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History of George (Grzegorz)  Gidzinski


Written by:                       Rolfe Jaremus, his grandson

Original Date Written:    November 1993, with many subsequent revisions

Information supplied by: George Gidzinski and many others


George Gidzinski was born in the village of Kosiv, which is located in the present day country of Ukraine.  Kosiv is a small agricultural village located in the western Ukraine, 150 kilometers southeast of the city of Lviv.   Kosiv is located between the city of Cortkiv and the town of Bucac.  It is only on the most detailed maps.

George was born on March 12, 1893, the fourth child of seven to Jan Nepomus Gedzinskil and Apolonia Sawryj.  Jan and Apolonia were from old Kosiv families going back at least several generations. These people were ethnically Polish and of the Roman Catholic faith.  They were all agricultural workers. The home  where George grew up was on the southern edge of Kosiv on a piece of property that bordered upon a small river way. According to the Austrian town diagrams, there were several buildings on the family plot.

One of George's clear memories of his childhood was that his grandfather was a beekeeper. George explained how his grandfather would lay down straw on puddles of water to ensure that his bees had scaffolding to stand on while drinking water.

Apolonia Saroryj



By the time George was a teenager, there were too many mouths to feed and no work in the area. At that time, Galicia was not only considered to be the poorest part of the old Polish lands, it was known to be one of the poorest parts of Europe.  So in the year 1910, at the age of 16, George decided to leave home in search of opportunities in North America.  The reason George gave for leaving was simply "there was nothing to do."  George headed to Canada and arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia on October 27, 1910.

George worked his way across eastern Canada -- working as a manual laborer on farms and for railroads.  When passing through Quebec, he got a taste of the obstinate French people. With a chuckle, George often told the story about his trying to buy a pair of shoes. He showed and gestured to a French shoe-shop owner that his shoes had holes in the soles. The Frenchman, not wanting to serve an immigrant, acted as if he couldn't understand and refused to serve him.  George slowly worked his way westward to the city of Winnipeg where his younger sister Carolya and other relatives lived.

After spending five years in Canada, George headed south to the the United States and crossed the U.S. border in North Dakota.  We are not sure exactly where he went, but he worked in a steel mill in southern Michigan for awhile.  One of the jobs he held in the mill was to tend the molten steel and poke holes in the slag crust for men waiting with long handled ladles. This job occasionally required him to walk on a catwalk above the coke ovens. When one of these walkways fell into the molten steel, just as he stepped off the platform, this brush with death was enough to convince him to look for less dangerous work.

Another job that George had in Chicago was a house mover. George told the story of one job he was involved in to move a large brick school house one foot because it was accidentally built on private property! George also worked in a boiler factory in Chicago.

In 1917, the United States entered World War I, and while George was draft-eligible at 25 years old, he was not drafted. The reason for this, George explained, was that shortly before he had his appendix removed,  In those days, an operation of this sort was considered to make a man unfit for the rigors of war.


Sometime around 1917, George met Anna Figus at a drinking establishment. In those days, taverns provided their patrons with sandwiches for free for those that paid for drinks.  Taverns were more acceptable places for social gatherings. Anna Figus was also a recent immigrant who came from the eastern Galician town of Czarny Dunajec.   She was working as a seamstress for the famous clothing company Hart, Schafner, and Marx. She came to Chicago to make enough money so that she could retrieve an ailing brother back to Poland.  As with so many immigrants, she took care of her brother but never returned home.

On July 22, 1918, about one year after meeting Ann, they were married.  For the next several decades George and Anna settled down to family life. Between March of 1919 and July of 1931, Anna dna George had five children -- four girls and one boy.

During the 20's, the family lived on 17th Street on the near South Side.  That home did not have indoor plumbing. The outhouse was located underneath the "raised" sidewalk. In the the Spring of 1929, six months prior to the Great Stock Market Crash, George and Anna bought a home at 1340 N. Oakley Blvd. in Chicago. It was here that the Gidzinski children spent their formative years going to Schley Grade School The home was located across the street from Tuley High School, which most of the kids attended, although son John attendee Crain Technical High School.

During the early family years, George began his career in the restaurant industry at the Del Prado Hotel on the south side. At Del Prado, he worked as a manual laborer doing various jobs. Eventually George took a job at the famous Edgewater Beach Hotel located on Lake Shore Drive on the far north side of the city. He eventually became a cook and spend 36 years at the Edgewater Beach.  He worked there from 1923 to 1959, retiring at the age of 66.

During the depths of the Depression, George was fortunate enough to have a job. He had good work habits and was willing to do whatever was needed.  Then, sometime in 1934, while on his way to work at 4:00 am in the dark morning, George stepped off a streetcar and was run over by a truck. He lay in the street for several hours before someone found him.  George's leg and his collarbone were broken. Because of the medical system at the time, he was initially taken to Cook County Hospital. Later he was taken to a maternity hospital, which was not equipped to deal with his injury. They tried to heal his leg using a new technique, but his leg did not set right. As a result, his leg was somewhat deformed with one leg about 1" shorter than the other. This didn't stop him from using his legs as his primary mode of transportation for the rest of his life. Because of the seriousness of his injury, George was out of work for one year.

Because George was hospitalized for such a long period of time, he was unable to keep up on his house payments at 1340 N. Oakley. There was no such thing as unemployment insurance or social security. When George was out of work, the family had to scrape by doing whatever they could to make ends meet. Because so many people were out of work during the Great Depression, George related that his banker offered to give George the title to their house for $300.00. Grandpa told the banker that he didn't even have $3.00!  The family subsequently lost their home and moved into an apartment in the neighborhood at 2254 W. Division Street.

