I don't remember my first impressions of Warsaw. My diary had only one line - crowded streets, lovely displays in windows, and so many beautiful shops with so many cars.
The first night I spent with the family Kurzon who were Mr Wladislaw’s friends. Dark rooms, dark furniture covered with dark green velvet, many corridors, passages and nooks, many old people and a parrot and a monkey, both of which I saw for the first time in my life.
Mr Wladislaw offered to help me look for a room for myself. I wanted to find one somewhere not too far from the Conservatorium.
Walking along the bustling streets, Warsaw seemed beautiful, full of promises, and all that excitement, just waiting to go around a corner and see the next sights.
But already the next night I slept in my own room which was on the corner of two main streets. My friend Lloyd was on the same floor. Strange noises from the city reached clearly. The noise of the trams, and the chatter of prostitutes, and the noise from the next room where a young couple lived. I heard them laughing and making love. Again I felt restless and but not at all happy.
Next morning I went to the Conservatorium. To my horror I discovered there were 80 applicants and only 12 vacancies! Here I met Olek, my friend from Kaunas who introduced me to some of his friends and we all went for a ‘half a cup of black’ to a café. I loved this, my first meeting with the youth of Warsaw. I remember two of the men - one whom I later called Red and the other Stanislawski. One was a fanatical atheist and a nihilist the other was a true Catholic determined to serve God and help human beings. These and similar discussions I had during all the years in Warsaw.
The same evening I met Stach, who became dear to me. Olek brought Stach into my room one day, warning that Stach does not like Marx, but does like the pretty models but considers that they all were soulless empty headed and without moral principles, and promiscuous, and even the ancients knew it of such models. Stach was prepared to help me settle in as he also came from Lithuania and being a friend of Olek, Stach knew that Olek had no time for me, being in love with Irka. Olek told Stach that I was green (inexperienced provincial lass), and may be stupid as well, but certainly not a flirt.
We spent only a few minutes in my room as I had to go to my friend’s, the Kozron’s, and it was a fair walk as they still lived in the Old Town. Stach said he did not mind taking me to them. We did not speak much after a few polite sentences as I was more interested in the window displays than in Stach. I stopped at a bookshop. Stach told me to look in the other window which had all the bestsellers but I hardly heard him as I had spotted the two books that I was unable to buy in Lithuania. “Whispers of the soul” by Tagore and sometimes translated from Sanskrit. I rushed and bought both books. This was the beginning of a friendship with Stach which lasted for many years.
The day of exams came and I was a bundle of nerves. We had a few rooms with pianos allocated for us for warming up exercises. According to me, all the others were playing a lot better than I. I was scared, my fingers felt wooden. I had no proper touch. I started to cry and did not want to go to the assembly hall where other candidates were called. Stach & Olek told me off, calling me a stupid coward. The base player pushed me into the wall and said the doorman would not admit me. The last sentence spoken was by Olek. “Don't despair, stupid rabbits sometimes have luck and even the most stupid ones sometimes have an inspiration.”
I feel dreadful when my name was called. I sat down at the piano and lost my sight. I could see neither the black nor the white keys. My legs were shaking so badly that I was unable to keep them on the pedals I felt that at any moment I would burst out crying. The director came to me, patted my shoulder and asked me to play some scales. This calmed me down a little. When I came to play the Chopin and etude I had a lot of trouble and only later I was told that I played the whole piece in the wrong key! I was pleased only with my interpretation of Beethoven. I was quite certain that I had failed. A week later the results were posted on the board but I did not even go to look. Olek came to tell me the news: I had passed and was even listed nearly at the top! My teacher would be Mrs Jacynowa. Only much later did she tell me that I played one piece really well and my playing of the etude in the wrong key was a masterpiece and even gave me some extra marks.
