Ruby Family History Project Blog

Celebrating the life of Mel Brenner

By Walter Ruby

Eleven months ago, I had the privilege of traveling with Mel Brenner to Rhode Island for the reunion of the 87th U.S. Infantry Division in which he served during World War II. The trip was an uplifting experience that afforded me the opportunity to get to know in a deeper way than I ever had before my favorite uncle from childhood—a warm, funny, charming and inspirational man who heartily enjoyed myriad aspects of life while dedicating himself to making the world a better and saner place.

Sadly, Mel succumbed to cancer at the end of May (see obit from Newsday) and on Thursday June 27, I took part in his memorial service at the Jefferson’s Ferry Retirement community where he lived his last three years. The event, which drew well over 100 people, was a bittersweet and uplifting celebration of Mel’s life, with much laughter and love mixed with a great sense of loss that also brilliantly channeled his uniquely eclectic essence. For this, Mel’s three daughters, Janis Brenner, Amy Schettini and Leslie Brenner, and Janis’ husband Mitchell Bogard, who devoted weeks to the putting together of the complicated multi-media production, deserve great credit. 

The event included a moving dance performance by Janis entitled Where-How-Why Trilogy, which seemed go head-on at the great existential issues of life, love and death; an acapella performance of one of Mel’s favorites, Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You” by Michelle Rosen, a lifelong friend of Janis’ who used to sing folk songs with her as teenagers back in the late ‘60s; and remarks on Mel’s life by family members and close friends, including Mitchell, Janis, Sid Wenokor, Leigh Steinman (Leslie’s daughter), Amy Schettini, Daniel Schettini (Amy’s son), Elaine Rosler, Orrin Dow, myself and Leslie Brenner, followed by presentation of a comprehensive and inspiring photo-montage video on Mel’s life, which will hopefully be presented on this forum as well.

Mel’s beloved wife Sandy who sat in the front row in her wheelchair, was not well enough to speak, but she appeared deeply moved by the event and profoundly consoled by the coming together of family and friends to celebrate Mel’s life.

A few things came up at the memorial service I hadn’t known about Mel. One was that he had created a rich lode of stories about two vaguely leprechaunish boys named Alfie and George who lived under a mailbox, which he used to entertain his children and grandchildren as they were growing up. Listening to Amy, Leslie and her daughter Leigh share memories of those stories gave one a poignant sense of how Mel transmitted a sense of joy and wonder to small children, as did a retelling of some of Mel’s favorite jokes in spot-on fashion by 11-year-old Daniel Schettini, who brought to the performance the polish and precocious savoir faire he has acquired as a child actor in LA.

Another highlight was Leslie’s reading of a list Mel compiled on his 75th birthday of what he had learned in life ranging from the tongue-in-cheek (“numbering your white socks ensures equality and fairness” or “push ‘print’ if you expect a computer to reproduce what is on the screen”) to the profound (“watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean and seeing the bluefish jump is one of life’s great experiences”) and something he learned all-too-literally at a young age (“when the bullets are coming at you, stay very low”).

In the poignant remarks of Amy, Leslie and Janis and the grandchildren, the portrait of Mel that emerged was of a Renaissance man who, even after his early retirement from his teaching career in his mid-50s, stayed busy and engaged with the world through involvement in good causes like building the Democratic Party in Nassau County and protecting basic constitutional rights for present and future generations through his leadership in the Long Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Yet Mel also took the time in Leslie’s words “to sit back and just be,” deeply enjoying the things in life that made him happy—whether it was riding his bike several times across France and England, fishing on the south shore of Long Island, savoring Dixieland jazz and the Weavers, or whittling walking sticks and whimsical creatures from wood that many of his family and friends (including me) attached to their car dashboards as good-luck talismans. And of course, Mel enriched countless lives by sharing his joie de vivre with everyone around him, first and foremost, with his beloved family.

Mel, we will miss you deeply but go forward inspired by the example of someone who lived life to the fullest and, as Leslie put it, “truly earned this rest.”   

Walter Ruby story on Treelines

I'm trying out a product called Treelines for presenting family narratives. Here is my first effort, entered in the company's contest for stories about getting started in genealogy.

