I was happy to receive Zygmunt’s letter telling us that everything was ready and that we should come. Now we could start a normal life in a normal country which had not been touched by war. The flight was uneventful although Jurek managed to sneak into the cockpit twice. From Zurich we had to take a train to Bern. Both boys fell asleep in the train and I had trouble waking them. It was very late when we arrived and the platform was empty except for the three of us waiting for Zygmunt who was late.
Zygmunt had found us a nice flat on the second storey of an old house and we had two balconies. The flat was not big but I liked it. It had three bedrooms and a very large kitchen. Our landlady, Mrs Wileszek, was a friendly person who liked children and called Roman “male mushka” (small fry). There was also a student, Mr Giesler, who left shortly after and the flat was all our own. Zygmunt looked us up and down and decided that we all needed other clothing before being presented at the Legation and the Swiss offices. We went shopping but he did all the shopping as I had no idea what was fashionable. I was amazed on seeing all the stocks in the shops, the friendly service, and the homely, lovely city with flowers on the lawns, the windowsills and balconies. The trams and buses were running according to timetables and the conductors wore clean white collars.
I thought I was in a dreamland and was just gaping. Zygmunt laughed and said that it also took him a while to get accustomed to living in a neutral country. Next day we went to the Legation where we were presented to Mr Putrament and his second wife. I liked her but I did not like him and I never trusted him although I liked to play bridge with him as he was an interesting player. He was also one of Zygmunt’s pre-war friends. Within a very short time we got used to the easy and interesting life.
The boys learned German and the Swiss dialect very easily and Zygmunt was even a bit envious as he had trouble with the German language. I was listed officially in the Corps Diplomatique list as Zygmunt’s wife and therefore we often had to go to parties and also to entertain. I was advised where to get reliable baby-sitters and, although they were extremely expensive, it did not worry us at all as Zygmunt was receiving a very good salary which was not only enough for us four but was also sufficient to help his mother, my parents and other relatives in Poland. Zygmunt worked long hours and, even in the evening when we were at home, he would bring work home and would work on his reports or catch up on reading.
I spent the mornings with the children at home or we went swimming in the clean, swift Aar River, or we would go window-shopping – which I loved. The children did not look well. They were pale compared with the healthy Swiss children and, in some shops, they were even offered free food. Zygmunt loved his boys and liked to be with them as often as he could (which was not often enough). Each evening he would tell them stories – one night was for Jurek, the other for Roman. On the evenings when we had to go out, the bedside story was told during the children’s evening meal. Best of all, Zygmunt liked to take the boys for walks, either along the Aar or the park with a zoo which was not far from our house.
One Sunday when Zygmunt and the boys returned from one of these walks, he told me that he had explained to them all the basic facts about sex and that both boys understood him. I asked him if he spoke about the birds and bees and the stork who brings little children, and he told me that he did not believe in this kind of nonsense and had explained the real facts and they had understood.
Next day a Swiss lady called; she was oldish and unmarried. We had the usual afternoon coffee and I asked the boys to play in their room or in the passage. Suddenly Jurek came in, asked to be excused and, turning towards the lady, asked her if she was married. She replied that she was not. Jurek left and I felt a bit apprehensive as it was very quiet in the passage. Later, in came Roman and, again politely, asked the lady if she had some children of her own. The lady, astonished at the question, replied that she did not have any children. We continued with our small talk. Once more Jurek came but this time he left the door partly open and I could see that Roman was watching and listening. Again, quite politely, Jurek asked her: “You did say that you are not married, that you have no mate and that you had no children as yet. Will you have some children later?” The lady became red in the face and, sitting very straight and prim, told Jurek “Of course not!” She felt embarrassed and I could not laugh it off, not even when I heard Jurek (luckily speaking in Polish) say: “I told you she is a male.” The lady left very soon, telling me that in Poland the children were brought up in a very odd way. I never saw her again. When I told Zygmunt about it, he could not stop laughing and then agreed that sex education would have to wait for a few more years.
