Her First Working Years

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It was June 1921, my brother and I had both finished school. He was only one class ahead of me, though nearly two years older.
He and Sevek and Fredek all went on to study law. But now it was summer. I was invited by Niuta to spend a few weeks at their farm. I did not want to go because of how uneasy I felt at their home, but I had not been to the country since 1914 and I felt that I just could not refuse. I was a dreamer in those times, I liked to dream about nature, forests, moons, and so on, and I felt that it would be wonderful to spend a few weeks in the country. They had two houses there, one of which they occupied, while letting apartments in the other one during the summer season. There were a few young people in the other house, though older than us – boys and girls in their twenties, and altogether it was quite an enjoyable holiday. There was a river there, and boats, and we used to spend lots of time on the river or on its bank. None of us could swim at that time. I put on weight, and came home looking very good and nice.

When I finished the course in shorthand and typing, and started to look for my first job, it was as far as I remember 1922. It was a very difficult time to find a job for the beginner I was, but after waiting a few months I got a job. My cousin Rena, who was a cousin of Władek, helped me. She was working in her uncles’ office, and they promised me a job if there would be any opening. As I mentioned before, they were very rich, after coming from Russia.
They were three brothers: Maurycy, Władysłwaw, and Jerzy. Maurycy, the father of my friend Władek, was Rena’s uncle, he was the brother of her late mother. Rena was my cousin on the side her of father, he was my mother’s brother Zygmunt.
They had a not very big office not far from where we lived. They imported many things from abroad, and soon the firm grew bigger, they opened new premises, very large, with many departments, I don’t remember everything that they used to import. I only remember two departments, one of cars, and one of glue, I worked in the department of glue, I was a secretary to the vice-director.
There were presidents, vice-presidents, directors, vice-directors, clerks, boys, girls, and so on. Every one of the presidents down to the vice-directors had his own room, with very nice, even luxurious furniture. Every one of the presidents, they were those three brothers, was very rich, had a wife, a family, cars, and each one of them had a mistress on whom they spent plenty money, they kept beautiful flats for them, and cars, bought them expensive jewellery and furs, and went out with them openly, the wives did not say anything, if they objected it was in silence.
It was in fashion in those days, there was a particular kind of women, they had of course to be young and pretty, but they would not work, they just lived at the expense of a very rich man, it did not matter whether married or not. They were called in Polish “Kokotta”.
I worked in that place for over a year, as long as the firm existed. After they had spent more money than they could, not only from that business, they had also opened a big bank in Warsaw, spent not their own money, and when they found out that they had gone bankrupt, Maurycy, Władek’s father, closed himself in his office and killed himself, just shooting the gun into his head, the two other brothers sold everything they could, paid as many debts as they could, and disappeared, they are probably dead a long time ago.
A new life started for me with this new job. I was working in that office together with one clerk. I was then about 18 or 19, he was 25. His name was Mieczysław, a baptized Jew, as were most of the people in that office. He was in love with me, and I went out with him sometimes, not very much.
I was very much in love with my vice-director, Wacław, a married man with two children, about 35. He was also very much in love with me. He called me to his room about 20 or 30 times a day, without any reason. He pretended he had some work for me, but when I came in he just said that he wanted only to look at me, that I was so beautiful, that he never saw so beautiful a girl before.
He sent me presents, for instance, beautiful pictures, and wrote that I was as beautiful as that picture. I only remember one, it was “Spring” by Botticelli. Flowers would come from him nearly every day, sometimes in beautiful crystal vases, sometimes beautifully arranged in some nice baskets. He sent me beautifully written love letters. He wanted to divorce and to marry me, but although I thought I was in love with him, I did not agree to that, as I never agreed in my life to anything like that. I had a principlhe whe, that I did not want to build my happiness on somebody else’s unhappiness, and I knew that his wife loved him, and he had two young children.
We did go out sometimes, people of course started talking, but I did not care. He did not know that I was not a virgin and I did not tell him that, I don’t know why, but I just did not feel like telling about that to anybody, and he behaved correctly and with due respect to me.
When I went for holidays, for a month, it was not far from Warsaw, I was living there with my cousin Romka and her family, he used to visit me. And it was he who took me to my first ball. It was a Polish ball, where I felt pretty strange. I had my first ball dress then, it was a long black velvet dress, very deeply cut on top, front and back, and we danced all the Polish dances like the krakowiak, mazurek, kujawiak, etc.
During those times Mieczysław was in love with me and he proposed to me, I dutifully told my mother, but as I was not in love with him, and he was not a Jew, we decided with the help of my Uncle Zygmunt that I would not marry him.
Many times in my life I had two affairs at the same time, really going out with a single man, and attracted to a married man. Today I don’t think it was very honest, but then I thought it was fun.
I was still seeing Romka and Irena in those times but not so often. Each one of us had some affairs of their own.
But in that office it was not only those two men who were in love with me. There were more, but the people were exaggerating, telling stories that every man in the office, from the president to the office boy, was in love with me. That was of course a lie.
Well, I could say that both of the affairs died a natural death as soon as I left that office, I don’t think I ever saw any of them again.

