Chapter 6: An Uninvited Guest
Once a week, Wolf went to play bridge at the count’s estate in the nearby town of Maluszyn. He would take his motorcycle and, pick up his friend the priest on the way. This time he deviated from this practice and took his car.
Not only Wolf loved the game of bridge, but it intrigued also his son Davidek, who was very sharp and intelligent. Wolf coached him and taught him all the tricks he knew. Davidek knew that Wolf was a master bridge player.
On his way to the estate of Count Sosnowski, he picked up Pastor Dabrowski from the nearby church, which was not far from the Rynek Square, along with Eva Sandowska. They were four regular partners in the game. Wolf always played as a pair with Eva, while the priest and the count were a pair. While they played, the personal butler of the count would serve sandwiches with smoked bacon, and fine vodka.
Wolf loved this beautiful life. He also loved it when Eva would place her foot between his legs under the table while they were playing, an act that disturbed his concentration. After a while, he would give her a threatening look to get her to stop and then he would emit sounds of simulated coughs in order to return to full concentration.
It didn’t matter to Wolf that Eva was married and had two children. Very often he would tell her that her chubby son with the red hair looked very much like him. Eva took his words seriously and believed that the boy was Wolf’s son. She kept her escapades a great secret. She knew that if her husband would suspect anything, he would, at best, throw her out of their home, and in the worst case beat her to death.
However, her husband did not suspect a thing. He knew that she was in good company with the priest of the town, a respected lawyer and the count. He was very proud that his wife had been accepted into the “high echelon” society of Wloszczowa, where he himself, a construction worker, would not even be able to come close to those people.
On their way home, half drunk, after a night of fun, Wolf would first drop off the priest at the entrance to the church and then continue with Eva towards the forest that bordered the road leading to the southern exit from the city. Here in the dead of night, nobody noticed that Wolf and Eva were having sex.
Wolf loved taking little Lilly for a ride on his motorcycle around town. Lilly would cling tightly to her father’s broad back while with her slender fingers she dug into the folds of the fat of his body. When he eventually screamed for her to stop, she would burst out in laughter that was swallowed by the noise of the exhaust pipe.
When they returned home, a pot of hot krupnik soup, as only Grandma Paulina knew how to prepare, was awaiting them. Wolf liked to first pull the white beans out of the soup, then the chunks of meat and finally he sipped the liquid with the pearl barley.
When he was finished, he would always say, “I always get the least that is why I always finish first.”
Ida would laugh when Wolf would alternately sip cold water to soothe his tongue which got burnt from eating the hot soup too quickly.
Five years after her disappearance, a sign of life from Emma surfaced.
One day there was a knock at Roza’s door. When she opened it, she saw a thin man with a black beard, dressed in clothes that were too big for him and wearing a wool cap.
“Who are you? What do you want?” she asked, as she was about to close the door in his face.
“I have brought you information about Emma,” the man answered.
Roza took a step forward out of the door, nearly pushing the man, looked around and saw that the street was empty. She opened the door wide and motioned with her head for him to enter.
She motioned for him to sit down at the table and offered him some berries and nuts. Coughing and speaking in a weak voice, the man said, “Please, just give me a cup of hot tea.”
Roza obliged and brought him a piping hot cup of tea.
“I just arrived from a harrowing trip from Kharkov,” he began.
“I met Emma in a training camp, where she underwent physical training after joining the People’s Party. We became very good friends. At the time, I was strong, solid and fit. That was until I contracted tuberculosis. I began losing weight and became weaker and weaker, until they wanted to send me to a sanatorium. I realized that I was doomed, because I knew that from there nobody ever returned. I successfully stole my way into Poland. I have gone through difficult times but at least I survived. Emma sent you this photograph of herself.”
From deep inside his breast pocket he pulled out a folded photograph. She immediately recognized that the person in the picture was her sister Emma. Roza held the picture tightly in her hands while tears were streaming from her eyes. She stood up, took the man’s hand and kissed it.
“I constantly worry about Emma,” Roza said, “not knowing if she was alive, captured or imprisoned. At least now I know she is alive. Please tell me all about her.”
Roza got up and brought him more hot tea with some biscuits.
The man gave a deep sigh and was suddenly struck with a bout of heavy coughing. He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and covered his mouth. Roza noticed that it was stained with blood.
She handed him the tea. “Drink. This will help you feel better.”
The man sipped the hot tea slowly. While trying to suppress fits of coughing, he began to tell her story.