Despite some of these difficult events, the Gidzinski household was a happy one. George's sister (Caroly's daughter) Olga fondly recalls her trip to Chicago (from Winnipeg) to visit Uncle George's family:

"The year was 1938 and I had a week's vacation. I was always interested in meeting my cousins and had a great desire to travel. The bus trip from Winnipeg was long; many stops were made en route to Chicago.  Uncle George greeted me warmly, as did the rest of the family. During the days, when Mary and Genie were not around, I would converse with Aunt Anna, who spoke to me in Polish. I responded in English and know that my answers were not always correct. Anna's Polish was different than my mothers. I do remember a "happy" household. Uncle George was always upbeat. He had much love for his family and for his relatives too. At the time I was there, Annie Lozo (a member of the Sawryj family) was there with her children. I don't know if she had just arrived or was departing.  The Sawryj family had five or six girls:  Ann Dara,  Wanda, Elsie, Nellie, and Kay. All of them used to visit our family at one time or another. I remember uncle would whip up something special for dinner. We took walks to the Polish community and all in all, my trip was very pleasant.  When George stopped at my place en route to Winnipeg, he said he was there because his sister Pauline needed him. At the time, Aunty Pauline was critically ill. She managed to recove and lived many long years. Another time, I was still at home and single. I came into the house where Uncle George was sitting in the living room -- he said, "I knew Carolya was at home -- I could hear her singing in the basement."

During the late 20's, George bought an inexpensive lot in west suburban Westchester. On Sundays  the family would occasionally take the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy train out to their lot to have a picnic. At that time, this was farm country -- far beyond the city limits. The hope of eventually having a home built, or passing the property on to one of the kids never materialized. The lot was sold in 1956.

In 1950 George and Anna bought a wood-frame Victorian home and brick 2-flat located at 2424/26 N. Kildare in Chicago. This property was on a double lot due to the Victorian home in the back, which had been moved years before for the construction of the Kelvyn Park High School. During the early 50's, his son John, a carpenter, converted the upstairs of the Victorian house into a separate apartment. This apartment was originally used by John and his wife Virginia as an apartment.  As each of George and Anna's children got married and began their families, George and Anna provided a flat for each of their children at a discounted rent in succession until they were all able to move to their own homes.

As one of the children that lived at the first-floor front apartment for nine years, it was interesting to live in a small-family community with all of the close neighbors being relatives.

One of the most enduring memories for several of the Jaremus grandchildren was grandpa's flower garden. We fondly remember the fragrant 4 O'clocks in the nook by the house, the U-shaped day-lily and iris garden, the gladiolus surrounding the catch-basin, the hollyhocks near the alley, and the scattered dahlia's, petunias, and tomato plants along the south fence. The garden surrounded the perimeter of the yard, with the wood and wire fence on the outside and a narrow sidewalk on the inside. The garden was a colorful and pleasant sight in an otherwise drab neighborhood. It was also one of only three lots on the block that actually had a year of any size. Grandpa George spent many hours watering his flowers with his watering can and hose. He often filled a sprinkling can with water to let it sit overnight so that the chlorine could evaporate. Grandpa George's garden lives on in the hearts and minds of several of his grandchildren.

During his many years in Chicago, Grandpa George never drove a car, but relied quite independently upon walking, public transportation, and his children's chauffeuring. Despite grandpa's damaged legs, he loved to walk and would often walk many miles, thoroughly enjoying the exercise. On his trips to visit his son John in Deerfield, or daughter Genia in Morton Grove, he usually took the Milwaukee Road Train walking to Healy station on Fullerton. Then from the Morton Grove or Deerfield train stations, he routinely walked to John or Genie's home.  The distance from the Deerfield train station to his son John's house was six miles! He often walked the distance, taking pride in his independence, protesting when his kids offered to drive him.

During the late sixties and early seventies, when brother Ben and I were in our late teen years, we often took the Milwaukee Road train to Healy station in Chicago to visit grandpa. We knew the door was always open. Even if it wasn't the key to his house was under the outside stairway steps and we let ourselves in. Whenever we visited, grandpa would always make us something to eat, and then we'd sit and talk about one thing or another. I distinctly remember as a teenager feeling for the first time like an adult when talking with Grandpa George. He talked with us about what the family was doing and treated us as if our opinions mattered.

Grandpa George was an active churchgoer. He was a member of the Polish National Catholic (PNC) fatih, a breakaway religion from Roman Catholicism. When asked about this religion, grandpa related that as a young man first in Chicago, he was visited by Roman Catholic priests. At that time, he had little or no money. Regardless, the Catholic priests demanded donations. The predisposition towards monetary matters soured George on the Roman Catholic faith and drew him to the PNC religion.

Grandpa George also loved to go to the horse races and place his bets. He was a regular at the track in his later years. He would take a bus to the Hawthorn and Sportsman's Racetrack to watch the horses run.



During the early sixties, his wife Anna contracted later-life diabetes. This illness and complications reduced her strength such that she required a wheelchair for mobility. The injections of insulin and her caring were difficult for George and Anna for several years prior to her death.  Anna passed away on June 30, 1968.

