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All That Was: Chapter Three - Home Life

“Quite unexpectedly, a lady appeared, walking towards us with her little black chihuahua on a leash. At the sight of the dog, sheer terror took possession of me! I jumped into the pram, boots and all, on top of my brother. We both screamed, but for different reasons of course. Our horrified Fraulein pushed the pram at a trot all the way home….’’

Lusia Przybyszewicz, writing in rich and vivid detail, recalls her childhood in the city of Lodz. These were the golden days in the 1930s, before Hitler’s troops invaded her homeland – days when the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto holocaust could not even be imagined.

Lusia’s book can be obtained from PO 404, Vaucluse, NSW, 2030, Australia ($25 Australian, plus postage).

We stayed at the Sienkiewicza Street address for some months after my brother's birth. The same German Fraulein looked after both of us.

My brother, Bolek, was a beautiful, chubby baby: always smiling. After a while, he inherited my old cot with the collapsible sides. I cannot say whether I felt put out by this new presence in our life, but I do remember being a frequent visitor to Ignace's household on the second floor. Mrs Taub was my second mum. I loved feasting on roast goose at their place when it was not on our menu. Roast goose with 'kopytka' (the Polish version of the Italian gnocchi) was the ultimate bliss of my childhood.

Dear Mrs T. was a loving and patient person, but she often suffered from migraine. With a son like Ignace, it was not difficult to figure out why she had this malady. She always gave in to his demands and his whims: it was easier that way. As he was growing up, each year on his birthday, she would prepare everything for the party beforehand, and then she would come up to our place to escape the noise and roughness of her son's mates.

I recall one of Ignace's birthday parties at which I was the only girl present. For most of the time, I stayed in hiding in the corner of their dining room, terrified of the boys who were armed with bows and arrows. Under the leadership of the birthday boy they were planning an attack on the grandfather clock.

Mrs T.'s only remedy for her acute headaches was 'kartoflanka', a potato soup made with thickened chicken broth. My Mother also firmly believed in the curative properties of this soup, and so do I to this day: I find it particularly comforting in difficult times.

In the daytime, Bolek would slumber in his roomy, well-sprung perambulator. Everyone was delighted with our new baby. Grown ups would tilt it onto the front wheels to talk to him in baby language. Naturally I tried the same trick. On one occasion, my attempt resulted in the poor child being tipped out on to the floor, face down. Fortunately, he was well padded and didn't come to much harm. But I did!

I well recall a sinister winter stroll with our Fraulein. As usual, she was pushing the pram with the baby. As usual, I was walking beside it holding onto the handle. Bolek was half-smothered in his warm, white lambswool coat and a matching beanie. The pram hood was up. The thick layer of snow which covered the Sienkiewicza footpath produced a whistling sound with every step we made. I wore heavy rubber boots (boty), a furlined overcoat, mittens and a balaclava.

Quite unexpectedly, a lady appeared, walking towards us with her little black chihuahua on a leash. At the sight of the dog, sheer terror took possession of me! I jumped into the pram, boots and all, on top of my brother. We both screamed, but for different reasons of course. Our horrified Fraulein pushed the pram at a trot all the way home.

Another episode that stayed forever in my mind involves our Fraulein's attempt to have us both christened in our parents' absence. To that end, she brought a basin of water into our bedroom. Praying all the while, she motioned me to tilt my head back so that she could sprinkle some cold water over my hair. She then turned to the baby and repeated the procedure. The solemnity of the occasion kept me very quiet, but Bolek yelled. Fraulein remained unshaken in her determination. When the silly ritual was over, she proclaimed us Christians.

She warned me that it would not be advisable to let our parents know about what she had done, because, as Jews ,they would not approve of it. The occasion so impressed me that I never told my Mother about it.

Ignace's last exploit consisted of chasing their screaming maid up and down the stairs with a red hot poker. He was very angry with her, because, on his mother's orders, the maid had refused to let Ignace have yet another salami sandwich for afternoon tea.

The Taub family emigrated to Paris, France that year. We saw them off at the Lodz railway station one evening. I was staggered by the sight of the many trunks, suitcases and bags of all sizes piled on the porter's trolley, ready to go. The most distressing moment came when we had to bid our dearest friends farewell. Many tears were shed.

