Monday, January 12, 2009


Roma talks to Goren, a man who grew up with her parents in Przemysl, from early school through the holocaust. And most importantly, someone with a window to a lost past, to a time before the family assumed the Baran name and cloaked their Jewish origins.
Dear Lukasz,

I’m just now getting around to typing up my Josef Goren notes from last weekend. I spoke to him by phone, got his number from Mr. S. He was born in Przemysl in 1922 on Jagiellonska, and moved to Frankowskiego 3 in 1935. (My mother was across the street in Frankowskiego 2). He thinks he was in the 5th grade and my mother in the 6th. He went to the Hebrew school "Tarbut" for just 6 months with my mother, had a disagreement with one of the demanding teachers, and then transferred to the Polish government school. He was sure my mother stayed and graduated from the Tarbut, which surprised me when I read about the school online. All Hebrew classes! He called my mother "vivid, intelligent, loved to read, sharp in her answers, very sure of herself, socially popular, not deeply religious." He remembered her accordion playing. Bernard, my grandfather, he called very nice, quiet.

Goren left looking for a Polish regiment at the outbreak of war, but by the end of September 1939 he was back in Przemysl. He worked in a city office 3 days a week and attended Technikum in Lwow 3 days a week, where he stayed with a physician cousin of his father's. He met my father, but didn't know him well. When the Aktions started he went to Krakow with Christian papers. He confirmed that my father's first wife Anna Katz "Katzowna" (whose father was chief engineer of the electrical plant in Przemysl) went to Krakow in 1941 with false papers that my father had made for her, then died of meningitis there in 1943. He said Anna and Jakub were on pretty good terms, notwithstanding his lust for life (and everything else), and that she was grateful for the fine quality of the papers. Goren examined them himself and concurred.

Goren said that the sister of Mr. S was very famous in Przemysl for her beauty. Goren seemed sure that my father went to Warsaw in 1944, a fact not corroborated by Mr. S. Also in 1944-45, Goren married his wife Mania (Miriam.) After the war, his wife visited my father once in Zabrze with a friend. My mother wasn't there and I remembered that Mr. S had told me, “Your father was friendly with Goren's wife.”

Mania stayed up late playing poker with Jakub and lost $800. Goren came right down there and took his wife's place in the game, and by 3am he had my father down by $400. He seemed quite proud of it.

Apparently they visited my parents in 1954-55 in Montreal, and lost touch after that. He didn't seem to have the same loathing of my father that Mr. S did.

I'm starting to admire my father, can you believe it!?!

love, r
Lukasz confirms the "smallness" of Przemysl as he joins the newly formed Jacob fan club...
Interesting, husband of my 1st cousin twice removed, Olek Weinstock was the engineer at the electrical plant in Przemysl too. He was uncle of Maria who is at the Krakow hospital now ...

Starting to admire your father? He was fantastic guy! I liked him from the start.

L / L
Emotions well as Roma reflects on her parents, concluding that they are not better people, they are not worse ones, they are simply "more real and complex as I see them now than ever before."
Dear Lukasz,

I wish I could have known my father on his own terms. It was easy to be angry with him; he was no prize as a father in many ways. When I was a child, I saw my mother as his victim, and would defend her since she wouldn't do it herself. When I came in the room as my father was ranting, he would look up and say wryly to my mother, in Polish, "Oh, look, your lawyer's here."

I had a strange experience when he died in '88. I went with my mother to Florida to wrap up their affairs there. I was sitting on the beach listening to her speak when suddenly I became my father. For an instant I saw her humility as questionable, her victimhood manipulative and oppressive. As quickly as it came, it passed; I stopped judging my mother through my father’s eyes. But I’d seen enough so that from that moment on, I regretted the judgment of my father I had carried through his death, the child's black-and-white good-mom bad-dad caricature. My mother and father were imperfect real people, and certainly more real and complex as I see them now than ever before.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. You have come such a long way in your ability to see all the textures of who they were.

January 13, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

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