One of the difficulties in finding and verifying the information I heard from my father and read in the official documents he left behind is that many of the people writing the histories, memoirs, biographies, and recollections have a habit of spelling the names phonetically from Yiddish. I found Motyl spelled as Motl, Motil, Motel, Matel – sometimes in the same article for the same individual. Motyl means “butterfly” in Polish. For me, m abouty father’s name was Adam Motyl-Szary although it certainly was Abram early on, as some of his childhood friends called him that sometimes, and he is called Abram in some of the early documents. On his tombstone it says Abram in Yiddish but Adam in Polish. I believe that he switched to Adam during the war and kept it as it sounded more Polish. So Adam Motyl was born in 1910 in Gostynin on December 7th.
The Szary part was a nom-de-guerre he acquired while in a German prisoner camp during WWII – we will get back to this part later. “Szary” means “grey” in Polish and it was a common practice to add a color to Motyl because there were many people with that family name. Today there are about 4400 people in Poland called “Motyl” but, for example only 2535 “Potocki” (my mother’s name) so it is still a popular name. Even in early 1900’s there were many Motyls in Gostynin as you can see in the picture from www.jewishgen.org :
Gostynin is a very old town: there was already a settlement there in the 6th century and it became a town around 1300. When my father was born about 30% of the population was Jewish. Most were merchants and businessmen to the point that out of the two dozen stores and offices downtown in 1899 only one was not Jewish.
Adam’s father was Izydor Meyer ( or Itzhak or Icek or Icyk or Isaac or Isidore and Meier or Meir) Motyl. His mother was Pelagia (Fajga or Fayga) Shifra Sochaczewska. Pelagia means of the sea, and could be translated also as Paula or Pauline.
Between 1910 the year of his birth and 1939 the start of the Second World War or WWII, my father led a normal life in Gostynin, in the center of Poland. Of course when I say normal that means no different than the lives of other Polish children, teenagers, and young men of the era, including the constant invasions by the Russians, the Germans, and the Prussians. He went to school and then high school until the age of 17, not able to continue the last two years due to difficult economic conditions. He went to work with his father at the sawmill/lumber yard in the neighboring town of Sierpc (pronounced shierptz). He learned the trade of a timber expert and worked there until 1939.
Adam’s parents were observing the Jewish traditions and holidays within the large Jewish community in Gostynin. There were several Jewish cultural, political and sports associations in town. Some of the organizations were ardent Zionists. In 1926 Adam’s older brother Shabtai, born in 1906, leaves Poland for Palestine. He settles in Rishon LeTzion, an early Jewish settlement southeast from Tel Aviv and Jaffa. He becomes an orange grove owner and changes his name to Parpari – a translation of Motyl into Hebrew still meaning “butterfly”. He marries Bat Sheva Toporovski and has two sons: Dani and Edni. As far as I know none of them are alive today except maybe Edni who immigrated to America and lived in Houston, Texas, where he married Esther and had two children.
Shabtai and BatSheva Parpari with Dani and Edni.
Adam loved soccer and belonged to the Maccabi’s association in Gostynin with many of his best friends. They were not very bent on religion and the soccer matches were always followed with beer, vodka, and the many different pork sausages that Poland is famous for.
In 1931 at the age of 21 he is drafted into the Polish Armed Forces. Attends the non-commissioned officers’ school. He advances to Master Corporal, one level below Sergeant. In1933 he is transferred into the Reserves and out of the regular army.
One of the secrets that I learned on one of my visits to Israel in the 70’s was the fact that sometime between 1933 and 1936 Adam gets married and has a son. I had no idea – my parents never talked about it. The wife and child perished during the war with most of his family. My half-brother’s name was Alexander or Sender סֶנְדֶר in Yiddish. His mother’s name was Yoheved in Yidish or Johebed from the Old Testament where she was the mother of Moses and his siblings Aaron and Miriam.
So as you can see, Adam Motyl had a normal life until the invasion of Poland by the Nazis in 1939. He remembered vaguely events during World War I, where first the Russians, then the Germans, and then the retreating Russians were lining up people against the walls and shooting them. But of course he was only 4 to 8 years old and these were vague recollections of a child.
On the 23rd of August 1939 my father is recalled to active duty to defend Poland from the Nazis, as a sergeant in charge of a supply platoon.