Slav met us bright and early the next day and after breakfast we hit the street wearing our walking shoes. It was cool and crisp outside but the sun warmed us as the day progressed. Across from the hotel stood buildings that were once part of a palace compound. Now a huge iron gate topped with a family crest closed off the few of the remaining buildings.
Old Town Warsaw buildings are new since the 1950s. Slav explained that Hitler ordered the city be destroyed near the end of World War II, even as the Nazis were losing the war. Poles who fought in the underground resistance movement had dared to stand up to the Nazi invaders with street fighting and sabotage and Hitler retaliated by destroying their city. Centuries old buildings and palaces were turned to rubble. The inhabitants were given a week’s notice to evacuate before the bombings took place. The medieval looking Old Town buildings we see today were re-constructed after World War II.
My husband, Conrad and I left Michigan on a Monday night, flying to Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa airlines. That meant a short layover in Frankfurt, the next morning, where there was time to explore the airport and sample the large pretzels for sale from kiosks. We re-boarded and arrived in Warsaw before noon on Tuesday. Arif met us at the airport with a hotel driver. It was misty and cool but the driver said that with luck we would soon see a “golden Polish autumn.” We were to experience many golden memories as well.
Slav met us at the hotel within a few hours and we shared a light lunch and made updated plans for the next two days in Warsaw. He had arranged for reservation and delivery of concert tickets for a performance held that evening. Slav delivered us by cab to the venue where Brit Floyd (a Pink Floyd tribute band) played. We felt perfectly comfortable being on our own once we arrived at the right location. Waiting for the concert to begin, we took advantage of the coffee and Red Bull concession stands. Those drinks helped offset the jet lag we began to experience.
When we left the arena, the weather had changed. A heavy downpour caused the rainout of an international football/ soccer match that was held nearby that evening. The roof of the stadium could not be closed and the field was underwater. Most cabs were directed to the stadium area to pick up the hundreds of fans who were in town from England. While it drizzled, we searched for a cab. That was our first adventure…but we did it with humor and managed to get back to the Old Town area, only a bit damp.
My family’s first immigrant ancestors arrived in America in the mid-1860s from a village in the northwest part of Poland in the Tuchola Forest. Another branch arrived in 1881 from the Poznan district. Finally in 1906-1907 my husband’s ancestors left from villages in Galicia and in the Kujawy area of north central Poland. Oral family history told that any relatives that remained in Poland relocated after World War II.
Our son-in-law suggested that my husband and I make this trip in 2012. He was to attend a business conference in Warsaw for a few days in October and invited us to join him there. He dedicated vacation time to stay longer and explore family villages together on a drive tour. It would be a whirlwind trip with overnight stays in different cities each night over eleven days. After day nine, our daughter and grandchildren would interrupt school schedules and meet us in Krakow. We would drive one day through part of northern Slovakia to see even more ancestral villages; then return to southern Galicia the same night. Finally, we would enjoy one more visit to Krakow before leaving Poland.
Here Conrad and Denise pose with son-in-law, Arif in Warsaw
As we already wrote in our newsletter it was a laborious but very emotional, rewarding, full of joy and good surprises time for us, for our guests and for the families we reconnected.
Below are a few numbers summarizing the PolishOrigins Tours season in 2015:
• 6 of our genealogy guides were engaged in the Genealogy Tours from April till October.
• 15 tourist guides and tour leaders were engaged in the tailor-made and the ready-made tours.
• We visited 4 countries: Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Slovakia.
• 24 families were reconnected in these countries
• It is hard to estimate how many individuals the family reconnections affected. In one of the families in Zakopane (Mountains) region there was a lady who had…. 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren!
• Our genealogy and tourist guides spent249 days on the road
We already started preparation for 2016 and our calendar is filling up.
Next week we start publishing another blog written by Denise and entitled “A Poland Family Adventure”. Denise travels with her husband, daughter and her family throughout big part of Poland and Slovakia in search of her and her husband family places and see country of their ancestors.
If you want to find out about how we can assist you in uncovering your roots in old Poland you can fill in the request form here: http://bit.ly/genealogy_tour_poland and we will prepare detailed itinerary of your custom Genealogy Tour.
Another busy day as we played tourist in the morning. Toured the town of Tykocin which is near Kiermusy. This was the scene of the Tykocin massacre. On August 25, 1941, the Nazi’s ordered 1400 – 1700 Tykocin Jews to the town square for “resettlement”.
Men were marched and the women, children and elderly were trucked to the nearby Lopuchowo forest. There they were executed in waves and this mass execution of Polish Jews continued to spread across the Bialystok region.
Checking out of the hotel, we bid goodbye to the Obiala side of the family and headed to the Romany area to start a new chapter and research the Samelko’s. It was about a five hour drive thru the Polish countryside, including the outskirts of Warsaw. Upon arriving in the small town of Romany, the birthplace of our grandfather, Jan, and Theodore’s father, we went to the church. Zenon met with the priest and set up an appointment for the next day. He then proceeded to ask around and located a family whose parents cared for Balbina (a sister to Jan) in her later years when she was ill. They could not answer as how they were related, but felt they were in some way because you do not care for someone that is ill unless they are family.
After some discussion with Zenon and using our family tree, they were able to give us more leads as well as additional names of family members.
Note: This part of Poland is home to storks. Their nests are everywhere, on roof top chimneys and on utility poles. They spend the summer and around the middle of August migrate back to Africa.
Returned to Zaduszniki and visited the parish cemetery, but could not find any Obiala’s. Zenon spoke with some townspeople who vaguely remember an Obiala family, but could not tell for certain where the house may have been. With the priest not around, the church was not open, but mass was being held at 7:00 PM.
Not wanting to spend the day waiting, we headed to Bakowo to seek Antoni Obiala’s birthplace.
As usual we started the day with a hearty breakfast. Afterwards we met with Pawel who was going to assist Zenon with directions and take us to places of interest of the Obiala family. The first stop was at the cemetery where Wladyslawa and Zofia, sisters of our grandmother, are interred with their husbands. It was a very moving experience as Jim and I placed lit candles at the graves of the deceased. We purchased them as we entered the cemetery for the streets are lined with vendors selling items to show respect when you visit a relative’s grave. Also, all the gravesites were very elaborate as to monuments with the flowers and such.
From there we drove to Zaduszniki, the birthplace of our grandmother, and Theodore’s mother, Helena, as well as her brothers and sisters. We visited the church where the children were baptized and the family attended services. Unfortunately, the Priest was not available and we could not get inside.