“My name is Janusz Gawronski. Before the revolution I lived in Brest-Litovsk. I consider myself Ukrainian, although my family originally came from a small village near Krakow. I am not impressed by revolutions. I know that they never improve the lot of the people. I have read many history books about revolutions, such as in England and France and the outcome is nearly always the same. I did not think a revolution would occur that would benefit the Russian people. The Poles feared, justifiably, the Bolshevik Revolution, so the only alternative I had was to join the revolution and become a small cog in the big wheel. They sent me to the communist youth training camp, where in the morning we studied and in the afternoon there were classes were wrestling, warfare, weaponry, underground warfare and propaganda distribution. Every day we would swear to the red flag with the hammer and sickle and sing the national anthem.
One day two young men and a girl from Poland joined us. They were Emma, Fiszel and Wladek. While in Russia, Wladek changed his name to Vladimir. Emma was beautiful and smart, and maintained complete control over both of the boys. In fact, she was the initiator of whatever they did. Immediately upon their arrival they swore allegiance to the flag and the country. Emma delivered a long moving speech, during which she revealed that from the day that she began reading the writings of Karl Marx, she felt a new purpose in life. She worshiped communism as a religion, and was willing to sacrifice her life for her new homeland. She learned Russian quickly and began “chattering” to the camp supervisor.
After several months, Emma was appointed supervisor of the youths who joined the party. Vladimir and Fiszel were sent to another camp and as a result she lost all contact with them. Although I did not have any official status, I was a good-looking, healthy and strong young man and I was able to persuade her to date me. Soon after, we began dating each other and not long after that we were a couple. Although we lived in separate quarters we nevertheless spent most of our spare time together. Emma accepted the fact that I was not a true-blooded communist and that I wanted to return to Poland some day and escape from the prevailing chaos.
As time passed, the tension between us increased but so did our love for one another.
It was at this time, that I began to cough. The coughing became stronger and stronger, until I started coughing up blood and phlegm. The doctors diagnosed me with tuberculosis and told me that my time in this world was limited. Emma cried all the time, lamenting the fact that she agreed to our courtship, knowing that it would soon come to an end. They prescribed some medicine which did not really help me at all. Emma was at a loss as how to help me and she was afraid to become infected and thus kept her distance from me. She feared that it was only a matter of time and the disease may start spreading and become an epidemic. All contact between us completely ceased.
One day I told Emma that I had decided to leave. She gave me your address and asked me to try to look you up. She requested that I convey to you that she is happy and well and to give the picture to you.
I tried crossing the border back into Poland several times, all without success. Finally my luck held. I hid in the back of a truck that was hauling food and blankets. And now I am here.”
Roza just sat and listened to Janusz’s story. He looked so miserable, emaciated and ill, that she asked, “Perhaps you want to stay with me until you feel better?”
“Thank you,” Janusz replied. “However, I cannot take you up on your offer. You do not know me nor do you know anything about the disease I have.”
“Stop,” Roza said, as she got out of her chair. “I have decided to take care of you and you will get better. I’ll give you Emma’s room.”
Roza knew there was no cure for tuberculosis and that Janusz’s chances of recovery were slim at best, if not nil. Nevertheless she decided to try to save him. She knew that very few had returned from the sanatorium that treated tuberculosis patients. However, she felt that with devoted care at home there was a chance, albeit small, that he could recover.
Roza turned to Bitoft the pharmacist who prepared a potion made from different plants with a mixture of bark from a birch tree and forest moss. He recommended that Janusz sleep bare-chested in the sun and drink lots of liquids and rest.
Janusz was a disciplined patient. He knew that he was in a critical condition and therefore had no choice. He admired Roza’s selfless dedication and did everything she told him.
Slowly he felt himself getting stronger and stronger and noticed that his appetite was returning. He knew that it was all due to the treatment he received from Roza.
Nearly a year later, he was completely healed. Everybody saw his recovery as a miracle, but Janusz knew that it was Roza who had saved his life.
Janusz slowly began leaving the house to walk the streets of the town. He felt like part of the family and from time to time he even visited the home of Wolf and Ida. He would tell them about life in Russia, about Emma and about the burning love he had had for her until he fell ill. Whenever the family members would go to the river for a day of family fun, he would join them. Lilly even called him Uncle Janusz. He enjoyed it very much when he was surrounded by people, complete strangers to him, who had ended up adopting him as a member of the family.
He would sometimes take Lilly and Davidek for a walk along the river. He told them about life in Russia and about their aunt Emma who lived there. He also told them how he managed to escape from Russia and get to Poland hidden in the back of a truck. Lilly and Davidek loved to hear the wonderful stories that Uncle Janusz told them.