After the war, I saw Mrs T. and Ignace again at different times.

At the beginning of 1930, we moved house. Our new abode was once again a flat on the third floor, at 62 Wolczanska Street. My Mother was too scared to live anywhere near the ground floor. We remained at that address almost until the beginning of the fateful year 1939.

The layout of our new quarters was similar to the flat I described earlier, but it was more spacious and situated very near to the centre of the city. Above all, it had balconies! We had never dreamt of such an innovation before! A glass door off the dining room opened onto the front balcony. This allowed us an unobstructed view of all the goings-on in the street below. Bolek and I loved this new window to the world! As my brother grew older, we spent many wonderful moments together, watching things happen.

We saw buskers performing solo or in bands and dozens upon dozens of Jewish hawkers parading along the roadway pushing their carts. They promoted their wares and services in a deafening singsong fashion, by extolling their worth to the prospective customers.

The hawkers could sharpen your knives, replace your windowpanes, mend your shoes, buy your clothes - or sell you some - all of this and more, on the spot.

Peasant women travelled every week from their villages to the city. They were wrapped from head to toe in colourful tasseled triangular shawls and several skirts. If we invited them in, they would come up the kitchen stairs, at the back, with their baskets full of home produce such as butter, white cheese, live poultry, or fresh eggs.

Mother would often select a bird after a thorough check of its tummy. It had to be plump. For Mother's inspection, the selected bird was held upside-down by its feet. While the merchant sang its praises, the poor bird flapped its wings sending small feathers flying in all directions. Bolek and I watched such scenes with both fear and enchantment. Once Mother had purchased the bird, she kept it on the balcony until it was required for dinner. Then the maid dealt with it in the appropriate manner: this always sickened me.

Father loved to sunbake on the balcony in the summertime. He was always fully clothed of course!

One year, Mother decided to plant flowers on the balcony. The boxes provided for this purpose were perched on top of the wrought iron work. Mother purchased red and white geraniums (Polish national colours) at the markets. She had no idea how to plant them, so she hired a gardener. The fellow turned out to be a thief. He explained he had to take them away to trim them before planting. Needless to say, we never saw him again.

Father never ceased making jokes about the incident. Whenever something went missing, he would say it was probably with the geraniums.

We had an 'antresola' above the kitchen door. This was a very wide shelf beneath the ceiling. It reached across from wall to wall. The cupboards at each end were used for storage. Every so often, Mother took the ladder out and climbed up, to get things in or out. Up at the top of the ladder she had to crouch. The maid stood at the bottom of the ladder as a back up. We, the children, were forbidden to climb up for fear of an accident. At such moments, Mother wore her special 'working' dressing gown and a laced white bonnet reaching almost down to her nose. She was generally in a bad mood, and we instinctively knew not to bother her.

Sala was the wife of Father's best school friend. With uncanny timing she would pick the very moment when Mother was rummaging through her arcane cupboards, to ring us up. The poor lady remembered only two phone numbers: ours and that of her husband Bronek's office. To compound my Mother's irritation, Sala often got the numbers mixed up. When the phone rang, Mother fumed with anticipation. She would come down the ladder to answer it (the maid could not be entrusted with such tasks), only to hear a familiar voice at the other end calling out: 'Is it you, Bronius?'
Sala was also given to confusing the meaning of long words such as: kaligrafja, konfirmacja (meaning Barmitzvah), konfederacja, etc. To her, if they started with the same letter, they were all the same. It was a riot to hear her use them out of context.

My spacious, pink bedroom provided a sanctuary for our much loved canary and the aquarium with gold fish, but it served also as a study. That is why, beside the customary bed, bedside table, wardrobe, and a dressing table, there stood, in the centre of the room, an all-purpose table with shelves underneath. As I grew older I was also provided with a professionally designed adjustable white desk, probably in the hope that it would make me work harder. It did no such thing! It looked a little odd in its corner, amongst all the other pink pieces of furniture. The mirrors of the wardrobe and of the dressing table were exactly opposite each other. As a result of their positions, when I was seated at the table, I could see an entire column of myself. For special effects, I used to spend hours, in the time allotted to homework, pulling faces and moving my arms about. Sometimes the maid caught me out when she brought in my afternoon tea: she would laugh her head off.

