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 Historia rodziny Petrylów

The meeting of the Petryla sisters: Janina, Józefa and Helena, 1960

In the mountain range of the Carpathians, surrounded by a ring of hills (from the south - Chełm and Jaworz, from the west - Rosochatka), in the picturesque valley of the Biała River there is located an old town of Grybów. It was founded by King Casimir the Great in 1366.

A kilometer away is located Siołkowa village, where my grandparents come from. The village is beautifully situated. It extends on two hills: on the right on Matulanka, on the left - on Wójciakowska Mountain, the name of which was given to them by the village mayors living there. Through the center of the village flows a stream called Siołkówka, which in the summer is almost dry, and during a storm or flood becomes a rushing river. It can take up to four meters.

Grybów, the valley of the Biała River. Matulanka and Wójciakowska Mountain are connected by high road and rail bridges shown in the picture.

The Petryla surname (the only such a surname in the area), according to the family account, probably comes from a Moldovan hospodar called by Poles Petryła, who invaded Poland at the time of the reigns of King Sigismund the Old. As the account has it, Petryło after getting to Polish captivity was looking for a suitable place where he could live. He found it right here. It is worth noting that the holders of the surname hold the ownership of land in Siołkowa. It was an unusual situation, because since time immemorial the entire village land were held by: the Hosz family (in Zofinowo) and the Kiełbasa family (in the north). Unlike the Petryla family, local farmers cultivated feudal fields.

Siołkowa - view of the countryside from the Petryl family’s property

The land, which the Petryla family had owned since the mid-nineteenth century was divided between two brothers – Bernardyn and Maciej. The latter had a the son named Józef, who owned half of the land stretching from the village to the borders with Krużlowa. It was in total about 10 hectares of land. Petryla was very intelligent, and his descendants inherited after him the nobility and distinguished themselves by the lifestyle among residents of Siołkowa.

Our great-grandfather – Józef Petryla

As stated in the population records kept in the office of the parish in Grybów, our great-grandfather Józef Petryla was born in 1854. He was a man of extraordinary intelligence, who inherited the culture of his ancestors. He served in the army of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna, holding the rank of unterführer. He belonged to the ruler’s guards. He even happened to talk several times to the Emperor Franz Joseph. He also got to know the customs of the imperial court in Vienna (his brother Ludwik being in the army also stayed at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph). After returning from the army he married Anna from, nee Radzik, who came from a nearby village - Biała Wyżna. He was the father of ten children, five of whom died at the juvenile age.

Jan Petryla, the eldest son of Józef Petryla, from the private archivesGreat-grandfather Józef was respected and was an authority figure in Siołkowa. For several terms (until old age) he was the village mayor, even more - the father of the commune. He became famous in the surrounding area for providing professional and official services to the population. In addition to the exercise of power in the commune, he also dealt with the craft passed in this family from father to son - blacksmithing. Our great-grandfather also had a remarkable gift for diagnosing and treatment of various diseases. Numerous people came to him from distant neighborhoods to seek advice, to have a broken bone set, to ask for some surgery.

Józef often repeated to his children that blue blood flew in their veins, so when the children grew up, the father asked them all about their passions and penchants and counseled to each of them so that everybody, according to their interests and talents, once could serve effectively to others. He signed up the eldest son Jan (our grandfather) and Andrzej (our uncle) for the so-called wheelwright vocational school. There, for four years they were taught different professions. When they finished the school, their father in 1903 built two workshops: a carpenter workshop for Jan and a forge for Andrzej.

The rest of the siblings, that is, Ludwik and Marcin, as well as the youngest – Karol learnt from them. In the building Józef also organized a shop with basic needs products, where Ludwik was a salesman.

In the forge people from all over the village met and used the services of good professionals, there they also sought different news about the world and settled other matters. Sometimes the workshop was open until late at night. It was a place where people made friends and established associations (for example, Catholic Youth), and where social life was thriving.

