The Skowronek Bankers
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Hersz Josek Blat (1870-1942) lived in Nowy Dwór Maz. and Warsaw, Poland; the Blat family had an industry that provided equipment to the Polish Armed Forces, and he was also my great grandfather.
Doubt is one of the names of intelligence - J. L. Borges
His family was very prosperous and lived in and around Warsaw and Nowy Dwór Mazowiecke; they were cousins of the Kronenberg family and were married into the Klepfisz and Guterman rabbinical families, and also, as their success grew, they also married with the Schoenbergs and the Skowronek and Natanson banking families. Hersz Jósek was one of the grandsons of Khana Klepfisz. The are also related to the Gaon of Vilna.
The parents of Hersz Josek were Yaakov Mosze Blat[1.339] and Hana Cynawicz[1.340], also written sometimes as Suna, Cyna and other variants; Cynawicz means "the son (or daughter)" of Cyna. The family name appears in the area around Warsaw also as Sune and Cine. The problem identifying the Cyna family is that Tzina is itself a first name as well so, for example, Sarah Tzina, who was the daughter of a rebbe, could be interpreted as Sarah of the Tzina family of Sarah Tzina with a double first name. Likely, Mosze Cyna, from Warsaw, was the father of Hana Cynawicz nad Rechel Herszfinkel the mother, but I am not sure yet.
They owed their success to their military business; indeed, since the time of the Napoleonic wars, a fortress was built in Modlin, near Nowy Dwór, and a large garrison was kept there, totalling at times more than 35.000 soldiers. Just in recent years, the military base located there was refurbished to become a secondary commercial airport for the city of Warsaw.
During the nineteenth century they manufactured boots and leather accessories for soldiers, later they became arms dealers. Members of the Blat family also sold construction materials on a large scale - at least large enough to have a railway tracks going right into their depot.
According to my grandmother, her mother, Hena Skowronek (see Hena Skowronek), was open, lively person; her father, Hersz Josek, was less demonstrative, a taciturn man. She knew everything that there was to know about Oerlikon and Bofors cannons - something that she learned from her father, who sold those things.
The marriage between Hersz Josek and Hena was customary, arranged and performed as a business transaction, as almost every marriage has been done in our family for many centuries. It was apparently a good and happy marriage, nevertheless.
They lived in the house in Nowy Dwór, located at Warszawska 2 that we still own. The house was built around 1856 by Hersz's grandfather, Mosiek Gödel Blat, and refurbished by his father, Jakob Mosiek Blat in 1898. It is a large house built out of masonry, spanning a surface of half a city block.
They had five children:
Natan (1892-1965) (see Natan Blat.
Khaim (1894-1942) (see Khaim Gedaliahu Blat.
In turn, most of them had their own children, but except my uncle and mother none survived World War II. The last we know of Hersz is what my mother saw as a 5-year old kid, once my grandmother took her to her parent's apartment in ul. Chlodna 24, in Warsaw, during February 1940. Apparently Hersz retired in 1938; his phone number was 2 56 36. I always wondered why wouldn't he travel outside Poland at that time to get out of the dangers of impending war.
During that last visit, the Nazis were already there but not all Jews had been already arrested; the rich ones were kept alive enough to take everything from them. An edict was passed, stating that Jews had to declare all their properties in and outside Poland before March 1, 1940 with the evident intention of seizing everything. Curiously enough, revenue agencies around the world now apply the same rules that the Nazis used against Jews to know about the assets of most citizens, and someone might think that I am giving advice against the law and order if I say that you should never, ever tell the government about everything you have, because even if your legal and respectful government doesn't go after you with murderous intentions, someone else, based on that information might do so.
In other words, tax collectors pretend to treat you in the same way as the Nazis treated the Jews they intended to rob. Not only that, but sizeable portions of society, in many different countries but especially in those where the state has to return properties to Jewish people that were robbed during the Nazi or Communist era, tend to think that Jews are playing the game of victimization or just can't get enough.
The right of property in any free country, in any democracy with substance, is equivalent to that of freedom. You cannot have property without freedom, and you cannot have real freedom if private property is not respected. Hence, any country that fell victim to the Nazis or Communists simply cannot continue playing the game of those dictatorships by looking aside and pretending not to listen to the people claiming restitution of what was owned by themselves or their families.
By not returning back what is rightful, private property, they are acting like those individuals that do not stole a bank but when they find out that someone they know actually did such a thing, they do not call the police. In other words, those countries that pretend to be today modern democracies, if they don't give back what had owners before the advent of WWII, in reality begin to acquire characteristics that are more proper of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union than any other Western country.
And what adds insult to injury is that those very nations where private property is not respected because governments do not return assets to rightful owners pretend to tax those individuals that they don't want to listen to on the basis of an alleged equality that - facts speak for themselves - in reality does not exist.
As a basic principle, one should respect the law because that is the cost of living in a civilized world, but you should also realize that apparently innocent laws might be used against you in the most abusive ways imaginable, so you have a survival advantage by keeping things secret. You don't have your own army, so the only advantage you might have to survive is knowledge.
The Nazis took everything they found, and what they didn't take was anything that they didn't know about; in our case, whether assets in addition to those that they plundered exists or not, we know and no one else does and we will keep it that way no matter what others might think because our family learned a lesson written in blood: In the end, the "law" matters nothing if you end up being dead because there is no law that will guarantee that your information will never be used against you. Hence, you can't tell anyone about everything, including a legally constituted government. If the law says otherwise, if some lawmaker or tax bureaucrat says otherwise, then they pretend something that they are not entitled so based on very basic human rights and common sense.
I understand that taxes exist for the common good but they also should consider mine and those of my family as part of society. So, if giving more info than needed puts me in mortal danger, the original intend of taxation for the common good is betrayed, for it becomes not good for me and hence, as a part of the whole, not good for the community at large. Once you give away information, you lose ownership over it, control of your life and probably a last-ditch defence.
That is a philosophical posture on the right to keep your private things private against the advances of governments, but the story of my great grandfather Hersz Josek[1.13] gives this argument a tangible, real world basis: You have the right to keep some things secret, and since this might well be related to your survival, it is a human right. Hence, pretending otherwise is to attempt to violate your personal human rights.
That day, when my mother saw them for the last time both Hersz and Hena were trying to convince my grandmother to take with her a quantity of gold. My mother described how she could barely see the top of a table where they put big crystal jars filled with gold in the shape of coins and jewels. Granma took a quantity and she used that up until the end of the war and beyond to survive. We still keep in the family a ring with an Alexandrite gemstone from the Urals that apparently once belonged to that stash.
According to what my mother said there would have been a couple of kilograms on top that table, and she remembers people saying that there was even more. My uncle, who was also there, doesn't even want to speak about the scene.
We don't know the fate of the rest of that gold but it was probably taken by the Nazis at some point, using a perfectly legal decree signed by an occupation government of a country – Germany – that, as an occupying power had to provide reasonable treatment for non combatants and prisoners of war and that by the way, had a government that was elected, for Hitler was really no dictator in the usual sense, but a chief of state chosen by his people.
So, my great grandparents were robbed and murdered by a democracy - it was twisted indeed, but still a democracy in official terms - and the gold vanished; should I declare it to the tax man the day I find it - if I ever do - to put myself and my family in the same level of risk just to be a good citizen as my great grandparents or should I act like a naughty boy and hide it?
Yeah... Good guess!
The marriage contract between my great grandparents Hersz Josek Blat and Hena Skowronek, from 1892.
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