We first visited Poland in the summer of 1962 when I was 12 years old. Here I met for the first time, all seven of my father’s brothers and sisters along with my grandfather and numerous cousins (more of this visit later). Among these was Józef’s youngest sister Łucja, who I went on to meet several more times in Poland. Later I visited her in Germany where she moved with her husband and daughter in the late 1970s or early ‘80s to be nearer to her son and daughter-in-law and their young family.
I last visited my aunt in Bonn in 2005 by which time she was 85 years old. Although her physical health wasn’t very good, her memory was excellent. She related (in Polish) several stories and recollections of the family. I think I manged to get the gist of most of these and hopefully didn’t miss out on too much of the family gossip!
While I was there I asked her if she could tell me more about Józef and his early life and she said she would like to but that she would write down some recollections and send them to me.
The following year she sent me two long letters. They contained some fascinating and sometimes sad memories of their childhood and growing up under the threat of approaching war. She also shared some later memories of letters exchanged with Józef while he was in Europe and afterwards when he came to live in England. In this, the opening of her first letter, Łucja calls her brother by a diminutive of his name, diminutives being almost always used by family members.
Please forgive me for being so late in getting down to telling you about your father’s life. Time passes so quickly, my health is becoming weaker and weaker and my eyesight prevents me from writing at length.
I have decided to write in instalments. First of all I will send you one page so you won’t be in the position of having to read too much all at once. I think in all there will be four pages. In my letters I won’t repeat “your father” only his name, Józek. I would like to recall if possible everything regarding your father and also to some extent about his close family.
And so, Józef was the seventh child of the family and I was the next, 8 years later. As the youngest siblings we were always the closest to each other. Our eldest sister Anna married on the 11th November 1924 when she was 19 years old and exactly 1 week later our beloved mother died, leaving 8 children motherless. I was merely 4 years old so I can only remember these events which were repeated over the years in the family. By this time Józek was already boarding at the grammar school of the Missionary Brothers in Rybnik. Because our father was a railway worker, we lived in a flat in the railway building at Godów station.
When our mother was seriously ill, Józek would come home every day at 3pm. As related by the family, our mother feeling that she was close to death, continually asked if the train had arrived yet. As fate would have it, on this particular day, the train was 5 minutes late. Józek ran quickly up the stairs to the flat but he was already too late to say goodbye to our mother. He knelt down at her feet and maybe from grief, he lost consciousness.
Later, as an adult he said: “I feel that all my life, mother is leading me by the hand.”