Memoirs of Maurice Lament

Ecrit en 1998
Saisir Maurice Lament
Copyright ©

Part 1: Early childhood memories of the family in Warsaw 1918 - 1929


Memories, having in mind an image linked to the past, through a sad, happy, moving or tragic journey. My story is the story of my family through my memories and also a journey with forgetfulness, involuntary omissions or simply incomplete story and also the story of ordinary emigrants seeking a country where parents could find a safe haven for their children.

Father, mother, a girl and three boys, this is my family.

It's no coincidence that we landed in France. My mother often said: ZOJ VI GOT IN FRANKREICH (Happy as God in France). In Poland, I was a Jew, in France I was Polish, a subtle difference which has its importance.

My sister Anna was born in June 1914.
My brother Serge was born in January 1916.
Me, Maurice originally named Mojez-Majer, in May 1918 and my little brother David in November 1920.

My mother was called Hélène and my father Samuel but originally they were Chaja-Ruchla (Wortrajch) and Szmul. 
They were married on 21 December 1911 in Warsaw

What is my most distant memory? It was the birth of my brother David in 1920 in Warsaw, Twarda  28, 3rd floor.

My mother gave birth at home. The door of the room ajar, the two twin beds apart, a bowl on the floor, the midwife with my mother. Anna, Serge and I are in the corner of the door, flattened on each other to take the least space, as spectators.

This image has remained with me for a very long time.

Feverish activity reigned, and the first cry of my brother.

I remember that a very generous aunt, not from the point of view of the purse, but from the waist, came to visit my mother after her delivery. She tried to sit down, and aimed for the  bench next to my mother.

Archive picture of Twarda Street.
Number 28 - nearest house on the left.

The screams of people around her stopped her in her tracks, saving my brother David from a very uncomfortable contact with the most fleshy part of my aunt.

We had a nanny. She stayed at home, and often on Sunday, which was her day off, with the permission of my parents, she took me for a walk. But instead she went to church. or rather in front of the church. She wrapped me in a shawl, giving the nanny a look of unhappy poor woman, and begging, as do some people currently in the corridors of the subway.

It must have been before the birth of my brother David, that this ploy was discovered by a neighbor who hurried to reveal it to my parents.

Much later, certainly with another maid, all four of us were taken to the Saski Gardens, and there she met other young girls, officially, but mostly boys.

She watched us out of the corner of her eye.
I was playing and I must have moved away.

The maid could not find me when she wanted to leave. She went home without me.

She said that I had left.

In the evening, seeing no one, I went home alone.

I received a beating from my father, I think it was the only one I received and the memory will never leave me.


Archive Picture of Saski Gardens

With memories we grow up fast.

For example: the moment when it was necessary to save on everything including clothes. Being the third child, I often wore my sister's belongings, although re-arranged for me, with the buttons on the girl's side, a coat, a bodice, a shirt, socks etc. You can guess that my boyish pride took a hit !

My mother had a brother, Heiman, a rather fat man who he had an obsession. We could give him food, but he could not help himself, even though he was still hungry. My mother saved up some money and bought him a special (large) bowl, like a soup tureen. The problem was solved. He was no longer hungry.

School in Poland.

In Poland, schools were divided between girls and boys, Jews and Catholics. The Jews went to school in the morning, and in the afternoon I went to the "CHEDER", a school to learn to read and write Hebrew. We always went to school with a homemade stick to defend ourselves  against the Polish boys who attacked us with war cries. Self-defense was necessary for a long time even in France in the early days.

Everyday life.

Sometimes we would be barricaded in our apartment with our mother saying nothing, making no noise, waiting for the storm pass. It was the bailiffs who came to take things away.

To announce themselves, they drummed loudly with a cane on the door, and our mother, in order to calm us down, told us that it reminded her of the theater and the music of a concert. Boum Boum Boum Boum ... Boum Boum ....

There was a takeover or insurrection in Poland, I do not remember the year but I think it was 1922. Part of the windows of our apartment were on the street and soldiers were firing everywhere, including at the windows.

Butter and butter money.

My father (Szmul) was a butter maker for a while. He had depots in villages around Warsaw. There were rounds to collect the milk and especially the cream processed with centrifuges which were deposited with the cattle breeders who prepared the cream.

During the holidays, I went with my brother Serge on a pickup tour. Harnessed to a cart, there was a horse that stopped in front of every peasant. Of course, the horse knew the route and the stops, and we often slept, leaving the horse to complete the route on its own. The horse returned peacefully to the dairy to make the butter.

