..."[T]he format of the book ... reads as something of a collage. The letters and the illustrations ... and then the countdown of the 15 different journeys ... becomes this interesting mosaic." from an interview with Jasia Reichardt conducted by Jessa Crispin and reprinted in Kirkus Reviews 6/26/12
Her inheritance, 15 letters and 31 postcards sent by her mother and grandmother from Warsaw to her mother’s sister Franciszka Themerson, form the basis of the first half of the memoir. Reichardt finally read them fifty years after they were written, the contents too painful for her to confront. Franciszka and her husband Stefan Themerson had been in Paris when the war broke out and Franciszka fled to London where she worked with the Polish government in exile and worked to sustain her family back in Poland. None of Franciszka’s correspondence to her mother or sister in Warsaw has survived.
The first letter in the packet is from February, 1940. The last postcard is from June of 1942. Reichardt points out that mail was censored and that some of what her mother and grandmother wrote was in “code” which she “translates” for us. Letters were often sent through contacts in Portugal and Romania. The author's mother and grandmother fret about the fact that they were not sure Franciszka was getting all of their letters, nor they hers. Reichardt also points out that in reading the letters you can follow the deterioration of the family situation. In the early communication her family members were still living in well-appointed apartments amongst possessions like grand pianos. Eventually they were moved, along with all of the Jews in Warsaw, to the ghetto and were crammed into close quarters where nerves were frayed and disagreements broke out. In early communications the author’s mother and grandmother thank Franciszka for the packages of food she continually sends and they beg her to not spend so much of her own funds on food for them. They are fine. But as time passes, you can see that they are much more dependent on the packages and they convey this without trying to worry Franciszka. But the author makes clear that because of Franciszka’s connections to the Polish government in exile, she knew exactly what was going on.
The second half of the memoir is about Reichardt’s journeys once she is smuggled out of the ghetto with her grandmother in an ambulance, an act she later realizes must have cost her family a lot of money in bribes. History records that the first deportations from the Warsaw ghetto – the Grossaktion – started in July of 1942, so she assumes she was smuggled out in June. She and her grandmother are taken to the ghetto in Otwock where she gets instruction in the Catholic religion. She flees the ghetto with specific instructions about where to find a contact, and she receives papers that give her a new identity. Over the next months and years her journey takes her to a number of hiding places including to the homes of sympathetic Poles and to an orphanage where the nuns look after her. After the war she was reunited with her aunt Franciszka and her husband Stephan Themerson, artists, experimental film makers and founders of the alternative Gaberbocchus Press in London.
Included in the memoir are family photos, reproductions of art work by her grandfather, mother and aunt, and reproductions of documents. Also included is an annotated list of the people connected to her story, noting who survived the war and who did not, and a “Calendarium” which sets out the important dates of World War II, mostly as they relate to Poland and Warsaw.
To watch a short video of Jasia Reichardt talking about her life, click here.
To see photos from the Warsaw ghetto, click here.
Author's mother's family
Jakub Weinles – married Lucja Kaufman
Maryla Weinles – daughter of Jakub and Lucja; married Seweryn (Sewek) Chaykin
Janina Chaykin (took the name Maria Janina Ceglowska) – married Tony Richards; (became Jasia Richards, then Jasia Reichardt)
Franciszka Weinles – daughter of Jakub and Lucja; married Stefan Themerson
Author’s father’s family
Herman Chaykin (Chajkin) - married Cecylia (Cesia) Zajac
Stach Chaykin – son of Herman and Cecylia; married to Dasza (Daria) Lifszyk
Wisia (Ludwicka) Chaykin – daughter of Stach
Michal Chaykin – son of Herman and Cecylia
Pawel Chaykin – son of Herman and Cecylia
Seweryn (Sewek) Chaykin – son of Herman and Cecylia; married to Maryla (see above)
Antoni Libin – son of sister of Cecylia Zajac Chaykin; brother of Zdzislaw
Zdzislaw Libin (Libera) – son of sister of Cecylia Zajac Chaykin; brother of Antoni; married to Helena
Antoni Libin – son of Zdzislaw and Helena
Wladek Kaufman – sister of Lucja Weinles and Leon Kamir
Leon Kamir – sister of Wladek and Lucja Weinles
Ludwika (Ludka) – cousin of Franciszka and Stefan; married Henryk (Heniek) Heller [Sobieralski – surname acquired during the war]
Wanda (Wandzia) Sobieralski – daughter of Ludwika and Haniek; married to Genek Wilczynski
Jas Sobieralski – son of Ludwika and Haniek
Anka Poznanska – cousin, relationship not specified
Stefan Themerson’s family
Stefan Themerson – son of Mieczyslaw
Irena (Irka/Irenka) Themerson – daughter of Mieczyslaw; married to Stefan Miller
Hania Kawa – cousin of the Themersons; exact relationship not specified
Warsaw Ghetto, Warsaw, Poland
Zofiowka Psychiatric Hospital, Otwock, Poland
Treblinka Extemination Camp, Poland