Foremen also had students form the Petryla family. Jan, a son of cousin Hilary and Staszek, a son of cousin Sebastian learnt to be wheelwrights. Józek learnt to be a blacksmith

Brothers departure

In 1908, after the Petryla brothers completed the military service, emerged a possibility to go to America. The family needed additional funds to equip the adolescent sons and to rebuild the decaying house. Great-grandfather Józef decided to send abroad two sons, Jan and Andrzej. Departure took place within a short time of that decision. Along with Jan and Andrzej also a few other boys who had in America some family left Siołkowa. They settled in Chicago in Pennsylvania, got jobs in a coal mine. It was hard to get used to the new conditions of work and to live in a big city, but hard life in the family home made Jan and Andrzej prepared for a variety of adversities. They went ahead together.

The earnings from month to month were rising, the capital grew. They were glad that they would support family, and even thought of settling permanently in America. But God directed their fate otherwise.Jan’s brother, Andrzej Petryla, from the private archives Once in the mine there was an explosion and fire, part of the corridor collapsed. By some strange coincidence, the brothers survived the life-threatening accident. Elsewhere in the mine they encountered an underground lake.Andrzej, seeing the dangers of life (and perhaps lead also by other reasons) notified of them the father. A telegram came immediately from Poland: "Andrzej - immediately go back." It was a real bolt from the blue. After deliberation and consideration of the matter the brothers took that command as the will of God, they fulfilled the request of their father and returned to Poland.

The return way on the ship was very long. They talked about interesting experiences on the sea, about unusual fish that accompanied the ship. They were happy about the meeting with the family, and probably the most about a fairly large sum of the dollars earned with great difficulty in the other hemisphere, which they brought with them. They purchased a variety of things useful in the house.

The father was pleased with the return of the sons, certainly he had been missing them. Andrzej wanted to leave again, but the father did not agree to that, because he planned to leave him the family land. For the earned dollars he bought a beautiful piece of land in Zofinowo, which belonged to Grybów. Jan and Andrzej got the place to build houses for themselves and two hectares of land. In addition, they bought sheeting to cover the house, which they planned to build.

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Time of World War I

Jan once again went to America to earn money. The times were restless, so the father did not make him return. He got the news of the outbreak of the World War I overseas, so he avoided the terrible events which his brothers experienced on different fronts.

In Poland, all of them were appointed to the army. Andrzej was on several fronts: in Italy, in Trieste (there he fell ill with dangerous malaria, which he luckily survived), in Vienna, on the eastern front (Bukovina, Lviv) and in central Poland. As a horse expert he served in the transportation, so it was easy for him to survive the critical moments. The use of several languages (German, English and Slovenian) facilitated his contacts with foreigners. Thanks to the special care of God he survived to see the end of the war. Happy and experienced, once again he returned to family and friends.

Uncle Andrzej Petryla

Great-grandfather Józef divided his estate between two sons: the eldest Jan and the middle one - Andrzej. The younger of the two, Andrzej, who was characterized by generosity, honesty and serenity, was left by the father as a worthy successor on the family land. Andrzej, while still in the army, had completed vet courses specializing in the treatment of horses, because it was useful at war. When he was at home people came to him asking for advice, and even treatments of their horses, because there was not yet an official veterinarian. Sometimes they would come at night asking him to help the animal - he was very much needed in the rural community of Siołkowa. Andrzej Petryla did not expect a payment, but help of the neighbors.

My uncle had five children. A son became a priest and four daughters joined the monastery. When the uncles were already elderly, they handed over their land to the monastery, and half of their home served for rooms for religious education of children from a local school. Until the death of aunt the monastery allowed her daughter, Teresa, to take care of the mother in her home. The aunt died at the age of 105, which at that time was a rarity.

Julia and Andrzej Petryla and their children:  Włodek, Maria, Aniela, Michalina and Teresa, from the private archives

The house of Jan and Maria Petryla

Jan (our grandfather) was impulsive and less attached to family land. He liked the wide world, was twice in America - still had more and more new projects. Near his family house he built a new one - outbuildings and a workshop, and above the workshop - a mill - so he was not dependent on his father's workshop. His family was considered to be more intellectual than Andrzej’s, with wider connections. Jan stood out from Siołkowa residents in terms of the lifestyle. He also took after his father medical skills. People with children came to him, he performed various treatments and therapeutic massages.

