Chapter 4: Luck Smiles on Cesia
Independence Day celebrations on the third of November 1918 lasted several days. People danced in the streets, taverns were full of people and huge bonfires were lit that spread heat and created a holiday atmosphere in Wloszczowa. Stands placed around the Rynek square, were selling Polish delicacies. Little piglets threaded on skewers were rotating and roasting over hot coals. Groups of Poles stood around waiting for the seller to finish sharpening his knife and to begin slicing juicy pieces of meat. Shotgun fire could be heard from the revelers as they fired into the air, marking the liberation of Poland from the hands of the Austro-Hungarians and Russians. There was great joy in the streets.
At home, Wolf, Ida, Cesia, Eugenia and Roza all sat in an atmosphere of gloom. Roza’s eyes were red from crying, as she held the letter Emma had left on the table before leaving home. She read it over and over again, refusing to believe that she would not see her younger sister ever again.
The letter began with the words, To my dear family, and then went on to list each and every family member, including the names of Lilly and Davidek who were three and six years old respectively. No name was omitted.
By the time you read this letter, I will already be far away from you, within the borders of Mother Russia or in a Polish prison (in the event that I am caught). This time I am not alone. Two strong young men, both from Wloszczowa, are accompanying me. Do not worry about me. If the opportunity arises I will send you information about myself without endangering you in any way. Take care of yourselves. I am sure that sooner or later, the communist revolution will come to Poland and we will again be united. I love you all.
Wolf took the letter from Roza’s hand and threw it into the fireplace.
“It’s dangerous to have this type of letter around the house,” Wolf began. “Should any acquaintances or neighbors ask what happened to Emma, tell them that she moved to Warsaw to live with her grandfather Isaac’s brother, Ilia Friedberg, who is a famous dentist. This way nobody will suspect that she has just disappeared.”
One day, Cesia, Ida’s younger sister, decided to travel to Warsaw to visit her uncle Ilia. That would also afford her the opportunity to see his daughters Mila and Stefania, both of whom she had not seen in a very long time.
After an exhausting trip that took a whole day, she arrived in Warsaw. Her Uncle Ilia was waiting for her at the train station.
Dr. Ilia Frieberg lived in a luxurious apartment in a very prestigious suburb of Warsaw; his dental clinic was adjacent to his apartment. As he was one of the most popular dentists in the city, his clinic was always full of patients standing in line in the waiting room.
Ilia was very fond of Cesia and always worried lest she would remain an old spinster. At every opportunity he encouraged her to try to find a husband. He even tried to persuade her to stay in Warsaw where her chances of finding a husband to her liking were much greater. He was afraid that if she remained in Wloszczowa, having no choice, she would marry a young yeshiva student who had no profession. He did not realize that yeshiva students would not even consider a “shikse” like her.
Two days after her arrival, Uncle Ilia organized a festive dinner at his house, to which he invited Moses Wolowelsky, a wealthy businessman whom he had met at a club to which he belonged. They had in time become close friends. Moses was a rich widower from Moscow who had made most of his money in real estate. At the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, he had decided to flee to Poland together with his five-year-old son, Adam. Although he was forced to abandon his properties and most of his belongings, he managed to escape with a box full of gold ingots. He bribed the officials at the border to permit him to enter Poland and eventually reached Warsaw. He stayed in a luxury hotel and began buying real estate. He bought two apartment buildings on the prestigious Ogrodowa Street, each with ninety apartments, all of them rented. He then bought a flour mill in the suburb of Praga, and finally bought a villa in Michalin, a summer residence, 30 kilometers from Warsaw.
Cesia, although not so very young any more, was undoubtedly a beautiful woman.At the dinner Ilia introduced Cesia to Moses. She immediately captured his heart. Two days later, as they were walking in Park Lazienki, he proposed to her. A shocked Cesia requested that he allow her some more time so they could get to know each other better. However, Moses did not want to wait and he pressured Cesia for an answer. Within a few weeks they were married. In the spring of 1923 the wedding, a civil one, was held in the Town Hall. It was very low key. Besides the witnesses, it was attended only by Roza, Berta and her husband Herman, Eugenia and her husband Stanislaw, Ida and Wolf and her brother Muniek.
About a year after she was married, Cesia became pregnant. On weekends they lived in Michalin, while during the rest of the week they lived in a large apartment in one of the buildings on Ogrodowa Street in the center of Warsaw.
Ida ,who in 1922 had given birth to her third child ,a son who was named Izio, occasionally visited her sister Cesia, and would bring along Davidek who was the same age as Adam. She would leave Lilly and Izio behind in Wloszczowa, in the care of their Polish neighbor Zosia, who they loved very much.
On January 13, 1925, Cesia gave birth to a son whom they named Jerzy. Moses loved history and especially that of the United States, which he had visited several times on business. He was a great admirer of George Washington and named his son Jerzy, which is the Polish version of George.
Not that long ago, Cesia thought to herself, she was a single young woman, who lived in a small town in the south east of Poland. Although she did not come from a poor home, they were not rich either. Her parents had been Jewish bourgeoisie - Polish, educated and people of standing. Her sister Ida was married to Wolf, a lawyer, whose mother, Pauline, hailed from the well-known Wolfson family. Pauline’s brother, Julius Wolfson, was a composer and conductor at the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna. He was always traveling between Vienna, Warsaw and Berlin and had been to New York many times. Pauline’s uncle was David Wolfson, one of the founders of the Zionist movement and the deputy to Theodor Herzl, head of the World Zionist Movement.
Cesia herself was the granddaughter of the famous Jewish writer, Abraham Shalom Friedberg who died when she was seven years old. She attended the funeral which was held in Warsaw and listened to the eulogies delivered by many prominent community members including the chief rabbi of Warsaw. She visited his grave site many times. The tombstone was designed by a famous architect
She remained in touch with his daughters. Her aunt, Isabella Grinevskaya, nee Berta Friedberg, was a playwright and novelist and at that time lived in Constantinople. Bertha’s sister ,Luba, lived in Lodz. She was a dentist and was married to a dentist, Herman Mirabel. Her uncle, Ilia Friedberg was also a well-known dentist in Warsaw.
Cesia’s head was in the clouds.
Ever since she had married a wealthy man and their son Jerzy was born, she felt on top of the world. At every occasion, Moses gave her gold jewelry decorated with diamonds, mink furs and imported hats from Paris. She had domestic help for cleaning and childcare, as well as a chauffeur who drove her everywhere. She loved all the wealth, loved the nightlife of Warsaw and disliked visiting Wloszczowa. Most of all she resented anything remotely connected to Judaism and religion.
When Jerzy was born, Cesia decided not to circumcise him. Moses begged and pleaded with her, but to no avail. She remained adamant. She claimed that circumcision was an act of barbarism and in their modern times it was unnecessary to mutilate body parts.
“If you claim that God created man why cut off the tip of his penis? What happened? Did He make a mistake with his creation,” she asked Moses. At such a weighty question, Moses had no answer..
After she was widowed Paulina Wolfson, grandmother of Lilly, Davidek and Izio, moved in with her brother Julius in Vienna. But she could not get used to life in the big city, and after two years she decided to move in with her son Wolf in Wloszczowa.