(Video at: https://leonidhurwicz.org/interview/)
My narrow family – Adek, Zina and Leo (not Henry, Henry wasn’t born yet – Henry was born in 1922, that’s already after the Bolshevik war; but I was born before). The two stories why the others didn’t return was: One was that it was too dangerous to travel with girls, because there were marauding Bolsheviks and soldiers of various kinds, you know, they were likely to attack a family with girls. The other story or comment that I heard, you know, but very much third hand, is that they felt, especially Max, that the Poles were so anti-Semitic, that he really preferred to stay in Russia. I don’t know, there were probably some elements of each.
The problem was how to travel from Moscow to Warsaw. You had to hire your own wagon and a horse – or two horses – to pull. At that time there were no trains going in the direction from Moscow to Poland, which would be westward. And you couldn’t get a good horse, because the armies were confiscating them. So they had some lame horse. When they came to the frontier between Russia and Poland, the width of the tracks changed. Russia has wider track than western Europe. So you had to physically change trains. So when they got to Vilnius, Lithuania, they took a train. That was probably in February or so of 1919. I have seen the house where he was born or at least lived as a small baby, in Warsaw.
The family spoke with the same ease Russian, Polish, and my grandparents – Max and Sara and that generation – I think also spoke Lithuanian. We have a more remote relative on the Frydland side, Abichke Ragoler. Michael Kotzin visited in that area in the 80’s with some congressman. Abichke was the owner of a karczma, an inn.
At that time my father had a degree from the Sorbonne in law. I think he had also gone through a process of what I think is called “nostrification” for practicing law in Russia. But then he came to Poland, and that required another kind of validation. The process was really internship, two years of clerkship to a judge, and three years of internship or assistantship to an attorney. After each internship there were examinations, certainly oral but I think partly written. During this period he couldn’t support himself as a lawyer, so he was teaching history at a Jewish school, conducted in Polish, called “hinuch”. When we visited in Israel in 1966 on the way back from India, which is the first time that I was in Israel, I met some people who were my father’s students from hinuch. He was always interested in history, as I think is our family interest.
(Where would his brothers Stefan and Monjo have been at that time?)
I think Stefan was in Warsaw, also returning approximately at the same time as my father. I don’t know where from. But when I remember Stefan from the earliest times, he lived in Warsaw in a part of the city not far from our part. But during WW I he may have retreated also eastward into Russia proper. And Monjo (Solomon) was living with the rest of the sisters, probably, in Moscow. He was the youngest of the children. He visited Warsaw, I don’t know exactly when, as part of a peace delegation. But you can see that Monjo was no longer living when this picture was taken.
Max died I believe in 1927, when I was ten years old. He knew me, but I didn’t know him, I was under one and a half years old. After that, he was in Moscow and I was in Warsaw. When we were both in Moscow, when I was one year old, he was perhaps 51 years old, according to the story I was told, he looked at me when I was one year old and said “a chochem” (a wise man), so I consider him a good judge of character. But I have no memory of him, except indirect.
When Max was approaching college age, in the nineteenth century, he was hoping to go to college, the first person in the family. The tsar at that time I think was named Alexander, of the Romanov dynasty. [Editor’s note: Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_II_of_Russia.]
It must have been possible for a Jew to enter the University. But this Alexander, if I am right about the name, was assassinated by an anarchist. This resulted in a big move to the right politically, and one of the “reforms” so-called was that Jews could not attend the university. But all the six of Max’s surviving children were university graduates; but that was already under the Communist regime.
(You told me a story when you were nine or ten years old, there was an uprising, and you were off picking flowers by the Vistula, and your mother was worried about you?)
There was a coup d’etat, under a man who was regarded I think somewhat unfairly as a great military hero, since he never really conducted war I don’t think, but had a military title from the German/Austrian side of WW I. Piłsudski. His coup d’etat could be regarded as a left-wing coalition kind of thing, because it was indirectly a result of the assassination of the previous president, I think the first president of Poland after World War I. Piłsudski was before WW I a socialist, but not a Marxist, but a socialist of a generalized kind. I think the Jews regarded him as something of a friend, actually.
In 1927 [Max] died, and that was the year of the coup d’etat. [Editor’s note: On May 12th 1926, Józef Piłsudski, leaning on 15 army units loyal to him, staged a coup d’etat, taking the capital Warsaw in street fighting. http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/eceurope/poland19191939.html Also see the Wikipedia article on Piłsudski. Leo would have been almost nine at this time.] I was maybe nine and half or something like that. We had little kind of fields. The idea was for children to learn agriculture and so on. There was shooting. Piłsudski was a leader of the army. It happened to be that these gardens that we were cultivating were close to Stefan’s apartment. I was nine years old, we didn’t have a car, and I walked the city without any fear. And I knew where Stefan lived there, so I went there.