Over the next decade, he often visited and helped his kids. While in his sixties, he would often help his son John in carpentry work. He also worked as a substitute cook for his son-in-law Ted, who was a chef. He continued this part-time work late into his 70's.

Grandpa George also traveled with his children and their families. In the late 60's, he went to California with his daughter Mary and her family. They camped along the way, with George being the frugal camper who would sleep anywhere without any protest. When they got to California, they visited his daughter Honie and her family.  Honie and her family also took George, and later Anna, camping and sightseeing in California.

In 1970, he went to Poland with his daughter Genia. They had many memorable experiences staying with Anna's family (within the borders of current day Poland).

Grandpa George was a very warm and engaging person who was loved by his family and friends. He was fondly recalled by many relatives. He loved to tell stories about his travels and jobs as a young man before he settled down.

Grandpa lived at 2424 N. Kildare until 1977. At the age of 84, he moved in to live with his daughter Eugenia in Morton Grove. For a short time he also lived with his son John in Deerfield. He died of successive strokes at the age of 87 on July 9, 1980. He is buried next to his wife Anna in the All Saints Polish National Catholic Cemetery on Higgins Road in Chicago.  He is fondly remembered by everyone that knew him.



The spelling of Gidzinski changed at some point.

It is believed that George GidzInski left Europe from the port of Hamburg, Germany, but this has not been verified.

It was in Winnipeg, Canada, where one of George's grandfathers lived to the ripe old age of 110! George explained that the ol' fellow died in a house fire. A picture of the old geezer (George's grandfather) taken during the early  part of this century exists in my family records given to me by my mother.

Grandpa George's Grandfather


Per son John Gidzinski, George's citizen's card shows his point-of-entry being Warroad, Minnesota on May 15, 1915.

George Gidzinski's birth certificate is on file.

In 1795 the final partition of the Empire of Poland occurred. Poland was divided up by the empires of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The village of Kossow, where George was born, is located in the province of Galicia. At the time of George's birth, Calicia was the furthest northeastern province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was controlled by the Hapsburg family and was also known as the "Hapsburg Empire". Because the Austro-Hungarian Empire consisted of peoples from many different nationalities, the Hapsburg's allowed a fair degree of autonomy to the various provinces. For this reason, Galician citizens were able to speak Polish and practice their cultural traditions to a greater extent than Poles living in the German or Russian territories.

George was considered Polish despite the fact that a Polish nation had not existed for 98 years prior to George's birth. While George Gidzinski was of Polish ancestry, he had some Ukrainian roots. George's father Jan was Polish, while his mother Apolonia was but half Polish. Apolonia's father came from the province of Moldova (previously Moldavia) and was of Ukrainian or Moldovan ancestry.

Thanks to George's daughter, Mary Majewski, son John Gidzinski,and niece Olga Dimunation.



Gidzinski – Figus Family Origins

By Rolfe Jaremus

Feb, 2020


The George Gidzinski and Anna Figus family is a family that produced five offspring, five immediate families with 13 descendants and many families there upon.  The purpose of this document is to give family members a better understanding of part of their ancestry.   George Gidzinski and Anna Figus were the couple that created the Chicago “Gidzinski” family.  This document contains information about their family history, their ethnic makeup and a little bit about the history of the region that they came from.  For the younger generation, below is a chart of their descendants which you may be more familiar with. 



The history of the Gidzinski-Figus Family is somewhat complicated.  That said, understanding the families histories is made immeasurably more difficult if you don’t understand a bit about recent Polish history.  Lack of understanding the country’s complicated history makes it difficult to answer “why did their entry paper’s say they were from Austria?” or “How do you know they are not Ukrainian?”.  So in this prolog, I would like to explain what happened to Poland as it pertains to our family, so that you have some context to understand our family’s history.    


Historical Prolog 

Back in the middle ages, the Polish-Hungarian King Louis I’s daughter Jadwiga married Jagiello, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Jagiello became the King of a federation between the two states: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (PLC).   This marriage of the successive leaders of two mid-sized countries was a significant event because most neighboring countries in Europe preferred to fight with each other.  While it wasn’t without its difficulties, the marriage created a unique “state” in an area that was not so well defined.  Over the ensuing decades and centuries, it grew into the largest kingdom in eastern Europe.  It spanned from the Baltic Sea to the Black encompassing most of current day Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and parts of other countries.  The people in this state were by no means all Polish or Lithuanian, but the Polish-Lithuanian King had administrative “control” over these areas.  The PLC remained a powerful confederation for 400 years.



By the late 18th century, this Commonwealth began to weaken due to political infighting.  The neighbors on each side had become more organized and powerful.  They took advantage of the PLC’s infighting and took a bite out of the PLC’s outlying territories.  Over a 20 year period from 1775 to 1795, Poland was “partitioned” 3 times at the end of which there was no longer a Polish or Lithuanian State.   The people and their language, culture and customs did not radically change, but the nation state that they lived in did.  This is really important because much of our oldest family history occurred either immediately before or during the “no Poland” period.   


Czarny Dunajec is located on lower left (western) part of this map in the area that says Tatras, Zakopane and Nowy Targ 


The above map is a 1914 map of the southern Polish province of Galicia, when it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian (AHE) or Hapsburg Empire.  Galicia was the region where the Figus and Gidzinski families came from.  The southern border of Galicia is the continental divide, the peak of the Carpathian Mountains.  In eastern Poland, the Carpathian’s are known as the Tatras.  On the map, the southern, orange areas are mountainous.  You can also see that at the time of this map the Slovakian area to the south was part of The Kingdom of Hungary.  The Russians controlled the eastern lands, and the Prussians (Germans) took the western lands.  The central Kingdom of Poland area was divided between the Prussians and Austro-Hungarians.  On the far left or western part of the map – directly above the word “Kingdom” (of Hungary) is the town (Czarny Dunajec) where the Figus family came from.    If you look at the eastern area on the map, see if you can find Tarnopol.  That is close to where the Gidzinski village of Kossow is located. 



