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All That Was: Chapter Forty-One - Holding Out n Paris

...I remember spending my night with my friends, on a mat on the floor beside their bed. They slept in the only pair of pyjamas they owned; Jasia wore the top and Stasio wore the pants.

Their kitten slept in a corner of the tiny bedroom. They told me, how one early morning they were awakened by the cat's desperate meowing from afar. Still half-asleep, they raced to the street, and rescued it from the barbed wire entanglement. In the rush they had forgotten about the division of the pyjamas, but luckily no one was about at this untimely hour to witness their discomfort...

Lusia Przybyszewicz catches up with friends she had not seen sincer their time together in the Warsaw Ghetto in August, 1942.

Lusia's account of the trials and tribulations she experienced in Poland and Germany during the war years is unforgettable. So too is the story of how she built a new life for herself in France, then Australia, when the conflict ended. Her book All That Was is autobiography at its very best - a literary work to read, remember and treasure. The book is available from Lusia at PO 404 Vaucluse, NSW 2030, Australia ($25 Australian plus postage).

Before the end of the momentous year 1945 I managed to unearth the whereabouts of my childhood friends, Jasia and Stasio. I had a chance encounter with a contingent of young Jewish orphans from Poland who were passing through Paris on their way to Palestine. Except for that meeting, I would not have had a clue that Jasia and Stasio were already in Lyon, together with their mothers.

As I watched the group arrive, I was fortunate to come across Inka Frydman, another school friend survivor from my class. She gave me the news of Jasia and Stasio.

To say that I was overjoyed at this extraordinary news about Jasia and Stasio would be an understatement. I contacted them immediately.

Within a couple of days, I travelled to Lyon to see them. Our first meeting since August 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto was intensely moving. Before we could find words for each other, we just cried and hugged. There was so much to say, yet it was so hard to articulate our feelings.

My friends already knew, prior to leaving Poland, that my entire family had been wiped out, but never before did they approach the subject in my presence. Now, overwrought with grief, the three of us tried to deal with the horror together.

I had no previous knowledge of how they escaped and survived; nor was I aware that Jasia had witnessed my poor mother's selection for Treblinka in September 1942. They, on the other hand, had no idea how I had coped, nor even whether I was still alive.

We spent every available moment filling in the gaps or attempting to come to terms with the immense calamity that befell the world we once knew. The depth of our sorrow was immeasurable, but sharing it at such a profound level gave us some comfort.

The couple lived in a tiny flat without any facilities on an industrial estate surrounded by barbed wire. In an effort to earn their keep, Stasio's mother was teaching her daughter-in-law the art of silk embroidery, at which the older woman excelled.

Stasio meanwhile, was finishing his studies of Industrial Chemistry, begun before the war. Both mothers lived in the neighbourhood, each in a poky little room.

I remember spending my night with my friends, on a mat on the floor beside their bed. They slept in the only pair of pyjamas they owned; Jasia wore the top and Stasio wore the pants.

Their kitten slept in a corner of the tiny bedroom. They told me, how one early morning they were awakened by the cat's desperate meowing from afar. Still half-asleep, they raced to the street, and rescued it from the barbed wire entanglement. In the rush they had forgotten about the division of the pyjamas, but luckily no one was about at this untimely hour to witness their discomfort.

On my return to Paris I went to the local market and purchased a few indispensable household items, such as a hand basin, mop, scrubbing brush, etc. and sent the parcel to Lyon. Since that encounter we have never lost contact again.

I have also kept in touch with S. and R.,who were preparing to migrate to Palestine. Like most other hopefuls, they had to be content with an extended period of detention on the island of Cyprus.

They had both found their life partners before they reached the Promised Land. S. met up with I., her mate, while she was still in Paris. R. fell in love during their confinement on the island. Her man was a Belgian widower who had a young son in need of care.

I remained the only one out of our K.D.F. Stadt trio who, deep down, still hankered after her Frenchman. However, that loss was now dulled by my new adventures in the great metropolis.

I very much enjoyed my first New Year celebrations in Paris. We roamed the streets of the Latin Quarter together with a whole bunch of friends, including Michael and his girl. In every nook and cranny the enraptured crowds gathered, to bid welcome to 1946 the first post-war year. Exhilaration and enthusiasm were in the air as we all looked forward to a bright and challenging future.

At that point I already knew that I would be eligible for a special bursary from the Polish authorities. This would enable me to study in Paris should I wish to do so. The authorities acknowledged my Matura (H.S.C. result), which I had gained during clandestine operations in war-torn Warsaw, even though my official Matura Certificate reached me only a couple of years later in Australia.

Hence, the happy tidings opened in my mind entirely new and previously unexplored concepts. After all, there was nothing more important to me than to further my education. This idea had became my New Year resolution, well before I had made up my mind as to what I intended to study.