While I was working there I got some pains in my appendix, and my Uncle Markus, the felczer, said it was better to operate than to wait for an attack with fever. As we had not money for the doctor, and it was out of the question to go to the public hospital, the thought of that would not cross our minds even for a moment, he arranged with his surgeon to do the operation as for his family, without money. I had only to pay for about 2 weeks stay in the private clinic.
I was not afraid at all, and my mother used to remind me even many years after, how I put make-up on my face when they took me to the operating room. My mother of course worried more than I did.
The first few days after an operation were of course not pleasant, but after that it was like a holiday. My mother was allowed to stay with me all the time, they moved a bed for her into my room, and I was allowed to have as many visitors as I wanted. My room was full of flowers and beautiful boxes of chocolates. My doctor told me that up till then the only rooms that looked like that in his clinic were of stage or film stars.
After two weeks I left the clinic and had to stay in bed at home another two weeks, after that I had to see the doctor. I went to see him once, and he told me to come again, everything was all right already, but he was trying to make love to me. As I did not like the idea, I never went to see him again, and I remember that I was very disgusted by him and by all other men I met, everybody was the same, everybody liked me, and everybody was trying the same… I felt a disappointment in life. It was about this time that Mieczysław proposed to me and Wacław wanted to get divorced for me, but my interest in him was getting smaller, I had enough, I just got sick of men. At that time the company stopped existing and I lost the job.
After another couple of weeks my mother decided that we could go to see a picture. It was my first night out, I was very excited, we dressed up and went outside and when I took my first step going down I missed the step and fell down a whole flight of stairs.
Well, my mother was very worried that my wound would open, she took me straight to bed and called my Uncle Markus, but happily nothing happened. That is another silly fact of my life that I always remember.

My brother got married for the first time when he was 20 years old, it was in 1923.
He had been going steady with a girl for a couple of years already. They were very deeply in love. He was very good-looking, and she was small, fat and ugly but very rich. But he loved her and she loved him. She was very jealous of him and I remember that once closed herself in her bathroom for two days and nights. I really don’t know why, but her parents did not think my brother was a good match. He had nothing, he had left the university, I think because of her though I am not sure, and had started to work.
He was also a very popular futurist then, writing futuristic poems. He had a friend, Kazik, a very well-known futurist poet then, and they used to hold evenings and recite their poems. I once went to such an evening, there was a crowd of youngsters in a very big hall and everybody got very excited.
His friend Kazik made a very good career from his talent, I heard he is living in Hollywood and writing screenplays for films, and made plenty of money. He ran away from Poland during the war to America and was lucky. My brother gave it up. He just worked on jobs, as a journalist, or translating films for the Polish cinemas, and never making plenty of money.
Coming back to that girl, Genia, he did not marry her, but I think just to spite her, he married her girlfriend, who was very pretty, with beautiful red hair, and very large black velvety eyes, and very slim. But he did not love her. She was also intellectually not on the same level as he was, they were well off, and though he did not get any money, they lived with her parents in a very nice flat, and they kept them. He worked, but he did not have to spend money on his wife, or on housekeeping.
They were not happy. I suspect that he kept seeing Genia, and she amused herself quite openly with every man she wanted. Her name was Felka. She was a very nice girl and my mother and I liked her very much. She liked us too. At this time I started to be close to her and to see her more than my friends Romka and Irena. In fact I think my mother and I were closer to her than my brother, her husband.
She did not work, she had no children, she lived with her parents, she had no housekeeping to do, they had a maid, she had nothing to do all day long. She was a very good, natural girl, but not very deep. Above all she liked to dress nicely, look nice, and be popular with men. Her ways were very strange to me, but I got used to them and started to like them. As her husband had not much time for her, and she preferred our little house to her big one, she spent plenty of time with us. We went to the pictures and cafés together.
When I left that office and was without a job, it was in the Depression of the 1920s in Warsaw, and it was pretty difficult to get a new job. This was pretty hard for me, because I had got used to spending plenty of money, on clothes, most of what I earned, I dressed very nicely, and very much in fashion, I went out a lot then, not only with those men, but also with my brother, who used to take me to balls, and I had to have nice dresses.

