Join me as I travel to the villages where my Polish ancestors lived before emigrating to the United States. This will be my first trip to Poland, a journey I have dreamed about my whole life. I created this page to share the experience with my family, my friends, and visitors to this site. I will have my laptop with me so that I can stay in touch with home and document the trip. This page will be update daily until I return to the states.
Week 1: Journey to Podolsze
Although she had never been there, my mom knew the name and location of the town where both her parents were born and raised. My grandparents, Jan Adamski and Aniela Skrobacz were both from the village of Podolsze, which is located near the Wisła (Vistula) River about halfway between Oświęcim and Kraków. Their church was less than a mile away in the town of Zator.
My babcia died shortly after I was born, so as a boy I never heard any of her stories about life in Poland; my other grandparents died long before I was born, so anything that I was able to learn about my Polish roots was picked up second hand from my mom and dad. They shared what they could.
Several years ago, after my mom's youngest sister passed on, I found several old photos taken in Poland carefully wrapped in tissue paper among my aunt's belongings. I believe these photos were my babcia's
Although my dad knew his dad was born in a place called Piaseczno and he knew Piaseczno was in that part of Poland controlled by Germany during the Partition, he did not know the exact location of the town. His dad, Jacob Jasiek, died when my father was only nine years old, so I doubt my father ever got to hear many stories firsthand about life in Piaseczno. It's been 155 years since my great grandfather left Piaseczno. Of course no one living there today will have any memory of him or knows the specific reasons why he left, and that's okay with me; I just want to see where he lived.
The problem, as I discovered when I started doing my research, was the fact that there are about 15 villages or towns in Poland named Piaseczno. Furthermore, although I tried, I could not find very much information about the towns online or locate them on any maps. With the help of Laurel Keough of the Polish Genealogy Society of NYS, I was able to get my hands on the
ship's manifest, which revealed my grandfather arrived in New York on July 31, 1857 with his father, (Ambrosius) his stepmother, and two younger siblings. They were from the Piaseczno known by the Germans as "Petznick". Armed with that critical information, I was able to hire Emil Krasnodębski, a genealogist from Warsaw, to get the family records, a task that did not take him long to accomplish. When I saw the baptismal, marriage, and death records of my ancestors, I knew it was time to plan this trip to Poland.
Here are a few photos of Piaseczno I found online:
momentos, and Ithink it is possible, even likely, that some or all of the people in the photos are my ancestors. Here are a few of the photos:
Jasiek's family records were found here (above photo) at Saint Bartholomew the Apostle Church in nearby Sępólno-Krajeńskie. The thumbnail (above left) displays an artist's rendering of the church as it looked in the 19th century. The original wooden church was erected in 1360. The video on the left (below) shows present-day Sępólno-Krajeńskie; the other shows what its inhabitants saw only one day after the initial invasion of Poland in September, 1939:
Thank you, Kasia Adamski. for creating and maintaining the above website.
August 25 & 26: I made it to Kraków safe and sound. I especially enjoyed the trip from NYC to Warsaw, not because of the 8 hour flight, but because of the conversation I had with the person seated next to me. She spoke no English so we had to rely on my broken Polish to communicate. Somehow we managed, and my lack of communication skills provided a few laughs and helped us pass the time.
Poland looks beautiful from the air. It appears they do not have a lot of billboards and distracting advertising along their highways, and I think that's great. I saw a few large billboards near the Krakow airport upon my arrival, but not enough to turn me off. I hate roadside advertising and I hope it does not creep into the the Polish landscape as their economy continues to bloom.
Good new: the airline lost my bags! I had decided the best way to travel from the airport to my hotel was by bus, so thanks to LOT, I did not have to worry about my luggage when boarding the bus and walking to my hotel. The airline will deliver it my hotel as soon as they find it. How convenient!
More good news: it's raining here in Kraków! I guess that means our Polish cousins don't have to worry about the kind of drought we experienced in the States this summer. The rain is light so it shouldn't slow me down much.
Some little things are different here. When I got to my room I couldn't turn the lights on. It turns out you have to insert your magnetized key card into a little gizmo on the wall to activate the electricity. Now how was I supposed to figure that out, especially in a semi-dark room! Oh yeah, by the way don't think they fooled me by telling my my room is on the first floor. I already knew that in Europe the first floor is the second floor. Europeans think of the first floor as the ground floor; go up one floor and you are on the first floor. I think the American system is superior, of course. By calling the ground floor the first floor, we are saving a whole lot in building materials by eliminating an entire floor all together!
As you can see, I haven't done anything yet, so please check back later. Breakfast is ready. See ya soon...
The day started out rainy, then the rain stopped and it got windy, then the wind settled down and the sun came out. Such a beautiful day and such a beautiful city. I basically walked around the old, historic part of town and took pictures. Walking through Wawel Cathedral was a very moving experience, to be sure. It has been the main burial site for Polish monarchs since the 14th century. You can't take pictures inside, so you won't see them here. Sorry about that.. Actually I went to several places today that adhere to the same policy, so all I can show you are exterior shots. I also went to Mass at St. Mary's. It was a very solemn and wonderful experience, but the same deal with taking pictures. I have taken 224 pics today so far. Here are just a few. I will hopefully write comments about each at a later date. I am pressed for time right now.
