captain. They occupied an apartment just below us. He was a year older than I was and a year younger than Wacek. I was always fighting with Zbyszek as I could not tolerate his attitude of always looking down at me because I was younger. With Wacek at that time I lived in perfect harmony. However, one day Zbyszek disturbed that harmony. It happened as follows. At my younger age I could not properly pronounce the letter “r”. Wacek’s and Zbyszek’s lessons did not produce any results. Frustrated, Zbyszek suggested to Wacek that they should undercut my tongue. After all, his parents had done that to their parrot when they wanted to teach the bird to talk. Well, one day when there was nobody in Sobol’s apartment they lured me there and announced that for my good they would clip my tongue with scissors. I don’t remember how I managed to escape from them, but from that day, for a long time I didn’t trust Wacek.”
We met the Sobol family again in London after the war. Young Zbyszek with his Mother managed to get to England in 1940. After finishing high school and then medicine at the University of Edinburgh, he then went on to train at a London hospital. That was when we met him and his parents. I met him again in the States. He is now an orthopedic surgeon. He was very moved when I told him that both Wacek and Tadek were dead.
About the time I was born, both Wacek and Tadek were very sick with scarlet fever. As a result of that illness Tadek later on had some trouble with his kidneys. Wacek developed infection of the inner ear requiring a serious operation (trepanation of the skull) that left him nearly completely deaf in the right ear.
Toward the end of 1931, Father was transferred to the H.Q. of the Strzelec (Rifleman Ass.) in Warsaw. The Strzelec was part of the army and Father had the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His office was on the second floor of the huge building in the Aleja Ujazdowskie, where all departments of the Polish Armed Forces were located. In the same building Marshall Pilsudski had his office. Once, on passing that building Stefan Cieslowski pointed to the window and said: “That’s where your Father worked.” Ever since, whether being on the bus or walking by that building, I look in hope of seeing father walking through the gate, or seeing his face in the window.
Uncle Jozek told me this amusing story. When he attended a military course in Warsaw he stayed with us for a few months. Once, Father on the way to his office, and of course dressed in his uniform with distinctions of lt. colonel took his overcoat that still had distinctions of a major, in a hurry grabbed uncle’s hat with distinctions of a captain. In town, the military police stopped Father and he had to explain who he really was.
As head of the Programs and Procedures in the Strzelec, Father visited Latvia, Estonia and Finland to help them in establishing similar organizations in their countries. He must have done a good job, as each country awarded him with high decorations for service rendered.
When Father returned from this trip, he was told that he was entitled to per diem reimbursement. He could not understand that. In his opinion, while he was away he had his normal salary, and the Polish Military or host countries paid all other expenses. He refused to accept the money, made a stink about such excesses and suggested that such practices should be abolished. That did not go down well with some people higher up and in 1934; he was returned to the regular army with the rank of Major. His new assignment was the 38th Infantry Regiment in Przemysl as a commander of a battalion. Similar to the position he had in Chorzow.
We lived in Warsaw, on the officer’s estate, for two years. Wacek was in the 2nd grade of the elementary school and Tadek, though only 6 years old was sent to the 1st grade (in Poland, schooling started at seven years of age). As he mentions in his diary he didn’t do so well and had to repeat the grade, but as far as being boisterous and in fighting he was excellent. This is what he writes about it:
“We took great pleasure fighting the Jewish boys. They occupied a big building next to ours. The pretext for fighting was a few empty rooms in an old, dilapidated flourmill standing close to our buildings. Although one of the youngest, I can declare with a clean conscience that most of the times I was the instigator of most of the conflicts that usually culminated in fights. I never avoided them and never was just a spectator. We would be very frustrated if we would let Jewish boys get into our courtyard, whereas we often played in theirs.
Apart from fighting with the Jewish boys, we had many other thrills. We would call it an achievement if we could sneak behind the laundry woman to the attic or behind the maid to the cellar. Besides, you had to be brave to go to the cellar, as there might be ghost there. Sliding on the banister from the third to the first floor also required lot of skill.”
