Diamonds in a teddy bear
I don’t remember anything from Constantinople. I don’t remember how long our journey took. I only know that we shipped to Trieste to go to Austria from there. We didn’t have any passports nor other documents, maybe some false ones, as my parents destroyed the originals in Kharkiv. Anyway, we reached Vienna. There, we got stuck. It wasn’t easy to receive Polish passports and Tatulinski started to consider staying in Austria for good. However, Mummy wanted to come back to Brzeziny, to her parents, and her will had settled the question. Eventually, my Mom, who was born near Lodz, and I, her daughter, were given the documents, but my Dad, coming from Russia, was refused to get Polish citizenship. The only chance for him was to apply for Nansen Passport, issued to stateless refuges, but this usually took much time. In the winter, it must have been January 1921, my Mom and I took a train to Poland. Daddy was to join us later.
For Christmas, which we spent in Vienna, I got a big stuffed teddy bear. Last evening before our leaving, Mummy and Daddy started to cut its back. I was lying in my hotel bed, but I was still awake. When I saw them cutting my teddy bear, I started to cry and tell them to stop doing it. Daddy did stop for a while and told me that the teddy bear needed to be operated. It has a stomachache, but they will help it in a moment. It will be sewed together and happy again, so I can sleep with it. I watched them gutting it, then putting the diamonds and golden coins which we had saved inside, and eventually stitching its back together. – Now, it is healthy. Daddy gave the teddy bear back to me. – Do not tell anyone about its operation. It wouldn’t like you to do this. My teddy bear weighed much more now than before but it didn’t bother me at all. Hugging it while sleeping on my upper train bed, I crossed two borders and came to Poland. Nobody even suspected that the teddy bear I cuddled was stuffed with valuables.
An argument at Passover (Pesach)
When we had arrived in Brzeziny, the grandma Frida told Mummy: – Ok, you and Fira will be living in your old room, next to the table room. Mummy was raised in a big wealthy house, but at that time the grandparents’ flat became cramped. One room was occupied by Nathan, the youngest brother of my Mom, who run a men’s garment shop and just married Pola, a girl from Leczyca. Another room was taken by Lea, called Lili, Mummy’s younger sister. Just like us, before the revolution Lili spent a few years in Russia, in Ukrainian Jekaterynoslaw at Isaak’s place. Isaak was the oldest brother of my Mum and he run there his own business. Lili used to help Ida, Isaak’s wife, to keep house and take care of children. They all had come back two years before we did. Isaak had moved to a four-room flat on the second floor, above the grandparents’ place, and he opened his own men’s garment shop. Mummy and I were the next ones to be taken in by the Dymant grandparents.
The tenement house of grandma Frida and grandpa Chaim Ber was located at Sienkiewicza Street 6. It was a big house with a gate leading to a backyard and flats’ entrance doors. The grandparents had a large men’s garment manufactory. A big number of families living in Brzeziny, mainly Jewish ones, which constituted even more than fifty percent of the town population, lived on making and selling clothing. Apart from the Jews, there were Poles and few Germans living there, altogether around thirteen, maybe fifteen thousand people. Brzeziny men’s garment manufactories were quite famous in the European part of Russia and later on, in Poland. Retailers came to the wholesaler’s, they chose and payed for what they needed, and then, the ordered goods were packed to wooden chests and sent to their addresses. Most of inhabitants of Brzeziny lived on that business.
We had been living at the grandparents’ for a few months but the relations between Mummy and her family were not very good. There was an empty flat on the second floor, opposite uncle Isaak’s place and Mummy wanted to move there. However, Isaak, who managed the tenement house on behalf of the grandparents, decided to let out this flat to his cousin Estera and her family. They didn’t like each other and he didn’t want my Mom to be his neighbour. Mummy was really angry and outraged. In effect, she fell out not only with Isaak but also with her parents, and even with Lili. In the spring evening, during Passover (Pesach), the whole family got together for a solemn dinner in the table room. The grandparents, Lili, Isaak and Natan with their families were there, but Mummy and I hadn’t been invited. We had been sitting alone next room until Romek and Rozyczka, my cousins, came to take me. They were begging and insisting on inviting me so much that the grandparents agreed and sent for me eventually. I left Mom and joined them. I left her alone, but I was only six then and I didn’t understand much of the adults’world.
After Easter Daddy came at last. He got legal documents and could have joined us.
As soon as he learnt about the argument between my Mom and her family, he rented a flat for us. We moved to a small one-storey villa at Sienkiewicza 9.The Korolenko prince, as we called him, and his unmarried sisters lived downstairs. In the past the villa was just one house, you could have gone upstairs from the ground floor. Nevertheless, it was parceled after the war and since then there was a separate backyard entrance to a four-room flat. The Korolenkos used to be very rich but they lost everything after the revolution, and the house was their only property. They lived on letting out the house’s storey and leasing a large orchard, which was at the back of the villa, to some Jews from the town. This garden seduced me. I wanted to go there, to play there and lie under trees, but I wasn’t allowed to do that.
Appetite for the family
Brzeziny became my lovely little town very quickly. Living in Russia, separated from the family, I was starving for affection as I had only aunt Sara, uncle Zahar and my cousins. Here, I met a large family. Suddenly I felt happy.
