Wanda Orla-Salmonowicz was born in Curitiba, Brazil on April 10th 1901 and died in Santos, Brazil of complications arising from a pancreatic cancer on February 7th 1988.
She was the daughter of Antonina Bohdanowicz (1876 -1923) and Mieczysław Salmonowicz h. Orla (1863-1913), a chemical engineer. She was the eldest of 2 sisters: Jadwiga (1902-1984) and Janina (1905-1984) and a brother, Iwon (1908-1923).
Wanda’s mother, Antonina Bohdanowicz, was the daughter of Pawełand Ewa Bohdanowicz and her father, Mieczysław, was the only son of Władysław Medard Salmonowicz (1822-1865) and Konstancja Benisławska (1841-1892). He was born on December 1st 1863, on the Raczuny Bujwidowskie (or just Raczuny), a manor his mother had bought in 1859, on what used to be the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth .
After his mother’s death (heart attack) in 1892, he inherited the estate, which he sold to emigrate with his wife to the state of Paraná, Brazil in 1900. He made a series of unsuccessful attempts to get a business going in Curitiba: the glass factory he had built in Antonina was burnt to the ground and he got swindled by his Brazilian partners in other ventures. Finally, he went bankrupt and committed suicide in 1913, leaving his wife and four children to fare for themselves.
Antonina received support from the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambery (Congregação das Irmãs de São José de Chambéry). Unfortunately, she and her son Iwon passed away a month apart in 1923, most likely due to the Spanish influenza.
In 1919 Wanda graduated from Collegio São José in Curitiba, Paraná and taught at a primary school in Castro, Paraná until 1920. From 1920 to 1921 she followed evening courses in shorthand and typing, which allowed her to become a secretary at the General Polish Consulate in Curitiba from 1920 to 1922. From 1922 to 1924 she worked for the Colletoria Estadual, the State Tax Office in Curitiba.
At the end of 1923, she met and fell in love at first sight with Bohdan Pawłowicz at a party organized by the Polish Consulate for the Lwów crew. They got married on 19th January 1924 at the Santa Cândida church in Bacacheri, at the time, a Polish colony near Curitiba. In April the following year, she sailed to Poland to rejoin her husband and his family at Kanonia 14 in Warsaw.
From 1924 to 1925 she studied Commercial Art at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts but stopped in June when her son Leszek Kazimierz was born in June 1925. The whole family then left the townhouse on Kanonia 14 and moved to the house on Gorazsewska 8, in the Czerniaków Garden City.
On a very cold 26th November in 1928 she gave birth to a daughter, Hanna Antonina (at the hospital, as her first childbirth had been at home and almost cost her life). When her daughter was about a year and a half old, Wanda decided to travel to Brazil to see her two sisters and she left her children under the care of a nanny and her mother-in-law, Helena. What was to be a short trip abroad lasted more than a year – the Brazilian 1930 revolution started on October 3rd. Wanda was not allowed to leave the country and had to wait until the upheaval was over to go back. When she arrived, her daughter did not recognize her and asked who that nice lady was.
In 1935 the whole family moved to Łódź, where her husband took the post of director of the Łódź Broadcast Station of the Polish Radio Co. In 1937, they moved again, this time to Toruń , where Bohdan was invited to become the director of the newly created Polish Radio Broadcasting Station of Pomerania.
The family spent their summer holidays either in the mountains or at Jastrzębia Góra, on the Baltic coast, where her father-in- law, Kazimierz, had built a house.
At the end of July 1939, during a summer holiday in the mountains with the children, she accompanied Bohdan to Gdánsk, where he boarded the M/S Chrobry, the first Polish transatlantic liner on her maiden voyage to South America. This was the last time she saw her husband before reuniting with him 4 years later – in Brazil.
World War II
By mid-August she received a telephone call from the Governor of Pomerania, Władysław_Raczkiewicz, who was later to become the first Polish president in exile, advising her to return home, pack and leave town with the children as the situation was uncertain and the risk of war was high. Her husband’s status and activities would surely make them prime targets for arrest, deportation and murder. (Intelligenzaktion).
Wanda returned to Tórun with the children, packed some of their belongings, closed the apartment and left it under the care of the servants, saying they would be back later (they left on 30th August 1939, never to return). She tried to join her mother-in-law (Helena) in Czerniaków, Warsaw. However, the trains were packed with soldiers. She managed finally to get a boat on the Vistula River and made it. The day after they arrived, the war was declared.
