I was in the process of closing out my mother's house in 2004 when I made a surprising discovery. I found a box of things from my Aunt Helen's trip to Poland in 1937. My Aunt Helen Bulak (1894-1985), or just plain "Auntie" as everyone always called her, was my grandmother's sister and only sibling. Auntie Helen was a fairly well-to-do business woman with a clothing shop--or as it started out in 1919, a "millinery and dry-goods" business--on Millbury St. in Worcester, MA. Auntie was by no means rich, but definitely well-to do. In the 1930s when most people were struggling to make ends meet, my aunt was off on a two month trip to Poland. I never knew much about her trip other than she went there and brought back some souvenirs of her trip--a Polish doll, a carved wooden deer, and the like. To my surprise, in the box, I found my aunt's passport, photos, multiple menus from the dining room aboard her ship, postcards, a sailing program with information about the ship and it's passengers, a program from a play she saw in Warsaw, and most importantly her travel diary.
The travel diary doesn't look like much. It's black leather with faded gold lettering. There's a red ribbon book mark and a little gold pencil for writing notes. The writing in the diary varies from English, to Polish depending on the entry and the day, and probably Aunt Helen's mood. The entries at the beginning of the diary are pretty ordinary, kind of what you'd expect from a travel diary. They list dates, hotels, and sights visited. All pretty routine. Later in the diary though, when she visits my grandfather Adolf Szerejko's family in Warsaw, the entries change. They become more personal and offer details about the sights seen, and more importantly, about my grandfather's family in Warsaw. Aunt Helen stayed with my grandfather's brother, Feliks Szerejko, and his family for several weeks while she was in Warsaw. She also visited other members of the family while she was there.
Before I read my aunt's travel diary I knew nothing about our family in Poland, other than some of the family still lived there. I didn't know who, and I didn't know where. When I was a kid I remember my grandmother would periodically send letters, money, and packages to Poland. In return she would get a letter or an Easter card or Christmas card with oplatki, the thin unconsecrated wafers similar to communion wafers, to be shared during a holiday meal. Someone sent my grandmother a beautiful doll, dressed in Polish costume, to give to me. Who were these people? When my grandmother died all knowledge of the family back in Poland died with her. The information contained in the diary opened up a whole new world to me. My aunt's travel diary provides a glimpse of our family's life in Poland and in Warsaw in 1937. From it, I've been able to put together large pieces of the family puzzle.
My aunt visited Poland in June, July, and August of 1937. Little more than two years later Poland and Warsaw would be bombed, World War II would begin, and life would never be the same for our family in Poland. I've decided to write a series of articles over the next few weeks using Aunt Helen's travel diary as the focus of the articles. I plan to offer excepts from her diary and chronicle her trip, using what I know about the family and her trip on the eve of World War II. I hope you'll "pack your bags" and follow along with me. I've found the journey to 1937 Poland fascinating. I want to share what I know. I hope you find my story, a travelogue of sorts, and Aunt Helen's diary interesting. The ship is about to set sail. Bon Voyage...