Our apartment teemed with lavish fittings. I remember large tassel edged Persian carpets over highly polished parquet floors, very ornate furniture carved out of exquisite timbers and many fine paintings on the walls.

The primitive cleaning techniques used at the time, sound inconceivable today. Our Frania would periodically brush the carpets with left-over tea-leaves and sprinkle the floors with grated stearin before polishing.

In the summer months matters got worse! Every picture on the wall had to be wrapped up in 'pergamen' paper to keep the moths at bay. For the same reason, the easy chairs, settees, and the like were camouflaged with fitted linen covers. The carpets, treated firstly with napthalene, were then rolled up for storage.

In one corner of every room stood the traditional, huge, multipurpose white glazed tile stove. Access to the fuel compartment was gained by a small metal door at the bottom. It burnt coal.

In the dining room, the stove featured a mantle piece, displaying a huge silver Russian style samovar. This was used only on special occasions. On such occasions, the family and guests sipped black tea with lump sugar and slivers of lemon, from long glasses held in matching silver holders.

For good luck, our discarded 'milk' teeth were thrown into the mysterious dark space left between the stove and the wall.

In the midst of the Polish winter, the elderly relatives and friends sought relief for their sore backs by leaning against the warm tiles of the stove.

It was no wonder that we burnt twelve tons of coal during an average winter.

Every tenant was entitled to a private cellar. Here, in the appropriate compartments, we stored our fuel, barrels of Mother's pickled herrings, cucumbers, sauerkraut, home made wine and other preserves. We had to enter the basement on foot.

We had a beautiful drawing room. There was a black upright German piano from Leipzig. I wrestled with that piano for many years. The appointments included a three-piece crocodile leather suite, an elegant coffee table and Father's mysterious locked writing desk. On the wall nearest to the window, our most precious oil painting by Jan Matejko took pride of place. It showed a sleigh, pulled by two pairs of gray horses held in check by their fur-coated coachman, speeding across a wind swept, snow-blanketed plain.

The furniture in my parents' bedroom was very ornate, all finished in rich cream lacquer. A settee displayed a cushion encased in Mother's crochet work. No wonder I am no good at handiwork! Against the wall, drawn together, stood twin beds fitted with very heavily sprung mattresses.

With the maid's help, Mother clapped the dust out of the mattresses once a month, out on the balcony. On top of the profuse bedding, each bed was decked with a wooden frame. These frames helped to make the beds even as they were then covered with two huge double-bed size bedspreads : the bottom one made of golden satin and the top one of lace. Elaborate bedside tables on either side completed the setting.

A little vain by nature, Mother used to spend ages on the upholstered stool in front of her dressing table, applying make-up to her fine, elegant features. She loved dressing up. Rarely would she be seen in the same outfit twice during the one season. It was not done in her circle of friends. Her wardrobe was very extensive indeed.

Before going to town, she would encase her entire body in a voluminous foundation garment. It had to be laced the whole length up the back. Many a time I was asked to do the lacing up, while Mother held onto the door handle for better balance. 'Pull harder,' she would always admonish. The corsets, by the way, were especially made to measure. As a little girl, I spent many boring hours in the corsetiere's waiting room during Mother's fittings.

She wore very tight high heel shoes, which, according to my Father, were one size smaller than her foot. Her general discomfort must have been enormous. On return from her outings, she couldn't remove her garments fast enough.

I always felt that my lack of enthusiasm for such chic was a source of concern to my Mother and of much merriment to my Father.

At the same time, Mother was very superstitious. For instance, she would never sew a button on to a garment while I was wearing it: that could be done only to the dead person's clothing. She considered Friday the 13th to be as dangerous as having a black cat or a hunchback cross the street in front of you.

One day, when she was fully dressed up and on her way to a 'kawiarnia' (cafe), a thief snatched the handbag from my Mother's grasp. She returned home shattered and trembling, setting the whole household on edge. Police were called to investigate, but the purse was never recovered.

Some weeks later, Mother was asked to report to the local prison to identify the culprit from amongst a row of suspects. To my Mother, the very ordeal of having to visit a prison was already too much to bear, let alone to point out the guilty man. When she was confronted by the line-up of criminals, she nearly passed out and had to be escorted out of the compound. The thief had won!

