Friday, September 17, 2010

The Story of Mann

As we have become accustomed to, Lukasz in Warsaw comes through with the answers regarding Family of Mann:

Hello David,

I owe you some stories on Przemysl. The last question about Manns deserves an answer. Fasten your belt, I'll take you and Kenny on a ride.

"His sister's name was Clara, I believe.", writes Kenny. Klara died in 1941 and her tombstone is among not so many (ca. 750 out of thousands) that survived.

The sentence on the plaque of Klara's tomb reads: "To my mum who taught me to be eternally young. Son."

What's more, we have a story about her funeral, written by her granddaughter. This is a piece:

“I’m on Slowackiego Street. A little higher up is the Jewish cemetery, where my grandmother was buried during the winter. I think back to her wretched funeral: that little coffin on the rickety cart, Mother and I following behind. I go to the cemetery. […] It’s quiet and peaceful in the cemetery. Fat insects crawl over the grass. The old stone grave markers tell the histories of former families. The gold letters of the shining sepulchres call to those who have gone and assure them of the impeccably good taste of those who have remained. My grandmother’s grave is off to the side. In the beaten clay a black marker has been stuck. ‘Klara Mann, born… died 12 XII 1941’... a beginning and an end. I stand by my grandmother’s grave but I do not cry. I am not thinking any more of her lonely death. She loved me so much. In my thoughts I beg her to help me rescue my parents and my brother.”

Sounds familiar? Yes, this is a part of memoirs I uploaded at ARC website years ago.

Aleksandra Mandel was the daughter of Salomea Mandel (born Mann), Klara's daughter, and Aleksander Mandel. She was the only survivor. She later changed her first name to Cecylia. Diminutive of Cecylia is Cesia (pron. Tsesha) and it must be "someone known as Aunt Tseckia", as Kenny writes. Kenny may not remember that Cesia visited them in Africa, sometime in 60's. This visit was foreseen in prophetical conversation in Przemysl ghetto, moments before it's liquidation started:

"‘To turn my Mother’s sad thoughts to other things – my Mother, who is so bravely bearing the burden of our poverty – I hug and kiss her, and talk to her about my uncle, who from far, from Africa, writes to us through Switzerland and who will certainly help us as soon as the war finishes.

“And you, Mama, will be the first great lady of Africa, and Tata and Jozio will eat bananas for breakfast and pineapples for dinner.”

Mama looks around at our shabby little room, at the lamentably empty cupboard, at the unlit stove, and says: “Child, you might see it, but my grave will be growing grass by then…”

And next passage:

“The Gestapo bang on our window.

“We’re coming,” says Tata, “Here you are, my watch, it will stay with you.” He puts the old watch that was his father’s down on the buffet.

“Think that you were with us on a ship during a wreck, and we went down, while a life buoy brought you to shore...”

“Uncle will ask you to Africa after the war,” Mother adds.

Here is the most disinterested, sublime love in the world. Even now my parents don’t think of themselves.”

After the war Aleksandra/Cesia lived in one of Galician towns and worked as a journalist, like her father. She wrote an article about her african trip which is remembered there.

She and her husband founded an obelisk at Przemysl cemetery commemorating her parents and her brother.

The rest is also true - her son Oles and a grandson Maciek are well known photographers indeed, now in Krakow.

Aleksandra deposited her memories in 1946 at Jewish Historical Commission in Krakow. They are kept at Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw now.

I wish you, all your family, and Kenny too, sweet and peaceful New Year.
And Gmar Hatima Tova.


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Anonymous Kenny Mann said...

Hello - this is Kenny Mann! I can't tell you how moved I am to hear these stories. My father Igor never spoke of his family and his past was surrounded by mystery. It was said that his mother died the day she received a telegram announcing my sister's birth on October 20, 1942 - but obviously this is not true! He also told me that when he was very young - maybe ten - a Cossack soldier rode by and tossed him a heavy sack. Thinking it was a cabbage, my father ran home to give it to his mother, but when they opened the sack, it was a severed human head. Such stories... Of course I do remember Tsesha - she came to Nairobi for my sister's wedding, in 1964, I think. We had been sending care packets to Poland and among the items had been a pink and white candy-striped shirtwaister dress of mine. Tsesha arrived in a suit made of that cloth. Does anyone know how to get in touch with Olesh and Maciek? I would dearly love to do so.

Thank you so very, very much for posting this story - I am immensely touched and moved by the efforts to keep these stories alive, and fascinated to learn that writing, the visual arts and journalism are so deeply entrenched in the family, not only on my mother's side but also on my father's.

I am making a film about all this. It is called BEAUTIFUL TREE, SEVERED ROOTS p because my mother's maiden name is SCHONBAUM - "beautiful tree" in German. It is not only a personal family story, but also an investigation of identity, place, loss, memory and other universal issues. I have edited the opening seven-minute long sequence, which can be viewed on YouTube at . I am starting to raise funds to continue work on this documentary, so if you are interested in becoming a "co-producer" (with screen credit!!) please be in touch with me personally at I also plan to come to Poland in the near future to visit the graves and learn more, and shoot footage. perhaps I will meet some of you there.

In Suaheli, we say kwaheri kuonana - which means - adieu - which means goodbye until we meet again - which means that this story is not over!!

3:37 PM  

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