The Cadillac coursed south on the Palisades highway. Nine-year-old Natalie sat in the back seat with her mother. Her father and brother Irving were in the front. The inside of the car was filled with the sounds of the Glen Miller Band and Natalie looked out the rear window at the trees lining the parkway, which were mostly green but starting to turn shades of orange and brown and tan.
The music was interrupted for a special announcement, “Poland has been invaded by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and a small Slovak contingent.” The radio crackled. The date was September 1st, 1939 – the day World War II officially began in Europe.
Natalie’s father was heartbroken. They had a lot of family in Poland, including his parents. He had been around long enough to know what the invasion would mean for the denizens of Poland. He was so devastated that nobody was sure how he was able to drive from the Catskill Mountains to their home in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
After the war broke out Natalie’s father did what he could to support his family in Poland. He wanted to send new supplies – boots and clothes and equipment – but the corrupt customs officers in Poland would steal any new gear so her father would get new boots, fill the toes with newspaper and make Natalie and Irving walk around in the rain and mud to make the shoes look worn and used.
Eventually word arrived that Natalie’s grandparents had been killed. Nobody knew how or when or where. Natalie’s father died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-three never knowing how his parents died. It would take nearly five decades for Natalie to discover what had happened.
Natalie met her husband, Lou, at a camp in Kent, Connecticut in 1950. She was tanning on a raft in the middle of a lake when a young man climbed aboard and stood on the raft, blocking her sun.
“Young man you're blocking my sun.” Were the first words Natalie said to the man she would end up being married to for sixty-two years. Together they cultivated a love of travel and journeyed to every single country in Western Europe. In 1990 Natalie decided she wanted to visit Hureczko – the town where her grandparents had owned a farm with their namesake – the Kulawicz farm.
They flew to Warsaw and found an English-speaking taxi driver with a thick beard.
“We would like to go to Hureczko.”
“That is a three hour drive from here!”
They piled into the driver’s pale yellow Mercedes and headed to Hureczko.
It was overcast and rainy in Hureczko. At a bus stop, the cab driver asked a woman with a multicolored umbrella if she knew where the Kulawicz farm was. The woman shook her head but directed them to a lady down the street.
When they got to the address, there was an old lady working in the garden. She was wearing a red wool coat and a blue wrap around her hair. She had sad, sunken eyes. There were deep worry lines etched into her face.
When the driver asked the old woman if she knew the Kulawicz family, her eyes lit up. Through the translator the old lady in red told them that she had worked for the Kulawicz’s on their farm. She explained that they owned a farm with a pond where they cultivated carp.
When the taxi driver explained that Natalie was the Kulawicz’s grandchild, the old lady was overcome with emotion. She hugged Natalie and told her that she loved her grandparents – they had always been kind to her.
After nearly fifty years of mystery the old lady finally revealed what happened to Natalie’s grandparents. All the Jews were rounded up – the old lady wasn’t sure if it was the Germans or the Russians – taken into the town square and shot point blank. The old lady cried. Natalie cried. They hugged each other more tightly.
The old woman told them how to find the farm Natalie’s grandparents had owned. The cab driver found it easily. Natalie was able to stand on the farm her grandparents had owned and feel the long grass brush against her boots, hear the sigh of air breath through the leaves overhead and smell the sweet air of the countryside. It was hard to believe such an ugly thing had happened in such a beautiful place. Nothing would ever right the wrong or bring her grandparents back, but by standing in their farm and remembering them fondly, Natalie was able to ensure they were not forgotten.
Goose Chronicles Outtakes
“How are you able to withstand so much pain and suffering and keep a positive perspective on the world?”
“I never forget what happened. And I don't want my children to ever forget their background.”
“What do you think of Russia annexing the Crimean Peninsula?”
“It’s worrisome. There were a couple years where the world was quiet and we all seemed to be straightening out a lot of issues. But Russia has desires to expand its power. China is also a sleeping giant.”
“Do you think another world war could happen?”
“The thought remains. Never shut it out.”