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Autobiography of Frances Dworecki

by Frances Dworecki

Chapter 1
Wednesday, April 10, 2002 

     I was born June 7,1920 in a small town Lida. A Lithuanian Grand Duke Gedimin (1316-1341) established the town. The ruins of Gedimin's castle are still there. In 1386 Lithuanian Duke Jagiello became a king of Poland by marriage to Jadwiga. She was a daughter of Louis the king of Poland. The Lithuanian aristocracy and burghers accepted the Polish language and Lithuania did not exist as a country until 1918. In 1918 Lithuania became an independent republic. In the 18th century Poland was divided into three parts (1772, 1793, 1795). Eastern Poland passed to Russia. It reverted to Poland in 1919. By the time I was born Lida was a Polish town. My parent s' generation was educated in Russia and Russian was the culture and the language they were comfortable with. My generation was brought up in Polish culture. We were bilingual and we were comfortable in the use of Polish and Russian. My sister Ella was born on April 23, 1923. Is it possible that a person maintains recollection of the events that occurred at the early age? Apparently yes. I remember walking with father to visit mother in the hospital when Ella was born. Our parents met and married in Lida. Mother came to Lida after graduation from the Dental School. She was born in Vilnius (Wilno) in December 1892 as Maria Stokliski. Her father, Abram, was a Jewish teacher. There was a family of six children. Maria had two brothers and four sisters. The eldest, Eva, married and immigrated to USA before the WWI. I was told that she changed her name to Powell .They had two children . It is all I knew. I did not try to find them. It is possible that our paths crossed and we were not aware of this. 

     My father Michel Dworecki was born in Lida in November 1892 He was the first born of seven children. My parents met when Michel came to Maria as a patient. They fell in love and married in a short time. My paternal grandparents, Paul Dworecki and Frieda Epstein were owners of a small hotel. Grandfather Paul's business was in lumber. It was a very popular business in this part of the country. Mother's parents died before I was old enough to have any recollections of them. Maria became integrated into the clan of the Dworecki family. Grandma Frieda was pretty, blond with blue eyes. Grandpa Paul was tall, slim and handsome. I was told that he had a temper and had quarrels with the police about sweeping the front of their property. It was understood that the children should visit grandparents almost daily. I would drop in to say hello and to get a hug and a kiss and a candy. Grandma had always candies in the pocket of her apron. She wore an apron except when she would dress up. On this occasion it was a black lace shawl. Grandma Frieda was not only pretty, but she was a gentle and sweet person. She kept kosher kitchen and, when visiting with us, had her own dishes. I adored Grandpa Paul. He liked to have a drink. He was a heavy smoker. He managed the lumber business, while grandma was in charge of the hotel. Their children were an interesting, well-educated group. The eldest, Michel, my father, attended the Medical School in Dorpat (now in Estonia). He interrupted the study of medicine to become a teacher of mathematics and Latin. In 1919 he became the owner of a private Gymnasium. It closed in 1927. It was not able to survive in the competition caused by two schools, a city school and a Hebrew School, both with lower tuition.

     His sister Fanya, two years younger, married early. She married Aaron Glazman. He was an insurance broker. Fanya was involved in supporting a Jewish orphanage. They were killed in 1942 in the liquidation of the ghetto in Lida. Their two children survived as non-Jews. The survival of Sophie and Edek under German occupation was one of the few miraculous Holocaust stories. Father's brother Jack married Molly Dworecki and they left Lida for the USA. Jack graduated from a Dental School in New York and practiced dentistry in Brooklyn. Jack was the first president of the Lida Society. He was a talented musician and a performer. Michel and Jack were very close. I met Uncle Jack when he and Molly came to visit Lida in 1936. He was a real charmer. Aunt Liza was very attractive and very sexy woman. She graduated the Dental School following the footsteps of my mother Maria. Her husband Lowa, was a handsome and elegant man, always well dressed. His nickname was "makes a million, loses a million". His business in the lumber was very volatile. Liza was the steady financial base with a regular income, practicing dentistry. It was well known that she had many admirers and she had always a man following her. When Lowa complained to my father about the flirtations of his wife, Liza's answer was that it is none of her fault that men feel attracted to her. Even, when the Soviet forces occupied the Eastern Poland, she had admirers among the Soviet officers. It did not work with Germans. She perished in Majdanek with her two children age 9 and 11. Aunt Tanya did not attend university. She married Mietek Golembikier a student of the Academy of Stomatology. He graduated in 1935. Their son Olek was born on December 16, 1937.