-          Location of the village of Kossow now Kosiv, Ukraine


So why is this important?  This is important to know because these are the towns/villages where the Gidzinski and Figus families lived for hundreds of years as far back as we have records.  The families probably were there even longer, but the records don’t go back any further, so we just don’t know for sure. 


Gidzinski Village of Kossow 

Kosiv or Kossow[1] is a small village located between Buchach (Bucac) and Chortkiv, two larger towns.   It’s important to know these larger towns because there are several Kossow/Kosow/Kosiv’s in the eastern Galician lands and it easy to get confused about which one the Gidzinski’s are from.[2]   Kossow is located within the Tarnopol (Ukrainian -Ternopil) Oblast or administrative region.  

So, when Poland was dismembered, Polish Galicia was taken over by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (AHE).  This is very important to know because if you see nationality information on passports, immigration documents, etc. between 1795 and 1918 they do not refer to Poland, they refer to Austria or Austria-Hungary.  The AHE consisted of so many diverse nationalities that they opted to allow the people in most provinces to keep their language and cultural practices including their language.  By contrast, the area to the north called Volhynia became part of Russia and the people there were heavily Russified.

So George Gidzinski was ethnically a Pole.  He came from the eastern side of Galicia, an area known to the Poles as the “Kresy”, or Eastern borderlands.  They were called borderlands because this was an ethnically diverse area.  This area was also known as Red Ruthenia.  For Poles, this was considered a frontier land and historically one that they wanted to  “conquer and control”.   By conquer and control, I am referring to political control much like the AHE’s control.  Unlike the American frontier with vast open areas, this area of the world was fairly well populated.  So, for the period for which family records are known, this Ruthenian/Galician area consisted of a variety of people with different ethnicities and religious practices.   The Poles were a minority amongst many.  These included[3]:


-          Poles who were scattered throughout the region, but more so on the western side of the “Kresy” near and around the city of Lvov (present day L’viv).  They were the largest ethnic group in this regional city.   Rural Poles like the Gidzinski’s usually lived in villages that were primarily Polish or Polish/Ruthenian.  Poles were either Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic, which follows Rome but incorporates Eastern Orthodox rituals.

-          Ukrainians.  There were lots of Ukrainians in this area which is now part of Ukraine, a country.  Polish people (like Ted Jaremus) considered the Ukrainians as cousins of the Polish people[4].  Their language was not that different from Polish.  The Ukrainian people were primarily rural peoples.  Religiously they followed the  Eastern Orthodox religion.

-          Jews.   The vast majority of European Jews lived within the “Pale”, an area within the borders of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  This is where Jews were permitted to live.   Some Jews lived in their own Jewish “shtetels” but most lived in villages amongst gentiles.  In Kossow, for example, Jews were less than 2% of the population.  Larger Polish cities like Warsaw, Lvov and Krakow had large Jewish populations.   Jews did not have the religious restrictions that Catholics had – forbidding them to handle money, so they filled the gap by becoming merchants, bankers, and businessmen.   

-          Ruthenians There was a significant minority of these peoples in Galicia.  These were people that were of Kievian ancestry, but were distinctive from the Muscovy Russians.  These people practiced the Greek Catholic Religion.  I think the western Ukrainians are mostly Ruthenians.

-          Germans.  German farmers were invited into the Galician lands for military support (against Hungarian incursions) and also because of their advanced knowledge of farming and animal husbandry.  They initially lived in separate villages and had separate customs and spoke German, but over the centuries they lost many aspects of their cultural distinctiveness like language.  Religiously, the Germans were mostly Lutheran.  This was a distinguishing feature.   Germans in this area had German family names with adopted slavic endings.

-          Russians.   Ethnic Russians originated in Kyiv and spread from there.   There are many ethnic groups within Russia, but there were also a fair amount of Russians in eastern Galicia.  The Russians were Eastern Orthodox people.

-          Byelorussians.  These people inhabit the area to the north of Galicia known as Volhynia.  The Byelorussians were also an ethnic sub-group in Galicia.  Religion – Eastern Orthodox.

-          Lemkos, Hutsuls, Boykos – Remnants of indigenous tribes that lived in the area, primarily in the southern Carpathian Mountains area.  They spanned what is now SW Ukraine, northern Romania and Moldova.   Religion – Mixture between Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.


This is not a complete listing of the ethnic groups in eastern Galicia, but it gives you an idea of how ethnically diverse this area was.  Add to that, the turbulent past that included waves of central Asian invaders, and you can see that these people had DNA from central Asia and central Europe down to the Balkans. 


Immigration and Change 

The largest migration period for eastern Europeans was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  There was a tremendous population explosion at that time with families, like ours have 8 or 9 children.  At the same time, advances in technology were allowing people to move around better and factory work was a major new way of making things.  People were moving out of the villages and rural farms and into larger cities and towns for better opportunity.  The peasant was being exposed to radically new things that took them away from home or subsistence farm life and into larger towns and cities.  Some peasants were recruited to the United States to work on farms, on railroad construction teams and in steel mills.  These people wrote home and said “there is a lot of opportunity over here” and other family members followed.  The cities represented a radical change in lifestyle for the peasant.  So millions of Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and Italians streamed into the United States, Canada and other western countries. 