My father, a wise and progressive trader, was looking for additional outlets because he had a large production of butter. He got in touch with Polish emigrants in England, and sold them a very large quantity of butter.

It was winter and my father was cutting  ice blocks in the Vistula, which he had put in sawdust to protect the cargo that was leaving by boat via the port of Gdansk.

Butter, ice blocks and sawdust were loaded into the holds of the boat. The expected duration of the journey was 8 days. No problem for the merchandise considering the outside temperature.
Bad  luck, a storm rages on the Baltic Sea and caused a delay of several days. The ice melted, the butter  became rancid! Good only for the soap factory. A total loss.

Other business ventures of my father

My father, amongst others things , was a manufacturer of jute bags for mill flour, sugar, etc. Above all my father was a trader and made a good living with all the ups and downs.

Another event ( it must have been in 1924), during a very cold winter when  we lacked everything in Warsaw. My father went to Berlin. He decided to do a very important two- in-one deal. He sold a building recently acquired in Berlin, and bought a whole train loaded with potatoes. The train suffered a considerable delay because of bad weather, the cargo arrived frozen in Warsaw, and it was still necessary to pay to clear the rot.

To start again was often his lot. He never got discouraged.

In another business adventure he formed a theatrical troupe. He needed to go on tour in the provinces, and my mother, jealous, did not support this new profession; it almost turned sour. I witnessed the domestic scene.

Contact with nature.

One day I wanted to go horseback riding. We had a mare with a foal. As I was little, I rode on the colt, without a saddle of course, and held the mane as a guide.

With a few jumps, I found myself at the end of my horse, I slipped and slipped, and in the end, to avoid falling I held onto the animal's tail ... My foal to get rid of this burden, gave me a nice kick with a hoof in the jaw; which made an additional opening to my mouth!

I was brought back urgently to Warsaw, I do not remember by what means of transport,  as I was a little unconscious. We arrived in the morning, and in Twarda street where we lived  there was a hairdresser who at that time served as a nurse.He was called a FELCHER, and he sewed up my chin.

I had to use this barber again, a time when I clung to a streetcar like all the kids in my street, and I fell on my forehead making a bump like a billiard ball.

We have fun when we could ...

We have as much fun as we could, jumping from the wardrobe onto the couch. Moving  all the furniture and stacking it on our child's table making a cart. This table was designed with a bench on each side, which we used for our school homework.

Before the holidays, live chickens were bought and stored on the balcony on the courtyard side of the building.  David and I tied a string to the hen's leg and we had fun making it fly, lowering it, putting it back on the string again. This balcony at times served as a refuge for us.

School in Poland.

One of the memories that struck me most came from my teacher Mr KLEIJMAN. Talking about the year 2000, he pointed his finger at the class and he said: "Some of you will reach the year 2000". Of course I felt charged with this mission, being a child who lived in a dream, surrounded by a bubble isolating me from the hostile world.

To move to a higher class, not being a brilliant student, my mother had to plead my cause as best as she could. The only thing I've heard is that she promised to put me to work during the holidays.


Holidays were a real move. In those days when we went on vacation, we rented a house in the countryside or elsewhere, but what we rented was empty of any furniture.

We loaded all the furniture, crockery, sheets, clothes, all that could be used for a period of two to three months, on a horse drawn cart. The maid, the coachman and I travelled together to a rented house in the countryside by a river not far from Warsaw.

The villa was set in a fir wood surrounded by fields and fruit trees. The house had its comfort, but no gas. At the time we cooked on a stove wood or coal.

In the evening, we took turns with friends, neighbors, Jews like us, and endless animated card games, triggering even more lively discussions.

At the end of the week the men, my father and the others, arrive by train. They were all loaded with food.

During a vigil around a giant watermelon, there was talk for the first time to go to England or France, in any case, to leave Poland. I remember that some spoke of Palestine ....

We had a big family, among others, my cousin Moniek Suknik. He was the same age as me, the same first name, after the same ancestor.

As he heard our parents talk about going to France, he took French lessons.

He wanted to teach me, but still in my dream bubble, nothing stuck.

Getting angry, he told me that I would never be able to speak French.


Moniek Suknik born 1918
(Photo late 1930s)

My grandfather.

One of the memories that made a mark on me was the death of my maternal grandfather.

Previously my sister and my brothers used to go once a week to see my grandfather; he gave each of us a piece of candy.

He was an imposing man, with a big beard, one side longer than the other. The reason for this difference is an unfortunately real story.