In the next few days that followed, she made arrangements with Krystyna, her sister-in-law, who was married to Aleksander Hauke-Nowak, the governor of the Volhynia province. They sent a car to fetch the family and bring them to their place in Łuck (then in the eastern part of Poland), as it had not been occupied yet by the German forces (Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact).
The road they traveled was being heavily bombed and shelled so they often had to stop and take refuge, which slowed down their arrival. The children remember the raids, the blasts, the houses shaking. Later they would learn the strafe was caused by the fact that the same road was being used as the escape route for the Polish government in exile, who arrived in Łuck on September 7th.
When Wanda and the children finally arrived in Łuck, the Hauke-Nowaks were preparing to evacuate to Krzemieniec. On September 14th Aleksander joined the Polish Government in Exile on the Romanian border. His wife Krystyna made her way out of Poland through the Baltic states. Before leaving, however, they directed Wanda and her children to a farm nearby. On September 17th, the Soviets invaded Poland and the farm was subsequently inspected by Russian army officers. The farm owners fled soon after taking all the horses but left behind a horse and a cart for Wanda and the children. Wanda had planned to drive the cart back to Warsaw but was stopped by the Soviet army on the road and the family was directed to a detention camp on a potato plantation in Równe. This camp was used to gather all who were captured on the roads to send them later to Russia. The family reported having heard a lots of shootings during the night across the camp.
Wanda forbid the children to speak Polish and started speaking Portuguese. She brandished the Brazilian papers (full of stamps). Little did she know Brazil did not have diplomatic relations with Russia at that time. However, thanks to her courage and to the Brazilian passport, Wanda managed to persuade the camp supervisor that she and her children were Brazilian and should not be there. She sounded so firm and convincing that he let them go. Many prisoners escaped when the gates were opened to let them pass.
As the horse was exhausted, Wanda made the children take turns on the cart and walked back to the empty Nowak’s house in Łuck, which had been occupied by Aleksander’s major d’homme. There the family had to rest for about two weeks while Wanda recovered from the high temperature provoked by the blisters that covered her feet. Two Russian soldiers were stationed there. The children remember them counting the buttons from army uniforms that Polish soldiers had buried in the garden when they changed into civilian clothes to escape at night.
Wanda then decided to take the children back to Warsaw to her mother-in-law’s house in Czerniaków. On their way, she paid a Jewish couple to shelter them and cross the Bug River on a little boat in the early hours of the morning. They then boarded a train full of Polish soldiers travelling to join the Polish army units in the west and, civilians withdrawing from the Soviet occupation. They arrived onto a scenery of destruction – Warsaw had surrendered and was occupied by the Germans. She hired a cart at the station and they drove to Czerniaków, not knowing whether the house would still be there as Warsaw was in ruins. On arrival, the family was relieved to see just one of the front trees had been knocked down by the bullets and Helena J.Pawlowiczowa was there to give them shelter again.
Hanna, who was 11 then, was sent to a primary school nearby (in November), but the teaching of Polish language and history had already been prohibited. Leszek, who was 14, was about to enter high school but as most Polish Educational Institutions had been closed due to policies aimed at cultural genocide, he had to resort to underground education and the Secret Teaching Organization network to continue his studies.
Wanda saw the situation worsen and feared what might happen to her children, especially Leszek, who could be caught and sent to German labour camps. Being a Brazilian by birth, she made several contacts and went to the Brazilian Consulate in Berlin, who issued her passport and instructed her how to get the papers which would allow her to go out of the country.
Rio de Janeiro
Photographs, letters, work permit, diaries, family narratives, birth and death certificates.
Cz. Jankowski, Powiat oszmiański : materjały do dziejów ziemi i ludzi Cz. 1 str 163
Kazimierz Głuchowski, Materjały do problemu osadnictwa polskiego w Brazylji, Warszawa 1927, rozdz. 7, str. 235: „(…) w 1900 roku [przybyli] bracia Suchorscy, M.[Mieczysław] Salmonowicz, W. Białynia-Kowerski, Artwiński, pani Jamna (…)”
Stanisław Warchałowski, I poleciał w świat daleki… Wspomnienia z Brazylii, Polski i Peru Biblioteka Iberyjska Warszawa 2009 str. 58