One thing they did not like was the way he harassed every woman he encountered on their way, either whistling at them, winking at them or just making unnecessary comments. The children saw this as rude behavior and Davidek even threatened to tell his parents.
Roza realized that if she did not talk directly to Janusz, he was not going to leave. He exploited the anti-communist political situation that existed in Poland, and in veiled threats he gave the household to understand that it was not in their best interests to get rid of him.
One day, while the two children were at school and Izio was with the neighbor, Roza went to her sister Ida’s house. She did not know that Wolf was at home at the time.
“I cannot take it anymore. He is driving me mad,” she exclaimed. “What troubles have befallen me and all because I felt sorry for him.”
Wolf approached her, and placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I will talk to him. He cannot take advantage of your goodness with such maliciousness,” he said in a low authoritative voice. Roza let out a sigh of relief and said, “I just hope that he will not cause us any grief and just leave.”
The economic conditions in Poland were murky at best and unemployment was running rampant. Wolf complained that it was difficult to collect taxes. The wealthy hid their money and possessions, or concealed their income, while the less fortunate had no income. Count Sosnowski pressured Wolf to forge his true holdings in the land registry. Wolf would never do such a thing, and the pressure that was placed upon him did not please him at all. He feared that the count would be forced to declare bankruptcy and he would lose his job.
In the smaller towns the situation was even worse, as people were starving. Despite all, life had to go on.
Uncle Lazer Friedberg, brother of Isaac, Ida’s father, wanted a better life. Under the influence of the Bonds, which was very active in Wloszczowa, he decided to emigrate to the United States. He would brag to all those around him and say, “Whoever has any brains, should leave this country.”
A week later he was arrested. One morning two policemen came to his house, tied his hands behind his back and took him to the police station.
“Provocateur,” they yelled at him, “You are trying to provoke havoc and chaos among the citizens.”
Uncle Lazer, with his usual sarcasm, answered them and said, “You must thank me that I am leaving you without your having to kick me in the ass and throw me out of here.”
The next day he was released without any complaint filed against him. He packed his bags and left for Gdansk, where he boarded a ship bound for Ellis Island in New York.
For the longest time we heard nothing from Uncle Lazer. It was as if he had disappeared somewhere in the world just like other descendants of the Friedberg family, son of the famous author Abraham Shalom Friedberg.
Approximately a year after he had disappeared, we suddenly began receiving letters from him. He told us that he had settled in Houston, Texas. He described the life as difficult, but a life of freedom, equality and full of hope. He begged the family to follow in his footsteps, leave Poland and come to live in America. Not one member of the family listened to him. In 1924, the United States closed the gateways of immigration to Jews from Europe.
By the time she was nine years old, Lilly was a mature girl with a distinct personality and a razor-sharp tongue.
“Do you not think that you’ve taken enough advantage of my aunt’s kindness?” she asked Janusz one day. The man turned pale, looked at her with his ugly fish eyes, and said, “How dare you hurt Uncle Janusz like that, my dear Lilly?” Lilly pushed her way past Janusz, walked up to Davidek who was standing there, grabbed his hand, and in an angry tone said to him, “You are not my uncle and I am not your dear Lilly.
That fateful afternoon, Janusz disappeared, but not before taking the tin box that was hidden under the kitchen sink, which contained money that my aunt Roza had hidden in case of emergency.
“Let him spend the money on doctors,” Roza wished on him. “At least I won’t have to see him again,” she continued.
Roza could not imagine what would happen the next day.
Janusz walked aimlessly among the houses desperately looking for a place to live, when he raised the suspicion of the police. They approached him and asked to see his identity papers. Since he had none, he was arrested and taken in for questioning.
During the interrogation, he revealed that had arrived from Russia on a mission; to deliver a message to Wolf. Janusz wanted to punish Lilly for her “misdeeds” by causing her father to be arrested and interrogated.
That evening, Wolf was arrested. A police car arrived at the house, and an armed policeman forced his way into the house. He went straight to Wolf’s room and began searching it.
Wolf tried to point out his innocence by claiming that he was a government official from the Ministry of Finance, in charge of tax collection, but to no avail. He was taken to the local police headquarters and transported to the prison in the city of Kielce.
He sat in prison for two months without anybody being allowed to visit him. When Ida and Stanislaw were finally allowed to visit him, he was already a broken man. He knew that would be fired from his job and a mark of disgrace would forever be upon his family. As a lawyer, he was familiar with the justice system and the law. All he could do was to wait for the trial where he could prove his innocence.