Monday, August 22, 2011

Mother and Me: Escape from Warsaw 1939 by Julian Padowicz 2008

"Here, Padowicz painstakingly details how his Jewish mother, an unlikely leader if there ever was one, fled the Nazi invasion and guided her family to safety."  from a review by Douglas Lord in Library Journal 5/6/2010

When Hitler invaded Poland, Julian Padowicz was a seven-year-old growing up in Warsaw, the privileged son of a well-connected family. Immediately his step-father and uncles joined the Polish army and before he knew it his mother gathered him up, and along with her two sisters-in-law and their children they fled Warsaw in a truck commandeered from the family factory. They took food and money and they sewed their jewelry into secret compartments in their clothes.

Padowicz, who finally immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, tells this story with great skill, telling it as a seven-year-old would have experienced it: his fears, his confusion, the alternating love and disdain he had for his mother. He has included comic moments that remind us that despite the hardships they endured, he was, after all, only seven and not totally aware of the precariousness of his situation. Part of his confusion and humor has to do with his being Jewish but his having been brought to church and taught Catholic prayers by his beloved governess who spent more time with him than his mother did. His being Jewish in a Catholic country is a thread throughout the story and he is constantly trying to sort this out.

His use of dialogue reflects a talent for fiction; it is clear he is dramatizing scenes he remembers and fleshes them out with believable dialogue. He says in the beginning that he doesn’t remember everyone accurately and since he experienced those he met along the way the way a seven-year-old would have experienced them, he has changed the names of characters who are important to the story he is telling, but who are not fully formed figures in his mind.

One of the points his story demonstrates is that leaving Warsaw was the right choice, but that leaving in and of itself did not guarantee survival. Money went only so far when there was little or no food to be had. You get the sense that his mother and his aunts did everything they could to protect their children and to keep them  from being scared, but they often were desperate for food and firewood. Padowicz overheard conversations between his mother and other adults that helped him to know more than he was being told.

This memoir is a tribute to his mother who took risks that paid off for both of them, risks her sisters-in-law were not ready to take. When she needed to deal with the Russians they encountered everywhere, she spoke to them in perfect Russian, telling them her mother came from Moscow. Befriending, flattering and flirting with all authorities who she thought might be able to help her, she also tried to play on their sympathy for a mother and child traveling by themselves. In this way, along with her cash, she got them out of Ukraine and into Hungary which was still free. This is where this part of the story ends. The continuation of their story is in Ship in the Harbor which was published in 2009.

To read an obituary of  the author's mother Barbara (Basia) Rozenfeld Padowicz Weisbrem Gabard click here.

Moses Rosenfeld
    Pavew Rozenfeld – son of Moses
    Basia (Barbara)  Rozenfeld – daughter of Moses; married to Natan Padowicz; second husband Lolek (Leon) Weisbrem
        Yulek (Julian) Padowicz – son of Basia and Nathan; author; married to Donna
            Karen, Joanne, Nadine Padowicz – daughters of Julian 

Edna Tishman – sister of Lolek Weisbrem
    Fredek Tishman – son of Edna and Lolek
Paula Herbstein – sister-in-law of Basia
    Sonya Herbstein – her daughter

Lodz, Poland
Warsaw, Poland
Budapest, Hungary
Lvov, Ukraine


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