I don’t know if they had a telephone or not. My mother didn’t know where I was. She got as far as the taxi driver was willing to go. Ultimately she also went to Stefan’s apartment and found me I think. I don’t have a clear memory of this.
I remember we were taping windows with something or other, because they were shot out or whatever. And I wasn’t allowed to look out.
Sara Lea died I think about 1935.
My father and Stefan and Monjo were all Max’s children.
This picture … I can only infer from the fact that Max was still alive, so it was probably before 1927. My father is not in the picture because he was in Warsaw. This whole group never got out of Moscow.
[Editor’s note: The picture is here: https://leonidhurwicz.org/first-hurwicz-family/]
One of them has fox fur kind of scarf. I think this is to show that they were not some peasants or something, to emphasize their status. Two even, all those who had it.
I never met any except Helenka.
So, you see, where the confusion is, aunt Helen, who in later life was in Chicago, was the sister of Sara Lea, one of four Frydland sisters. That was Aunt Helen. But Helenka was one of the daughters of Sara Lea, and she could not get out of Russia until there was improvement in relations during Richard Nixon’s presidency. She came to the U.S. shortly thereafter, in 1973.
(Evelyn thinks Helenka is the one on the right in the picture.)
Probably standing in the back, because she was the youngest.
(So Stefan and Adek were in Warsaw in 1927.)
There were other sisters of Sara Lea. There were four sisters with maiden name Frydland: Sara Lea, Salcia (who married a Frydland, also. That was the coal seller, in Warsaw, Adolf Frydland), Gitla (who was Maniek’s mother), and Aunt Helen.
The Frydlands probably didn’t leave Warsaw during world War I.
There was a quarrel between the Moscow branch and the Chicago branch. The reason (with different versions depending on who you were talking to) is because Moritz Kotzin tried to emigrate to Canada, maybe very early after World War I was over. He went to Canada, but somehow wasn’t able to make a job, was not successful. And Max somehow helped him financially to make this trip to Canada.
Moritz got money – I don’t know if it was called a loan or a gift – from Max to try to get settled in Canada, but was unsuccessful and came back to Poland. And then he decided to try again, and he asked Max for more money. And Max said, “I don’t have any more money.” Moritz was very angry at this and they stopped talking to each other. Now, not talking to each other was a very favorite form of punishment in the Hurwicz family. You have to take into account that they were not talking with one another while one side was in Moscow and the other was in Chicago, so it was very easy not to talk with each other.
However, the two sisters, Aunt Helen and Sara Lea, secretly corresponded with each other, and broke the boycott, but didn’t tell the others.
I didn’t know this whole story, but I knew there was some bad blood. But I didn’t even know whether I should try to contact them. I was in Geneva.
[Editor’s note: For a different perspective on the story of Moritz’s emigration, see https://leonidhurwicz.org/sol-kotzin/.]
The first few days of WW II, I was in Berne, which is the capital of Switzerland. On the second (or third, but I think the second) day of the war, the 2nd of September, 1939, I got a telegram from father, from my father, from Adek. It said something like “We are OK.” (Actually it was a lie, because there was bombing all over Warsaw, the Nazis were attacking.)
But then what it gave was the address of the Kotzins in Chicago: 3605 Dickens Avenue.
A few days later, I moved to Geneva from Berne. And I spent the first year of war actually there, academic year ’39-’40. That’s where I lost my money in the post office.
The academic year ’39-’40 I spent there in Switzerland.
I started out in the fall quarter of 1938 at the London School of Economics, and the war broke out a year later, roughly. When the academic year 1938-’39 was ending (so, roughly speaking, May or June) I asked the British to extend my visa, which was only for one academic year. But they said they couldn’t do it, because my passport was only valid up to the end [of the academic year]. They said I had to extend the passport, and then they could extend the visa. Well, the Poles were making difficulties with extending the passport. So I tried to get the British to permit me to stay a little longer. But they said that that was not their custom. By that time I knew enough about the British, is when they say it’s not their custom, if you stand on your head, they won’t do it. So then, what I did is, I pretended essentially to be trying to go back to Poland without actually going there. So, I got transit visas through several countries, one of which was Switzerland. The first thing I did was to go to Paris. And I stayed in Paris for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, of the year 1939. And one day in August, close to my birthday, there was the big news, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, the agreement between Stalin and Hitler to divide up Poland. I was at that point in Paris. Well, when I saw what was happening with this Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, I took the first train to Berne. That was very good, because otherwise I would have been caught in France under the Nazis. I really, as usual, paid attention to the headlines. When I traveled from Paris to Berne, I remember the blue lights inside the train; they didn’t have any real light that you could read in, because there was conviction that the war would break out without much delay.
The reason that I didn’t stay in Berne was that the Swiss have a Swiss-German dialect. Actually, many dialects. People who live in neighboring valleys have different a dialect, and may well not be able to understand each other. I thought, I don’t want to start learning a Swiss dialect. The Swiss insisted on Swiss dialect to show that they were anti-Nazi. They weren’t using the literary so-called “High German.” So then I took the first train that I could from Berne to Geneva. Geneva speaks classical French.