Jan and Maria Petryla, from the private archives

Jan and Maria (his wife) had four children: Józia, Staszka, Janka and Hela. The children were very gifted, so grandparents had no difficulty to send them to schools. They were ambitious, so they educated all their children - something unique for those times. Grandfather Jan still dreamed of going into the world, an obstacle to which was his wife, our grandmother, sentimental, attached to the family and the family land.

1935 dawned - Jan was already 53 years old. At that time Józia had graduated from teachers' college in Tarnów, Staszek was in the seminary as a Pallottine cleric - a philosophy student, Janka had joined the monastery, which sent her to Lviv, where she finished a seminar for nursery educators, and the youngest Hela had finished seventh grade.

From Siołkowa to Argentina

When Stanislaw stated that he was resigning from the clerical state, Janina – a postulant of Dominican Sisters that referred her to Lviv - stated that she would not be a nun, either. It was a blow for both parents. It was a particularly painful experience for emotional, pious mother, who after all had been glad that her two children chose the clerical state. While ambitious father felt humiliated in the rural environment because in those days such news met with a negative assessment of the neighbors.

Jan took advantage of the unpleasant situation and, to ambitiously tackle the situation, decided to go abroad. He was always attracted to adventure, he was sophisticated and knowledgeable of the world. He also took into account the economic difficulties of Poland and the news about the future in Argentina, where the government gave away land for free to colonize large areas of jungle. The decision to emigrate with family was taken together with his friend and neighbor Jakub, who also dreamed of going into the world - it was easier to set off into the unknown together.

In summer 1935 our grandfather with children emigrated to Argentina. It was a very unpleasant experience. Grandfather sold the family land, because uncle Andrzej did not have the funds to buy it. They also sold part of the equipment, and the rest packed up (they took with them cart wheels, various seeds and household necessities). They were very sad moments for the grandfather’s family. In Poland stayed the eldest daughter Józia (our mother), who was then 26 years old and after graduating from teacher’s college in Tarnów (her education cost her parents a lot) already worked as a teacher in a school in Żeleźnikowa near Nowy Sącz, and as far as I know, it was the reason why she stayed in Poland.

The day came to say goodbye, for grandma family coercion. Generally, for a family it was a sad parting - with the place, neighbors, homeland, parish. Staszek, Janka and Hela, as it usually is with the young, were waiting for the adventure, for Józia the parting was a drama. She couldn’t decide until the last minute, it was difficult to comfort her, but the attachment to the homeland was stronger. The fact that the son and daughter of the neighbor Jakub also did not leave with their parents (the son was already a teacher and the daughter stayed at the family farm) was consolation for her. Besides, uncle Andrzej’s family also stayed. In the critical moment a local priest Gnutek wrote a comforting letter to her. He was the one to whom she owed survival of the crisis.

Józia stayed with aunt and uncle. Ever since she considered their house as hers. She could always rely on aunt’s and uncle’s kindness and warmth. So she would come to them for every Christmas and holidays. There she was treated as their own child. Full of gratitude, she showed respect and affection for them.

 Józia was the organizer of the joint family photos in Siołkowa, which she sent to her parents in Argentina, from the private archives

The Petryla family in Argentina

The family of Jan and Maria Petryla and the family of the neighbor Jakub sailed from Gdynia, 10 August 1935, at 1 a.m. on the cargo ship "Warszawa". The journey took about 33 days, there were a few stops. From France (Le Havre) on the ship "Lipare" they sailed to Lisbon in Portugal, then to Brazil (Pernambuco, Santos, Rio de Janeiro), Uruguay (Montevideo), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and further on a riverboat down the Parana river to Polana.