I loved the life we were now leading with all the parties (with no restriction on money), the concerts, shows, etc. However, there were a few worries. The children were not very well. Jurek, although a lot better with Roman, was still unbearable and tried to hurt Roman quite often. When I belted Jurek, Roman screamed even more, trying to pull me away from Jurek. It was no good punishing Jurek in front of Roman as he became very upset about it. I went to a psychiatrist. He examined Jurek a few times and told me that nothing was wrong with him. It was only the after-effects of abnormal war conditions and that he would grow out of it. I should continue what I was doing.
He also told me that Jurek had an above-average IQ and should do well in school and later on. Roman was an ideal child – gentle, kind and obedient. He would share his toys with anyone, and not only his toys. When left alone in the front yard, he would come back without his jacket or his shirt as he gave them away also, telling me that the other boys needed them. He knew all the shopkeepers by name and all the drivers in the neighbourhood were his friends. One day after playing in the sandpit with other children, he told me that he would not be home for tea. He was going to a nice lady whose boy was now in Heaven and that the boy’s mother was lonely and he, Roman, would go to this nice lady and play with the toys of the boy who went to Heaven and eat tea with the lady. This lady came to me also and asked me if she could have Roman sometimes in the evenings as she still felt very depressed as her little boy had died of leukaemia not long ago and, if I did not mind, she would like to have Roman stay with her for a few hours in the evenings. Roman went to her quite often.
One day Roman came to me asking to quickly give him a packet of cigarettes for his friend. I should hurry as his friend had not much time. (Roman was then four years old). When I asked him where his friend was waiting, he took my hand and dragged me to the balcony – from there I saw a cart loaded with hay and the driver was waving towards us. Roman was not a healthy child. He was anaemic, had asthma, rickets and liver trouble and was often in great pain. When he had to stay in bed because of the great pain, he would say to me: “Mamusiu, I am so sorry that I am causing you so much trouble.” I could have cried and I did after leaving his room. He was on a very strict diet but the doctor assured me that, if I stuck to the diet for a few years, Roman would be a normal, healthy child. Zygmunt and I did what we could for the children, including doctors, diets and baby-sitters. I remember the first time I left the boys with a baby-sitter. There was something special on at the ice rink – national competition skating. The baby-sitter and I put the children to bed. I liked her and so did both boys.
We went to the performance on the ice rink. It was beautiful but at about 8:00 pm I started to think about the boys; by about 9:00 I was very nervous and about 10:00 I could not stand it any longer. I left, and Zygmunt was furious, especially when we arrived home and both boys were sound asleep and the baby-sitter told us that everything went without a hitch. This kind of thing happened a few times but later on I became accustomed to being out and only rang home a few times during our evenings out. I was coughing badly and Zygmunt sent me to a specialist. The X-rays showed that I had TB in both lungs. One lung was not badly affected – just the size of a pea – but the other one was not good. The doctor advised that I should go to a sanatorium up in the hills and have proper treatment. No more smoking, no more dancing until late at night, I should have a regular diet, sleeping time, etc. I knew about these famous sanatoriums in Switzerland but I would not go. I had had enough of regimes of regulated hours, I had enough of it during the war. I would not go to any camps, even the most glamorous ones. I wanted to stay where I was, to be happy and to enjoy life without any restrictions imposed by any authority. Zygmunt understood how I felt and let me stay – with all the parties, dancing, balls and smoking.
How I loved Zygmunt for his understanding; he knew that I hated to be put away, even in a glamorous place. I hated to be parted from him and the children. I was certain that it would have killed me. Zygmunt took the risk, against the advice of the doctors, and let me live. Thank you, Zygmunt. I began to improve very quickly. It cost Zygmunt a lot of money as every month I needed new clothing because I was putting on weight. The doctors, after taking X-rays every month, were amazed as I was greatly improving. The doctors even quoted me in a medical paper, calling me Mrs K and stressing how important it was to create a suitable atmosphere for a TB patient, how important it was to keep the will for life going. In my favour was my age – I was about thirty – and my will to enjoy life. I enjoyed life, every moment of it.