At the conclusion of WWI in 1918, the American President Woodrow Wilson demanded the re-establishment of Poland, along with a number of other eastern European countries.  This wasn’t so difficult to do because at the end of that war, the German and Austria-Hungary economies were in shambles, and they were in no position to dictate peace conditions.  At the same time, Russia was in the midst of a Communist Revolution so they were consumed with an internal civil war.  So the Russian’s were also in no position to defend their previous holdings.  President Wilson was also pandering to 1. Lobbying by eastern Europeans to reestablish Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Baltic States and 2. The desire by many other Americans to stop the immigration onslaught that was dramatically changing the face of American cities.  So in 1919, Poland arose from the ashes of WWI and Galicia and Czarny Dunajec was once again part of a newly reconstituted Poland.  By that time, Anna Figus and George Gidzinski were already married and with child in Chicago.   But what happened to their native villages/towns? 

For those that stayed behind, life in Galicia was not tranquil.  Poland struggled to build a new government and country with huge ethnic minorities.  The Great Depression of the 30’s also strongly affected the European countries.  And then, 19 years after the end of WWI, WWII broke out with Germany invading Poland.  Much of the fighting occurring in the Polish, Ukrainian and Russian regions.  About 40 million  Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Jews and Germans perished in the war, far exceeding the deaths of Americans, French and British.  In 1945 when the war ended, at the demands of Stalin, the borders of the new Polish state were dramatically moved to the west (into Germany and out of the Ukraine).   The eastern part of Galicia, where the Gidzinski family was from, was now ceded to the Soviet Union as part of a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Polish people in that area were required to relocate into Poland.  Many did, but some did not.   Those Poles that were left behind suffered oppression and torture at the hands of their new lords.  Kossow became Kosiv during this time.  When the Soviet Union broke up in 1992, Kosiv became part of the newly formed country of Ukraine.  With many Gidzinski’s scattered into other areas,  Kossow was largely left behind and forgotten.  The new center for the Gidzinski family became Winnipeg, Canada and to a smaller extent, Chicago.


Figus area


Western Galicia where Anna Figus came from, was somewhat of a more ethnically homogenous area.  The Podhale region, as it is known, was settled much later than the eastern areas because it was so mountainous.  That said, the region was originally populated by Poles from the north with an infusion of Romanian and Hungarian shepherds, along with some Germans and Hungarians.  Some of the towns or sub-regions retained a Hungarian flavor, however the vast majority of the people had been Polanised[5] centuries before, and most everyone was Roman Catholic.


While the Podhale area was less ethnically diverse, a distinctive Podhale culture developed in that area.  They developed a distinct dialect.  The architecture of the buildings looks similar to Norwegian Stave buildings with steeply pitched roofs and diagonal siding boards.  The native outfits were quite distinctive representing a more Balkan or Greek style with sea shells on their hats, striped pants and red balls on the ankles and heavy wide belts. 

 After WWII,  Czarny Dunajec remained part of Poland, which became a Soviet satellite state with Communism forced upon them.  Although Communist Poland suffered a good deal of oppression, it retained its language and culture.  Unlike the Soviets, Poles were also able to own land.  And people like George Gidzinski, Teodor and Eugenia Jaremus were able to visit during those communist time.   This made a great deal of difference to the people.   Poland became free of communism in 1990, adapting a western style democratic socialist government.   

This ends the recent history section.   If you would like to learn more about Polish history here are some great sources:

 Poland, A Novel by James A. Michener, 1983 – This is a long but very readable book that views Poland’s history through the eyes of successive generations of a Polish family.  It deals with the major events in Poland’s long history.

 The Hapsburg Empire, A New History, by Pieter M. Judson, 2016 – This is a very good book that helps to understand Galician history from the Partition years until 1918.  Much is written about the Galician province and all of the changes that were occurring during that recent historical period.

 American Warsaw, The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Polish Chicago by Dominic A. Pacyga, 2019 – This is a great book that defines the Polish diaspora to Chicago from 1850 until recent times.  Chicago was the largest target for Polish immigrants with almost a million Chicagoans of Polish descent.  This book helps one understand which Poles migrated when and where they went, and what they did when they came here.  Great source book.

 If you are interested in learning about the ancient origins of these areas, please refer to the Ancient History Section at the end of this write-up. 


Anna Figus



First, let’s start with Anna Figus who was the mother of the afore mentioned American clan.  Anna Figus was born on January 21, 1893 in Czarny Dunajec, Galicia which was then part of Austria-Hungary.   She was ethnically Polish. She was the 4th of 9 children, and the oldest daughter to Szczepan Figus from Czarny Dunajec and Aniela Las’ from the nearby village of Odrowaz.    

Anna  was born in a traditional small Gorale log cabin house in the foothills of the Tatras.  We know this because when Eugenia Gidzinski, who was Anna’s daughter went to Poland with her father George in the spring of 1970 they visited CzD and stayed for 6 days with her aunt Stefka (Figus) Bobek.  While there, Eugenia said that they had the opportunity to see the old house that Anna Figus was born in.  It was quite remarkable.  It was in disrepair and by that time no one lived there.   She told me that it had a short ceiling and a hard packed dirt floor.  She was amazed at seeing that her mother’s house had a dirt floor. 