For the summer of 1933, our parents rented a nice house in the country in Jozefow, not far from War-saw. According to Tadek it was the most memorable summer vacation he ever had in his life. Lots offree time, many picnics, running barefoot in the rain, various escapades and anything else the imagination of a seven year old could devise, especially without the restraints of Father’s hand, as he only spent weekends with us. Again, I take from Tadek’s diary:
“Our main preoccupation was fighting Jewish boys. Villas solely occupied by Jewish families surrounded the house we rented. The only other Catholic family was that of the caretaker of the estate. One day with sons of the caretaker and Wacek we had a good fight with the Jewish boys. After a cease-fire, when only verbal abuses were flying between us, one of the Jewish boys shouted: “Wait; next weekend my Father will come, you will see what he will do to you.” To which I replied, “And you wait, on Sunday my Uncle Hitler will come, he will give you a proper thrashing.”
When I said that all the Jewish boys disappeared. About half an hour later two Jewish women ran into our house lamenting to our Mother, “How can you teach your children such nasty words? Since when are young boys allowed to use such dirty words? How do you bring them up? What will become of them?”
In Poland there was a mild form of anti-Semitism. One of the reasons for this was that the Jewish population in general sided with Poland’s enemies. But I cannot stand it when Jews try to put an equation sign between Polish anti-Semitism and what Nazi Germany did to them before and during the Second World War. If Poland was persecuting Jews and they were so unhappy there, why then did Poland have the greatest number of Jews of any other European country?
It was in Warsaw that I lost my left eye. I was told that it happened in the following way: It must have been autumn of 1933. At that time I was two and a half. One Saturday evening, after having bath I was already in bed. Mother was cutting Wacek’s and Tadek’s toe nails. Somebody rang the doorbell and Mother left the bedroom to see who it was. Tadek took the scissors and proceeded with cutting Wacek’s toenails. As soon as Mother left the room I got out of bed and started walking to my brothers. Tadek holding the scissors swung his hand and said to me, “Go to bed”. I started crying and Mother ran into the room. I complained that Tadek had hit my eye. Mother checked it but could not see anything except my tears. She told me to go to sleep.
In the middle of the night I woke up with pain in my eye. On Sunday, my parents took me to a doctor who after an examination concluded that the white of the eye was scratched and told my parents that they should wash my eye with boric acid and everything should be fine. After a few days an infection set in, and there was danger that it could spread to the right eye. Remember that this was before Penicillin was discovered. The eye had to be removed. An operation was performed in a military hospital.
And it is from that time, at two and a half years of age, that I have my first recollections. They are in my mind as a photograph. I remember a big white room and being tied down to a table. In the second picture, I am in bed and a soldier is starting a fire in the fireplace. The third and final picture is that I am in a room looking at a big tray full of glass eyes.
From Przemysl I have much more vivid recollections, not just still pictures. We lived on the northern side of the town in the area called Winna Gora (Grapevine Mountain). The climate in southeast Poland is milder than in the rest of the country, and actually grapevine could be grown there. The house was situated on top of the hill from which we had a beautiful view of the town below.
On a clear day, far to the south you could see the Carpathian Mountains. The two storey house with columns on both sides of the entrance was quite large and was located in a two and a half acre parcel developed as a beautiful orchard. There were 80 fruit trees, rows of bushes of gooseberries and currants, strawberries, and of course vegetables and flowerbeds. I have no idea who kept it all cultivated. There was the three of us boys, Mother, Father, a maid and Father’s batman. Father was a knowledgeable gardener and liked that type of work (really, I don’t know whether there were things that Father couldn’t do). Most of the fruit was for direct sale, meaning that somebody would come and pick them from the trees. At home we would make jams, preserves, pickled cucumbers and cabbage. From red and black currants, Father made large quantities of wine. I remember, once Father wanted to pour wine from one carboy to another. As he rested one bottle on his knee the glass broke and the whole kitchen floor was covered with red wine.
From that time I remember one episode very vividly. Mother and Wacek went to town. Tadek and his friend wanted to frighten me. They said that there was a ghost and they were running away from it. I fol-lowed them, as I did not want to stay behind and let the ghost catch me, but they were too fast for me. I was really frightened and started to cry. The more I cried, the faster they would run, up to the attic, through various rooms, down to the cellar and up again. Eventually, I hid under a bed and covered myself with some blankets. Now Tadek and his friend started looking for me and became afraid that something could have happened to me. They went outside to look for me. A draught closed the front doors and now they could not get inside, as they did not have a key. They were calling and calling me but I didn’t hear them, exhausted from crying I fell asleep. When Mother and Wacek returned and asked about me, Tadek could not give a satisfactory answer and now all of them were a bit worried. Eventually, I woke up and, hearing Mother’s voice, crawled from under the bed.
