The first time Łódź (pronounced “wooj” in Polish) or Lodz appeared in the written record was in the year 1332. The name literally means “boat” in Polish. It became a city and in 1820 started an era of amazing growth. That part of Poland was then under Russian occupation.
The immigrants came to the Promised Land (Ziemia obiecana, the city’s nickname) from all over Europe. Mostly they arrived from Southern Germany, Silesia and Bohemia, but also from countries as far away as Portugal, England, France and Ireland. The first cotton mill opened in 1825, and 14 years later the very first steam-powered factory in both Poland and the Russian Empire commenced operations. In 1839, over 78% of the population was German, and German schools and churches were established.
A constant influx of workers, businessmen and craftsmen from all over Europe, transformed Łódź into the main textile production center of the mighty Russian Empire, spanning from Central Europe all the way to Alaska. Three groups dominated the city’s population and contributed the most to the city’s development: Poles, Germans and Jews; the last ones started to arrive since 1848. Many of the Łódź craftspeople were weavers from Upper and Lower Silesia, southwestern Poland, mostly Germans. [from Wikipedia].
By 1938 the city’s population was over 600,000 and a third of them were Jews. From 1848 the Tsar of Russia abolishes laws restricting Jewish settlement in the cities of Poland and permits Jews to settle throughout Lodz.
During WWII, most of the Jews were massacred and exterminated by the Nazis. After the war about 50,000 Jews resettle in Lodz. But life under the Commune, the Communist regime, as the Poles call it, was not favorable to Jews. By 1957 most of the Jews leave Poland, many for Israel.
When my father arrived in Lodz in April 1945, it was still a textile manufacturing city. As a supply officer for the military hospital he lived on the premises. The hospital was in great need of blankets, sheets, towels, etc. for the wounded soldiers. The hospital was pillaged first by the retreating Germans and then by the invading and retreating Russians. Adam and a dozen of his friends from the hospital, mostly doctors, formed a musical group. Adam sang of course but also played the violin as well as the clarinet. Others also sang and played various instruments. They immediately started touring the many textile factories in Lodz, with great success. The Poles and Slavic people in general love music and singing. After the terrible war, they could not ask for anything better than a group of young men performing for them in Polish. So, in gratitude, the factory managers and workers supplied them with all of the textile goods the hospital needed.
An unexpected but not unusual outcome of this musical tour was that the handsome 35 year old officer fell in love with a beautiful 25 year old blond bookkeeper working in one of the factories. Her name was Józefa Maria Potocka. She was catholic so they got married at the catholic cathedral in Lodz and had me in October 1946. I was born in the hospital where they lived.
Potocki is an old and famous name in Poland. The House of Count Potocki is one of the wealthiest and most powerful aristocratic families that still exist in Poland. The family is renowned for numerous Polish statesmen, military leaders, and cultural activists. My mother’s branch unfortunately was not rich because one of her ancestors married a commoner and was disinherited.
Of course Jozefa, or Jutka (pronounced yoott-kah) as my father and their friends used to call her, was catholic. My father was not a practicing Jew to start with and after the war he became an agnostic. He would say: “Where was God when these Nazi beasts were exterminating my family and all of the millions of other people? There is no God!” He had to get baptized in order to get married in the church and he took the name of Andrew. He never used it. He never went to church, except for christenings, weddings, or funerals, of family and friends. He did go to the synagogue when his friends asked him to sing as a cantor during the Jewish high holidays like Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. He requested to be buried as a Jew and so it was done: When he passed away he had a traditional Jewish funeral and burial, and we even sat Shiva for seven days. My mother, my brother, and I, three Catholics, sat Shiva to respect his memory. The friends and family were quite touched and impressed. Many joined us, sitting with us and remembering.
During several years after the war, armed rightist militias still existed in the countryside and the dense forests in Poland. They were opposed to the Russian invasion and the Communist government of Poland. Today we would call them terrorists, rebels, fascists or freedom fighters – depending on which side of the political spectrum you are. Two events happened while my father was still in the military and working at the hospital.
The first event happened during a celebration in a villa in the countryside, for officers and doctors (also officers) of the hospital, their spouses, and their friends. My mother refused to go claiming that she had a bad premonition about this outing, and begged my father not to go. They did not go to the party. While the celebration was in full swing, fascist gunmen surrounded the villa and sprayed the place with a hail of bullets. Many died that day.
The second event had to do with a meat supply run. From time to time Adam Szary, the Warrant Officer in charge of supplies, had to take a team to buy and transport meat on the hoof, livestock from the countryside farms, for the hospital kitchens. On this trip they had mainly cows on a couple of trucks. While returning to Lodz, in the middle of a forest, they were surrounded by armed militia. After a bit of negotiation, while everyone was looking at the barrels of the others’ rifles, Adam released the cows to the rebels under the condition that the leader signs a detailed receipt for the cargo. There was no reason to kill each other or risk being accused of theft and that the cows were sold on the black market.