Warsaw - this and the following next years. I loved every minute. I had started to live and work, but I never missed lessons except occasionally the theory. Most evenings were spent at concerts with supper in restaurants, drinking vodka and listening and occasionally talking till late at night on various subjects. In the beginning I just sat and listened, being scared to open my mouth as, firstly, my Polish was not as good as theirs was, and I considered myself quite provincial. Also my accent was funny as everybody told me, speaking like Poles spoke in Lithuania. It took a few months before I started to take part in the discussions.
The discussions were so varied - about communism and democracy, about sex and free love, about music, new plays and authors. The group consisted of extremists and conventionalists, of rebels and supporters of the establishment. Everybody was criticised by everyone but everybody could listen and could talk. Never in my life had I heard so many different views and opinions. We were a mixed lot from different backgrounds, pursuing different educations. What united us was the love for books, music and plays. The majority were from the Conservatorium in the art school but there were also a few law students, architects, economists, writers and a few engineers. But there was not even one professional soldier, or should I call them military men? Although we did speak about the political situation and Hitler, we did not approve of the army. Marshall Piludeski was all right, but the army was not.
At that time I expressed the following ideas: Females are just as good as males, maybe even better (sic! From the male audience); Free love for everyone, down with the rites of marriage.
Love, TRUE LOVE, did not need rites. I could sleep with anyone I want, the emphasis being on ‘I want’. As I did not hop into bed with anyone the boys called me: “the dog which barks does not bite” or “the cow which moos does not give milk.” I did not care.
I became more and more carried away by socialism and later by communism. I attended illegal Party meetings, took part in demonstrations of which Stach despaired.
I went with Stach to Buddhist and Yoga meetings. I did Yoga meditations, I believed, with small reservations, in incarnation. According to Stach, being a female I was not well endowed with spiritual virtues. I also loved dancing, balls, nightclubs; the more the better.
I also liked bridge and could play all night through.
I never missed my lessons and paid the maid who cleaned my room extra money so that she made quite sure that I was up each morning not later than seven, even if she had to pour water over me!
Olek, who took only a brotherly interest in me, told me to smarten up, as I looked so very provincial. I did not care, I had enough boyfriends. I belonged to our group. I took his advice only once. I had a lovely perm – all my natural soft waves disappeared and I had a beautiful frizzy perm done with steam. I thought I looked lovely, but when I came back to Kaunas, Mother thought I looked awful.
I loved to go home during Xmas and summer holidays. Going through Germany I would stop in Koenigsberg or Berlin for a few days and meet my old school friends. I liked seeing them but we started to drift apart. I thought that they were brainwashed by Hitler and they thought me backward as I could not appreciate Hitler’s ideas. On the Jewish question they were not too certain, thinking about our mutual Jewish friends, but even here they were sure that Hitler would do only what was good for everyone and be fair. We had fierce arguments, but parted always as friends… the school ties were still very strong. My German friends were also fighting the inequality for the under-privileged working class. They liked the picture I painted for them of the poor working class life as described by one economist of my Polish group.
“If you are really poor, say a poor factory worker, you live in one room somewhere in a damp basement. This room is your bedroom, where the wife is “raped” every time it suits the male, where you all live, where you cook, where you hang out your laundry for drying over the hot stove, (provided you had enough money for wood), where the dampness from the wet socks, the smelly old socks is dripping into the cooking pot, if you have enough money to buy food.” It was true that such conditions did exist. My German friends saw the answer in Hitler’s ideas, and I and my Polish friends in improved democracy, socialism or communism.
None of my German friends were interested in the afterlife or reincarnation, they called it decadent.
Coming to Kaunas, I chatted a bit with my parents then slept round the clock, talked with Mother and Father all day, went to Mrs Malko for a day to show her my progress and spent the rest of the time partly in Karmelowo with friends coming and going or coming to town for concerts, dancing and meeting friends, who by now were mainly Poles, male and females.
When I think back about my parents, I still see mother as a wonderful butterfly. She used to rush in, hug me and kiss me and disappear again. She was beautiful, smiling and laughing, full of life, gay and happy. Father would follow her slowly, sedately. I never talked much with Mother, there was nothing to talk about. She considered me wonderful, the best child a mother could wish for and I knew that I was not, but there was no way of showing her how mistaken she was. I loved her for simply being there.