Now on to the dining room, which brings with it my fondest memories. Along the walls, opposite each other, stood the 'kredens' (sideboard) and 'dressoir', a smaller version of a sideboard. Both were heavy. They were laboriously crafted oak cupboards, resting on high platforms. The space underneath them was our favourite hiding place, especially at birthday party times when we played 'hide-and-seek'.

On one such occasion, my Father, who sought refuge in the dining room to read his daily paper in peace, was startled by my dearest, and also largest, friend Jasia. She was attempting to squeeze under the kredens. Father never let us forget how funny she looked.

Along the wall facing our balcony stood the 'servantka', another beautifully carved matching display cabinet. The large dining room table reigned supreme in the center. Four solid carved legs gave it support. On festive occasions, it was extended and surrounded by 12 heavy, leather upholstered chairs, with an armchair at each end. Father always sat in an armchair. I sat on his right, and Mother followed by Bolek sat on his left. Above the center of the table, a bell dangled from the light fitting. Mother pressed it for the maid to bring in the next course or to clear the table. If we happened to have a live-in 'Miss' for the children, she sat next to me at meal times.

Our table manners were the subject of constant and often tedious scrutiny. We had to change out of school uniform and wash our hands before even appearing at the table. We spoke when we were spoken to, mostly about school matters. There was a Polish saying prevalent then : 'Dzieci i ryby glosu nie maja.’ It translates as follows: Children and fish do not have a voice.'

We did not leave the table before being dismissed, and we most certainly did not push the chairs out of the way with our bottoms. We stepped out, lifted them up, and put them back where they belonged, before we left the room.

Once, I had the audacity to scratch my head with my fork at the dining room table. I spent a whole week in disgrace and had to eat my meals alone in my room. I always associate those memorable meals with snow-white, starched tablecloths.

After the evening meal, I was allowed to open the right door of the kredens, where Mother kept her collection of large boxes of scrumptious Wedel chocolates. According to our custom, I would take one box out and offer it to Mother then to Father. After they had both refused to partake of chocolates, Bolek and I enjoyed a moment of indulgence. This was our favoured ritual.

Mother usually smoked a cigarette at this hour. Father had his cigar a little later in the drawing room while he listened to music. (In the early days, he listened to music on the gramophone; later on, he used a crystal set; and, finally, he ended up with a Telefunken radio).

On a shelf above the highly polished top of the kredens stood three massive crystal bowls. (I pointed them out to Claude while visiting Mr. B. in Lodz in 1977). They towered over a superb Rosenthal porcelain coffee set for 24 people. It was decorated in the French national colours and trimmed with gold. It represented the Napoleonic wars.

Amongst the treasures in the servantka, I remember a silver tea set my parents brought back from Prague one summer. The teapot was in the shape of a smiling Chinese face with the handle fashioned into a thick plait of hair.

Father worked at his office from about 8:30 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. when he had a lunch break at home. After the main meal of the day (objad), he would retire to the crocodile leather couch for his afternoon snooze. His snoring reverberated throughout the house. During that half-hour the household stood still. We talked in whispers, walked on tiptoes, and we took the phone off the hook. He returned to his office at about 3:00 p.m. and came home at about 7.30 p.m. He worked six days a week.

At the start of each new season, Father would bring home for Mother's inspection, several samples of the latest weaves of the various woollen, silk, or cotton fabrics produced in the factories under his control. Together, they would examine at length each sample, using Father's pocket sized magnifying glass, set in gold.

After many discussions, Mother would make her choices. Eventually, the selected materials would be made into new suits for Father and Bolek or transformed into new season dresses for Mother and me. All suits were made by a tailor and dresses by two different dressmakers who came to our home: one for the children the other one for adults. They both worked at different times under Mother's supervision.

There was a special lingerie lady who came to take orders for undergarments for Mother and me. She used to deliver works of art, beautifully embroidered in satin. She also embroidered all our bed linen. After each delivery she stayed to dinner. I remember that she always looked very messy; and she smelled a bit.

Come to think of it, even our shoes were made to order by a shoemaker in town.

