Chapter 10: The Visit to Warsaw
It was after midnight when the train arrived at Warsaw train station. Roza dragged Davidek and Lilly, who were half asleep, off the train and onto the platform where Cesia was waiting for them with a driver, who in one hand carried Lilly and in the other lifted the suitcase. Roza and Cesia supported Davidek who was sleep-walking and swaying like a drunkard.
When Davidek woke the next morning, he did not know where he was. Adam ran up to him and hugged him. “Davidek, I’m so glad that you came,” he said. A bashful Davidek smiled modestly. He liked his red-headed cousin who was the same age as him but already a head taller.
Lilly also appeared in the room and ran to Adam and embraced him. Now it was Adam’s turn to be embarrassed. His face turned red and he barely looked at her. Lilly jumped all over him, nearly knocking him down. “Okay, okay. Enough already, stop” he pleaded.
After Lilly and Davidek had settled in, Cesia called them to eat.“Where is Jerzy”? Lilly and Davidek asked simultaneously. “He is still napping in my bed,” Cesia answered. “That is where he sleeps when we give his room to guests.”
Cesia and Moses Wolowelski lived in a large apartment in one of the buildings that Moses owned on Ogrodowa Street. He had combined two apartments on the second floor and made one out of them. In one part he built an office for himself with an adjoining bedroom and on the other part he built a huge living room, a dining room along with a fully equipped kitchen. All the floors were covered with expensive Afghan rugs. Enormous chandeliers hung from the center of each room with paintings mounted in carved wooden frames hanging on the walls. Two life-size bronze statues were placed at the exit to the back porch. The tablecloths were embroidered with gold and silver threads. Everything pointed to great wealth.
Lilly and Davidek were fascinated. They stood in awe of everything they saw.
The Wolowelskis spent their weekends at their home in Michalin, which actually was a large villa built on a hill surrounded by tall white birch trees. Moses owned two cars; one a family car and one a convertible spots car.
At their home in Michalin, they had an array of bicycles in different sizes and for different genders. Because she was short, Lilly had difficulty getting on a bike because she could not reach the pedals. As a result she fell and injured her elbow on the first try.
Two friendly German shepherds ran around in the garden playing with the children as they ran after the balls the boys kicked.
Along the wall that surrounded the villa, there were pear and cherry trees along with blueberry bushes that grew wildly.
Moses Wolowelski, who was a red head and had a face full of freckles, always dressed elegantly, wearing cream-colored or white suits and a striped visor hat. He conveyed an aura of strength and power. Although he had a serious and sometimes angry look on his face, he was the most lovable person.
While Moses worked in his office, Cesia would take the children to Park Lazienki, where they would stroll around the lake and throw pieces of bread to the white swans that were paddling in the water.
Roza and Cesia enjoyed just sitting on one of the many benches scattered along the paths. Lilly loved sitting on the bench next to her aunts, curiously observing the elegantly dressed women as they passed by. She was particularly intrigued by their strange looking hats, many of which were adorned with long colorful feathers or with tulle that hid half their faces. She was most fascinated by the fox fur stoles that hung from the shoulders of the fancy women and flapped back and forth as they walked. This was high fashion and how the high society in the big town dressed.
“When I grow up, I want to perform in the Warsaw theatre in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, in the role of the Danish noblewoman Ophelia, sister of Laertes and potential wife of Prince Hamlet. I will then dress in beautiful clothes with a fox scarf hanging from my shoulders. I will be the most famous and admired star of the Warsaw theatre,” Lilly declared loudly.
“You will first have to wait for your breasts to grow,” Roza remarked in her casual manner.
“That is no way to speak to a little girl who is barely eleven years old,” grumbled Cesia.
A few days after their arrival in Warsaw, Moses took Davidek (who requested that he be called David in front of others) to the local high school, the same one Adam attended.
On the wall calendar that hung above the head secretary, the date September 1st was circled in red with the words “the first day of classes” written alongside it.
“Here is Davidek, your new student,” Moses loudly declared in his booming voice.
The secretary looked up, smiled and said, “Remind me what your full name is.”
“My name is David Nachimzon. I was born in Warsaw in June,25th, 1912.”
“We have one mixed class, Jews and non-Jews together, and one for Jews only. Which do you prefer,” the secretary asked.
“I would prefer to go to the mixed class. I do not want to learn in a class with only Jews. I would like to learn in a class with my cousin Adam.”
Suddenly Lilly piped up and began to cry and said, “I also want to attend school in Warsaw. I do not want to go back to Wloszczowa.”
David walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her.“Don’t worry, Lilly, I will be coming often to visit you and you will come to visit me on your vacations. Do not worry, we will not be separated for long.”
Lilly grabbed his arm and held it tightly, and said, “Promise me that we will see each other often.”