Remembering Mel Brenner

BRENNER- Melvin Charles ("Mel"), 87, passed away on Thursday, May 30, 2013 surrounded by his loving children. Born in The Bronx, NY to the late Sarah Ellenbogen and Michael Brenner, he spent his early years in Bridgeport, CT before moving to Brooklyn. As a teen, he took great pleasure in serving up the perfect egg cream from behind the soda fountain in his parents' candy store. He was a graduate of James Madison High School.

He obtained the rank of Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Army in World War II with the 87th Infantry Division, 345 Regiment. Seven months of combat in Europe included the Battle of the Bulge, and Siegfreid Line--ending up on the Czech border May 8, 1945. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star. The war experience informed much of the rest of his life, and he worked tirelessly for peace and social justice. Participating in the 87th Infantry Division Association reunions meant a great deal to Mel over the past 10 years, as he was reunited with his lifetime friends. After the war he attended NYU, obtaining an MA in the Social Sciences in 1951. He taught in the NYC school system for nine years.

He had been married to Sandra (Klein) Brenner for just shy of 60 years. They met in NYC and settled in North Massapequa in 1960, where they raised their three daughters. He taught high school social studies throughout his career at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, attaining Department Chairman in 1971. While teaching became one of his great passions, he proudly told people that he chose the profession in order to be on the same schedule as his children, thus being an integral part of their childhood. And he was a true champion of his daughters, lovingly supporting their interests and efforts every step of the way. The family embarked on many memorable road trips throughout the U.S.

Mel was a founder and past president of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society. He was a founder and past president of the New York Civil Liberties Union-Nassau County Chapter, sitting on the Board of Directors for several decades. Always active in local and national politics, he was a candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1970, and a delegate to 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami, FL. He retired in June 1981, which enabled him to pursue his love of travel. This especially included bicycling throughout Europe with different close buddies (which he did on 9 separate occasions; France, Holland, England) resulting in subsequent fascinating, informative, entertaining and always educational professional slide presentations. He and Sandra explored Alaska, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Tobago, Greece, Sicily and Hawaii. They spent many winters in Florida following her retirement in 1991 where they enjoyed kayaking and birding in the quiet of the bay, as well as theater and dining out with friends. He swam competitively in the Senior Olympics there, earning both gold and silver. Mel had many close, lifelong friends.

A physically fit and active man, Mel loved the game of tennis, continuing to play throughout his life. With almost equal enthusiasm he enjoyed fishing, biking, wood carving, gardening (especially planting the green peas each spring) and reading. He was a huge fan of Dixieland jazz, Woody Guthrie and Ella Fitzgerald, a politically astute speaker, and a modern-day Renaissance man. He brought these traits with him in the move to Jeffersons Ferry Retirement Community in South Setauket, where he and Sandy relocated in the summer of 2010. New meaningful friendships developed, and Mel left a remarkable imprint on a great number of people in a short span of time.

Surviving family include his wife, Sandra; daughters Janis Brenner and husband Mitchell Bogard of NYC; Amy Schettini, husband, Frank, and son Daniel, of Long Beach, CA; and Leslie Brenner and children Leigh and Frank Steinman of Portsmouth, NH; brother-in-law, Alan and Mary Ellen Klein of Homewood, IL, and a niece, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his sister, Miriam Goldman.

To make a donation in Mel's honor, please select a charity of your choice, or an organization he supported: ACLU's NYCLU Chapter, Southern Poverty Law Center, or the National Museum of the U.S. Army.

Translation of Gissot "Irregularities" file

This is my Google Translate-enabled rough translation of the Gissot file. In several places, I made guesses as to the meaning of the text. In other areas, especially regarding the commercial contracts, I could not make a guess as to the meaning and left ambiguous text.

Ministry Of Foreign Affairs
Directorate general of economic and consular affairs

Irregularities of the vice-consul and manager of the Consulate in Toulouse, Mr. Gissot

INFORMATION

The Consul in Marseilles and State Defense and Surveillance Police [PVDE] formulate several serious allegations against Mr. Emile Gissot, vice Consul and manager of the Consulate in Toulouse. These are reproduced below along with the explanations of Mr. Gissot and the conclusions of the Bureau of Consular Administration.

All charges are by the Consul in Marseille, with the exception of the last, which is by the State Defense and Surveillance Police:

1st - The Manager of the Consulate in Toulouse charged personal compensation of Frs. 30,00 for each passport examined, an amount set in the Table of Consular Fees as Esc 6$00, corresponding to the fee of Frs. 9.60. According to the calculations of the Consul in Marseilles, the difference reverting in favor of Mr. Gissot [comes to] Frs. 19726.80.