The Dymant grandparents had seven children. Two of them died when they were young, and their youngest son, Maks, who was also fleeing Russia, died of consumption in 1924. But my Mom’s brother, Isaak, had two children, Rozyczka and Romek, another brother had two sons, Jerzyk and Kuba, and there were numerous siblings of Meir Dymant, my grandpa Chaim Ber’s brother. Both family branches lived very near one another. I had even more cousins there, around twelve. There was aunt Sara with Ossi, Pola and Zygmunt, who managed to flee Russia. The aunt even saved her valuables, but she lost her husband, house, everything. I missed them during our wandering through Russia and Europe. There were Bronka with Natan, uncle Herman’s children, Rita and Lenka, uncle Feliks’ daughters. There was Abramek, uncle Zelig’s son, Celinka, aunt Regina’s daughter and some second cousins. There were so many Dymants that Brzeziny could have been named Dymontowo. Until I was twelve, I grew up, played and went to school with them. Romek, although younger than me, claimed that I was his sister as we both were similar, rather quiet and naive. Rozyczka, his sister, was much more cunning than us.
On one hand grandma Frida was a traditional Jew, on the other hand she was a liberal one. She wanted her sons to know the Torah and learn secular science, so she hired a teacher, who lived with them and taught my mom’s brothers Judaism. At the same time, she hired a math and natural science teacher, and she sent Mummy to the Conservatoire of Music in Lodz.
When we lived at the Korolenkos, I often went to the grandparents’ house as I got one grosh from grandma Frida after each visit. Then I went to my favourite shop run by a German woman named Hauser, on the corner of Sienkiewicza Street, and I bought a candy.
There was a picture of a little crayfish on the candy paper, and when you bite the candy through, you could taste a sweet liquid substance getting out from the inside. For me, these candies were the best ones in the world. I also remember going to the market. It took place every week on the central square of Brzeziny. Peasants from nearby villages came there to sell milk, butter, cheese, geese, hens, eggs… I remember a beautiful pond, where we used to go with my cousins. It belonged to a man named Probek, so we called it the Probek’s pond.
At that time one Jewish man settled in Brzeziny, in the basement of the grandpa’s house. He lived on writing some official documents for peasants. His name was Sztomper and he had a son, a foolish water-carrier. We loved to talk to this Jew, as he knew and told us, children, unusual stories. While telling the stories he always asked us to bring him some sandwiches, so Romek and I were running to our houses and asked the grandma for sandwiches with ham. Our mothers were happy and praised our good appetites.
Polish language and liboszki plums
After coming to Brzeziny, Daddy immediately found this town not for him. He decided to open his business in Lodz, but he had no Polish citizenship, which made it more difficult. The governor of Brzeziny, who was an acquaintance of our family and a kind man, helped us then. Daddy got the Polish citizenship very soon, he sold half of Mummy’s diamonds, saved from Russia, and Tatulinski went to Lodz. He met two merchants there and went into business with them. They opened together a company producing men’s garments, similar to those in Brzeziny. At the beginning, Daddy had some problems with Polish language but he learnt it quickly. To improve it we started to use only Polish at home, as before my parents had spoken mainly Russian.
I was catching Polish even quicker than them. I was almost six and I was going to school in the autumn, so the whole family started to make me ready for that. I was mostly taught by Ossi, the oldest son of aunt Sara. He liked me and was very patient. Although Russian was my first language, it was Polish that became my natural language. I know Russian, but I speak and think in Polish. I learnt Hebrew only in Palestine, together with my little son, but I still kept on using Polish in everyday life. I wrote letters, read and remembered in Polish.
I took the entrance exam to school together with a boy of my age, who was a son of
the mayor of Brzeziny. His name was Waclaw Niedzwiedz and he was Polish. We had spent three years at one school desk and we became close friends. He fell in love with my cousin, who was in the same class. He asked me to give her his letters. It was a state school with Christian teachers and mostly Jewish pupils. I liked that school and I found my teachers excellent. My favourite one was the art teacher, as he had a lot of patience with children. He proved that everyone could be taught to draw and paint if only he wanted to practice and develop. Instead of giving advice, he talked to us. If anyone failed to draw something, he asked what could be changed to get better. He only guided us and let us do our own way.
My learning to play the piano was a completely different story, however. There was my Mom’s maiden piano in my grandparents’ room. Mummy decided to teach me to play. She played the piano very well as she learnt it in the Conservatoire of Music in Lodz. Wealthy Jewish families usually sent their nubile daughters to piano lessons. I wasn’t willing to learn it and my Mother had to force me to do that. She tried to press and watch me, and I did my best to avoid it. I said, for example, that I needed to go to the toilet. As the toilet was by the entrance door, I took the chance of slipping out. I got a trashing once and again, but I still couldn’t sit still at the piano. I heard my cousins through the window playing, shouting and climbing the trees in the garden. I wanted to be with them. My passive resistance must have been so strong that one day Mom couldn’t stand it and she hit my face with her hand. She hit my nose and I bled the keyboard. When she saw it, she gave up. She shut the fallboard and said: – That’s enough. I won’t teach you any longer. Go and do what you want.
And I wanted to be with children. At the back of the grandparents’ house there was a big garden with dozens of fruit trees, mainly plum ones. They had tasty, yellow-green plums, which we called „liboszki”. Neighbours boys used to sneak to the garden to pilfer a few ones. I liked those boys and let them get some, but later I called in Yiddish: – Ber men rajs liboszkes!, which meant the thieves came to eat plums. I protected myself from both sides. That’s why the grandpa believed me and always said: – If Fira is there she is going to chase them off. But it wasn’t true.