Cresent Hotel, Aden
28th November 1941
My dear Tomasz,
This is my third letter to you, care of your address in Bloomsbury square, the last I have for you. I’m no longer convinced you are still residing with Mrs Stanmore, since you didn’t reply to my last two, though of course you may have replied and posted letters which simply didn’t reach me in Budapest or Casablanca.
I imagine that Imperial College is no longer running the metallurgy course, whilst London endures the blitz. It may be no more than rubble now, from what I have heard of the terrible bombing. Have you spent your nights in the London underground stations? They report here that everyone is driven into their cellars and into the tunnels of the railways to escape the bombs. I hope so much for your safety.
And what of Max? I trust you are both still living together and that you are keeping an eye on his behaviour. I assume he managed to finish his studies, and that he passed his matriculation examination, though he will have had to pull up his socks to do so. I would hope that he is considering some gainful employment in London, where there is a thriving timber import business. I do of course have many contacts but until I hear what he is doing, it is probably best not to try and advance those opportunities. It would also be likely that their wharfs were bombed during the blitz, as these would be prime targets.
As you can see from the letterhead, I am now in Aden, and have travelled with Olek, Maryla and her two children from Budapest, via Casablanca. I was only able to meet up with Olek three months ago, after having been discharged from the regiment, owing to ill health (nothing to be too concerned about, simply a recurrence of my angina). We were stationed in Budapest, but the regiment was being disbanded, and many of my compatriots were travelling to Scotland under General Kukiel, to form an army in exile to help the British fight Hitler. Apparently, Stalin has released a large number of Polish soldiers from prison, to help fight Hitler, since he decided to attack Moscow. I was advised not to go with them, but to go south to Palestine or somewhere else which is hot and dry, and now that we are together here, I also feel that Olek will need support with looking after Maryla and the children. If you are able to find where the regiment is stationed, there are some very fine men among them and you could do worse than join up. I expect there is an headquarters for the Polish Free Army in Edinburgh. I’m not sure what can be done by our chaps in Scotland, though I understand that the Allies see this as a potential point of invasion from Hitler across the North Sea, but I am sure they need all the help they can get.
Olek is not so well himself, and he has suffered a minor heart attack since we last met. He has aged considerably, and now sleeps a great deal. He was so worried about Maryla and the children, caught as they were between the German and Russian advances, and then living under the Bolsheviks for a year or more, and it seems to have taken all his resources to get this far. Maryla has lost a great deal of weight, and the children were very quiet for some time after they all escaped. It is so saddening to see what a sorry state they are all in, and I do what I can to build them up again.
It has been a torturous journey, full of mishaps and administrative blocks. We have been ‘on the run’ from the advance of Hitler into Africa, and after a great deal of trouble, not to say expense, in Casablanca, we finally find ourselves in a relatively safe haven, in this British protectorate, where there is a thriving Jewish community. We have been here in Aden for two weeks, awaiting more documents, and tickets which will allow us to travel on to Karachi. I must say that it has been a source of great frustration that I have been unable to reach London to find you and Max, and of more than frustration to tell you that I am still unable to locate or communicate with your dear mother.
I appreciate that you must be extremely worried about her and little Anna, since they returned to Krakow almost two years ago. Though I have not exchanged letters with Miriam, I have in fact heard about her and Anna, and to my knowledge, they are still OK. Here is what I do know:
Your mother took Anna from Krakow to Naleczow soon after returning home, along with your aunt Ania and uncle Paul and their children, because of the declaration of war, and their obvious fear of being over-run by the Nazis. There she met up with Maryla, Stephen and Anita, and everyone decided they should travel east, as Hitler advanced across Poland. I gather they settled in Lwow, where your resourceful mother found work in a charity, close to where aunt Ada’s mother lives. Nevertheless, from the descriptions of life in Lwow from Maryla, I have to say that I have been very worried about your mother and Anna’s experiences under the Russians. Miriam is, as you know, one of the most resourceful people alive, and I am convinced that if anyone can survive this terrible ordeal, she can.
Olek was in Danzig, and through his diplomatic contact, Conrad Brzozowski, who was visiting Lwow regularly, managed to obtain travel visas for Maryla and the children, but was unable to help Miriam. I had already tried to apply for documents for her and Anna, when I thought they were in Krakow but of course I failed. Besides, I have only discovered their whereabouts recently, so it would have been impossible to send anything care of Krakow.
Olek retains his diplomatic papers from the work he did in Bucharest for the Rumanian government many years ago, and surprisingly, he was able to persuade the authorities in Berlin that these still have some validity… But that is another story. Since Olek and Maryla and I met up, I have of course written many times to the address in Lwow which Maryla had for Miriam, but to no avail. Your mother must have moved, or else Conrad failed to deliver my letters, because I did not hear back from her. Maryla brought one letter with her from Miriam, which I have beside me. It is now four months old, and I have been unable to reply, since Conrad did not return to Danzig before we left. Olek thinks he may have been arrested in Lwow, where we hear that many politicians and diplomats have been jailed by the NKVD, and sent to Siberia. In your mother’s letter, she asks after your wellbeing, and sends her love, in case I am able to contact you. She said that Anna was unwell and that they were barely able to find enough to eat. She asks me for money, which I am unable to send her. She tells me that the banks have confiscated our accounts, which I of course knew, and she asks for news of Olek. I am sorry that I have not been able to respond to her questions.
I hear from Olek that Stashek Frenkel is in Britain, and it is possible that you could try and find him with the Polish forces there. I’m sure that is a tall order, but Gabriela is still in Krakow, so perhaps he could write to her from England, since their letters would not be subjected to the same scrutiny, and perhaps she can reach Miriam. Such a convoluted process this is to send and receive news!
So, I must say that we are forced to keep moving, and Karachi is not somewhere I would have considered in my wildest dreams as a destination, but here in Aden, one has to take one’s chances when they come. While most people seek transportation to the United States of America, it is apparent that all the steamers have been requisitioned for the Atlantic Fleet, and nobody is getting berths any more.
Tomasz, you know I am not a religious man, but if I were, I would pray for your and Max’s safety. For now, I have to assume you are in perhaps the last safe haven in Europe. I hold myself responsible for asking your mother to return to Krakow from Paris when she was with you there, and I am unfortunately unable to turn back the clocks and recommend to her that she travel with you to London. As you know, we were very often apart at that time, and it was so very hard to know what was best in those weeks before the declaration of war. So I must live with the consequences of my decision, and ask those who still believe in a higher power to pray for your mother and sister’s safety.
I so hope this missive reaches you, and that you will be able to write to me: Poste Restante, Karachi.
With much love