2nd - The Consulate in Toulouse, under the responsibility of Gissot, [remitted] insufficient revenue from stamps worth Esc 56,550$00.

3rd - Mr. Gissot insists that transfer fees much higher than the annual maximum limit allowed by the Consular Regulation [were necessary], citing the reasons - unacceptable, incidentally - which [are cited below] when dealing with the explanations of the Mr. Gissot.

4th - In the enlarged photographs of various visas in passports issued by Mr. Gissot (photographs that were sent to the Ministry by the Consul in Marseille), there are obvious irregularities such as:

a) Application of stamp fragments instead of complete stamps;
b) Charges which do not correspond to the particulars of its receipt;
c) Repetition of numbers in reporting revenue and not following a chronological order.

The Consul in Marseille who highlights these anomalies declares that the stamps were fragmented, divided into four parts, each to be employed for full consular acts.

5th - According to the statements by the Consul of Marseilles, Mr. Emile Gissot charged, at least sometimes, several hundreds of francs per visa.

6th - Also according to statements by the Consul in Marseilles, Mr. Emile Gissot granted visas on passports that had been forbidden by this Ministry, back-dating the visas to conceal the fraud.

7th - Mr. Emile Gissot extorted foreigners to grant them visas on passports for Portugal, charging hefty sums to which he legally had no right. He even had a service set up for this purpose, with individuals who walked by cafes, bars, etc.. garnering customers for the Consulate.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Mr. Gissot defended himself as follow on the three primary charges:

The first: It is a fact that he charged Frs. 30.00 instead of Frs. 9.60. The [additional] amount allowed him to spend the difference, in full, in aid to numerous stranded Portuguese workers.

Thus, despite the large number of Portuguese who came to be unemployed that region never overloaded the Ministry with requests for aid.

The consulate received very many such requests for repatriation or job placement, as was known to the Legation in Vichy and this ministry. Mr. Gissot regrets not having kept aid receipts but he never thought that this procedure could prove to be misunderstood. He cited that the concept is also taken by the Legation.

The second: The Esc 56,550$00 of missing stamps represent:

1st - 263 visas in work contracts (the Bureau checks taxed at a rate of Esc 210$00 per visa instead of Esc 110$00 that should apply);

2nd - 12 stamps of Esc 110$00 that were remitted under regulations, but were not recorded as received by the Consulate in Bordeaux, on which [Toulouse] depended at the time.

Mr. Gissot said that the company with the 263 contracts was a major firm known to the Consulate, which provided it with prepaid stamps. He imprudently delivered them already stamped​to that firm.

Consequently, at that time, the Portuguese Government has in fact prevented the departure of Portuguese workmen to France without notice and without notification to consulates that they should not legalize work contracts. Interested firms utterly refused to make payment to the Consulate in Toulouse for these authorizations. A representative who came to Portugal with the contracts said that the Portuguese authorities do not recognize the validity of those documents. The vice Consul telegraphically advised the Ministry requesting action against the aforementioned representative, whose address was indicated in Lisbon.

In response to the Consul in Marseille (pointing to Mr. Gissot as the only means to recover the value of the missing stamps), [Mr. Gissot] judged he cannot be held responsible for this fact, because the collections did not take place. The Portuguese Government did not recognize the commitment implicitly assumed to leave the workers out because it allowed the legalization of contracts and dealing with stamps of no intrinsic value.

The Consul in Marseilles does not believe the explanation given by Mr. Gissot, since it does not appear that the Ministry has taken any action as a result of participation Consulate in Toulouse.

As for the third: The manager of the Consulate in Toulouse insists on keeping safe an amount greater than allowed by the Regulation in order to have cash available in case the Portuguese Government decides to use the courts to force the firm to pay the aforementioned legalization of 263 contracts - or even to defend themselves in the courts of action that a branch of the same firm [might] eventually devise against the Consulate for loss and damages, based on the losses incurred due to the Portuguese Government's decision not to allow the workers to [remain in] France after the referenced contracts.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

About the above, the Bureau of Consular Administration met to consider the following:

1 - The illegal collection of personal compensations, denounced by the Consul in Marseilles, can not be doubted as the manager of the Consulate in Toulouse himself confesses to this, while claiming that the proceeds from these charges was intended to help the needy Portuguese. It is not proven, however, that Frs. 19.726,80 were dispensed for this purpose. It is true that it appears during the current year the Consulate has not requested reimbursement for aid or repatriations. But it also must be recognized that the facts raised reveal bad faith on the part of Mr. Gissot - and reveal with certainty, at least, practices that can not be sanctioned by the State Department.