I had some talks with Father. One holiday I told him that I didn’t intend to get married ever but that I intended to have at least two children. I expected fierce arguments but there were none. Father listened to all my arguments, why I considered it terrible to be chained to one man for all my life, etc. He did not contradict but asked me to do him a favour: would I please let him know before I started having my children as he had to provide for me and my children’s future. I thought it a fair request and promised to do so. Father was satisfied because so far I had never broken a promise given voluntarily.
During another talk I told him that I had a friend in Warsaw who was a prostitute. I thought that would shock Father, but it did not. I met her one morning coming back from a dance and we were the only two customers eating and sipping milk. We started talking, we liked each other and later on became friends and met often during that year. Hers was the usual sordid story. She became pregnant when sixteen years old, her family, poor farmers, threw her out. There followed a few hard, degrading years when she fought for the survival of them both. She was determined to give her child an education, and she managed – her daughter was a boarder at the ‘Sacred Heart’, the money for the child and herself she earned as a prostitute as it was the only way to earn enough money. I wanted to give her money but she would not accept it. Instead, she gave me plenty of commonsense advice about sex and love. It was a hard way to earn money but she managed. She would never visit me and I was not allowed to visit her, but I was welcome to wait for her in the early morning hours and to buy her some breakfast. I am very grateful to her for those early morning talks. She helped me to see and feel life from another perspective.
Father was a good listener. I also told him another story about a handsome man who asked me to go to bed with him because he was such an accomplished lover and I would be able to treasure the memory. Only God, he and I would know about it!
One of the men I was going with invited me to go to his house as his parents were away on holiday and it was the maid’s day off. I knew what he wanted and was furious, as there was not the slightest hint of romantic love. I agreed sweetly, already planning how to retaliate. On the evening he expected me, my friends called for me to go dancing. We were four couples. I invited them to go to this man’s place as we would have the flat all to himself, his parents being away. When we came to his flat I asked the others to stand back and rang the bell. He opened the door, smiling… but the smile soon faded when we all piled in and the boys started to make some rude comments looking at the table set for two, with candlelight and look through the door we could see a bedroom where rose petals were strewn over the pillows. I had great fun, but he did not and ignored me. Later in the evening we all went to a dancing place and only at the end did he ask me for a dance. He told me that I had behaved atrociously, that I did not know good manners being brought up in Lithuania. My sweet reply was: “Sooo sorry, but in Lithuania one does not invite a girl home when their parents were out, especially if one cares for her. You felt a fool when we arrived, so what? It will do you good, you have learned a lesson!”
Father did not approve of my reaction but he also had a laugh when I explained how he looked.
That summer I had a few marriage proposals, but I was not interested and decided to be less friendly with men as they were reading more into it. One proposal was really odd.
“It is time I get married; I would like you for my wife.”
He left soon afterwards. No speeches about love, no mad kisses, just nothing, not even flowers!
Father was not astonished as he thought that Leonas was not really madly in love with me, but I could make a good wife and, being well provided for might have certainly played a part in the proposal.
It was hard to imagine being married, but to do it because it was a sort of good business proposition – how dreadful!
Anyway, I was fed up with all the dancing, flirting and talking about marriage and sex. I missed Warsaw and Stach. I was happy when the time came to go back to Warsaw.
In addition to Conservatorium I took that year a two/three year course in agricultural education in Chyliczki. It was not a terchial education although the majority of girls had matriculated.
The school Chyliczki was run by women similar to Nuns, ‘Sodalitki’, called the third order. Students were boarders, all were females, all from farms, all were taught how to live on and manage a farm. We were taught how to rotate the crop, how to feed the animals, to help during the calving, to look after bees, to make preserves including sausages, cheeses etc, even how to milk cows. The school and farm were situated now far from Warsaw and we were very strictly supervised in our comings and goings. But being in the conservatorium where I had to attend classes, sometimes in the evenings, I was allowed to keep a room in Warsaw. The girls slept in dormitories and there was strict discipline re lessons, prayers and meals.