I spent the academic year ’39-’40 in Berne [sic, but clearly means Geneva], until I got the U.S. visa to emigrate. The U.S. Consulate in Switzerland, which was in Zurich in Switzerland, said that they must have certificates of good conduct from authorities in each of the countries I had lived in the previous five years, which was Poland (which was occupied by the Nazis) and England and France. When I wrote the French, the French didn’t have any difficulty, the certificate was routine. The British was a different story. They said they were not in the custom of issuing certificates of good conduct. And the U.S. Consulate in Zurich insisted on that.
At first I didn’t know what to do. Then I went to the office of the chief of police in Geneva, and I said if I don’t get something like that from the British, I will not be able to emigrate to the U.S., and I’ll be a burden on the Swiss taxpayer.
He said, “How do you expect to do anything about it?”
I said, and I think it was a good idea, “Write to the police office of London, as if one policeman to another wants to know if a suspect has a bad record.”
He said, “All right, I’ll try it.”
And he wrote to the police in London, and they said they had nothing against me. He got it very quickly, because it was a collegial relationship between the police in western European countries.
At some point the Kotzins sent me some money, after I lost my wallet in the post office. And I bought passage on an Italian boat. I already had the visa. This was early June. And just at that time, Italy joined Germany as partner in the war. So, of course, they couldn’t operate ships between Europe and the United States. So I was stuck again without money. I couldn’t ask Kotzins a second time.
So I essentially used a similar technique. I went to the harbor police. I was in Lisbon already by that time. I got that far. First I went to the Italian shipping lines and I asked for my money back. They just laughed at me. They said, “Yes, you are an enemy, and come back after the war.” That was not a good solution. Then I went to the harbor police, and essentially I used a variant of my trick in Geneva. I explained to him, that if I cannot go to America, I cannot work in Lisbon, I’ll be a public burden. So he said, “What do you expect me to do?” Well, I knew that Portugal was a dictatorship. The dictator was an economist. I knew that the police could do anything they wanted. So I told just tell them you’ll take away your license. And within two days I got my money back.
But how I got these inspirations, I mean, I really acted as if I was an experienced person. I never had … It was really desperation. But finally then I bought a ticket on a Greek boat. I was 23. The world was totally changed. The rules of the game were changed. But I somehow found if you sort of think through logically from the point of view of the other person … And everybody wanted to get rid of the refugees.
One thing that is also was funny. How did I get to Lisbon from Geneva? I had to get a transit visa. I show each of them my U.S. visa. Because I was flying. They just opened an airline – for a few months I think it operated – from Switzerland to Barcelona. So I had to get a Spanish visa, and then of course a Portuguese visa, and then I had to cross the ocean. In peacetime, since I had the U.S. visa, you see, they didn’t hesitate. But all these consulates were corrupt. But I think it was the Spanish or Portuguese consulate, they said he had to consult with his head office and he has to do it by telegram and I had to pay him supposedly for a telegram.
When I came back a week later, they said they hadn’t heard anything and needed money for another telegram. So I said, “Well, are you sure you’ll get an answer?” He said, “Yes I’ll have an answer this afternoon.” So it was made obvious that all these telegrams were a fiction.
So then I traveled from Geneva to … I forget what that city was called, but a city at the other end of Switzerland, to take off. Switzerland is kind of in the shape of a croissant. At the westmost end of that croissant was Geneva. At the other end was this other city. We got into the airplane. It got dark. They circled somehow or other trying to take off from that airport. I wasn’t really worried. But that was the first time in my life I had been in an airplane. Then they gave up. They said it was too dark and so on. And they put us up in a hotel. The next morning, they put us back on the plane. Then I looked out the window, I really got frightened. Because this was just a small flat area with huge mountains all around. How an airplane would expect to gather enough speed to take off. But we did take off that following morning. And the airline or somebody put us up. The only time in my life I stayed in a Ritz hotel.
There was a little bus after we landed in Barcelona. I was chatting with some Portuguese businessman who was sitting next to me. The bus taking us to the ticket office or whatever. I looked out the window and I saw planes with swastikas. So I said something to my neighbor about that I didn’t know that there were Nazi planes in Barcelona. He said to me very emphatically, “Here, we don’t notice these things.”
Then I took a train, and a day later or so from Barcelona, by way of Madrid to Lisbon. When I got to Lisbon, you know, I had some money, but not really very much. And I found that there was a place in a suburb called Estoril, that was sort of like a Monte Carlo, you know, a gambling place. And I found that there were many French families there in this casino who had escaped the Nazi invasion. They were very worried because it was just when their kids were supposed to take these final examinations to graduate from high school. So I got to talking to these people, I told them I could keep them in good shape in things like mathematics and so on. So that’s how I earned small change.