2 - There was an unforgivable mistake by the manager's office of the Consulate in Toulouse in the case of legalization of labor contracts, because they should not have them delivered before they were paid. But it seems that there has been bad faith because in due time the Ministry's representative firm telegraphically requested action against the interested party at the address indicated in Lisbon. The Ministry immediately turned turned the case over to the police, after insisting on an answer, which, oddly enough, has not yet been received.

Not [disinclined] to believe in the good faith of Mr. Gissot in this case, but the information verifies that the contracts were not utilized in the decision of the Portuguese Government to which reference is made above. Until then the person responsible for this matter is Mr. Gissot. Since it appears that the contracts may possibly call for restitution of fees charged for its legalization (though not in fact received but already filled), settling is thus the responsibility of the manager of the Consulate in Toulouse.

Perhaps this case reveals no more than carelessness and ignorance on the part of Mr. Gissot, but these are unforgivable.

3 - It is an unacceptable attitude for Mr. Gissot to refuse to carry out the passage revenue. It is unnecessary to insist on the lack of support of their arguments.

4 - The irregularities that occur in visas referred to the Consul in Marseilles are evident and are of a serious aspect.

5 - We agree with the claim made by the State Defense and Surveillance Police.

6 - It seems probable, in view of the deficiencies noted in the revenue receipts.

7 - There seems to be doubted information from State Defense and Surveillance Police.

IN CONCLUSION

The Bureau of Consular Administration found that the facts are such as to impose an immediate dismissal of Mr. Gissot, who, as a preventive measure had been already prohibited from issuing passports, shortly after the communication from the State Defense and Surveillance Police.

Considering the convenience of the Consulate in Toulouse, the Bureau of Consular Administration allows Mr. Emile Gissot to continue in his duties until he is replaced by an official assuming all titles.

Bureau of Consular Administration on December 19, 1940.

THE BOSS,
Vasco da Cunha

Gissot was charged with trafficking visas

Walter and I began our investigation into our mother's refugee journey with the idea that the Ringel family made it over the many border crossings with liberal use of bribes paid under the table to corrupt officials. "Things could be arranged by greasing the right palms," Helga told Walter in the oral history she gave in 2004.

As we have seen, one key location in their journey was Toulouse in July 1940 when they acquired important documents. Our ongoing investigation about what happened in Toulouse has previously identified four consular officials from three countries who were involved in supplying those those papers.

Perhaps naively, I have written of the four diplomats as minor Holocaust heros, who saved the lives of the Ringel family members and possibly hundreds of others through their selfless actions. Now I have received new information that may move the narrative back in the original direction--something closer to Casablanca than to Schindler's LIst.

Rui Afonso, the biographer of Aristides de Sousa Mendes, has sent me the 11-page disciplinary file "Irregularities of the vice-consul of the Consulate in Toulouse, Mr. Gissot," which I knew of but had not previously seen. Based on charges by the consul of Marseille, as well as by the Portuguese secret police, the report issued December 19, 1940 by the Bureau of Business and Consular Affairs details allegations of corruption against Gissot and concludes that they are grounds for his dismissal.

I have done a rough translation of the document and will share that in the next post.

New information on Chaim Rabinowitz family

A recent contact from a younger member of the Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood NJ has resulted in important new information about the family of Chaim Rabinowitz, the first child of Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor whom we used to count as our ancestor. Since I became a minor authority on the biography of Rabbi Spektor on the basis of my writings on this blog, I have received many messages from people claiming a family relationship with him. Most of these have turned out to be spurious, as was our own original supposition based on family lore.

This message immediately got my attention because many of the facts were in agreement with my research. The informant had correct names and ages for the three Rabinowitz children I knew about—Joseph, Eliezer and Bluma—and also knew of two additional sons. We had the same name for Chaim's wife, Faiga or Feige, but different names for the wife's father. I have known this man from various sources including Wikipedia as Joseph Böhmer, the rabbi of Slutsk. My correspondent wrote that Feiga's father was the famous Reb Yoselle, Yosef Peimer, the rabbi of Slutsk.

