1. Leon Guttmann (“Katz”)
My father, Leon, was born on May 26, 1881 in a town called Żółkiew1, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunately, I never met my father’s parents and cannot recall their names, though I know they were rather poor and lived in a shtetl.2 While still a young boy, Leon's mother passed away. His father remarried, and Leon's new mother moved in with several children from her first marriage. It was rather difficult for Leon’s parents to support the expanded family, so after several years studying at a cheder. at the tender age of eleven, Leon left home to obtain his financial independence. I don't know whether he even asked permission to leave—it wouldn’t surprise me if he had just left a note. Once leaving home, he worked as a delivery boy for restaurants, moving from town to town and eventually graduating to the role of waiter. This was a role he retained until the end of his stay in Poland—by then he had his own section of an elegant restaurant near the theater and would share profits with the owners. Despite very minimal formal education, Leon mastered Polish and German and was an avid reader of newspapers. He had the look of an aristocrat despite his modesty, and was often remembered fondly by people who only met him briefly.
2. Frida Guttmann (née Parnes)
At the end of Leon’s journeys he arrived in Lwów3. There he met Frida, my mother, at a wedding. She was a great beauty at the time and much sought after.4 Frida was born in 1885 (to Rosa and ?) on a rural estate called Jasne near the city of Brody.5
At the estate, they mostly grew hops for making beer. Frida worked very hard there and was proud of how nicely they made out. As she tells it, her mother (Rosa), a rather chubby woman, often complained of the physical difficulty of farm work. The family had some livestock: mostly cows and horses. There was even a mikve on the property. The house itself featured a large dining room that was often filled with guests who were passing through the area. Once, two students came by on their way from Russia to Lwów to study Torah, and ended up staying at the estate for a whole year. The family never asked travelers for money, which left them open to being taken for granted. I think often the guests had the impression of a rather prosperous farm and didn’t realize that all the profits made by the family were spent simply maintaining the estate.
One of Frida's aunts, the owner of a few businesses in her town, was a particularly horrid guest. She would arrive with a housekeeper and a dog and a whole entourage to stay there for the summer, giving orders and insisting that her carriage be filled with potatoes upon her departure. My mother, while good natured, could scarcely find the words to describe how rude this aunt was.
Frida had three siblings: Emma, Clara and David. David had been a prisoner of war during WWI – we used to have a photo of him in uniform riding a horse.6 Growing up, she and her siblings had thought the estate belonged to her family, a rarity among Jews at the time. In fact, the land had been leased to them for twenty-five years, and when those years were up, it was promptly reclaimed. This was a great disappointment for my mother and her siblings, as they were under the impression that they would be able to keep the property through the generations. But one day the owner showed up, and that was that.
By the time I was born the farm no longer existed. I remember going to Lwów with my mother to visit my grandparents, but don’t remember much about them. They never came to Bielsko, though my mother kept the house kosher under the pretense that they would visit someday.