This is where my Polish friends might raise their hands in protest. You see, in Polish there is a letter L and a letter Ł (ł in lower case). The two are quite separate, but as there are 33 letters in the Polish alphabet and I am constantly short of time, I’m combining them in this post. To English eyes they probably look very similar, but ł is pronounced like the English “w” in “wet”.
So, the city that I’m going to tell you a little about, Łódź, is pronounced Wooj, or something very like that. I have never actually visited this city, which is the third largest in Poland, but it has always intrigued me for its name, which translates as “boat”. This for a city which lies right in the centre of Poland, 84 miles south-west of Warsaw, and doesn’t even have a river running through it. Apparently the city once had a total of 18 rivers, but they were covered over due to chronic pollution.
The first written record of Łódź appears in 1332 as the village of Łodzia, and in 1423 King Władysław Jagiełło (who you may remember from my J is for Jadwiga post) granted it city rights. It was always at the crossroads of trade but at this time most of the inhabitants worked on grain farms in the surrounding flat lands.
Like many another Polish city, the history of Łódź is colourful. It lost its identity to Prussia in 1793, and then at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, became part of Russian Poland. The Tzar gave territory deeds to German immigrants to clear the land and build factories and housing. In 1825 the first cotton mill was opened and the textile boom began, with an eager Russian market on the doorstep. Łódź has been likened to a “Polish Manchester” due to its prosperity from textiles. Relationships with their Russian neighbours deteriorated rapidly, climaxing in the Łódź insurrection (or June Days) in 1905, which was violently put down by the Tzarists.
Many of the industrialists were Jewish, thus, during the Nazi occupation, the Łódź Ghetto was set up. It was the last major ghetto to be liquidated due to the value of the goods the occupants produced for the German military. The Germans requisitioned all factories and machinery and transported them to Germany so that Łódź was deprived of most of its infrastructure. Refugees from Warsaw flooded into the city and in the aftermath of the Warsaw Uprising, Łódź became a temporary capital. Apart from Kraków it was the only Polish city not to have been raised to the ground.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I knew little about Łódź, but even I had heard of the National Film School, founded in 1948, and its famous student, Roman Polanski. The film industry and new businesses locating in Łódź due to its excellent transport links have aided the slow rebirth of the city. Renovation is ongoing on Ul. Piotrkowska, at 5km the longest main street in Europe. OFF Piotrkowska is a lively complex of cafes, restaurants and designer shops within 19th century former cotton mill buildings.
Even better news is that the rivers I referred to at the start of this post are now the subject of a restoration project. Who knows where it all might end for the city of Łódź? Manchester isn’t doing so very badly.
Lusia and Lodzia
Most of my Polish family live in the neighbourhood of Bełchatów, about an hour south of Łódź. As usual, when I was in Poland in May, I went to see my lovely Aunt Lusia in Zawady. She is my Dad’s only surviving sister, and lives close to the farmstead where Dad grew up. Her portion of land is a good size with a lovely pond and numerous fruit trees. Lusia tended the huge vegetable plots herself when she was younger, but now much appreciates the help of her daughter Theresa, who lives with her. Granddaughter Edyta completes the household (if you don’t count the rabbits, of which there are many!)
Most of the family have built houses on land from the original farm, and Lusia is now dividing hers to make life easier. Her daughter Grażyna and son-in-law Marek live in a high rise flat in Bełchatów (I was there on my visit too!) and are now building a house next to Mum. A widow for many years, I never met her husband Zbigniew, but have seen photos of them as a happy young couple. It will help Lusia to have family so close by. A third daughter, Irena (who will feature in my letter “I”), also lives in Bełchatów. One last little thing to share- Lusia’s given name is Otylia. I’m not at all sure how Lusia comes from this, but that’s just how it is.
Just across the lane from Lusia is the home of Lodzia and her remaining unmarried family. This is my Dad’s original home and was taken on by the oldest son Zygmunt, when their parents died. Sadly Zygmunt himself died just months before the family reunion which brought Dad back to Poland. He had tried so hard to find Dad, and maybe things would have gone differently if he had succeeded.
Lodzia has her sons Bolek and Piotrek helping on the substantial plot of land. Dad remembers taking the cows to a stream when he was a small lad, but the cows are long gone (as is the stream, strangely enough).
You will have seen Lodzia on my blog before. She is my lovely cousin Jadzia’s mum and we traditionally have supper at Jadwiga’s home, pictured above. The farmhouse is now very run down and Lodzia does not have an easy life. She also has the care of a blind son, Adam, who suffered the injury in an explosion many years ago. Life is never all roses, is it? My Polish family have had their share of tragedy, but they go on smiling and welcoming us each time.
This post is part of my Personal A-Z of Poland, for which I owe thanks to Julie Dawn Fox. I have put links to Wikipedia and my other posts for anyone who is interested. The logo below will take you to Julie’s A-Z page, and I’m also linking to Frizz’s LLL-challenge, even though, as usual, I’m late! MMM arrived this morning.