They settled in the province of Misiones in the Polana colony, inhabited mainly by Polish immigrants. The Government of Argentina, in order to colonize vast areas of the jungle, gave immigrants the land for free. In the beginning life was very difficult, they had to start from scratch. Clear the forests to prepare the land for cultivation, and what’s more, build a house for the money that they had got in Poland from the sale of their land. It was a very difficult stage for the whole family. They devoted to agriculture. Grandfather grew yerba mate.

Grandma often wrote letters from Argentina, was curious about everything what was happening in the country and in the family, she missed very much. The letters from grandmother came often - full of longing, expectations for news, requests for photos. Grandma complained very much about the hot climate, insects that plagued legs, monkeys that destroyed crops on the plots, grabbed chickens and eggs. There were no potatoes, and it was hard to get used to cassava. The cultivation of land far away from the center, homesickness - they were sources of gloom, a black melancholy, which particularly affected emotional grandmother, but to some extent we all felt it. At home they always celebrated holidays with Polish customs. They only spoke Polish at home.

The war interrupted the contacts. It was only in 1945 that they gave a sign of life. They sent us medicines, clothes and fabrics of which my mother sewed our clothes. In each parcel were Merhiolar pills that as soon as someone was sick or something hurt someone always helped. They had the same effects as aspirin. Grandma often sent to Poland pepper, which my mom sold because then it was hard to get it. We were sincerely grateful to them for that help.

History of Jan and Maria Petryla’s children

Helenka externalized her longing for Poland during World War II. Volunteers from Polish community in Argentina were also called to fight for Poland. Brave Hela volunteered and landed in Europe, serving in the Army of the West as a nurse.

 Helena Petryla fought in World War II in the Army of the West, form the private archivesWhile she was in England she still wanted to go back to Poland and it was probably the only way out for her. By a strange coincidence she contacted a friend from Poland, Antek Główczyk, who at that time was in Germany, working in the forced labor. She wrote letters to him, hoping to return with him to Poland. It didn’t happen. After the war, however, Helena never returned to Argentina. In Poland she met Zygmunt Pokrzywnicki who during the war, serving in the army, was taken prisoner and after the war went to England. She got married and stayed there. Till the end of her life she lived in Penley in Wales, where many Poles lived. Till the end she spoke beautiful Polish. She worked as a nurse in the hospital, where Polish war veterans were treated. She had two daughters, Irena and Danuta, who also know the Polish language.

Helena Petryla (third one from the left) with her husband, Zygmunt Pokrzywnicki and her daughters, Irena and Danuta, from the private archivesHelena’s mother-in-law, Irena Pokrzywnicka, was a painter. In the second half of 1944 she painted a picture "Blessed Virgin of the Home Army" and its miniature, which was reproduced in the insurgent printing house in the quantity of 4000 pieces. The Home Army chaplain and the liaison officers were handing them to the soldiers and residents of Warsaw. The image stood on the altar in the field where the soldiers and the people of Warsaw participated in the insurgent masses.

Staszek Petryla

Staszek returned to Europe upon hearing the news of the Polish occupation by the Germans in order to join the Allies as a volunteer. As a volunteer, he participated in hostilities in Europe. He was a tank driver in the army of General Maczek. After the war he was demobilized on 24 July 1946. He returned to Argentina without any physical injuries. He continued to work in agriculture. In 1949 he married Danuta Ulanowicz, a daughter of his neighbors, a Pole born in Suwałki, who as a small child had come to Argentina with her parents. They had seven children, two of whom died shortly after birth. The five children are: Stasiu, Hania, Olek, Klara and Ela.

The family of Staszek’s wife left Poland. Danuta’s uncle, a bachelor and a dreamer, had already arrived in Argentina. He persuaded Danuta’s relatives to emigrate, saying that Argentina was a paradise. They arrived on a riverboat, and there they were left in the forest late in the evening. There was nothing, only the forest. And they came from city and, what’s more, had two small children with them. They suffered a lot, Danuta’s mother cried for weeks.

Staszek was a great reader, an educated man. He was active in his community, where he was involved all his life in various fields. He was also a mayor. In the 1970s he worked as the manager of the cooperative which had a yerba mate processing plant built under his leadership.

