An Oral History of the Fudakowski Family

by Rena Sobanska, half-sister of George C. Fudakowski/Ford, summer 1977

We will start with Zygmunt Fudakowski, born in 1830, and the father of George Fudakowski, in turn the father of Rena, Zygmunt, Tom and George.

Zygmunt's obituary, which appeared in the newspaper Stowo on March 19, 1895, gives the details of his education, family and some of his accomplishments. The part of his life, however, which is not included but which is of interest and importance, was his involvement with the insurrection of January 1863, in which the Polish people staged an uprising against the Russian occupation. At this period of history, Poland was divided in three parts between Russia, Germany and the Austria-Hungarian Empire. He was an agent of the underground movement and, following the insurrection, he was arrested for his activities and sentenced by the Russians to Siberia, where he spent three years. Indeed, his father as well was arrested for participation in the insurrection and spent ten years in exile in Siberia.

A description of the appeal from this sentence taken from a book entitled The January Insurrection describes this episode and the events leading to his ultimate release. It is an interesting picture of the times, the activities of the Russian government together with a strong element of romance.

There is a twist to the story of the romance, however. Zygmunt's brother, Herman, visited the Vernoski family to thank them for their efforts in obtaining Zygmunt's release. As a result of this visit, Herman fell in love with the young lady and ultimately married her. Perhaps this is not a story of a blighted romance at all since the explanation for Zygmunt's activities in terms of his traveling the country for secret rendezvous with his beloved was indeed the explanation for having the findings of his trial reversed.

When he returned to Warsaw from his exile, Zygmunt married Kazimiera Lempicka, the seventeenth child of Ludwig Lempicki and of his second wife Zofia, née Dunin-Wasowicz.

Wishing to avoid the repression and constant threats to a peaceful life in Warsaw as a Pole under Russian domination, and as an ex-agent of the insurrection, Zygmunt moved for a short time to Dresden, capital of the German Kingdom of Saxony, where he stayed long enough to obtain Saxon citizenship. When this was accomplished, he returned to Warsaw where he was able to live as a foreigner without interference as he would have had as a Russian citizen.

While Zygmunt and Kazimiera were living in Warsaw, their five children were born.

The eldest was Zofia, born in 1872. She entered a convent and became known as Sister Maria Renata.

The second daughter was Julia, known as Juliet. She was married to Stanislaus Czerniewiez; they had no children.

The third child and only son was George Ignace Florian Bernard, born on August 20, 1880. He is the father of Zygmunt, Rena, Thomas and George.

The fourth child was Constance, known as Kitty, born in 1886. She was married to Jan Oldakowski and had a daughter, Barbara. She in turn was married to Jan Psarski and as of 1977, she was living in São Paulo, Brazil.

The last daughter was Ludwika (Louise), born in 1891. She also entered the convent attended by her older sister, and became Sister Maria Leonia.

All the sisters were well educated, particularly Maria Renata and Leonia. They had the equivalent of full university degrees, spoke four languages, and had full qualifications as teachers. Maria Renata was a student of religious subjects, as well as art, and wrote a number of books and articles for current journals. Kitty was an accomplished pianist.

Zygmunt did not want his only son, George, educated in a Russian school where repression and degradation of the Poles and the Polish nation was very strong. He sent him therefore, at the age of eight, to a German school in Western Silesia, where he stayed until graduation living with a wonderful Polish family of one of the teachers. This insured that he would know and appreciate the Polish history and not learn only the German viewpoint.

After finishing this school, George went to the Polytechnic Institute in Dresden where he studied electrical engineering, graduating in 1904.

Zygmunt, father at the time of a young family of five children, died in 1895. The family existed on a relatively small amount of money left by him. George, as his only son, soon became the nominal head of the family and responsible for the finances. There were, however, rather difficult times as there was competition in need for money between the education of the children and the way of life of Kazimiera, who was used to and continued her travels in Europe and a comfortable home with servants.

Following his graduation from the Polytechnic in Dresden, George spent one year in Berlin as an engineer and then moved to Paris, which he regarded as a city where he would like to live. He applied for and obtained a job with Westinghouse where his knowledge of English, French, and German were valuable and he did translations of technical bulletins, catalogs and articles. He had learned English well in Dresden where he lived in a boarding house occupied mainly by Americans. He was very involved with these Americans in their social life and activities around the university. He had learned French from his Mother, who spoke principally that language, as it was the fashion, and from the French governesses.

While living in Paris, he met a young Polish girl, Nina Videl, daughter of a well-known Polish lawyer who was traveling in Paris with his two daughters. George and Nina were married in 1910 in Warsaw, and then returned to Paris. The following year, on July 19, a daughter, Maria Renata was born; and later in the year, the family returned to Warsaw according to the wishes of Nina and her father, who wished to have his daughter and family near him. George continued to work for Westinghouse in Warsaw and later went to Siemens, a large German electrical manufacturer.

In August 1914 the family was on holiday in Sopot, on the Baltic Sea, which was German territory. When the war started, the family was unable to return to Warsaw, which was a part of Russia. Germany immediately called up all of its military reserves, and George who had taken his military training in Dresden in the German army, reported as an officer. However, it happened that the military doctor was a Pole, who after examination of the perfectly healthy George, said, "I'm sorry you have a heart condition, and I cannot accept you," and gave a reprieve. George contacted Siemens, telling of his plight and funds were provided for the family to go to Berlin; and George, to the headquarters in Nuremberg.

In the meantime, Nina's father, through his contacts in Warsaw, was able to arrange for Russian papers for the family and for an escape plan through Sweden. The family got to Stockholm and thence by train through Finland, St. Petersburg and back to Warsaw as Russian citizens, by December 1914.

On May 12, 1915, a son, Zygmunt Jan, was born.

At the same time, terrible battles and destruction were taking place in Poland as the German army advanced against the Russians. In August 1915 the Germans took Warsaw. This created an impossible situation for George who, as a German officer changing his citizenship to that of the enemy during the war would have been court-martialed. He therefore left Warsaw and his family behind with the departing Russians and went to St. Petersburg.

Life was quite normal in St. Petersburg. Many Poles were living there and George again contacted Westinghouse and obtained a position as an engineer. In the meantime, in Warsaw, Nina worked with the relief committee but fell victim to an epidemic and died on December 18, 1915. Her husband, George, did not know of her death until a year later. Rena and Zygmunt lived with their grandfather and aunt, Nina's sister.

Meanwhile, the military situation in Russia deteriorated as the Bolsheviks grew stronger and the Czar weaker. After the Trotsky uprising in early 1917, the revolution occurred in October, at which time the Bolsheviks took control of the country. It was impossible for George to stay in St. Petersburg under these conditions and he left and made his way to the United States. His immigration was quite legally arranged with no trouble.

Arriving in New York, he quickly got in touch with the Polish community there and soon was involved with the Polish Relief efforts which were headed by the famous Polish pianist, Paderewski. Soon learning of the difficulty and tragedy of George's life, Paderewski proposed to match him with a young American of Polish ancestry, Leonida Krajewska, who was working with the Polish Relief Committee and with whose family Paderewski was well acquainted. George and Leonida were married in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York on November 16, 1918, just after the end of the war.

Fudakowski-Krajewski family home