Who would have believed that I would fit in and feel really happy there? I really loved it. I made a few friends which would have lasted a lifetime if war had not intervened. There was Duka K. whom I liked very much but criticised her for being a snob, but she could not help being brainwashed from the cradle, as she belonged to the very old aristocracy. There was Parczewska whose father was a barrister in Wilna. She certainly was not brainwashed by the Establishment. She mentioned Zygmunt Kruszewski Senior, the father of the one I knew. She told me that although her father was a better lawyer, Mr Kruszewski was the most honest one, the most upright character according to her father. We three had long discussions about religion, about the rights of men, etc.
My closest friend was Stach, who was doing his final year at the Conservatorium. He was a composer and I thought a good one. We met as often as we could. I liked being in his company. We could talk and talk for hours, in parks, at the Zoo, anywhere. Stach was certain that his love for me was for life, maybe even eternal. I was not certain, I simply did not know if I really loved him or not. Sometimes I was even rude to him, as once when he told me that he was a virgin.
“You should be ashamed of yourself and not brag about it. I am not prepared for you to start experimenting on me, how do you think we will go about? With an instruction book?”
Stach was very hurt and I was truly sorry. But I still did not know. What was I waiting for? A ‘Prince Charming’?
That winter I had a shattering experience – a friend of mine died, committing suicide. She was beautiful and a very talented musician, good at the commerce school, which I also joined for a term simply to find out what it what about. Her parents were very rich by any standard. They were part owners of mines and, through her uncle, a Belgian, part owners of the Polish Private Railway. We were very close. She was brought up a strict Catholic and did not believe in anything, neither in God nor Devil. She did not believe that a boy might love her for herself. She used to say:
“How do I know that he loves me and not the money which is behind me?” No arguments would convince her. She would go off on a tangent: “I am stupid, I am too weak to do any good. I should start something like a colony for lepers. I should be able to help the poor, but I don’t know how. I know something is very wrong in our society and nobody cares and I, I am just a drone with plenty of money and no guts, no knowledge. I would like to have a ‘Deserving Cause’ and be carried away but I can’t, I am unable to do anything!”
Next night she committed suicide by cutting her wrists, immersing them in warm water and taking a lot of sleeping tablets. When she was found it was too late.
Why? Why her? She was so good, she could have done such a lot of good. Why? Why? Perhaps she did the right thing as a few years later the war started and she would have been unable to survive, mentally, all the cruelty around us.
It was about this time that Mr Zygmunt Kruszewski appeared on my horizon.
I had met Mr Kruszewski Junior already a few times whilst in Wilno. Pan Wladyslaw warned me not to get too friendly with him because he was having affairs, as females found him very attractive, and as he might some day marry Zosia R., but at present he was still having a lasting affair with a doctor who was very fierce and ready to scratch the eyes of any female who would try to interfere. I assured Pan Wladyslaw that I could not care less, I was not in the habit of chasing males, it was rather the other way around. Next time I was invited by his mother to their home, I met there a Miss Wanda, a good looking female with beautiful large eyes and a superb figure. I wondered if she was the one Pan Wladyslaw warned me about as she looked me up and down in a not very friendly way.
That Spring Pan Zygmunt came to Warsaw and we spent the whole day together. It was fun. First we went to the Luna Park, which I loved, then we went to see “Pygmalion” and afterwards to an exclusive restaurant, ‘Adria’. He was not much fun at the Adria. He was quiet and looked rather pale. Only later did I learn that he was sick from all the cocktails which I kept ordering.
After that day he kept writing to me and I looked forward to his letters. The girls teased me because I blushed when his letters arrived. Stach became jealous. I liked his letters, they were fun. Sometimes there was only a card with maybe one sentence, sometimes long letters about books, politics, etc but never about music. Never a word of love or sex. There was nothing wrong in liking his letters, I was not chasing him and we were not even flirting. And anyway, it was a very busy year for me.