Wacek and I ate almost anything, whereas Tadek as long as I can remember was very fussy about his food; we called him francuski piesek (French doggie). You had to see him eating sardines. He would take one fish at a time, put it on the plate and the “operation” would start. First he would cut off the tail, then scrape off the scales from both sides of the sardine and eventually remove the backbone. After that when there was hardly anything left, he would eat it. At the sight of seafood his face would turn green.
Tadek didn’t eat tomatoes, but Wacek and I we loved them to the extent that as soon as they turned pink we would pick them off the vine and eat them. To curb our appetite Father told us that by eating tomatoes that are not quite ripe we could get cancer. That was soon after Pilsudski died in 1935 of that dreaded disease and everybody was talking about cancer.
I think it was in 1937 that we moved to another house just across the road. It was smaller and did not have that magnificent view. The reason for moving was that the rent was increased from 100 to 120 zloty per month. Rent in the new house was only 80 zloty.
Financially we were well above the average. Father’s salary as a Major was 600 zl/month and when he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel it was over 800zl. On top of that, once a year he had an extra few hundreds zlotys for his military decorations. Also he and the family could travel by train at a reduced fare. Father used to say that if he could use all the discounts for his military decorations, every time that he traveled by train, the railway system should pay him. For the Virtuti Militari alone, a 50% discount applied.
To indicate how well off financially we were I will give a few examples. Our maid was getting 30 zl/month plus food and board. The starting salary for a teacher in the elementary school was 120 zl/month and a principal in the high school would get 450 zl/month. Why do I write about this? Sometimes Ivona says that we economize on everything and don’t like to see food being wasted because we were poor when we were young. Sure, we were poor beyond imagination and on the point of starvation when we were in Siberia, but not in Poland before the war. My Grandfather (on dad’s side of course) used to say: “As long as there is bread on the table and water in the well, there is no poverty”.
The Great Polish poet, Wincenty Pol, wrote:
To the country of mine, where crumb of bread
I pick off the floor,
Just in respect for the heavenly gifts,
I yearn for, My Lord.
That’s the way we were brought up.
Toward the end of our stay in Przemysl, Wacek on the second attempt finished the 1st grade of gymnasium (first time he failed Latin and had to repeat the whole year). Tadek finished elementary school and passed the entrance examination to the gymnasium. I finished the 1st grade of elementary school. Before the war, as well as during the war when we were in India and England, the Polish educational system was as follows: 6 grades of elementary school followed by an entrance examination to the gymnasium. Then there were 4 years of gymnasium and 2 years of lyceum. At the end of the lyceum, there was the Matriculation examination. A Matriculation diploma entitled you to enter university or a college of higher education.
In 1938 Father was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. At that time he was 44 years old. He had a choice of moving to Krokow, Jaroslaw or Lubaczow. He chose Lubaczow. Here he was a commander of an independent 1st Battalion of the 39th Infantry Regiment. Other battalions of that regiment were stationed in Jaroslaw. In Lubaczow he had more independence, both in the military field, as well as in community work which he loved.
Lubaczow compared to Przemysl was really damp. A small town of about 7000 inhabitants, about 5000 Jews and the remainder equally divided between Poles and Ukrainians. Electricity was only available in the evening hours.
We rented a house on the periphery of the town by the road leading to Mlodow village. The center of the town, where there was an elementary school, a gymnasium, a church and a few shops, was about 1 km away. The house we rented, probably one of the best in town had two stories, with nice enclosed and glazed verandas on the front of the first and second floors. In the back of the house there was a fair size garden with some fruit trees and another small building with three rooms. Our maid lived in one of them during summer months. The other two rooms were used for storage, and later when Father bought a motorcycle, as a garage. Compared to the house in Przemysl this was primitive. There was no running water in the house. Water was taken from the well in the backyard. The toilet consisted of two outhouses behind the outer building. Naturally in winter and at nights we had to use the night commode or just a potty. I think Tadek wrote an “Ode” to that important vessel:
You beautiful vessel in gold and red
Peacefully standing under my bed.
In depth of night in that and this,
In need you bring such comfort and bliss.