     They survived the war. In the beginning they were helped by the family of a Russian Orthodox priest. At some point they had to leave the hiding place. The Germans caught them. They were sent to a small local concentration camp. A few days later there was an organized and successful outbreak from the camp. It was helped by the Jewish Partisan Brigade. At that point they joined the Jewish fighter's outfit in the forests of Belarus. They survived. Eventually the family went to Australia. Olek graduated from Medical School. He married an Australian girl. They had three children. Olek was killed in an accident while riding a bicycle. He was 42. His father's death preceded his. His mother Tanya died few years later. Father's brother, Leon fell in love with his high school teacher. They eloped and got married. In 1928 Leon entered Engineering School in Grenoble, France. He graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. His wife Bella Tunis Dworecki graduated from the Academy of Stomatology in 1933. They moved to a small town, Bychava Lubelska. When the Germans invaded eastern Poland, the family went east and eventually reached Tashkent. Bella, who was an insulin-dependent diabetic, died in a hospital in Tashkent. Leon and their little daughter Ruth joined the Polish Army. It became possible, because on 30 July 1941 the Polish Government in London signed the Polish-Soviet Agreement. The release of all Polish prisoners followed. The Polish Army was organized in Krasnodar, and eventually was given permission to leave the Soviet Union. Leon and his 7-year-old daughter Ruth reached Palestine.

     Their travel took them through Persia and Pakistan. The youngest sister Paula married Zalmen Plotkin, a physician. They left Poland for Australia in 1938. In 1940, with the help of Paula's brother Jack, they immigrated to the USA. Each of father's siblings could write a book about their life. Now, they are gone. Only Zalmen and Paula are alive and living in New York. I feel, right or wrong that it is my obligation to tell what I remember. The next generation should know the members of the family. Some of them disappeared during the German occupation of Poland 1941 to 1945. Since I described the members of the family, I am ready to write about my parents Maria and Michel. Both were intelligent, attractive and educated. While my father was a ladies' man and a charmer, mother was an energetic, no-nonsense woman, able to support her husband and their children during the very difficult situations in the life of our family. She was the tower of strength. But she was not able to save her own life and she was killed by the Germans in the liquidation of the Lida Ghetto on May 6,1942. My father was very popular. He always loved having the recognition and admiration of others. He organized and he was a chief of the Jewish Fire Fighters brigade, all voluntary and the only one serving the town of Lida and surrounding communities. He left the Firefighters in 1927. Michel loved horses and he was a very fine horseman. When we were small children we had a horse named Fink, and later another named Maly, which in translation means "Small"." Maly" was a temperamental and horse to handle, but in my father's hands he was sweet and cooperative. My father, Michel loved to ride in a horse sled in the winter and an elegant two-wheel carriage in the summer. It is so much alive in my memory. The trips to the country were fun. Father would take my younger sister Ella and me riding into the fields. He liked to sing and to whistle and we sang along. We would stop in the fields to collect poppies, ripe green peas, and whatever was ready for harvesting. The fields did not belong to us. The owners were farmers in the nearby villages.


     Most of them knew our parents. Michel was a real show off. When the occasion called, he led the firefighters on a parade, splendid on a horse with our Belgian Shepherd dog Alpha following in his footsteps. Michel enjoyed hunting. Hunting was not a sport that Jews were involved in. November comes we had a lot of venison, and wild birds. We did not have wild turkey in Poland . It was the time when my parents were successful owners of a Gymnasium and a large property with an orchard and a vegetable garden. Ella and I had a governess. Her name was Maria. Her family belonged to a poor Polish aristocracy. It was socially accepted that young women from so-called good homes were employed as governesses. Maria was pretty and loving. She read us stories. We went for walks. She taught us how to behave in different circumstances. She was a disciplinarian, but my sister and I loved her very much. She left our family in very unusual circumstances. As I wrote before, she belonged to a family with noble ancestry, but no money . It was accepted that a young lady with her background becomes a governess in a prominent family. Maria was very pretty. She fell in love with an aviator, an officer in the Polish Aviation. They had an affair. He was not permitted to marry her. An officer was permitted to marry a young lady with money and a good family background. While the family was acceptable, there was no money .One day Maria developed a sore in her throat. The medical diagnosis was syphilis.


     Ella and I were moved to our grandparent's house. Maria stayed in the apartment until ready to leave. One day on my way to school I saw her standing in the door of our apartment. I ran to her crying. She refused to hug me. I was hurt. Years later mother told me about venereal disease, the prevention and the treatment. I was 14 years old. Our parents had only compassion for Maria. She visited us years later. She underwent treatment. She was well. She never married. In 1927 the bubble burst. Father was not able to compete with two new schools with lower tuition. The Gymnasium had to close. The property was sold on auction. And the family went from rich to poor. I was 7 years old, but I remember the auctioneer's stamps on the piano and valuables. While we lost a lot, the piano and other valuables remained in the family until the tragedy of the WWII, when all was gone and mother was murdered. 

     My happy childhood ended right there.

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