Jurek and Roman improved very slowly and their doctors advised us to send them to a sanatorium up in the hills for a few months. To keep them there would cost more than an average citizen of Switzerland earned, but that was not our problem as we had plenty of money. It was a hard decision to make. It would mean once again separation from the children. Zygmunt convinced me that I should stop being egotistic, that the health of the children should come first. We took them to a “Kinderheim” in Thun, the one recommended by our doctors.
It did the boys a lot of good. The first two weeks were tragic for them and for me because parents were not allowed to visit them during that time but we were allowed to speak to them on the phone. We spoke to them every day – or rather, we did not “speak” as the boys and I cried but, after ten days they seemed to settle down and we all cried a lot less. After a few weeks we were permitted to visit them. The first visit was not a great success. We were all tense and when we were leaving, Jurek tried to follow us and when picked up by the sister, he tried to get away, kicking and biting her. After a few months I could see a great improvement. Roman could even climb uphill without choking and Jurek looked healthy and very beautiful.
He was even looking after Roman, really looking after him in a rough and strange way, but he was holding his hand, helping him uphill, waiting for him; he was now the protector, being the elder. Darling boys. When they were pronounced healthy and allowed to go home, Jurek was still the protector and was not cruel to Roman at all, only a bit rough.
That year to me was a whirlwind of activities. It seemed as though we were trying to make up for the years lost during the war. There were concerts and shows. Switzerland, being in Central Europe and being a neutral country, was able to invite the stars from all over the world. If some performances were not in Bern but in Zurich, we went to Zurich for the night. There were parties, dinner dances, official parties and very formal parties.
Weekends we spent with the children either at home or at the zoo, Luna Park or just swimming in the Aar. We also spent every lunch time together as the break was long enough for Zygmunt and the children to come home for lunch. I went every day to the city either to shop or just window-shop, or to sit in my favourite restaurant with a view of the hills. After dinner we usually went out. There were a lot of official parties; for instance, the national day of each country which had its embassy or legation in Bern. Some were very formal with printed seating arrangements mailed to us beforehand, such as the ones given by the Swiss Government. It was fun to meet different races, different people, people from countries which had now become independent. The Swiss were unsurpassed in their flower arrangements, the varieties of food and drinks, including many different national dishes which I had never tasted before. There were so many parties in so many different places that only some stay clear in my mind. There was our Polish party called the “Independence Day”. I played the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin before Putrament made his speech. He glorified the Soviet Army which, according to him, gave us our new freedom.
I felt out of place. Had they forgotten the most critical moment during the Warsaw uprising when the Russians not only stopped firing but even retreated? Had they forgotten that Stalin would not let the Western Allies land in Poland or Russia and therefore we were not getting any help? Had they forgotten that their main army forces were barely 100 km away from Warsaw and that they would not drop us medicine or ammunition although their planes did not need any refuelling as those of the Western Allies did? According to my way of thinking, it was only thanks to the “glorious Red Army” that so many people were slaughtered in Warsaw. I felt sick about all the hypocrisy of Putrament’s speech. When I decently could, I rang home and asked to be excused, saying that one of the boys was not well and that the baby-sitter had asked me to come home. I left, fuming inside, eyes stinging with unshed tears. I did not tell Zygmunt how I felt. It would have upset him and anyway, it was my own personal reaction to Putrament’s speech.
I remember the National Swiss Day for quite another reason. It was a very elaborate reception but for me, the main attraction was the display of fireworks. Fires were lit on all the hills, fireworks reaching the sky, crackers in the streets (which were crowded with happy, smiling people). The display far surpassed anything I had seen before or since. For example, Guy Fawkes Night, even in the most extravagant years, could be compared only with a child’s firecracker. It was also a double celebration for Zygmunt and me – it was our wedding anniversary. It was a night to remember. Another glamorous party which was given by the Soviets. For many years there were no diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Soviets but this year the Soviet Union had normal diplomatic relationships with Switzerland and they even had their own embassy in Bern. In the luxurious halls of the Bellevue Hotel, the Soviets gave their banquet, inviting the Swiss Government and all of the Diplomatic Corps. It was very interesting; everyone was there as they were all interested to see the Soviets. They looked super-glamorous, just like in a show. Their uniforms were mainly in green with large golden epaulettes and red lampers – or navy, or sometimes in both colours. They walked in a very dignified manner, very self-conscious, as all were watching them. We, the guests (men in black tails, women predominantly in black, with a touch of white - such as lace or boas) formed the background.