In the 1980s, together with his family he moved to the town of Gobernador Roca (founded by Polish immigrants) so that younger daughters could study in better conditions. There he lived until 2009, when he died at the age of 97. He spoke Polish to the last day of his life, although he knew perfectly Spanish. He was never in any way honored by the Polish authorities for his merits at war, during which he was very brave and active. He was, above all, honest and he taught his children to be honest as well, his children are very proud of their father. He always told them that he was proud of his Polish origin.

Janina Petryla

Janina left Argentina for Brazil, where in Curitiba re-entered the monastery. After two years, however, again she quitted. She worked as a teacher in various cities in the southern region of Brazil, inhabited by many Poles. She married Figurski and settled in Porto Alegre. She invited there her parents, who moved from Argentina to Brazil. In Argentina stayed only son Staszek with his family. Janina was very involved in cultural activities of the Polish diaspora, contributed to the formation of Polish theater groups, choirs and folk dance bands. She was a librarian of Polonia Society. She received several awards and the order from the Polish government for her activities in Polish organizations abroad.

 Janina Petryla with her husband Figurski, from the private archives

Children of Janina Petryla, from the private archives

Józia Petryla

Józia, who stayed in Poland, a few years before the Second World War declared to her aunt and uncle that she had a fiancé, a military officer Jan Merena. He came from Florynka near Krynica from a Lemko family. Aunt and uncle got to like the serious, intelligent and friendly officer. Józia sent his photograph to her parents in Argentina so that they could accept him. She decided, looking at the photograph, to draw his portrait. She thought that if the portrait was nice, it would mean that she should have married him. The portrait was very nicely.

Jan Merena, Józia Petryla’s husband-to-be, from the private archivesAunt and uncle liked Józia’s bachelor, but they were afraid that he could make it difficult for Józia to follow the Roman Catholic denomination, because he was of Greek Catholic denomination (and formerly different believers were prejudiced). All this passed when Jasiek, out of love to Józia, converted to her denomination. Aunt and uncle were very pleased for that reason and respected him even more, and despite the military distance he was treated as "ours".
During the September campaign in 1939 Janek was wounded in the leg. After the war in 1947 Jan Merena’s family along with other families from Florynka as a part of Operation "Vistula" were displaced to the west of Poland. Józia with her husband and children stayed in Nowy Sącz.

Our parents, Jan and Józefa Merena were wonderful parents. At home we never heard a quarrel between them, never heard a bad word. The only words that were uttered when something went wrong were "gorblimey" or "holy smoke".

Caption: Visiting Jan’s family in Florynka

The Petryla family’s return to Poland

In 1958 Hela, as the first from the part of the family who had emigrated, visited Poland. She came from England with her daughters at school age - Irena and Danusia. How much joy and emotion she experienced then, after more than 20 years of separation from the country, which, however she remembered well! She wanted to make sure that her children knew her home country, because maybe one day they would stay here.

In 1960 Janina came to Poland from Brazil. She hid her feelings more than Hela, but anyway she was excited about everything she could see in her home country. The opportunity came up for Petryla sisters to meet together and at the same time also Hela came from England.

Janina was once again in Poland in the 1970s with her daughter Helenka. She was delegated by the Polish community in Brazil and together with the others participated in the teachings of regional dances in Polish bands. At the same time Hela and her daughters came to Poland so that her children could get to know their cousin from Brazil.

 Meeting of Petryla sisters: Janka, Józia and Ela, 1960, from the private archives

In 1965 even the grandmother, Maria Petryla, came to Poland from Brazil. It was after the death of the grandfather. She came with the thought of staying with Józia in Nowy Sącz. She was already eighty years old and wanted to be buried in Poland. She also often visited her homeland in Siołkowa, but everything seemed to her strange. In the same year Helena with her daughters came from England in order to meet her mother after so many years.