Searching for Yosef Peimer confirmed that he had been the much loved rabbi of Slutsk from 1829 to 1874. Slowly it dawned on me that Yosef Peimer and Joseph Böhmer were one and the same person. My correspondent shared a manuscript written by a relative on the life and times of Reb Yoselle, in which we learn he was originally from Zamut in western Lithuania, grew up in Slutsk in the Minsk region, studied at the great Volozhin yeshiva, and returned in his 30s to become rabbi in his home city.

Rabbi Peimer was about 20 years older than Rabbi Spektor. By the 1850s, Reb Yoselle was at the height of his fame and power while Rav Yitzhok was an up-and-coming rabbinical star, recently appointed to the chair in Novogrodok, about 100 miles from Slutsk, after a series of successful tenures in smaller regional towns. It is in this period that Spektor's son Chaim, also learned in Torah study, was ready to be married. It seems that the marriage between the offspring of two of the most renowned Litvak rabbis of the time would have been a most auspicious event.

Reb Yoselle passed away in 1874 and some time after that his son, Meir, became the rabbi of Slutsk. Meir's son, also named Joseph Peimer, emigrated to America in the 1900s and came to be the rabbi of Temple Beth El in Brooklyn. In 1925, Peimer wrote what he knew of the family of his father's sister Feiga in a letter to another relative. The image above is from an unsent draft of the letter that Peimer kept. On page 10, he writes about the Rabinowitz family. Here is my correspondent's rough rendering:

Feiga had four sons, and these are their names. The oldest is Meir and he is now is Paris and he sells expensive stones and watches. The second son is Eliezer Isser Rabinowitz, who was a doctor in Yekatirnaslav. He became very rich and is now in Tel Aviv. The third son is Rav Yosef Rabinowitz, and he lived with the Rav Hagaon R' Yitzchok Elchonon, and learned a lot from the Torah Scholars. He is now in Moscow. The fourth is Yaakov and he learned under the Torah giants. And one daughter Bluma who never married.

So those are the new details on the children of Chaim Rabinowitz. The source seems credible and some of the information checks out with what we already knew. I am ready to accept this as confirmation of two additional male children, Meir and Yaakov, who we didn't have before, plus new life details on Eliezer's profession and Yosef's location in 1925. Thank you to my correspondent for providing this valuable information.

Genealogy in Context

Welcome to Family History Machine, an online service for sharing family narratives. Family History Machine uses automated content feeds to assemble relevant Internet content about any person, place or event. Sources include Wikipedia, Google, YouTube, and other Internet content suppliers.

The Ruby Family History Project is presented as an demonstration of the service to overlay historical context to a representative genealogical project. Contact Dan Ruby for more information about Family History Machine or the Ruby Family History Project.

Czeslaw Milosz on Stanisław Dygat

I don't want to go too far off on a tangent about Stanisław Dygat, but I note that the biographical and critical information about him does not seem to include mention of his actions in Toulouse during 1940. It also calls into question the accuracy of other aspects of his wartime biography.

For details of his literary career, we turn to Nobel laureate poet Czeslaw Milosz in his authoritative History of Polish Literature. He writes:

Known as a writer of "light" novels and short stories, Dygat, a native of Warsaw, issued from a family of French origin and studied at Warsaw University. He started to publish shortly before the war. In the section on main trends in postwar literature, we called him a pupil of Gombrowicz's because of his nose-thumbing at shibboleths. His stance is one of deliberate naïveté; when he narrates (usually in the first person), he likes to identify himself with a starry-eyed, disorganized, and helpless human being. As holder of a French passport not living in France, he was arrested by the Nazis shortly after the occupation of Poland and interned in a camp near Bodensee for persons who eluded the categories set forth by the German beureaucracy. After his return, having spent a year there, he wrote his novel Bodensee (Jezioro Bedeński) in 1942-1943; it was an act of rebellion against the tragic mood prevailing. The camp was a rather funny place, and figures as such on Dygat's pages. Moreover, he did not hesitate to ridicule himself (though gently) as a young man who dreams of heroic deeds, yet who, in reality, is yawning from inactivity and wholse only diversions are reading or flirting with the female inmates.

