akcja Konin
Miasto dla Obywateli - Obywatele dla Miasta

V. The Leszczynskis and the Ejzens (part 2)


Text: Magdalena Krysińska-Kałużna, April 2022

Majer Juda Ejzen, an attorney from prewar Konin, graduated from a junior high school in Kalisz, and his future wife, Magdalena, studied in the Coeducational Jewish Junior High School which operated in Konin in the years 1919-1929. The language of instruction there was Polish, while Hebrew was a taught subject.

The junior high school was created due to the efforts of the Jewish community and with the support of the City Council which sold a vacant lot near the Warta River for construction of the school at the price of mere 10 zloty.

An architect from Lodz plotted the plans for the new building, while the administration started a funds collection for the construction. Parents donated money. Sympathizers provided loans. Lord Kapłan, a member of the administration, gave out bricks. My wealthy cousin, a sawmill owner, Aron Ryczke, provided wood and other materials.

Theo Richmond, Uporczywe Echo (English: Tenacious Echo)

Interestingly, the school’s construction was interrupted by an alleged sabotage, in which the building’s foundation was poured incorrectly so that it would not support the front walls. Thankfully, a catastrophe was averted in time, and the old Jewish junior high school building on Wodna Street is to this day used as a school for the youth of Konin.

‘Grandma graduated from the Jewish junior high school at the time when its headmaster was Leopold Infeld. She also studied at the music school and enrolled into a program at the Warsaw Music Convervatory, but then she met my grandpa and never completed the degree’ says Dorota Merlak, the granddaughter of Magdalena and Majer Juda. ‘Before the Second World War, there was the boarding house of Mrs. Komornicka, a very well-known boarding house for young ladies. It was attended by my grandma, but also the mom of Danka Czerwińska*.’

The family of Mrs. Dorota was that of globetrotters and well-educated people. Grandfathers and grandmothers studied in Warsaw, Cracow, and Vienna. When Mrs. Dorota recalls her relatives and their lives, I get a bit confused, because they had several names each.

‘That was typical for assimilated Jews. While their birth certificates were inscribed with their Jewish names, it was the Polish ones that they used on the everyday basis. It was the same in the Leszczyński family. All of them used Polish names that survived on postcards. My great-grandfather’s brother, Henryk, was also known as Herman and Chaskiel, while my grandmother’s brother, Ajzyk, was commonly referred to as Edek Szalik (“the Scarf Ed”).’

‘Why “Szalik”?’ I ask cautiously, wondering if maybe it’s some kind of a polonization of a Jewish name.

‘During some kind of national holiday there was a parade that the junior high youth took part in. Uncle Edek was carrying a banner. Great-grandma Róża walked out on her balcony, noticed her son and shouted: “Edek! Your scarf!”. And it stuck.’

We laugh how typical for a Jewish mother that was. I ask if Mrs. Dorota knows a joke about the Jewish mother that called her son home. The child asks: ‘But am I cold or hungry?’. Mrs. Dorota reciprocates with her own joke: ‘What’s the difference between a Jewish mother and a terrorist? With a terrorist you can negotiate...’
Edek should have known that he didn’t stand a chance and put that scarf on, I think to myself.

Mrs. Dorota’s relatives spoke four languages.

‘In a miraculously preserved ID of my great-grandfather it is written that he spoke Polish, German, Russian and Jewish, but they mostly used Polish. Everyone spoke in Polish. That is why my mother managed to survive.’

* Mrs. Danuta Czerwińska, who died in 2020, was a person well-known to many Koninians. Among her different endeavors, she ran a private animal sanctuary.

Translation: Ada Kałużna

Róża Leszczyńska

Edek Leszczyński with friends at school

Natan Leszczyński, son of Chaskiel and Mirla

A celebration in Koninie, 1930s. Róża Leszczyńska on the left in the first row.

Photographs courtesy of Mrs. Dorota Merlak

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