My weekday began at 5 am, practising at the piano until the bell rang for prayers and breakfast at 7 am. Then lessons, either practise or in the field. Lunch break and again lessons. Then either at Warwaw for lessons or again 2 to 3 hours at the piano. Lights out at eleven. Now the fun began. We might have serious discussions or we would meet boys by jumping out through windows. It was all quite innocent, just for fun, although I received a shock one day.
One of the men I was meeting, who, like most of them, wanted sex of course and I did not, arrived in a posh car, with flowers in his hand and went straight to the headmistress. I was milking the cows at that time but others informed me about his arrival. There was not much we missed noticing between all of us and usually we were able to draw the right conclusions.
I was furious as I had asked him not to call for me officially at Chyliczki. A teacher called me, summoning me to the headmistress’s office. I wanted to go in my overalls, smelling of dung, milk and cow manure but was told to change, put on some powder and lipstick and present myself as soon as possible. The headmistress saw me alone and informed me that, not having my parents in Poland, she was in loco Parentis for them. She was quite satisfied with his credentials, she knew his family personally, he was the only son on a good farm, he was well off etc. etc… she thought I should accept his proposal!
I thought I would burst but somehow I kept my temper. It was no good explaining to her that I would rather be dead than married to that creep, good prospects or not!
I was ushered into a small drawing room reserved for special occasions. This creep was sitting there in a dark suit with flowers in his hand. The same one who, for the last month, had tried to have sex and, not getting it, was now telling me that he was certain I would be the ideal wife and mother for his future children. I was speechless. How could he! I had never encouraged him. Certainly we had a few kisses but so what? He was speaking about his great love, about our future, about his prospects, his financial standing when I interrupted him.
“Stop it. Don’t you realise that I DO NOT LOVE YOU! We will never have ‘future children’. Even a wedding ring would not make me go to bed with you. I will never ever marry you. Don’t you dare call again for me!” and rushed out. I was met by the girls who were excited, a proposal, soooo romantic and they did not have to listen too hard at the keyhole as I did not whisper, did not swoon but spoke rather loudly. They told me that when he left he took the flowers with him!
That evening the headmistress called me into her office advising me to reconsider, she would write to my parents as he was such a good prospect and a very good Catholic! I felt like laughing: he a good Catholic, what a scream! But I kept quiet.
That year I was not doing too well at the Conservatorium. My teacher, Mr Szpinalski, who himself was a known pianist, was not happy with my progress, especially Mozart, which was hopeless. I could not get him right. He wanted me to drop Chyliczki, he knew that during some theory classes I was half asleep. He thought that milking cows was just a waste of time for me and he could not understand that both my parents were very happy with Chyliczki. And Chyliczki was not the only trouble, I attended too many balls, too many concerts and live shows, too many dances, too many discussions etc.
I spent most of my free time with Stach. I felt good in his company, I even thought I might be in love with him but with three exceptions. I did not want sex with him or anyone, I did not like dancing with him as he squeezed one so hard that dancing was not fun and, the most important, he was so jealous, not only of other men, but also of females and even of shopwindows! He wanted my full attention constantly. But I still loved to be with him. I loved his interpretation of music, his translations of poems from Sanskrit into Polish, his kindness, his goodness. But was it LOVE?
At that stage I was getting more and more letters from Mr Zygmunt Kruszewski whom Stach called Z.K. The girls at Chyliczki were sure I was in love with Z.K. as I never spoke about him but about the others. I was reading his letters in the toilet, so as not to be disturbed. But there was nothing to speak about, there was not even the slightest hint of a flirtation. I kept his letters under my pillow and re-read them in the morning and at night.
One day, coming into the dorm, I saw Jadwiga standing in the middle of the room, reading Z.K’s letter loudly to all the girls. She had taken it from under my pillow. I could have killed her but did not say a word until she finished. All the girls looked rather disappointed. I told them; “See, there is nothing to speak about. We just write polite letters about books etc etc.”