His next novel, Farewells (Pożegnania, 1948) is another gentle satire. Out of a real situation of drama and misfortune, Dygat draw mostly its cominc aspects: in the fall of 1944 after the destruction of Warsaw, the city's western suburbs were thronging with survivors; it was a bizarre world of black-market dealings, of guerrilla warfare, of routine manhunts organized by the Nazi police, and it was then obvious that the Red Army, encamped along the Vistula, was going to overrun the entire territory of Poland as it carred its offensive into Germany. Fear of Commmunism compelled many people from the intelligentsia to cast about for means of escaping from Poland to the West. The mental habits of those who "ran scared" are satirized in Farewells. For the characters with whom the author sympathizes, the old order of things is gone forever; they decide to stay and to begin a new life.

Though prolific in his humorous feuilletons and short stories, Dygat did not write any novels in the years of Socialist Realism. He returned to this form only after 1956. His two great successes were Journey (Podróż , 1958) and Disneyland (1965). In the first, the narrator is, as usual, a rather comic failure. During his childhood, he was so stifled by the domineering personality of his brother that he has remained forever convinced of his inferiority and has pursued no career, finding himself more or less by chance in the job of an insignificant office worker. In secret, he has been cherishing a plan to go abroad for the first time in his life, and after a long internal struggle he writes to his brother, a famous film producer in Italy. He idealizes his brother and believes the laudatory articles written about him in the international press. In Rome, he finally discovers the truth about the pettiness and moral turpitude of his idol. Moreover, the narrator, bored by his not too successful marriage, has also been dreaming about a true "great love" he would encounter somewhere in Italy. Since this does not happen, he accepts the offer of a street-girl in Napes, who, out of disinterested friendship, promises to stage an enactment of love at first sight. The next day in Capri, she pretends to be a young Scottish lady whom the hero meets by chance. Bother feel they are predestined for each other. After promenades together, pure kisses (and the hero is now uncertain whether she is the disguised street-girl or really a new acquaintance), the illusion falls to pieces; the girl has incarnated the role so well that the contrast with her usual behavior makes her desperate; she gets drunk, sobs inconsolable, and goes back to her profession. The narrator journeys back to Poland, back to his uneventful, gray existence, bereft of his fantasies about his superior brother, and about a great love adventure. There is a certain childishness about Dygat's characters that provokes humor mixed with pity, and imparts much freshness to his writings; yet in constructing his stories he does not scorn event the oldest devices of romance fiction such as disguise and recognition.

Disneyland is a novel on the young generation. At a masquerade ball held by the Academy of Fine Arts, a track star meets a girl, then loses her. After searching for her in vain, he is told that she was an Australian of Polish descent on a temporary visit to the old country. He begins to go with another girl, but continues to dream of the presumed Australian, only to discover at the end of the book that the two are identical. The very title, Disneyland, suggests that the author is playing a prank; although Dygat's story is a fairy tale, it captures the way of life of Polish youth. Dygat's casually structured plots go together with a colloquial, nonchalant language which appropriately conveys his abhorrence of literature treated as a "sacred cow."

Stanisław Dygat defends his actions

This next translation tells Stanisław Dygat's side of the story as to why he departed from Toulouse on June 20 and why he didn't return there after receiving instructions to do so. It is addressed to the Polish ambassador to Spain at the embassy in Madrid. It has no date or post location, but it refers to events and locations up to Lisbon on July 18. I also have a six-page handwritten letter from Dygat, not yet translated, that is dated August 1 from Capvern back in France, not very far from Toulouse, where he may be in custody at an internment camp. There is still more to learn.

From Dygat
To Minister Szumlakowskiego in Madrid

In view of the allegations that (1) I unnecessarily left Toulouse, and (2) I delayed the execution of an order to return to base, I have the honor to state the following.

Regarding point 1, on June 16 I received a telegram from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland France recommending burning the Consulate archives, payment of 3 months salary to Consulate staff, and that I should depart for Bordeaux with three officials.

On the same day I received a telephone message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bordeaux confirming the order to burn the archives. On the occasion of this telegram Mr. Deputy Prime Minister Gralinskiemu wrote that the Toulouse Consulate should communicate regularly by phone with Mr. Minister Frankowski in Bordeaux. However I could not speak directly with Mr. Frankowski but only to the agent of honor in Bordeaux, who repeated to me the order of the Minister that I should wrap Consulate operations and leave.