Tuesday, August 28
The good news is I am having a wonderful town in the amazing city of Kraków. The bad news is the airline has not as yet found my luggage, which of course means I have no clothes. I remember thinking before I left that I must plan for this situation and pack extra clothes in my carry on. However, the laptop in my backpack was so heavy, I decided against packing any extra stuff. Lesson learned. Fortunately, there's a world-class mall nearby. I went there last night for a few essentials, but now that I am beginning to lose hope of seeing any of my things soon, I have to get serious about shopping. (Sob, my good jeans are gone!) I had planned to take a side trip to Auschwitz today, but I think after Galeria Krakowska I'll bum around Kazimierz, the old Jewish, quarter instead. I need clothes!
Got gotki - Well, I just got back from the mall, so I am now ready to enjoy the rest of the day in comfortable jeans. I should also report that I continue to entertain the natives with my pitiful attempts to speak Polish. I hate to brag, but there ARE a few things I CAN say well in Polish, like the Zdrowaś Maria (Hail Mary) for example. Unfortunately, it isn't very useful linguistically out on the street. Another thing I am really, really good at is giving and responding to the ages-old prayerful Polish salutation that many of us learned as kids. So on the way back from the mall I saw a nun walking down the street, and as she approached I tipped my hat and said, "Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus". She smiled and responded in kind. Made my day.
SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN: The airport just called. They think my bag is still at Kennedy Airport in NYC.
Wednesday, August 29 - Mystery Trip: Zakopane
The bus ride to and from Zakopane was as enjoyable as the town itself. I am a bit pressed for time again, so I'd better get started posting photos. I should take the time to remind you that many of the people in this area continue to lead a more traditional way of life. I guess that's mainly why people like going there. You have to respect the highlanders for their strong sense of independence and self-sufficiecy. And their music is GREAT!!! Here are some of the day's highlghts:
Tomorrow I will tour Auschwitz-Birkenau.
BELOW: The photo on the left is of the "Wall of Tears", a place at Auschwitz very special to Polish Christians. This is where many Poles were shot to death by the Nazis. On November 1st, All Saints Day, many Poles gather outside the walls to pray for the victims. Hundreds of such execution walls existed throughout Poland during World War II. The photo on the right is of the building where Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar, was put to death. Fr. Kolbe, now a saint, volunteered to die in place of a stranger. Prisoners who were sentenced to any punishment other than immediate death were sent to Block 11 and placed in cells that provided torturous conditions, such as starvation and/or total darkness. Visitors to the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum can see his cell, but taking pictures is not permitted. If you would like to know more about Saint Maximilian Kolbe, CLICK HERE.
Memorial to all who lived and died as prisoners in
Birkenau and Auschwitz Concentration Camps
These photos were taken, and now submitted here, with the utmost and deepest respect for all victims of the Holocaust.
1. Our guide got really excited when he spotted a Silver Thistle in the cemetery behind the old church. According to him, it's a fairly rare plant and we should consider ourselves lucky to have seen it.
I did some research and learned that the Dziewięćsił bezłodygowy (Carlina acaulis L.) [I think people here just call it "Karlina"] is mainly found in Southern Poland. It only opens in the sun, closing to protect its pollen when the moisture in the air increases. Years ago, it was used to forecast the weather.
There were quite a few gravestones of important Polish people in the cemetery behind the old church in Zakopane. I will tell you about them in due time. Please be patient. Remember to bookmark this page so you can easily return to this page
NOTE: I replaced the photo I found online with this one I later took myself. ------>
Following are comments about my trip to Poland added after my return home to Rochester. The part may take several weeks to complete:
LEFT: Photo of the Dziewięćsił bezłodygowy or Silver Thistle spotted in Zakopane, Poland.
(Carlina acaulis L.)
2. When I visited Wawel Hill, I noticed a large number of bricks imbedded in its northern wall inscribed with Polish names. There were hundreds, but incredibly the very first one that caught my eye was this one:
Having grown up in Buffalo's Polish neighborhood, I wondered who M.M. Nowak from my hometown was. The best way to find out was to send the photo to columnist and historian, Greg Witul of the Am-Pol Eagle, who specializes in this kind of reseach.
Greg reponded that M.M.Nowak was a wealthy Buffalo businessman whose company, Nowak Milling, became one of the largest feed mills in the city. Eventually, Pan Nowak
got into banking and moved his operations to Hammond, Indiana but, as Greg noted, gave ownership of his plant to his Buffalo employees. Maksymilian Nowak was one of many Poles who contributed to the rebuilding of Wawel upon the conclusion the Partition and World War l. I also found it interesting that he started out working in his family's grocery store just down the street from the residence of my grandfather, Jacob Johnson. Although, Mr. Nowak was quite a bit youger than my grandfather, surely they must have known each other. I'll have to look into it.
Greg Witul's article on this man who generouslly contributed to the reconstruction of Poland and the Buffalo community was published in the Am-Pol Eagle. I will provide a link to the complete article as soon as it becomes available online. Thanks for doing the research, Greg!
Bricks imbedded in Wawel's northern wall with names of contributors
4. The music of Fryderyk Chopin is the official music of my trip to Poland. I am confident you will enjoy it.
5. I was just looking over my photos of the trip. Here are a few shots I took of Krakow at night. Click thumbnails to enlarge:
ABOVE: Church of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (St. Mary's Church)
(Kościół Wniebowzięcia Najświętszej Maryi Panny (Kościół Mariacki)