Life in Lwów
as described by Roman Solecki
In a letter to Siec, a Polish-American English-language electronic news bulletin, (Siec, April 9, 2002) Roman
Solecki, an Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Connecticut, a U.S.
citizen and a Polish Jew who was born and spent his childhood in Lwów (now Lviv in the Ukraine), described the life he and his classmates led in Lwów in the years before WWII. Lwów was then a town with about 120,000 of each: Jews, Poles and Ukrainians. In the letter, he made reference to Leon Weliczker Wells' account of life in a shtetl and contrasted it with that of life in Lwów, where, he reported, he and his Jewish schoolmates and their families:
- Did not live in a self-imposed ghetto, rather they lived among Gentiles, even though occasionally there
were landowners who refused to rent apartments to Jews. The interests and responsibilities of these Jews were very similar to those of the non-Jews. Similarities in customs went so far that during the Christmas
season they bought and decorated a tree (drzewko) with colorful paper chains, cookies, and other non-religious decorations and on December 6th, otherwise known as Santa Claus Day, received presents. None of
the Jews he knew in Lwow sported beards of side curls, although the orthodox Jews who lived behind the
Teatr Wielki (Grand Theater) in Lwow did dress and live similarly to those in the shtetl.
- The students at the Maria Konopnika elementary school he attended, were 50-50 Jewish and Catholic (he
believes there was one Ukrainian). There were no problems going to school and every day at school started
with the boys, Jews and Catholics, standing to attention and singing "Kiedy ranne wstaja zorze, tobie ziemie,
tobie morze" ("When the Morning Dawns Break, To you the sky, to you the sea ..." a hymn of a religious but
non-denominational nature). Most days after school he and his friends went to the Stryjski Park where they
run, jumped, etc. as did Catholic boys. At school, the Jewish boys participated in all the sports. Also, accompanying his father, he went to all the soccer matches played by Lwów's first league Pogon team and two other clubs
who also occasionally made it into the first league: Czarni and Hasmonea, the latter a Jewish Club. His friends also attended such matches.
- At home his family spoke Polish. Neither his parents nor his grandparents knew Yiddish, except for a few
expressions. He once asked his maternal grandmother what language had been spoken in her mother's home
- her mother had been a landowner somewhere in Volhynia - and she replied it had been Polish.
- They did not consider themselves as superior to others, nor did they assert this in their prayers because they did not pray except during mandatory religious lessons and on major holidays. At the same time they did not want to be
humiliated like his father who had been beaten up on a Lwow street by a gang of Polish fascists from the
Falanga organization, nor like some of his older colleagues who were forced at the University to sit in the special
"Ghetto benches." However, all this didn't change his father's attachment to Poland or his disgust with Jewish
fascist or Zhabotynski.
They didn't call the Gentiles "Goys," and though they used the term "Shiksa," the derogotary meaning of
which he is aware of, it was applied to any girl. On the other hand, the word "cham" was used to describe
rude people though even after the war , some members of the polish gentry referred to peasants as "chamy"
Moreover, he quotes a very well know passage in Wyspianski's famous play, The Wedding, where the word
cham is used:: "Miałeś chamie złoty róg". They had no contact with small farmers (peasants)
who were Ukrainian and it was not a term they applied to them. The maids, however, were mostly Ukrainian peasant
girls. Though some were treated lousily by their employers, Jews and Catholics alike, that was not the rule.
Solecki concludes his letter to Siec warning against assuming that the experiences and life described by Leon
Weliczker Wells in his book "Shattered Faith" regarding Jewish life in Stojanow, a town of three thousand
inhabitants evenly split between Jews, Poles and Ukrainians, were representative of those of Poland's
3,500,000 Jews many of whom fought for and died for Poland, were murdered in Katyn, or spent years in
Kazakhstan, Nogaysk and other soviet "resorts."
During WWII Roman Solecki, assumed a false Aryan identity, became a member of the Polish underground army, took part in the Warsaw Uprising and was deported to Germany.
Posted with Prof. Solecki's permission.