Without exception, all of the tradesmen were Jewish, and poor. Generally my Mother was responsible for the smooth running of the household. On occasions, however, Father's authority was essential. For instance, it was he who had to sign the maid's 'Medicare' book before she could see a doctor at the Public Hospital Casualty, (Kasa Chorych).

I remember one midday meal during which the maid produced the little book for him to sign. At the same time, she raised her bare foot to show my Father the offending corn on her toe. Squeamish by nature, Father turned very pale and withdrew to the drawing room. He reacted in the same way when one of my girlfriends, whom I invited to dinner, put some oily sprats on a slice of bread already spread with chicken fat.

As I grew older I was expected to spend most of the afternoons on my homework. Schoolwork was treated very seriously indeed, especially so by my Mother. All my schoolbooks were stacked neatly inside the large white desk, the one made to order, to ensure my good posture, comfort and, hopefully, efficiency. I was able to move the seat up or down, as well as adjust the back and the footrest. None of my friends had such a technologically advanced desk.

Mother always checked my timetable to make sure that I carried out all the assignments. My school timetable was pasted on the wall, above the white desk. Before being released from my studies, I had to place the appropriate books in my 'tornister' (a leather backpack), for the next morning's lessons. If Mother found, say, a history manual, on the day when the timetable on the wall didn't have history, I had to bear consequences for the oversight. That happened with monotonous regularity, because I was a lazy, spoilt girl who cared little about such matters. If all was well however, I would be allowed to go skating with my school friends in the winter or go with them for a walk in the park in the summer.

Of course, there were times when I was sick. As a child, I had a tendency to develop tonsillitis (Vincent's angina), which, on the average, put me out of action for three weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed the great fuss made over me at such times. I had to say a long 'aaaah' for the doctor, who poked a soupspoon into my mouth. After his diagnosis, my Mother took over. She would place a piece of oilcloth soaked in metho around my throat. This was then quickly covered with a thick layer of cotton wool to preserve the heat. Then followed a very wide bandage wrapped round and round my neck and head. For good measure, it covered my ears as well. The 'compress' was finally secured with a large safety pin. This treatment was repeated every morning, immobilizing my head all together. I left my bed briefly to go to the toilet and to have my bed made up. Otherwise I was washed, entertained, and fed in bed. As soon as my high temperature receded, I would indulge in my favourite convalescent pastime of doing transfers. A tray, complete with a basin of water, sheets of pretty transfers, a piece of cloth and a pasting book were at my disposal in bed.

Another common affliction was a heavy cold or the flu (grypa). This was treated with 'Bafiki', small glass couplings pressed upside down onto the patient's back. Only a 'felczer' (a doctor's assistant ) was authorized to administer the popular therapy. It consisted of creating vacuum, by heating the inside of each coupling with the flame of a burning swab attached to a piece of wire. To maintain the flame the swab was repeatedly plunged into metho.

Emptied of air, the cups stuck to the flesh in an instant. With each application the victim endured a nipping sensation. I remember that by the end of the prescribed 20 minutes treatment I felt like lying under a ton of bricks. All the while, I remained covered with a doona. At the end of the ordeal, the 'felczer' would slowly release each banka with a pop. My back felt wonderfully light afterwards. The severity of the illness was measured by the degree of darkness of the little rings left on the skin. If the cough persisted, I was made to drink hot milk combined with butter and honey or a 'gogel mogel': egg yolks beaten up with sugar.

To enable me to catch up on schoolwork after a prolonged absence, a private coach came to help me. She would come in the afternoons of my convalescence and sit on a chair next to my white desk. She would revise the work with me. Bolek, who was very smart, listened attentively and often answered her questions before I could. This never failed to flabbergast me.

Although we did not properly celebrate Sabbath, nevertheless on Fridays we always had fish for dinner. It was cooked the Polish-Yiddish way, a little on the sweet side. We favoured mostly carp or sometimes pike. Mother bought the fish live from a fishmonger who kept his merchandise floating in tanks. I often watched my Mother select her fish before it was caught in the net and then packed in several layers of newspaper for its final journey.

One wintry Friday, Mother and I were returning home from a shopping expedition. As we were crossing the very busy intersection at the corner of Piotrkowska, Przejazd and Andrzeja (which lead to our Wolczanska St.), the live fish Mother was carrying in her gloved hands slipped to the ground. Mother was unable to bend down because of her corsets, and she asked me to pick it up. I refused because the fish kept jumping and it scared me. An altercation developed between us. The policeman who directed traffic from a high platform above us, was compelled to suspend his mission, until Mother's threats finally convinced me that there was no other way out for me.