Lubaczow I remember well. It might be because I visited it a few times in the recent years. I was in the second grade. School was located in the center of the town by the market place. Frequently Father’s batman would take me home after school. There were two reasons for that. Sometimes I would go to visit some friends and in consequence, I would be late for dinner. The second reason was for security. Father was on the ‘war path’ with the Jewish community and he was afraid that they might harm me.
And so, the batman would escort me home, but not on Thursdays. On that day they had an early dinner in the barracks. I hurried there. With my mess kit I would stand in line to the kettle. In one part of the kit I would take soup and in the other the main course. I loved soldier’s food.
They liked me in the barracks. Frequently I would go to the guardhouse. There in small cells they would hold soldiers for misbehavior or infringement of the rules and discipline. Five days of scislego (rigorous) was the maximum penalty. In that case the delinquent would get a slice of bread with tea for breakfast, some soup with bread for dinner and bread and water for supper. So, if I managed to sneak in past the guards, I would bring them some fruit or pieces of chocolate. In general the guardsmen overlooked my doings.
Father didn’t like me loitering in the barracks as I learned some ‘nice, juicy’ vocabulary, the meaning of which I did not understand. Then at home I would show off with my newly acquired knowledge. One day, Father went to Jaroslaw to a staff meeting and was supposed to come home late that evening. In the afternoon I went to the barracks. Suddenly, I saw Father coming through the gate on his motorcycle. I tried to hide behind a building but Father’s quick eye noticed me. With his hand he signaled me to approach and asked:
“What are you doing here?”
“Mother sent me to the canteen to buy something,” I replied.
“Show me the money,” Father said.
Naturally, I didn’t have any and my lie was obvious.
“You know you are not supposed to come here and on top of that you lie.”
To a passing soldier Father gave an order to bring guardsmen. Two guardsmen came, saluted and Father said to them:
“Take him in, two days of solitary confinement”.
Well, the Colonel had given an order, so they took me in, locked me in a cell and brought a slice of bread and some water. I loved the dark soldier’s bread, but this time I didn’t eat any. I was just sobbing. After an hour or so, which seemed like ages to me, Father’s aide-de-camp came and said to me:
“The meeting will last a long time tonight, better go to your Father and apologize”.
I remember in Przemysl and Lubaczow we had an Alsatian dog named Rex. Normally he was on a chain. The chain was attached to a long wire stretched between two places. The chain could slide on the wire and the dog had a lot of space for running. If it was raining he could hide in his doghouse. As long as the dog was on its chain, he would not let anyone enter the yard without barking and making a lot of noise. Once the dog was off the chain, he would be the friendliest animal in the world. We used to say that he was like a soldier, when on duty – strict, off duty – friendly.
Once when the dog was on the chain, a mailman came in. Rex jumped on him, knocked him down and started tearing at his leggings. Naturally, the mailman started yelling. We ran out of the house and pulled the dog to the side. Father gave the mailman a pair of brand new military trousers and some money to wipe off his tears.
For some reason Father was not very keen on scouting, but both Wacek and Tadek belonged to the organization. Once at a ceremony to which Father had been invited, Wacek was in the honor guard standing with the flag. Naturally, Father spotted him, but said nothing. Even I joined the cub scouts and attended two meetings. At one of these meetings, we went to the woods. I was told to hide in a certain place and watch that nobody would pass me. If I spotted anybody I was supposed to shout – “Stop!” Nobody came my way and after half an hour the game was over. I remember that game till today. Our pack leader was Mietek Zathey. When I came to America I met him at a Polish scouts gathering in Detroit. I wonder what my Father would say if he knew that for two years I had been the Chief of the Polish Scouting Organization in the States.
For Christmas of 1938 we were going to Wilno to visit Grandmother. It happened that Grandmother had broken her arm so Mother decided to go a bit earlier, and the rest of us, with Father, were supposed to come when school break started. However, the morning Mother was to go our parents decided that I would go with her. Wacek and Tadek were already in school. When they came home our maid told them that I hadn’t returned from school yet. After an hour or so, they decided to go to town to look for me. At friend’s homes they were told that I had not been to school that day. Now they got worried speculating about what might have happened to me. After searching a bit longer they returned home and then they were told that I was on the way to Wilno.