That evening I met a Nobel Prize winner in physics but now I do not even remember his name. He was a small man, slightly greying, short-sighted, unpretentious and shy, but he could talk animatedly if the conversation was to his liking. The tables were loaded with delicacies such as real Russian caviar (which one could eat by the tablespoonful) and still fresh; full plates were brought in and there was plenty of vodka and champagne which I loved drinking. Apart from being greeted, I was unable to speak to anyone apart from the Soviets and this entire affair was rather overwhelming.
Another party to which only Zygmunt and I were invited, was a conducted tour of Ciba. Our host, the Managing Director, was a charming man.
It was the first time that I had travelled this way. After visiting the factory, we were invited to a “Schloss” which was a privately owned property. It was beautifully furnished but not ostentatious. The cook (in a high white hat) and his offsiders arrived in a van with partly-prepared food.
The conversation was pleasant, non-political, non-commercial, simply light and pleasant. There were plenty of laughs when they saw my fascination whilst watching the chief cook prepare sweets. Eggs were broken into a pot which was placed over an open fire, the ingredients added, big imported peaches, and the lot set on fire. It tasted delicious. The chef liked my reaction and told me how I could make this dish at home. I tried it a few times but it was a total fiasco.
Isn’t it odd how small, unimportant things stay clear and vivid in my memory even after many years whilst other events – so much more important – have faded, blending in with others and leaving just a hazy memory of faces and snippets of conversation? One more party I do remember well. It was given for Witold Malcyzski, the famous pianist. I remember it for a very simple reason. We were both glad to see each other again and were talking non-stop. Zygmunt (on some pretext) took me to another part of the room where some officials engaged him in some talk but, in a short while, Witold Malcyzski and I drifted together again, exchanging addresses of friends and relatives, speaking about his family and mine, about old teachers, and so on.
It was Zygmunt’s duty to visit factories, especially the watch-making ones. I happily went with him as I found it very interesting. I remember particularly well the visit to IWC Schaffhausen. There were many elderly people there and the atmosphere was pleasant; the firm never sacked their old employees. I also remember it for another reason: After a sumptuous meal, we were driven to a viewpoint where the River Rhine had it beginning. It was a beautiful view and the IWC representative spoke most enthusiastically and with love about the land around us and the River Rhine.
A year passed and the parties lost their fascination for me and I went to Poland to show off my healthy children. We stayed for a few weeks only as I was worried about Zygmunt who was working too hard. His heart began to play up so he went to a specialist in Zurich and was told that he needed a holiday. But that was impossible because there was always a lot of urgent work for him. He also went to Poland occasionally but it was not on holidays, rather for conferences – and he came back looking tired.
The relationship between the brothers improved. Jurek, although rough, took care of Roman when it suited him. Jurek was a show-off – in sports, at school with his marks etc., but he became friendly and no trouble at all. Putrament was transferred to the Paris Embassy and in his place came Pezybos (who was also a poet). I saw that Zygmunt was very tired and not always quite happy. He was asked to join the Party but refused. Once, when we had a semi-official party at our place, there occurred an incident which made me realize that I really didn’t know how to bring up children. At this party I failed completely as a hostess although the atmosphere was fairly relaxed (there were only Poles there) but there were too many people, it was too cramped at the table, there was too much food and the kitchen help did not arrive. Going to the kitchen between courses I had to pass the children’s room and heard the voices of Jurek and the Legate.