At home, the poor fish had a little brandy poured into it to help it live a bit longer, before it was placed in the bathtub filled with water. The maid eventually put it on the kitchen board, scaled it and then proceeded to cut it into cutlets. I still have the horrid recollection of the tail jumping while it was being cut.

One particular Friday of my childhood, this ritual with the traditional fish created more misery for me. On that occasion, I had been told to turn the water off when the bathtub was full. I was engrossed in a book and I forgot all about it. The water continued to run. A neighbour living beneath us eventually came up to complain that her ceiling was dripping. Mother and the maid rushed to the bathroom only to find the poor fish flapping on the wet terrazzo floor, as the water was gushing into the corridor. I was in total disgrace after that episode. We had to pay for the restoration of our neighbour's ceiling.

One afternoon, for some reason, Bolek and I were left to our own devices. We decided to sail our paper boats in the bathtub. We were unsupervised and we filled it up to the brim.

My little brother was wholly fascinated by our fleet in action. He jumped for joy. Suddenly, in his excitement, he leant over the top of the tub and fell into the water, head first. Instead of trying to save him, I was overcome by panic. I just stood there screaming. Mother came running and instantaneously pulled the shivering, dripping child out of the water. He came to no harm, but to make sure we would not fret about the incident, she told us both, even before admonishing us, to have a wee.

I disappointed my parents again when I received my very first pocket money. Instead of budgeting it sensibly to last me for a week, I spent it all on the first Sunday on a sandwich and beer at the newly opened Woolworth's automatic bar.

My parents' and their peers' social life revolved, in the main, around formal receptions or light-hearted parties in private homes. Going out to restaurants was more acceptable during holidays when we were away from home.

Mother loved entertaining. We had dinners for Father's business associates, who invariably arrived with huge boxes of chocolates tied up with ribbons, also for bothersome relatives and especially for innumerable old friends.

One day each month was set aside for a philanthropic activity. In the afternoon, some forty smartly attired people would fill to overflowing both the dining and sitting rooms. Here, they played poker and made a lot of noise. They played for money, putting aside a certain percentage of the gains for donation to a Jewish orphanage.

Our maid had to wear a black dress, a small white-laced apron and a starched white hairguard. From a silver tray, she served tea and very rich homemade creamy cakes.

Many guests also stayed on for dinner. Bolek and I officially went to bed long before the guests left, but, in fact, we remained awake to watch the developments.

Father used to tire very quickly of making small talk well into the night. To express his great relief at the visitors' final departure, he would make a kicking motion with his leg in the direction of the front door as it closed behind the last guest and he would say: 'What a shame you are leaving!'

To some degree, we observed the Jewish ritual in our household at Passover time. We used festive dinner sets and cutlery. We left the bread in a particular kitchen drawer for the maid, because our family was restricted only to matza, even for the second breakfast at school. For the first two days of the festival, the children stayed home.

Bolek and I celebrated Seders mostly at babcia Przybyszewicz's place. We read the Haggadah in Polish. There was always a glass of the very sweet sacramental wine left for the prophet Elijah, who, of course, never turned up even though the front door was left ajar for him. As children, we found it very intriguing, and we usually drank up the wine in Babcia's kitchen after the ceremony.

At times, Mother made a simplified version of the dinner at home. I have seldom seen my Father read prayers.

We always lit candles in memory of the departed at Yom Kippur time.

As far as I can remember, no one amongst all of our Jewish friends (we had no others) nor uncles and aunts on my Father's side, were strict followers of the ritual. The same could be said of the majority of the prosperous, non-religious Jewish middle class people in Lodz and in the other big cities.

There was a small Concert Hall in Lodz, where the world's greatest virtuosos regularly performed with the Lodz philharmonic orchestra. I remember concerts with Ignace Friedman, Arthur Rubinstein, and Yehudi Menuhin. I heard also Shura Cherkassky, the famous Ukrainian pianist, who died in London in 1996, and the outstanding Hungarian blind pianist Imre Ungar, who had to be led to the piano. Bronislaw Huberman and many, many other musicians were all welcome to the Lodz philharmonic.