On the night of 19 June, I received a telephone message from Libourne given by a Colonel (whose name I can not remember) recommending me to leave the minimum Consulate officials and evacuate towards Bayonne. In this state of things, and to the panic which swept all in Toulouse (colleagues can witness this as Consul General Kolankowski, Consul Sidorowiczi and others slept that night in Toulouse), I decided to entrust the care of the Consulate to Mr. Wozniak, accountant and passport clerk, and Mr. Jankowski, the Secretaries-General of the Union of Polish Settlers, and to leave on July 20 in the afternoon.

In Bayonne on July 21, I found out there a mood of panic and incredible chaos so I decided to go further. On the way I found many Poles going to St Jean de Luz, seeking ships to Hendaye or directly to Spain. There was also mention that the Polish military had announced to head for the port, and thus set off to England. The fact that there was such a possibility no one told me previously.

In San Sebastian, I checked by telephone to the Minister Szumlakowskiego crossed the border, I received instructions from him would be guided as soon as possibly to Portugal.

Regarding point 2, my passport was taken by Portuguese police at the border in Vilar Formoso, when I arrived on June 23, and was refused entry to continue to Lisbon but was sent to the village of Figueira da Foz. On June 28, I wrote letters from Figueira Mr Dubicze and Mr Szumlakowskiego. In these letters I mentioned the possibility of my return to Toulouse.

It was not until July 7 that I received a copy of the letter of 5 July, via one of the Poles who came from Lisbon to Figueira, orders to return to their base to Toulouse. In order to do so, I asked in writing for permission to come to the Republic of Poland legation in Lisbon to obtain a new passport.

On July 12, the police in Figueira allowed me to leave for Lisbon, but my passport was not yet issued. This happened on the evening of July 16. Visa formalities lasted two whole days. I left Lisbon on July 18, as soon as I received the necessary Spanish visa.

Report on the refugee crisis at the Polish consulate

Here is my first translation of a document from the Hoover Institution archive of Polish foreign ministry documents. It is written on August 2, 1940, just after the height of the refugee crisis, by the acting head of the consulate, Vaclav Bitner, who has stepped in to help restore order in the wake of the premature departure of the former vice consul Stanisław Dygat. The extraordinary events of the previous six weeks break through the officialese of the report

Toulouse, August 2, 1940

The Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Toulouse hereby submits a report on of the business of the Consulate in its administrative work and social welfare in the period from mid-June to the present.

I. Issues of citizenship and passports:
Starting in mid-June, the Consulate experienced a one-hundredfold increase in the rate of applications, mostly regarding the issue of passports. Previously the Consulate of the Republic of Poland in Toulouse received at most 800 passports applications in a year. In the period from June 15, the number of passports issued has increased enormously. The peak number of passports issued and submitted were up to 200 a day. From 15 June to 31 July, around 6,600 passports were issued passports, judging from the use of blank passports.

To meet this challenge the Consulate looked very liberally at evidence of citizenship. In relation to soldiers, service in the Polish army in France was found to be sufficient evidence to issue a passport. More difficult was the issue of the civilian population, particularly the large flood of refugees from Belgium, often not possessing Polish passports. Passports were issued on the basis of the Belgian identity card, together with Polish documents as birth certificates, membership certificates, etc.. This was the case for Polish citizens.

Under these conditions, it was possible for some people not already possessing Polish citizenship to get Polish passport. These are almost exclusively those who lost Polish citizenship in 1938 or 1939 under the Law of 31 March 1938 Article 1 but retained documentation of their prior citizenship. This amount is small, however, and might amount to no more than 1% of the total number of issued passports.

The working conditions during this time did not allow the Consulate to [properly index] issued passports. There could be no question of setting up a personal file for each person receiving a passport. The indexes that were kept were to avoid issuing double passports to one person.

Passports issued to former soldiers were usually free of charge. From the civilian population required fees, usually equal to the sum of 146 francs. However, about 90% of the people there were workers from Belgium and northern France who had been without work for several months and persist here with benefits received from the French authorities - received passports free of charge. The collected fees received are more than 90,000 fr. as if July 31, 1940

Time did not allow for postage stamps to be glued on passports. Fees collected by the clerk were listed on a piece of paper, with a list of people and the amount collected.

There were incidents of abuse [bribery?] in the issuing of passports but these are now very few or indeed eliminated. Three contract workers who helped in the first period with the flood of work have been removed for this reason by the Consulate.

In addition to passports issued at the Consulate, there were also other similar document-issuing centers, such as in Perpignan, where the stamp of the Pyrenees Orientales prefecture and signature of former Consulate officer George Morozewicz appeared on forms prepared on the duplicator. Quantities of passports were issued this way were during the first days after June 21, with the goal of easing travel within France. Whether and how much fees were collected has not yet been established. Several people who came forward with these passports at the Consulate stated that no fees were paid for such passports.