The next week I was very glad when Jadwiga was caught pinching apples. It was her turn to pinch really good apples for all of us. Served her right, the stupid so and so, she couldn’t even do a simple job like pinching apples. She was not allowed to go out during the weekend and had to say a lot more prayers in the morning and at night.
That Winter I thought a lot about love and men. Men were an odd lot. They spoke about love and passion when all they wanted was just sex. They said that only God and we two will know about the wonder of sex and love and, should the girl fall for this, she would be dropped very soon and if she did not, the stupid men wanted to make her the mother of his future children!
What is love? I could not find the answer but kept trying to find out. I wanted a passionate love, an all-consuming love, either as a love affair but preferably for ever and ever – ‘until death do us part’.
There were conflicts between Poland and Lithuania and in 1938 there was even talk of the army being prepared. I was sure that my parents would call me back to Kaunas, as they did. I packed my things, wrote a good-bye letter to Mr Zygmunt and spent a few days with Stach. I was becoming more certain that I loved him but not quite enough as yet and was looking forward to seeing him in Kaunas in August. I was disappointed not to receive a reply from Mr Zygmunt. The last night in Chyliczki we spent talking and neither of us knew how long we would be separated.
Arriving in Warsaw I left my luggage at the station and went to get the remaining things from my room in Warsaw, where a very pleasant surprise awaited me. There was a letter from Mr Zygmunt and… Mr Zygmunt was there too, waiting for me. I read the letter in his presence. He wrote that on ‘wings of longing’ he was flying to Warsaw to see me! A wave of unreasonable happiness….I felt myself blushing and…pulled myself up sharply. He must have had some appointments with others in Warsaw on this day and used it only as a manner of speech.
He was the only one who took me to the station, (the others, including Stach, had an important seminar), helped me to find my seat, and when I was ready to say ‘farewell’ and the train about to pull out, he jumped into the train and laughed, looking at my astonishment. He said that he would like to accompany me to Bialystok.
I thought – could it be that he cares for me? Maybe he is sorry that we will be unable to see each other for a very long time or has he an appointment with someone in Bialystok?
It was a few hours travel from Warsaw to Bialystok. We spoke about ‘Kaziuk’ a monster fair in Wilno, held annually. The previous year we had spent a whole day together there. He mentioned the little amber boat I gave him the summer before last, when I wanted to go sailing with his group, but was ordered to go home straight after the exams. He spoke differently from usual, nicely and tenderly. He suggested we go outside for a smoke and look at the landscape as our carriage was the last one and we would have a very good view.
It was the deciding talk in our lives but I could not remember it even a short while later.
He said that he was free to ask me to marry him. He told me about his love affairs, but said that he was morally free to ask me to become his wife. He ever spoke about – HER – in a nice way, not saying anything bad about her, not making himself appear any better than he was. It was the deciding moment when I started to trust him implicitly.
He spoke about many things. He would try to come as soon as possible if the political situation would permit, about his general feeling towards me, etc etc but he never uttered the word I was waiting for…LOVE.
I felt truly faint but saw that he was not much better, he was so nervous. I remember patting his hand and telling him…”Don’t worry so much, we have plenty of time, you will see, we will know, it might be all right.”
Bialystok, an empty platform. Here he gave me the first kiss and my lips were so dry! Again I tried to cheer him up – “Don’t worry, most things do turn out all right. You can write me, if you want, you can address me as “Ty” (a familiar form of address). One more kiss standing on the steps of the train and the train moved away.
I felt happy and also very sad. Why didn’t he say the only word which really mattered – Love. Does he think that a marriage proposal includes love as a matter of fact? But it does NOT! Love is more than a marriage proposal!
I remembered last autumn when I was going from Kaunas to Warsaw. It was Czeslow then who came to the Polish border with me. Czes told me he loved me. He was hoping that I would come back home free, without ties. Czes did not ask me to feel bound to him, he only wanted to let me know that he would wait for me, hoping I would come back the same as I was then. Czes had flowers and spoke about love. Zyg had neither flowers nor did he speak about love.