Father made sure that I almost never missed a concert. He always took me with him on such occasions, even when I was just recovering from a bout of one of my usual complaints.

The concerts were held on Thursday nights, and this clashed with our weekly bath routine: not a small matter. In the afternoon of our bath day, the maid had to light the fire in the fuel compartment of the massive iron water tank that dominated the bathroom. By the evening, we could hear the bubbling of boiling water inside the burning hot tank. This was a signal that it was bath time. In quick succession, avoiding any contact with the tank, we all had to take ablutions, because there was a danger in overheating or emptying the tank too quickly. Usually, for safety, the maid had to be content with a wash in the last person's bath.

In such extraordinary circumstances, to refuse having a bath on Thursday night, concert or no concert, was pure heresy in my Mother's eyes. Only long-range delicate negotiations between my parents resolved the matter: we either cancelled the bath or postponed it. And Friday was out of the question because of the fish ritual.

The memory of the hot bath immediately triggers off another recollection.

One spring when I was aged 11 or 12, I developed a mysterious rash all over my body, including the palms of my hands. It was not itchy, but very unsightly. I wore gloves and a scarf to school. After several consultations with my beloved Skin Specialist uncle Ludwik Boruchowicz (aunt Bela's husband), Mother travelled with me to Warsaw to see a professor, the national expert in skin disorders. I remember, by the way, that his private house was completely round, without a single corner to be seen anywhere. At that time, it was considered to be an experiment in modern architecture.

The professor recommended a daily hot bath with a quantity
of starch dissolved in the water. I had to sit in the water up to my chin for about 20 minutes, maintaining the water at as high a temperature as I could take. It wasn't fun!

On one occasion, I suddenly felt overcome by the heat. Scared, I jumped out of the tub and rushed out, dripping wet, into the dinning room. My family found me stretched out on the table calling out: 'I died.' Amongst all those assembled, my Father showed the greatest calm. He assured me: 'If you were dead, you could not have told us about it.' His logic pacified me. Within a few months the rash scaled off and eventually disappeared.

Thinking back, I now realize that my parents did not always share the same interests. Mother obviously preferred light music, dancing, and musicals. I went with her to see films with Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple, singers Jan Kiepura and his wife Martha Eggert, and, of course, Joseph Schmidt, one of the greatest tenors of the pre-war era, whom the Nazis killed for being a Jew. I well recall the superb Russian film Serce (the Heart) with a beautiful musical score that I can still hum and several German films with Gustav Friihlig.

During a winter spell in Zakopane, I watched, together with my Mother and Sala and her son, Stefek, the most brilliant Scandinavian ice skater of our time, Sonja Henie. She died in the late 1990s. The wondrous spectacle was held in the evening. The illuminated skating rink was out in the open. In the icy conditions, myriads of enchanted spectators huddled in fur coats and hats, with newspapers wrapped up over heavy snow boots, to fend off the freezing temperature.

I adored our visits to the circus. There, I experienced a whole gamut of emotions, ranging from terror to ecstasy. My Father and I sat in the front row, where we were exposed to the dust and smell of the arena. I sat speechless as I watched the taming of lions; the incredible antics of obedient elephants; Russian bears balancing on big balloons; galloping horses, all dressed up, who raised a film of saw dust in the air; dogs jumping through hoops of fire; Indian fakirs lying on beds of nails; magicians sawing people up and restoring them to life again; acrobats who kept you spellbound, as they went through their paces; and, of course, the customary clowns rounding up the show with their great wit.

Since there used to be much less openness between adults and children in my day, many events probably completely escaped my attention. One of them however stands out. The play, Mrs Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw was on in one of the Lodz theatres. Unlike the cinema, the Polish Theatre was quite outstanding. At present, many actors of Polish descent who call Australia home are becoming famous here. Anna Wolska is a good example.

My Mother wanted to see the play, but Father refused to go. At the time, I didn't know that the play was about a whore. In fact, it took ages before I even found out the name of the play. Neither of my parents was forthcoming with the information. Finally, without any explanation to the children, Mother went to the play with our maid, Frania, while my Father stayed at home, 'tight lipped', as they say.


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