Aunt Cesia promised Lilly that she would spend the following summer in Warsaw together with David and Adam. Lilly jumped up and down from joy and hugged Cesia tightly and kissed her.
“Not only that, but I bought you a pair of earrings,” Cesia said, as she handed Lilly a small box decorated with a silver ribbon. Lilly quickly opened the box and there before her eyes she saw a pair of gold earrings in the shape of a chain with a blue stone set in each earring.“Aunt Cesia, I love you,” she said, as she jumped on her once again. This time there were tears of joy in her eyes.
The next morning Aunt Roza and Lilly took the train to Kielce and from there they took a bus to Wloszczowa.
As soon as she got home, Lilly rushed up the stairs and burst into the room of her grandmother, Paulina.“Grandma, Grandma, look what Aunt Cesia bought for me,” and she pulled her hair away from her ears to reveal the earrings.
“Now you are ready to look for a husband,” grandmother laughed.“That’s right, a husband. Perhaps I should marry a young yeshiva boy. After all, they get married at fifteen. Don’t they?” Lilly replied laughingly.
Grandmother suddenly turned serious and grabbed Lilly grabbed by her hand and said, “Just don’t bring home a Pole.” Lilly stroked her grandmother’s white hair, leaned over and kissed her cheek and asked, “What is wrong with a Pole?”
On Christmas Eve 1927, Lilly celebrated her twelfth birthday. As in years past at, the church bells rang to mark the beginning of the holiday The year’s first snow was falling, and through the windows of the houses, sparkling holiday trees with multicolored flashing lights and candles could be seen.
Ida baked Lilly’s favorite cake, an apple strudel. Aunt Roza came with Eugenia and her husband Stanislaw, as well as Uncle Muniek, who came with a wrapped package in one hand and a bottle in the other. The entire family sat down around the large table.
Little Izio was running among the guests and shouting, “Where is Videk? Where is Videk?” He was looking for his older brother, Davidek, who was not there because he had gone with the Wolowelsi family to the mountains. Every year during the holiday season they rented a small house in Zakopane. Moses loved to slide in the snow while Adam and David pushed a sled in which two-year-old exuberant Jerzy was sitting.
As soon as all the lights in the room were off, Lilly blew out the candle burning in the center of the cake. That was when all at once everybody broke out in the famous Polish birthday song.
Hundred years, hundred years,
May she live, live just for us.
Hundred years, hundred years,
May she live, live just for us.
Once again, once again,
May she live, live just for us.
May she live, just for us.
While everybody was busy talking and drinking, Uncle Muniek stood up, waving his hand in which he was holding an empty glass of vodka. Everybody started laughing at him, but the expression on his face was very serious.
As soon as the room fell silent, he began speaking.
“First of all I would like to bless the sweet, talented and funny Lilly whom I love so much. I wish her all the best luck in the world. Now I will tell you something that is news to all of you. I have decided to leave Poland and to emigrate to Argentina. Although Uncle Lazer with whom I have been corresponding lives in Houston, Texas, and has asked me to join him, I recently made contact with a group of Polish Jews who live in Argentina, and they suggest that I join them. They have opened a dental clinic and are desperately looking for a technician like myself. I think it is right for me to try my luck there.”
Total silence reigned in the room, as everyone sat quietly and looked at each other, unable to respond. Ida walked over to her brother, hugged him and said “So you are leaving us just like Lazer, Isabella and Emma.” Tears ran down her cheeks as she stormed out of the room.
Everybody sat in silence. Muniek tried to be funny, but nobody laughed. Finally Wolf broke the silence and said, “May your way be successful. You have my blessing.” He went over to Muniek and they shook hands warmly. Then Roza went over to him, hugged him and said, “It’s a good thing that our parents are no longer alive. Papa would not have approved of what you are doing.”
Stanislaw, who was standing next to Roza, added, “If I had a choice, I would also leave. Many young people have signed up and joined newly established organizations, especially the Zionist ones that train young people in different professions and then send them to Palestine. There is a group of thirty people already.
“I would not go to Palestine for any money in the world,” Wolf said.“We have a good life right here in Poland. We are Polish, and whoever has a bit of brains in his head can manage very well here.”
“How will they call you in Argentina, Manuel Friedberg?” Stanislaw laughingly commented.
“Just make sure you stay in touch with us. I do not want to lose you,” said Eugenia.
Ida came back into the room with red eyes. Muniek walked over to her, hugged her and said. “My dearest sister, I’m here alone, I have no wife or children. If things do not work out for me there, I can always come back. If things work out fine, perhaps you will come and join me. Buenos Aires is not Wloszczowa. In the letters that I receive from my friends, they describe the most amazing places and the most amazing and friendly people. The climate is warm and pleasant. Do not be upset, it causes me anguish and distresses.”
Ida tried to put a smile on her face.