Soon after my birth, Adam decided to return to a civilian life. Because of his expertise with lumber, he got a job as a manager/director of a large sawmill and lumber yard near Lodz, in Zgierz. He was allocated an apartment on Narutowicza Street, near the center of the city. The sawmill was north of the city about 45 minutes by tramway. He got up early every morning, at about 5:30, filled and lit the wood/coal heating furnace. This very efficient contraption was built into the wall between the kitchen and the living room. It was covered with white ceramic tiles on both sides, was about 4ft wide and floor to ceiling. Pieces of wood went in first, pieces of coal next through a small door on the kitchen side. As needed, coal chunks were added in later during the day. The furnace kept the whole apartment toasty warm all day and night even in the dead of the polish winters.
Winters were cold – every morning before heading out, my father wrapped his feet and calves, over his socks, with long strips of felt called puttees in English and onuce in Polish, to keep warm and dry.
Many pre-war buildings in the cities in Europe and in Lodz in particular were built with an inner courtyard, most of the time square or rectangular, with a building on each side. The entrance was a tall gate and tunneled under the front building. The courtyard was about 100ft by 150ft. Our stairwell entrance was in the far right corner and the apartment was on the 4th floor, no lift. In the close left corner was the entrance to our cellar, about 20ft by 20ft and about 10ft underground. There were steep stairs to get in as well as chute to slide down what was going to be stored there. Because of his job and good contacts with the peasants supplying the sawmill with timber from the surrounding forests, my father had the cellar filled with coal, wood, and potatoes before the start of each winter. I remember that there were three piles about four or five feet high because when I grew up it was my chore, sometimes, to bring a bucket of potatoes or wood up to the kitchen. The apartments had high ceilings, probably 12ft high. The high windows were double windows – not double panes but really two windows with about 6″ in between to keep the cold out with an air buffer. That was our refrigerator in winter. Otherwise food was bought fresh every day or two.
The water-closet (toilet) was a small room near the apartment entrance, on the right; then came a long hallway to our apartment. The bathroom with a sink and a big tub was at the end of the kitchen. The outside wall of the bathroom and kitchen was abutting the Lodz Philharmonic Orchestra Hall. We often heard them practicing while in the bath – the walls in those 100-year old European buildings were so thick that the music just seeped in. There was no running hot water and the hot water for a bath had to be boiled as needed on the coal-and-wood stove of the kitchen. The bathtub also served as a temporary pool for the live, large fish that my mother used to buy for dinner.
On top of the stairs’ landing on the fourth floor, outside of the apartment, on the wide windowsill was my mother’s fish and chicken workshop, on a layer of old newspapers. You have to realize that the fish were typically alive, even swimming in the bathtub for a day. The chickens (or other poultry) were dead but still whole with feathers, heads, and innards. My mother ripped off the feathers, burned off the remaining stubble, and expertly butchered and cut it all up for cooking. My father liked to eat well and my mother was a good cook. I loved pretty much everything she cooked, even more when I became an adult.
My father liked to eat well and my mother was a good cook. When asked what he liked better – beef or pork – Adam always said – fish! His favorites were carp and pike. The carp was prepared Jewish style and called gefilte fish or stuffed fish in Yiddish. The pike was fried, sometimes breaded. The chicken chunks were most often boiled which resulted in rich chicken soup and meat. Sometimes the breasts were sliced thin, breaded and fried to make a schnitzel.
My father ran the sawmill business well and even invented a couple of ways to reduce scrap and reuse it. He started using the thin long pieces of scrap wood by nailing the strips together to form a lattice. It was easy to make at the sawmill and it became an instant success with the country folk who used the lattice as an inexpensive form of fencing. Because of his good professional standing, he was not forced to join the Communist Party.
As I mentioned, my father loved soccer. Many Sundays he took me to the local matches either walking for about half an hour or by tramway. He was passionate about the sport.
He sang in the Russian Folk Choir as well as in the Jewish Folk Choir which were directed by Shaul Berezowski, his good friend, pianist and composer. He was also recruited to the Lodz Opera and he sang in many classical operas and operettas.
My parents supplemented their income by sewing women’s handbags. My father taught my mother how to sew; she became quite a seamstress. In addition they traded a bit in gold coins and dollars, which was quite illegal. They got called in once by the police but somehow got away with it. Any such crimes were considered antisocial and anticommunist, and dealt with harshly, often with lengthy prison terms and hard labor.
In 1955 we had a surprise – my brother Jan Kazimierz was born. I have no idea if it was an unplanned event, 9 years after my arrival, but my parents certainly acted with joy and welcomed my future friend and accomplice happily.
In 1948 my father applied for a visa to immigrate to America. The immigration quotas were very low and they never succeeded to pursue that route. In 1956 the Polish Government decided to allow anybody of Jewish descent and their families to leave for Israel. My parents applied and got the visa in 1957. On May 1st we left for Israel.
The wedding. The step-grandma and the grandpa are on Adam’s left.
The Baltic Sea summer vacation in Miedzyzdroje in 1949
On the right, in Morskie Oko, in the polish Tatra mountains.
In costume for one of the polish operas, and with Jewish choir members and Berezowski.
The official Lodz Opera member/work card.