Anna Figus – circa 1918


Podhale historians describe these simple houses as usually having two rooms.  One large room was where everyone lived, ate and slept.  The other room was reserved  for the animals during the long cold mountain winters!  So a home for these Gorals’ was like living in a barn.  There was no indoor plumbing or bathroom in the houses.  That was all outside.  The climate in Czarny Dunajec is similar to that of southern Wisconsin, though not as cold in the winter, but longer winters, running for 8 months.   And there was a lot of snow in the mountains.   

So after staying a week with Stephania and Joseph Bobek, Eugenia Jaremus (nee Gidzinski) and her father George Gidzinski took up residence at the Hotel Orbis Giewont in Zakopane.  On April 27th, 1970 she wrote: 

                We are now in the Tatry mountains.  We stayed 6 days with my Aunt Stephania (Figus) Bobek’s home in Czarny Dunajec.   The people are  very nice to us.  They tried so hard to please us, but they have so little themselves, we just felt out of place to ask for anything.  The home is rather incomplete.  No modern conveniences.  Lucky we didn’t have to pump water as they had a faucet in the large kitchen.   They are just now in the planting season and they spend long hours at hard work in the fields.  They use such poor tools that Pa even remembers these tools when he was a boy in Galicia 60 years ago.

                My aunt and uncle are dead tired every day.  They don’t even have time to cook a meal, so her daughters tried to help out while we were there.  Uncle Bobek has ulcers and is not well.  So with no bath for a week, no indoor toilet and heat only when they cook, it was too hard on us softies.  Why Aunt Bobek says she’s warm and even walks about the house barefoot.  But because of the primitive conditions, and our feeling like we were a burden on them, we decided to leave.  Aunt Stefka tried to keep us from leaving.  They felt bad that we would be going to an expensive hotel instead of staying with them.  It was hard to say good-bye, but we had to leave, seeing how hard it was for them at that time. 


So keep in mind that the above letter describes conditions in 1970.  You can just imagine how primitive conditions were when Anna or Stefka were growing up at the turn of the last century. 

Another thing that is important to mention is that the Figus family was a fairly devout Roman Catholic family that participated in parish life.   There were not clergy in the family, but from the birth, marriage and death records, one can see that they followed the church customs.  All children were baptized;  All babies had sponsors from the congregation;  Burials occurred in the church cemeteries.  The family[6], was derived from well-established families that had been in the community and parish for many generations.  The well documented church records of the extended family go back several hundred years.  These families were quite large giving each family many opportunities to connect in marriage to other local families.  Most marriages were for mature adults (not teenagers), and there is no record of illegitimacy in our lineage. 

 Now, you might think that illegitimacy was rare in those days.  It was not.  A review of the church records indicated that about 1 in 10 to 15 births was illegitimate.  Often in these illegitimate births, there was no father identified.  While the negative stigma of illegitimate births has been largely reduced today, the lack of a father in a rural Polish family years ago had a profoundly negative impact upon the mother and child.  There was no welfare state as we have today where unwed mothers can get help from the government.  An unwed mother had to rely sole upon her parents’ family for support.  That made life very difficult because men in particular did not live very long.   So in the converse, adherence to church customs of celibacy until marriage, and control of young people’s sexual behavior was done so out of necessity. 

I don’t know very much about Anna’s early life.  As a young boy, I talked a lot with her husband – my grandfather George Gidzinski but not very much with her.  Her grasp of English was poor, as was her health, so these didn’t help make her very outgoing.   

From historical information, life in the Austro-Hungarian Empire was changing fast during the 1890’s and 1900 years.  Polish Galician institutions were being formed to promote a stronger Polish identity, to promote better education and to establish businesses.  Records indicate that a lot of Polish people were either migrating to America or going there to make money.  Those that came back home, came with a lot of new ideas. 

One thing we know, is that the Figus family actively participated in working abroad.  Ellis Island records show that several of Anna Figus’ older brothers came to Chicago, probably working in the steel factories or the Union Stock Yards on the south side of Chicago.  Anna’s oldest brother Jan came to Chicago, via Ellis Island on May 23, 1899.  He was 24 years old.  His was going to stay with an uncle, whose name is not legible.   Ellis Island records show that Anna was 5’8” tall.  She was from Czarny Dunajec, Austria.  Anna arrived on May 24, 1911 and was headed for 1734 W. 18th Street in Chicago where she would stay with her brother Carl (Karol).   She arrived with $30 in her pocket and travelled with a middle aged farm laborer Viktor Mikos from Czarny Dunajec.  Viktor had been to the US before (1908) and was headed to 1114 Wood St.  He worked as  a molder in a steel foundry and died in 1918 at the age of 50.  Anna came to Chicago specifically to nurse and retrieve that older brother of hers.  She accomplished her task and got him back home, but for whatever reason, she decided to stay.    

Before she got married, Anna was known by her children to have been a seamstress or garment worker.  She worked for Hart, Schafner & Marx a renowned clothier in Chicago.  According to Dominic Pacyga[7], Chicago’s garment industry was located along Halsted Street on the near west side.  Many Polish women worked in these factories.  It is certainly understandable that Anna would be working within walking distance of where she lived. 