One day, my grandfather is in a village in Poland, and the population were bored, and having drunk more than usual, started a pogrom.

My grandfather was taken by Cossacks and sliced ​​his beard with a sword. They also removed part of the chin.

My grandfather was a wise man. He was loved and respected by everyone.

After a long illness, he died of cancer. I do not remember how old he was, but it affected us all.

At his funeral there was a considerable crowd, the street was blocked, crowded with people, not only Hassidic Jews , but others who knew him and came to honor his memory.

It looked like a political demonstration !!


Jakow Wortrajch

On some members of my family.

I had a cousin Bolek Papier, a year younger than me. We were very close. His parents had a fish shop in the Warsaw market hall. Often for Shabbat, we were invited to his home, and I remember when my uncle was talking, his teeth were playing castanets !!!

Uncle Lajbele, was my mother's brother. He and his wife sold poultry in the market. One day to prepare a feast, they received a shipment of geese by rail. My uncle, to avoid transport costs, had to drive his herd through the streets of Warsaw to the market.

He was arrested by the police and fined but did not respond, which led him to court. As he had not declared that he was working, he said it was a voluntary service, which he rendered by leading the flock of geese through the streets of Warsaw.

Then the judge asks him how he does to make a living. My uncle answers him: "ich draj meeh" (I turn)

The judge tells him that if he turns he will not make a living. My uncle replied that if he turns around the judge, then he will make a living! !

Authentic ! It could be a joke.

Preparations for Departure 1929

The winter of our departure from Warsaw to Paris was brutal; as usual in this case the lack of coal, everything, and even money was common. My father went on a scouting trip with Anna and Serge. My father was not in very good shape, suffering with stomach pains.

My mother, David and I, stayed in Warsaw to liquidate the rest of the business, some goods, furniture, crockery, linens, anything that could be exchanged for cash. As the winter was very harsh, -30 °, nothing could be sold, everything was covered by snow.

My mother had a cousin named BEIN; he was very well regarded in the community.

He phoned us to say goodbye. Yes, we had a phone, which may surprise some people as practically nobody had a phone.

I come back to cousin Bein. My mother asked him to come for tea. Because of the way of thinking of the time,we could not say  we were tight ... financially speaking, so my mother asked me to go and buy cakes at the bakery. With what ? Some coins.

So, a real fairy tale really happened. I went down the street and there was a mound of snow, and on this mound, there was a silver coin of 5 zlotys.

I came home, not only with enough cakes for everyone, but with more money than she had given me.

Telephone Directory for Warsaw 1930

My mother never wanted to believe me, she believed that I stole at the bakery, which I did  often, but, this time it was not the case. What intrigued my mother, though, was that the bakery's packaging was as usual, so she believed in a miracle and said, "Got falost nicht." (God do not forget us!). Face was saved, with regard to the cousin, and she was able to serve him without revealing anything.

The cousin, wise, but maybe not enough, said he did not understand that we were going to leave all this to go abroad ? God knows where? Who was right? He was deported during the 39-45 war.

There were also her sisters, Fella, and Frania who was married to an accountant with a good reputation. They came to see us at the same time as cousin Bein, and the miraculous cakes were served with some oranges cut in four, and of course the tea served again in Ulica Twarda 28.

After making some money, for example, giving the apartment to a doctor, my mother bought me and my brother David a navy coat with a black velvet collar and polished shoes.

We are in 1929, November or December. I am eleven and a half years old.

Already in charge of my teacher's mission for the year 2000, in charge of my little brother David, like any big brother must do,  my mother tells me to look after David. I took this responsibility seriously, and he was always my little brother, even though he was more thoughtful than me.

The trip to France and Paris.

We were accompanied to the Warsaw railway station by a large family, weeping, urging us to be careful, and with regrets that we are leaving, because the pillar of the family was leaving.

The journey took place by train, sitting in a 3rd class compartment, an international main line, with maximum comfort for the time, lasting three nights and two days.

The landscape that one could see through the frost filled windows showed the countryside under the snow. We passed through Berlin, with a two hours stop over,to be supplied with food by the organization that prepared the trip.

My mother tells us what we are going to discover, about the new life that will be offered to us.

We had a tourist visa to be able to travel and stay in Paris. But with a "MACHER", (maker) and money, we got a residence permit for two years. The solution for dealing with the  prefecture: A Macher plus more money equals residence card ...

Next Chapter: The Arrival in Paris ..... coming soon

Last update August 2021