Maria Petryla (third from the left, first row) with family 1965, from the private archives

What came after the first emotions and visits was daily, gray life. The habits formed for so many years dominated, she longed for her own place in Brazil again. Maria thought the most about beloved Janina and granddaughters left in Brazil. It was difficult for her to live here, especially that the cold climate took a toll on her aching joints. After much effort to return to Brazil (she had to request for departure to Gomulka himself), the time came for the way back. To collect money for a ticket, aunt Hela sent from England parcels with polyamide coats, which in those days were very fashionable. Our mother sold them to friends and this way collected funds for a ticket for a cargo ship to Brazil. Leaving Poland, the grandmother took with her Polish soil and a bottle of Polish water. She died in Brazil in Porto Alegre on 6 June 1976.

Cousins from England and Brazil who visited Poland in the 1970s. From the left: Danusia and Irenka from England, Helena from Brazil, from the private archives

Hania Petryla - our cousin from Argentina (a daughter of uncle Staszek - a teacher) visited Poland in 2000. Her father was already elderly and did not feel strong enough to take such a long journey, that’s why he wanted at least his daughter to come and get to know his homeland - the land of the ancestors. After returning from Poland she wanted to come back the following year, she really liked Krakow.

Unfortunately, Hania’s mother - Danuta fell ill and died soon after. After several years the father, Staszek Petryla, fell ill and died in 2009 at the age 97. When Hania retired, she began to collect money to once again make the voyage of a lifetime to Poland and stay in Krakow as long as possible.

History of the Merena family

History repeats itself, because the fate scattered also the Merena’s children all over Poland, far from the family home. Jędrek, after graduating from technical university in Leningrad, lived in Krakow. Jurek, having graduated from Cracow University of Technology moved to Katowice. Teresa with a degree from the University of Physical Education in Krakow settled in Zakopane, and the youngest Barbara, who always said she would never leave Nowy Sącz, after finishing railway technical college, went the furthest, as far as to Gdańsk. Fortunately, after a few years, Teresa returned to Nowy Sącz and thus parents had care in their old age.

Merena Family in Nowy Sącz, from the private archives

Barbara finished railway technical college in 1968. That year there were held March student protests. At the same time Barbara's brother, Jurek, finished studies in Krakow. During the strikes the amateur photographer was taking pictures of the militia clashes with students. He distributed them, displaying them in a dorm, and students willingly bought them from him as a remembrance. For this activity he was sentenced to one year of imprisonment as a political prisoner.

Barbara never wanted to leave Nowy Sącz, because she loved the city and her boyfriend who she had known for a few years. She did not want to study and dreamed of working in the largest plant in Nowy Sącz – Rolling Stock Repair Plant (Zakłady Naprawcze Taboru Kolejowego). It was the time of Polish People’s Republic and the fact that her brother was a political prisoner was an obstacle for her to be hired in the company of her dreams.

A few months before the arrest of Barbara’s brother, she was at the National Railwaymen Spartakiade in Zawiercie, where she played volleyball. She was spotted by a young railwayman from Gdańsk, who was sitting on the stands and taking photos of the games. He obtained Barbara’s address and wrote in the letters that if only she had wanted to, he could get her a job on the coast.

 National Railwaymen Spartakiade, Zawiercie, 1968, from the private archives

When after half a year of waiting for the job in RSRP Barbara learned that she would not get it, she decided for a trip to Gdańsk. In the old days there was something like workers’ hostels, so there was no problem with accommodation, and railway workers in Gdańsk were needed because the closest railway college was located in Olsztyn.

Barbara was sure that she would return to Nowy Sącz very soon. Unfortunately, she got to like Gdańsk very much, especially the proximity to the sea, so she stayed there permanently, and the young railwayman who she had met at the Spartakiade after several years became her husband.

Papa Jan Merena died on December 17, 1987, and mom Józefa on January 2, 1994.

 40th anniversary of Józia and Jan Merena’s wedding. Behind them are standing their children – from the left: Barbara, Jędrek, Jurek, Teresa, 1979, from the private archive

 Merena siblings, Nowy Sącz, All Saints’ Day, 2013, from the private archive