As I smelled something burning, I rushed into the kitchen and did not hear any more. How should I bring up my children? Should I tell them lies? Truth? Or half-truth, which is near a lie anyway? I did not speak with Zygmunt about it as he had plenty of worries in the office. The influence of some employees was very pronounced as they were Party members and Zygmunt was not. Zygmunt very seldom spoke about it except sometimes when his advice was over-ruled and the consequences were very disadvantageous to Poland’s economy.
After a visit to Poland, I realized that conditions were not what I had hoped to find. I started once again to take more notice of my surroundings. I realized that the atmosphere at home had also changed. We joked less, we laughed less, Zygmunt worked longer hours and very often seemed to be pre-occupied. Luckily, the time came for our holiday which we wanted to spend in the South of Switzerland and Italy. I took the children to Poland. Jurek would be with Bama, and Roman with my parents, and both grandmothers were very happy to have them especially as, by now, they were well-behaved children.
This holiday month was probably the best in the whole of my life. We called it our belated honeymoon as we had to wait eight years for it from the day of our wedding. For a whole month we had no worries, no responsibilities; we could do as we liked. It was just perfect. I always admired Rome but now I fell in love with that city. It cast a spell over me and I could have stayed there for always. I still like Rome more than any other city; to me it is the eternal city. In Southern Italy we became acquainted with a Swiss girl, Lotti, and a Polish doctor, Zdislaw Makomaski, both from Bern. Later on they became our friends, but more about them later. Zygmunt spoiled half a day for me whilst in Capri. He bought a lot of postcards and started writing from this “island of the lovers” to all his ex-girlfriends, and he even expected me to sign some of them. I could have killed him but could not very well create a real row as we were in a restaurant. I only told him what I thought about him and his girlfriends. Otherwise the holiday was perfect.
When the holiday was almost over, we went to Poland to pick up the children. My parents and Bama looked well and they were even talking to each other although only the bare necessities, but that was already better than before. It was good to return to Bern. I liked this town and we had friends there too. The atmosphere in Zygmunt’s office had worsened. The Party influence became more pronounced. Zygmunt was again urged to join the Party, this time by Mrs Gomulka from the Central Party Committee. He again refused. I was more disappointed in the new Poland as it was quite different from what I had expected. There was no freedom of speech, no freedom of election. There was distrust, there was corruption, there was a very strong forced influence by the Soviets, there were half-truths and lies.
Zygmunt was brooding a lot and not talking much. We were both disappointed that neither my parents nor his mother were able to receive a visa to visit us as we had agreed that first his mother would come for a month or so and later on my parents, but we still had to wait. Only the children were happy and looking healthy and even often well-behaved. There was a funny incident with Roman, now over four years old, when he eloped with Wanda, the Legate’s daughter of the same age. One afternoon when I was told that Roman had left but was not home in ten minutes, I went out to meet him in the street but there was no sign of him. I rang Wanda’s mother and she was worried too as Wanda was also missing. After a while we became very worried and a search party was organized. After hours of driving around, we saw in the zoo gardens a drawing of a heart with a spear and the letter “R”. Roman loved to draw it, saying that with an arrow his heart would fly as a bird. Hours later we found them both. Roman was carrying her umbrella, her shoes and her basket. Both children were tired and happily agreed to go home although, only hours earlier, they had wanted to go out into the wide world.
One day we received a cable from Czeslaw advising that Zygmunt’s mother was really ill and would Zygmunt come and arrange for her to go either to a hospital for the mentally disturbed, or arrange to bring her to Bern, as she could not stay at home because her sister was unable to cope with her. In less than a month Bama came to Bern. She looked ill and was pale and very thin, but she improved very quickly and once more looked a beautiful woman. It was not easy for me when Bama became well again. When Zygmunt was around she spoke to me pleasantly, but when we were alone she was unpleasant and tried to get Jurek on her side against me. It upset me but I was not too worried as by now my relationship with Jurek was good. We loved each other and he trusted me, although he still tried to play up, especially when encouraged by Bama, but it was just a try. As time went on, Bama became more and more unpleasant to me and started to speak very unpleasantly about my parents. I felt hurt but kept quiet and did not argue with her and of course did not tell Zygmunt about it as this would have gone against everything that I had been taught. It would mean causing trouble between Bama, Zygmunt and me.