II. Accounting
The Consulate official who was left in place, Mr. Stanislaw Wozniak, a military passport clerk and accountant, and deputy head of the Consulate during absences by the station chief, had neither the time nor the authority to access the official account books. Cash receipts and expenditures in the write cache book were properly fastened and numbered.

According to the verbal command by the Consul, cash inflows and outflows of the Consulate for the entire period from 20 June 1940 were not recorded to the official ledgers, which made ​​impossible the normal account closings for the months of June and July. This now will be done as soon as possible - the difficulty is that the accounting officer Mr. Wozniak is far too preoccupied with work in other sectors and there is no proper or place or time to find the peace and quiet to do this task.

III. Security of the Consulate premises.
In the first days after the departure of the Head of the Consulate, circumstances allowed the theft and destruction of some items owned by the State, as well as the items in storage from private individuals. One officer together with the old, very energetic janitor (Walenty Jakubowski, formerly of the Embassy in Paris) could not cope with everything owing to the crowd of people besieging his desk.

There have been incidents of theft, especially with suitcases and trunks of individuals that were submitted here for safekeeping. The resulting loss is difficult to assess. Things destroyed in the office are limited to the value of the quantity while the losses of individuals are incomparably greater. In the first period of the crisis, the Consulate had to allow overnight access on the premises of the representative offices to a fairly large group of visitors, who would otherwise have been homeless outside the Consulate.

The above condition has now changed for the better. Those living in the building of the Consulate are persons performing official functions at the Consulate or with the Polish Red Cross, whose offices are located in the Consulate.

IV. Social welfare
In this report, the Consulate will be limited only to provide general sums issued, leaving other issues for a more detailed future report. Expenditure in the period from June 20 to July 31 amounted to a total of 741,520.70 francs. This included administrative expenses (paper, office supplies) of about 10,304 francs. rent new office premises, fr. 13,000 and staff costs of about 114,010 fr. The personal expense allowance is for three months and two officials of the Consulate, who were posted in the city after June 20, fr. 20192. Consulate employees, 37,450 and fr. 56,368 for office worker wages and military demobilization.

The balance of expenditure, fr. 604,206, are expenses for the proper care and housing of refugees. With larger amounts of benefits paid this sum appears fr. Board paid 40.000 to hostels in Salies du Salat, 10,000 fr. to the Polish House in Toulouse, 7,000 to shelter Polish in Loures-Barousse, fr. 36.200 for retirement and assistance grants for soldiers' wives (benefits granted by the Government Delegate for the Polish refugees in France) and the sum of fr. 511.006 assistance grants for soldiers, at a rate of fr. 20 per head every couple of days. The small amount of civilian assistance grants rarely exceed the sum of fr. 100 per person,

Consulate expenditures to aid Polish refugees has decreased by up to 80% since the organization of the Polish Red Cross in Toulouse. Red Cross registration has been in operation since about 10 July. Registered refugees receive assistance from the French authorities of 12 francs per day.

Proceeds V.
After the departure of the Head of the Consulate on June 20, 1940, the officer had left the sum of fr. 131,037.80, representing the balance on hand, bank account, and postal account. Since then until July 31 inclusive, revenue from charges for passports amounted to (exactly) 87,603.50 and there is a note in the amount of fr. 13,000 received from the Consul Chiczewski. The rest of the money covered expenses of the current head of the Consulate of Mr. Vaclav Bitner.

VI. Staff of the Consulate
In addition to the two former officials of the Consulate (Mr. Wozniak and Mr. Osuchowska) the rest of the staff consists of officials from other offices of the Republic of Poland and a few people from outside the Consulate voluntarily reported their work during June 19-24. Staffing is 23 people - in addition to the head of the Consulate.

Not shown here is the number of office workers handling soldier demobilization, which is now treated as a separate entity but remaining under the overall supervision of the Consulate.

By today (August 2) we have seen some reduction work in the Consulate. Several issues remain unsettled, such as drawing up inventories, ordering a personal archive and restoring the property, and above all to bring accounting up to date. The Consulate will proceed in the coming days to as soon as possiblereduce staff, but the composition of the Consulate will remain for the period to be about 60% higher than previously.

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