I remember quite well only one of my grandparents – my mother’s father – Alexander Alexandrovitch. All the others are only known from brief comments made by my parents.
My father was born in the second half of the 19th century; he was born on a farm in Lithuania. The farm was in the oldest part of Lithuania, surrounded by old oak trees, a river and some swamps.
His mother, my grandmother Anna, was a widow and already had a son,Jan, of approximately 15 years from her first marriage, when she fell in love with my future grandfather Adolf Wojtkiewicz, who was a few years younger than her. Neither of their families wanted this marriage to take place. His family thought he should marry somebody younger and prettier, although the land she would bring as a dowry was quite acceptable. My grandmother’s family was also against this new marriage as was the family of her first husband who wanted to keep all the land in their hands if possible. But the couple were in love and must have been fairly strong minded to overcome all the obstacles and still get married. He was a gay and handsome fellow, but had bad luck and died young from some ‘chest trouble’ (T.B.? Hunting accident? I don’t know). He left my grandmother with two children: my father Adolf Wojtkiewicz was five and his half-brother, Jan Kiersnowski, about 20. The pressure from both families for the children to relinquish the farms was very strong. Grandmother would not submit to strict supervision of either family. She must have been a very determined woman as she rejected them all and administrated the farms by herself, which in these times was rather unusual for a woman.
Her sons, Jan and Adolf, did not have much in common. Firstly the great age difference between the half brothers and secondly, my uncle Jan was encouraged to be a real farmer, and at the age of approximately 20 was given the largest farm, Lienkiele, with only little supervision by mother from afar. My father, who did show promise of being able to use his brains, was encouraged to study. After completing some necessary subjects at home with a tutor, he went as a boarder to a town school, and after having passed exceptionally well (according to hearsay), was admitted to the university in Petersburg, Russia, to study law.
I asked father how grandmother managed all three farms by herself. Father explained that she did have trouble, being a woman that people at that time did not like having financial dealings with females, therefore grandmother hired an administrator and she also sold grain to Jewish merchants when the grain was still in the fields. She had a smaller profit, but a secure one, as she was not dependent on the weather. Her father told me an odd story:
One year Adolf (my father) was back home during a vacation; mother told him that she had to ride to Rosienie (the nearest town) and did not know when she might be back. The Jewish merchant might call at any time. Would Adolf show him the fields from which she wanted to sell the grain. He would show the best, the worst and average fields. The price would be such and such and not to drop it more than 10%. When the merchant came my father showed him only the average and the good fields, omitting to show the bad one and asked for 20% more than his mother asked. The merchant accepted. When mother came home, Adolf was very proud of his transaction, showing mother money and explaining that he was not such a fool as to show the bad fields. Instead of being praised, his mother got very angry with him and called him a cheat and a liar, explaining that the merchant trusted him, Adolf being a gentleman, but that he, Adolf took advantage of the merchant and was dishonest in his dealings by not showing the poor fields. She told Adolf that he had to go to town, see the merchant, ask his pardon and return some of the money. Adolf was furious. At these times, especially amongst the gentry, a Jew was considered as something not as good as a Christian, therefore it did not matter getting the better of him.
Honour did not come into play with a Jew according to my father’s opinion. Mother was adamant – if he, Adolf, did not apologise and return the money, she would go herself, and Adolf would not be allowed to go back to the university and his allowance would stop as of now; he did not deserve to have an education superior to others, as he was a lot worse than the others, who knew what honesty and decency were. My father did as he was told, but I am not quite certain if he apologised because his mother had convinced him, or because he wanted to go back to the life he loved, full of fun and money, carriages, valets etc. He also liked learning as it came very easily and he knew that he had ‘good prospects’. I only know that later in life, father was never an anti-Semite, which often got him into trouble, but he would not budge, he treated Jews and non-Jews alike. But that was very much later.
The second episode, also from his student years: -
My father started to rebel; he still had some money left. First he wanted to send his man to town, but the valet refused, saying the lady (my Grandmother) would sack him and then father wanted to go himself, but the stable hand would not give him a horse as the lady had forbidden this. Father told me that he had intended to walk to the nearest neighbour, but thought he mightn’t be able to do it in a day and after a few more tantrums he gave in. Never in my life as I grew up did I see my father drunk, and his lungs must have healed and been all right, even with all the heavy cigar smoking, as he never complained and died at the age of 92.
Let me recount one last episode about my grandmother. It occurred years later. Father was already in a high position, working in Petersburg, when one night he learned that his mother was dying and he had to hurry to her. That same night he started to travel home. It took a few days. When he arrived in Pakapornie, he was met by the administrator who told him that his mother was dying, that the doctor could not help, but not to go to his mother’s side now as a few hours before she had told the administrator that her son Adolf would come tonight, but she did not want to see him then as she was in great pain. Would Adolf come to her at eight in the morning to be joined by Jan at nine. Mother did not talk much during the hour she was with Adolf, just that she loved him more than she should and that she asked God that Adolf be a good man all his life.
When Jan joined them, mother told them that she was leaving Jan the biggest and best farm Lienkele as well as the bad and small farms and that Adolf would get only Pakapurnie. She explained that Adolf had received a lot of money during his studies. He would never make a good farmer and anyway, he could make a very good living without being dependent on the farm. She loved them both and asked Jan to try to be a good brother to Adolf, and Adolf to try and understand Jan. She asked them both to leave and died a few hours later.
That is all I know about my grandparents from father’s side.
My mother’s mother was supposed to be of Polish origin, but spoke only Russian at home. She belonged supposedly to the gentry and was supposedly very good, very clever, very beautiful and a real lady. She died of tuberculosis when I was a few months old.
I don’t remember hearing any interesting tit-bits, good or bad; rather she was referred to as a very nice and quiet person, considerate to others.
My grandfather, Alexander Alexandrowitch I remember very well as he died when I was twelve years old. He was of short stature, had very blue eyes, was an engineer, supposedly of Greek or Turkish origin and a very rich man with a big house, stables, etc, in Novorosyjsk on the Black Sea. But more about him later, as he played quite a big role in my childhood.
Ed: Adolf died in Melbourne, Australia, 1964.
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