Trip to Poland: June-September 1937

(Original Image and Text, Copyright (c) 2017 Cynthia Shenette) I was in the process of closing out my mother's house in 2004 when I found a box of things from my Aunt Helen's trip to Poland in 1937. My Aunt Helen Bulak (1894-1985) 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 four month-long 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 worn black leather with faded gold lettering. There's a now torn 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, when she visits my grandfather Adolf Szerejko's family in Warsaw, the entries become more personal and offer details about the sights seen and 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 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 pieces of the family puzzle. 

My aunt visited Poland in June, July, August, and September of 1937. Two years later Poland and Warsaw would be bombed, war would begin, and life for the family in Poland would never be the same. Over the next four months I hope to post excepts from Aunt Helen's diary, 80 years to the day, chronicling her trip, using what I know about the family and her trip on the eve of World War II.  

I started this project several years ago, but got too bogged down in research and never finished posting the diary excerpts.  I now work full-time and do the mom thing for my teenage son, which means life is busier than ever.  I really want to do this, but in order to make the project manageable my goal is to post diary excerpts and photographs, and if I have time to post additional research I will.  I also plan to post re-posts from the original go-around in 2010.  In order to expedite things, I am going to discontinue listing "Other Posts You Might Like" at the bottom of my posts, at least for the near future.   

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