In addition to the afore mentioned Carl, an Uncle Joe Figus came to Chicago and stayed with George and Anna during the early 1930’s for quite a while.  He was a wood worker who spent a lot of time doing woodwork down in the basement.  My uncle John Gidzinski, stated that he would often go down into the basement where his Uncle Joe got him started working with wood using old hand tools.  John told me that his Uncle Joe was a key part of his reason for becoming a carpenter. 

Anna’s oldest brother Jan was a sea captain.  Another of Anna’s brothers Stanley died at the Auschwitz Nazi prison camp during World War II.  He is listed in the online prison camp records. 

According to her husband George Gidzinski,  Anna and George met in a tavern in the neighborhood where they both worked.  This would have been sometime around 1916-17.  I always found it interesting that Grandpa George freely admitted that he met his wife in a tavern.  He said that neighborhood taverns were more family oriented back then.  Grandpa said “ In those days, taverns served free food as an incentive for patrons to buy beer, so it was a popular place to stop after work to get a sandwich and a beer”.   Anyway, they got married on July 22, 1918 at St. Adalbert’s Roman Catholic Church in the Pilsen Neighborhood on the near south side of Chicago.  Eight months later on March 29, 1919 they had their first child – Mary.  I919 is interesting in that this was the year that Poland was reconstituted (as described in the historical section).  Yet there did not seem to be a desire to go back home.


Rolfe Jaremus (right) with cousin Jan Figus on the Polish – Slovakian border crossing in High Tatra Mts. – July 1991


In 1991 as mentioned, I was able to go to Poland with my father Teodor (Ted) Jaremus.  We stayed in the nearby “high Tatra” colorful village of Zakopane with Jan Figus, my mother Eugenia Jaremus’ cousin.  Like his father, he was a sea captain for most of his life commanding an Atlantic fishing vessel.   Jan was an accomplished individual that had a good knowledge of English.  Because of the skills of his sailors, members of the Massachusetts Woods Hole Oceanographic  Institute conducted research onboard his vessel.   When we saw him, he had recently retired, and was living in the family home that he had inherited from his father at Balzera 23, Zakopane.  This house was a really nice medium-large Gorale wood house located across the street from a ski hill.  In his retirement, he turned the upstairs into 6 bedrooms which he let out to visitors for $10 a day.   Teodor and I stayed in two of those bedrooms.   Jan’s brother Ted[8], who had been a WWII prisoner and as well as a prisoner under the communists had a smaller Gorale style house in a lot directly behind Jan and Sophia’s house. 

While in Zakopane, Teo and I visited Anna Figus’ youngest sister Stephania  (Stefka) Figus Bobek and her husband Joseph Bobek Sandocek just as my mother and grandfather did 21 years before.   Through my father, who translated, I was able to find out several interesting facts about the family.


First was that Stefka and Anna’s mother was Aniela Las’ (pronounced Wash).  She was born on Mar 26, 1868 in Odrowaz’, a small village about 4 kilometers north of Czarny Dunajec.  It was considered a satellite village of CzD.   Aniela’s father was Wincenty Las and her mother was Zofia Mis both from Odrowaz.  Both of these people have families from Odrowaz, house #5 that go back several generations.    Aniela is buried in a beautiful marble crypt next to her son Jan Figus (the sea farer) in the CzD church cemetery.  The interesting and confusing thing was that the birth date is incorrect on her burial stone.  It shows her birth date as being in 1867.  So when I found some genealogy people that had birth records from Odrowaz’ they found birth records for an Aniela Las but with a different birth date.  For several years, I was very skeptical that this might be her as there might have been another Aniela Las born to another  Las family.  However in such a small village, with only one Catholic church it seemed strange that two Las families would name their girls Aniela within a year.  Finally, I hired a local genealogy researcher who was able to clearly show that our Aniela was indeed the one that was born in 1868.

Stefka Figus – Anna’s youngest sister, in Czarny

Dunajec, Poland 1991


Above – Author alongside grave site of Aniela (Las) Figus and her son Jan Figus

in CzD Catholic Church Cemetery 1991



Anna’s father was Szezepan Figus who was born on Christmas Day, 1849 in CzD to Joseph Figus and Anna Fudala, both from old line Czarny Dunajec Catholic families.  Szezepan was the oldest of 9 children in the family.  Szezepan’s maternal grandmother Sophia Ratulowski was from a neighboring hamlet of Ciche.  Notably, there was a 19 year difference between Szezepan and Aniela.  She was about 16 years old when they were married.  Their first child – Jan was born when she was 18 years old. 

Back to Szezepan.   I don’t know a lot about him.  He died in 1920 from the Great Influenza Epidemic or Spanish Flu in 1920.[9]  According to Stefka his daughter, he was being taken (by cart or buggy) to hospital in Nowy Targ (the larger administrative town in the area) but never made it.  He died enroute.   He was 71 years old at the time of his death.   Stefka didn’t know, and  I have not been able to locate a record of his burial, or even if he was buried.  He might have been incinerated or buried along the road as this flu was highly contagious and deadly and people were understandably fearful of it.[10]   50 – 100 million people died worldwide as a result of that epidemic which came at the end of WWI. 


Czarny Dunajec Roman Catholic Church in Zakopane with author, July 1991

From the birth records we can discern some information.   Szezepan married at a later age than most people (when he was 35).  That said, he and Aniela wasted no time having children and he continued to sire children until he was 57!  When he died in 1920, it no doubt created a hardship for Aniela even though she no longer had young children.  In those days, there was no social security or welfare system for the aged, and Poland had only been reconstituted into a country the year before.   Aniela had two children, Alexander who was 15 and Stefka who was 13 at that time.   I can only speculate that the reason she was buried next to her sea captain son Jan in the CzD cemetery, is that he helped take care of her and his siblings.  Aniela lived for another 38 years beyond Szezepan’s passing.  So I would think Jan also took care of his mother during her later years.   She died in 1958, a few weeks shy of 90 years old.