In the meantime I registered with the Polish students’ organization in Paris. It was extremely popular at that time, including some young Polish Jews, who were eager to get on with their lives in Europe, rather than to emigrate.

We regularly received food parcels from the U.S.A., in addition to the subsidized meals served on the premises. Otherwise food in Paris was strictly rationed by means of special food coupons.

The ambiance at the centre was jolly and an overall sense of camaraderie permeated all activities. As I look back now at that first post-war winter, I believe, that for me it augured well. I had lots of new friends, a strong motivation to forge ahead, and a great social life. It mattered little that I was short of money and had uninspiring clothes. Everyone was in the same boat.

I remember queuing for hours with Michael, at the old Theatre de Chatelet, to gain concert tickets. Commonly rats scurried along the outside ledges of this ancient and neglected building. Once in a while we would try our luck at one of the many smaller theatres, to see a great play or the classical ballet. I never missed the famous films with Sacha Guitry, Jean Gabin, Danielle Darieux and others. Now and then I would join other young enthusiasts and dance furiously the nights away at 'boites de nuit.'

Once, on attending a performance of Madame Butterfly at the Paris Opera House, stuck in box seats adjacent to the stage, we could only glimpse the tips of the heroine's shoes. But it was fun!

Another time, I watched the famous French pianist, Alfred Corteau, being booed off the stage of a small concert hall because he had been performing during the German occupation. Maurice Chevalier lost some of his popularity for similar reasons.

Meantime, my Australian relatives had contacted their former Bucharest medical friend, Dr Friedrich, who escaped from Rumania at the outbreak of war and, together with his wife, had made his home in Paris. By then he had an established practice in Boulogne-Billancourt, in Blvd. Jean-Jaures (nowadays called 'the avenue'), not far from the Hepners. He was asked to look after me whenever the need arose.

One evening the couple invited me to dinner to their luxurious apartment. On arrival the very formal welcome offered by the stylishly attired hostess made me feel somewhat uneasy. Worse still, I was asked to discard my muddy shoes at the front door and glide on two rags along the gleaming parquet floor to reach the dining room. On all of my subsequent visits, even in fine weather, I had to observe the same routine.

During our excellent meal the atmosphere became more relaxed and my initial misgivings dispelled. The conversation led gradually to a serious discussion about my options in Paris. I became convinced that the couple really cared about my welfare.

The good doctor suggested he could ask one of his patients, an architect's widow, Mme L., to let me a room in her spacious apartment. He considered this move to be singularly appropriate because she lived nearby in Blvd. Jean-Jaures, thus enabling him to keep an eye on me at close quarters.

I felt quite happy with the idea. In my view, living anywhere at all, so long as it was not in the cheap hotels, had to be an improvement.

As far as my studies were concerned, I had by then decided that chemistry was an area I wished to explore. Dr. F. advised that I should combine that course with something more practical, such as developing laboratory assistant's skills. In this way I would be assured, in the long run, of a good job, in any scientific enterprise.

I felt he was making good sense, and I went along with this idea as well.

After the 1945-46 Christmas recess I moved to my new abode. Madame reserved for me her dining room. Her other tenant, Christiane, a French girl who was studying drama, occupied le salon on the other side of the double glass door. Our landlady's bedroom, across the corridor was in alignment with the bathroom, comprising a wash basin the size of a kitchen sink and cupboards. Further on, came the toilet and then the kitchen.

The flat was on the top floor of a four-storey block. It overlooked the Jean-Jaures Metro station. I had convenient means of transport to my school, to the university, and to other parts of the city.

With a recommendation from Dr F., I enrolled at 'Ecole Scientia' to begin my studies. It was a very well-respected private establishment in the capital. Concurrently I embarked on a course of lectures in chemistry at the Sorbonne. It was given by the same professor, Marcel Boll, whose book we were using at the school. Once again my life seemed fulfilled, and I had new clear-cut goals. A new beginning, I thought to myself!

I launched myself wholly into my new career. The only thing that really mattered, was to make the best possible use of my time and competence, in order to succeed. I found a tremendous boost to my morale to be at the school amongst French students studying science for the first time, in their language and comprehending it all well.

I found much of the early work to be largely a review of laws, principles, and formulae that I had crammed into my brain at Orzeszkowa. Gradually, the lectures and experiments grew more complex. The exams grew tougher all the time. I began to realize what a daunting task I had undertaken.

The acceptance and friendship extended to me by my fellow students played an important role in my success. In the process I made good friends, many of whom came to the school from all over France. I received a few invitations for the summer holidays in the country and maintained correspondence with one French school friend even after migrating to Australia.


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