Wednesday, June 7, 2023
We accomplished our second goal of the trip today. We found her. We found the daughter that my great-grandfather left behind in Poland.
Barbara was 3 years old when her father Józef Majda left for America in 1903. She was 4 when her mother died in 1904, leaving her essentially an orphan. (Her two siblings had died in 1900 and 1901.) We have a letter from her in 1948 that is heartbreaking. She felt like the family (her father, his new wife my great-grandmother, and their nine children) had forgotten about her. The family house is falling down. The neighbor stole her land and the court wouldn’t listen to her. She is sad that she is so far away from the family. From that letter, I knew that she lived with “the wife of her uncle” at house #12 Juraszowa. Yesterday, we learned that she lived with Zofia (who was the widow of her uncle) and Zofia’s new husband Antoni Hejmej. They were not related to her by blood.
We went to the cemetery in Podegrodzie. Luckily, they have a website with a database. I searched for Majda. Four results, two of them children who died in the 1990s and two for Barbara Majda, neither with dates. Luckily, the website includes a map of where the grave is and photos so it was easy to find. The first one was a simple metal cross and a mound of earth. There was no way to know if it was her. I looked at my phone for the other grave. As soon as I saw the photo, I knew it was her. It was her. She was on the grave marker for Antoni and Zofia Hejmej, and one son.
We miraculously found the granddaughters of Zofia and Antoni! While I was taking photos of the graves, Zbigniew spoke with a woman who was in the cemetery gathering wild nettle to feed her chicken. He asked if she knew the Hejmejs. She said yes! (Dad considers this woman our guardian angel of the trip.) We walked with her to her house where she made a phone call to Maria, one of the granddaughters of Zofia and Antoni. Maria said that Barbara helped raise her mother, aunt, and uncle. We arranged to go to her house at 4pm.
Maria welcomed us into her home. After spending time with her, she called her sister Lucyna; we then went over to her house. From them, we learned that Barbara was a loved and critical member of the family. Barbara helped take care of the kids when Zofia and Antoni were out in the fields. On All Souls Day, Barbara Majda is included in the list of family members they pray for. I showed them the heart-breaking letter from Barbara. They immediately got goosebumps: the handwriting was familiar. Their mother had written the letter for Barbara, who was illiterate. That made them cry. That made us cry. I left the photocopy of the letter I had with them; once home in the US, I will send them the original letter.
Before their uncle Józef died, he insisted that Barbara be included on the family monument. She was buried in the first grave and then also included on the family marker. Józef felt that the family would not have been successful without Barbara. They called her Bashka, which is the friend version of Barbara. Barbara would sneak the children the apples that Zofia wanted to sell. The uncle said “Barbara was better than the money”.
We saw a family photo of Zofia, Antoni, the three children (Bronisława, Kunegunda, and Józef), and Barbara. She is the one in the lower right. It was the first time that we had seen Barbara’s face. I never thought that I would ever see a photo of her.
We posed for a photo at the same spot the photo was taken at house #12 Juraszowa.
I started this trip heartbroken that Barbara had been left by my great-grandfather. I am still heartbroken over that but now my heart is relieved that she had an adopted family that loved her and that still remember her in their prayers.
About DAY 3 you can read HERE.