The greatest trouble was her attitude towards Roman as, even in Zygmunt’s presence, she spoke unfavourably about him, pointing out his weaker condition, his shortcomings at school. I did the only thing open to me – I tried to avoid Bama as much as possible. I took the children straight after school and we would go away and come home only when Zygmunt might be there. As Zygmunt was often very late, we would have a quick meal and go to bed. When Bama was telling Zygmunt something not nice about my parents, he would laugh it off and tell her to forget the old grudges and, when she would tell him what a bad cook I was and how lazy, he would say that now she had a chance to teach me how to cook his favourite meals. At night when we were alone, Zygmunt would never speak about Bama, nor did he speak about the political situation in Poland although I knew that he was very worried about the course that Poland was taking. He would occasionally speak about the difficulties he had as the Chief of the Trade Commission and would explain to me the meaning of the gold parity, the international trading influences.
In some ways neither of us was ready to talk about what really mattered. I did not want to voice my opinions as I did not want to influence him in any way; it was his decision to make. I would follow him and try to do the best I could with the children, but I began to withdraw more and more from all the official functions. One evening, Zygmunt asked me to go out with him and not to get dressed up as there would be just the two of us in a small place. We went to a small restaurant called “Zum Stern” in a distant suburb of Bern, Muir, where there was hardly any chance of meeting any diplomats and certainly not Polish ones.
Now, for the first time, he told me that he was convinced that the Party was not working for a better Poland, that the last few months were very hard for him, that he was really fed up with the regime as he was certain that the Party was wrong and that he could barely stand it much longer when the Party members were treading on his toes, spoiling Poland’s future. Should he sell himself for money and the security of his family? Or maybe he could afford to keep his integrity and be honest and – “Choose Freedom”. At last the words were spoken. To “Choose Freedom” or to “Jump Over the Wall” was by now a common expression which meant that one was prepared to give up one’s country, that one was ready to go somewhere – anywhere – that one was not prepared to work any more for the Establishment. He told me that he had been thinking about freedom for quite a while and that it did not amount to much in Poland, but he was also thinking about me and the children, about Bama and my parents. Should he accept the new job we would be even better off financially than now but, should he reject it, there would be no way back, no way to Poland; my parents would be left behind. He had now reached the stage where he did not want to dodge the issue any longer, he did not want to enter into negotiations which, in his opinion, were harmful to Poland.
He had never voiced his thoughts before because, to him, I seemed indifferent and never expressed my opinions. He explained to me that should I be afraid of the future without security, without prospects, he would accept the offer and would try to do the best he could. Now he expected me to tell him what I thought and did I realize the risk involved, did I realize what we would lose, did I realize that it would also affect my parents?
Quote from the diary: “Zygmunt, thank you for this talk, thank you for being honest. I was ready to forego all the securities, etc. a long time ago but I did not speak with you about it as I did not want to influence you in any way. It is your family, your country and it had to be your decision. I am ready and happy to try anything. I do not want to live a life of pretence and of make-believe. I do want to bring up our children where there is more freedom, more truth than there is in Poland at present. I do not care about the money. We managed before, we will manage again. I will help you to the best of my ability if you show me how. I do want our children to grow up in a country where people are free to think and to decide for themselves. I realize that we might never see my parents again but we and the children come first. I am very happy that you are ready to ‘Choose Freedom’”.
There were no arguments. The decision was made and now we had to work out the details. Zygmunt had to keep pretending until he was due to take up the new post which was to be on 1st September, 1948, as by then he would have to give over his office officially to the new Chief and would have all the signatures, etc. to see to and nobody would be able to accuse him of embezzlement and such which usually happened to those who “Chose Freedom”. It was not a very long time for us to wait but the weeks seemed to pass very slowly. When we were leaving “Zum Stern” I pinched a small cream jug and a serviette – just as a memento. It is still with us.
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