Journey lasted some 24 hours. In Warsaw we had to change trains. It was midnight, I was tired and sleepy and we had to climb up a very long stairs and then go down to get to another platform. We boarded the train and after some time it started moving. Though exhausted I was glued to the window. Never in my life did I see so many lights and many of them colored. Eventually I fell asleep and woke in the morning. We were in Wilno.
I did not know Grandmother. There she was an old woman in a darkened room, with a red night lamp glowing, lying in bed on a heap of pillows with her hand in plaster. To be honest, I was afraid of her. Probably I thought that she might hit me on the head with that hand in plaster. I do not remember if she ever hugged me or talked to me in a friendly fashion. There was never any fondness between us. Yet, for Easter that year we received from her a huge parcel with all sorts of goodies and presents. And later on I received a big wooden horse on rockers. I am sure, that in her way Grandmother loved us but somehow she could not show that outwardly.
That Christmas in 1938 was the most memorable. All that time in Wilno was one great “ball”. A big bustling city, riding horse drawn sleds through its snow covered streets, fabulously illuminated with colored neon lights and many big shops with beautiful displays. Add to that, lots of visits to various relatives I never heard of. Everywhere we were very welcomed. Right after Christmas Father had to go back to his unit, Mother and Wacek got flu so Tadek and I we were “exploring” Wilno. For Christmas I got a toy rifle. After lunch Grandmother liked to take a nap, so I would go outside her bedroom door, load my rifle with caps and fire them. Grandmother would then call me, give me two zloty and say: “Go to the movies, or somewhere else. I want to have peace and quiet”.
Two zlotys was enough to buy two cinema tickets and still have some left over for candy or a ride home in a sled. It was then that I saw Disney’s “Snow White” and for the first time in my life went to a theatre.
As it turned out that was our last Christmas that the whole family spent together. Probably that’s the reason why these memories are so dear to me. And probably that’s why now I like so much to go to Wilno, walk along the vaguely remembered streets, and go to the Cathedral or to the shrine of Ostra Brama. Or just stand by Grandmother’s house and once again re-live those beautiful memories of the past.
In Lubaczow, Father was a very much respected and liked person. I recollect seeing a few times that in the morning some peasants would stand outside the gate waiting for Father to come out. They wanted Father to settle their disputes or claims. They preferred to go to him rather than to a Judge, as they expected fair judgment and it would cost them nothing. They felt that Father was their man. Tadek this way writes about Father in his diary:
“Father’s strong character till today is for me exemplary and one which I would like to achieve in my life. Patriotism, serving Poland and her people was his main aim. Back in Krolewska Huta with a lot of planning and hard work he was instrumental in building a big military sport’s stadium. In Warsaw he met a different type of person, and without hesitation called them thieves and parasites. For that reason he was transferred to Przemysl and for 11 years did not get promotion. And now in Lubaczow where in his position he had more independence and freedom of action, he flourished once again. He started getting involved in community work, initiated building a church in the nearby village, a big co-op building in Lubaczow in which a few Polish shops opened and brought to town other Polish businesses. That of course was cutting into Jewish interests and that’s why Father received anonymous, threatening letters saying: “Mr. Colonel, we know where you are living”.
“When it comes to his military service, he was beyond reproach. Just two examples: Father never used military transport (horse and buggy, no automobiles) for his or his families’ private use. He would say, “What would Poland look like if all military families were allowed to do that. Therewould be no transportation left for the army.
Or, he would go to the kitchen and check that soldiers were receiving correct amount of meat for their nourishment.”
And so the summer of 1939 came, the last happy summer of my childhood. All three of us were promoted to the next grade. Father went to the war games, military barracks emptied. The political situation was tense. All the time there was talk of the possibility of war with Germany over a territorial dispute with Poland. But the military pact between Poland, France and Great Britain bolstered Polish spirits. The chance of war diminished.
That summer was exceptionally hot and dry. To cool down we frequently went to the river for a swim. In the middle of August, soldiers suddenly returned to their barracks. Around the town trenches were dug and machine guns placed there as anti-aircraft protection. A paramilitary youth organization was activated. Wacek, who was by then 15, with Father’s permission and approval joined them. They were supposed to guard bridges, railway stations and other strategic objects against sabotage or other hostile activities. Summer was coming to an end. On Monday 4th September schools were to reopen.
And then ……