I was looking for another job for quite a long time, because the Depression was still on in Poland. My mother made money, but it was always seasonal, and never enough to put any aside for the off-season time. There were many times when we had no money for dinner. My brother was married already.
We both of us were not very fussy, so very often we bought 4 cakes, and had a glass of tea and 2 cakes each for dinner. I remember very often my Uncle Zygmunt, when passing on his way home, dropped in to see us, and asked what we had for dinner, when we told him, he was disgusted, and gave us money to make or buy a dinner in a restaurant. There was such a big family on my mother’s side, but nobody was interested to help her steadily, Uncle Zygmunt was the only one who showed interest, but his help came only periodically, nothing to count on.

I suppose that it was 1925 when I got my second job, it was at a very big advertising agency, which had its head office in Germany, but our office was quite independent. They did not need anybody in the advertising agency itself, they had started a new enterprise called “Księga Adresowa Polski”, in translation : “The Address Book of Poland”. It was really many books, in those books you could find out about every city, village, farm in Poland in a few words, where and how to find it and what is expected to be there, if there is a post office there, or a phone, and so on.
It was a job for which they engaged about 100 persons and rented new offices. A special director was sent from Germany, who had received specialized training there. He was, however, a Polish Jew. He was a very capable young man, the son of extremely rich textile manufacturers from Łódź, and his parents lived in a mansion in Łódź, but he was a very modest and hard-working man, not attractive and bold. He organized the job very well.
At the beginning a few of us used to work in the main office, where I met my husband, Benjamin, for the first time. He was called Beniek when he was a young boy, but later on he changed it to Bronek. As my brother’s name is also Bronek, I will refer to him as Ben.
I was the first to notice him. He was not interested in me at the beginning. He was going out at that time with another girl, Lonia, I knew her from school, she was at the same school, only one class lower. I would never have known her except for the fact that we were the only two girls in the school who ever got the highest mark from the professor of mathematics. It was 5, and he was never known to give it to anybody but her and me. She was the best in her class, I was the best in mine.
She was a girl from a good house, but she was not a nice girl, she was then 19 and she slept with anybody she took a fancy to. She was not attractive, dirty, she had always dirty neck and ears, she had a very unpleasant smell, she did not wear make-up. she was very small, but she attracted men.
I still don’t know why.
But I liked Ben and I was determined to take him away from her.
She hated me from the first moment she saw me in that office.
I did not plan anything, but sometimes, occasionally, looked at him, when he passed next to me.
At the beginning he seemed not to notice, but after a while he started to glance in my direction too, and his glances were longer the longer he knew me.
When Lonia went out with a boy, she showed off about it, everybody knew, she made no secret about it, and she always made them carry for her everything she needed. Well, I suppose it was not much for sleeping with her.
After about 3 months of such a situation, Ben broke up with her, and I was the one who asked him to come and see my mother and me, to which he agreed.
After that I did not have to ask any longer, he was every night at our place and we had all evening meals together, all three of us. After some time we dropped “Pan” and “Pani”, and he also started calling my mother “Madga”, and “ty”.
We used to go out quite a lot, to pictures and night clubs, which he loved, but not very often, because he did not make much money. He loved to dance, and he was very good at it. I could dance well, but I could not compete with him. Your Father’
He had an absolute ear for music, he could play anything, whatever he had heard once only. The trouble was that he did not want to learn music when he was a boy, however much his parents had tried to teach him, whenever the teacher came, they could not find him, he always managed to hide somewhere, and after some years they gave it up. But now when he was grown up he was sorry, but it was too late to study. He could have been a great artist. He had a great talent, which he wasted.
He also had the hands of a pianist. Very long and very thin fingers. When he bought wedding rings, his wedding ring was smaller than mine. But he never wore it.
He still went to the Conservatorium and studied “harmony”, for which he did not need practice, only theory.

But before I go any further I think I’d better write about his family. Next section →

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