So when you understand how harsh the living conditions were in Czarny Dunajec, it is not hard to see why when Anna came to Chicago, and lived in an apartment with central heat and indoor running water (bathrooms were still mostly outside[11]) that she didn’t want to go back.  Although I’m sure she missed the Gorale customs, she likely also liked the independence and ability to work as a seamstress making her own money.  It’s hard to imagine her being very independent, but life in Chicago must have been quite liberating as compared to the male dominated, traditional Polish country life.[12] 

 From a health perspective, intestinal/digestive tract issues are a concern for many members of the Figus family including Anna Figus.   Several of the Figus descendants have had colon cancer and other digestive related issues.   Another common concern is type 2 diabetes.  Anna Figus suffered from this problem in her later years.   It was debilitating for her.   She became immobile, needing to use a wheel chair to get around.  So we can all blame her for these problems[13].   So that’s what I know about Anna Figus.   


The latest genealogy information about our Figus lineage.

[1] Think in terms of Uncle John Gidzinski or Aunty Ollie.


Picture of Anna (Figus) Gidzinski’s Citizenship Certificate from October 1935



George Gidzinski




When the author was young, he asked his Grandfather George Gidzinski why he left his home at such a young age (17) because as a young teenager, the author was curious about how someone just a few years older than himself could take a trip overseas to a foreign land and make it on his own.   George answered simply that there was “nothing to do at home”.   There were many mouths to feed, and little to keep him there.  So I would guess, with his families blessing and help he left Poland in 1910.  He headed to Canada where there was a contingent of Gidzinski’s and many other Poles and Ukrainians in Winnipeg, Canada.   Ben Jaremus says that George’s passage to Canada was paid for by a farmer for whom he was to work to pay off his passage trip cost.



George Gidzinski circa 1918


George landed in Nova Scotia sometime in 1910.   He slowly worked his way across Canada working on farms and railroads.  He went through Quebec, but found the French people as not very inviting.  Story is told of him having an affair with a farmer’s wife and having to depart rather quickly.   His nose was noticeably broken as an adult.  I asked him about that and he said it was due to a fight that he had gotten into.  He didn’t elaborate.  George eventually ended up in Winnipeg although I don’t know when he arrived or for how long he was there.   In 1915, he made his way south and entered the United States at Warroad’s, Minnesota.  From there he went to Chicago.  There he worked in a steel plant on the south side but eventually made his way into the kitchen at first as a potato peeler and then as a cook.  The rest of his story is available on the Gidzinski.com web site.

Back to Kossow and what I know about it from memories, observations of documents and input from relatives.  From a large number of church records that the author has, most every entry indicates that the men were agricultural workers.  This meant that they were primarily subsistence farming.  They got most of their food and sustenance from the plot of land that they owned and worked on as described previously.   I do not know what they did for cash (to for example, buy a pair of leather shoes).   Perhaps they sold a pig, a cow or some grain to get some currency.  That said, George’s grandfather was a bee keeper.  He distinctly remembers seeing his grandfather taking care of the bees and putting straw on water puddles so that the bees could get a drink.  Did they raise bees for their own consumption, or as a source of currency?  Maybe a little of each.

Kossow was a Polish/Ruthenian village.  In 1921, there were 429 houses with  2,407 inhabitants – 1,301 Ruthenians, 1,074 Poles and 32 Jews.   There was one church in town, which being a Greek Catholic Church dedicated to Saint Paraschivia (Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans).  The nearest Roman Catholic Church was in neighboring Chomiakówce.  The names of the family members are Polish (Latin) in structure.  For example George’s birth entry shows his name as Gregorius (Latin).  His Polish name was Grzegorz which actually translates into Gregory.  But when you say Grzegorz in Polish is might have sounded to someone like “George”, so for whatever reason the name George stuck.  In his family tree, most of the names are recognizably Polish.  The one name that is not Polish is his mother’s maiden name: Sawrij.  Grandpa George told me that his mother’s family came from Moldavia or Russia.  I have spoken with some Romanians who verified that Sawrij is a Romanian/Moldavian name.  That said, both Apolonia Sawrij (Georges mother) and her father Michael Sawrij were born in Kossow[14], so the Moldavian origin must have been back quite a ways.

George Gidzinski’s mother – Apolonia Sawrij with two of her sons – About 1914, presumed to be in or near Kossow, Galicia, Austria-Hungary – Beginning of WW1.  Eugenia Gidzinski wrote that the men were Peter (left) and Jantyk (Tony), however if this was 1914 the man on the left must have been Paul Gidzinski, age 30, and  Peter, age 19 on the right as Jantyk would have been 10 years old.



For many generations, the family lived in Kossow in house #70.  I know that from the Catholic birth records for George, his father, grandfather, etc. going back several generations.   And it should be said that many generations lived on the family property together.  From birth, marriage and death records, it is apparent that there would be not just several generations, but several brothers and sisters that were married with children on the family property.  There were eight structures on the family property  (addresses 69 & 70) so there were likely several houses.  Other family names were Sawrij (his mother’s name), Markiewicz, Zarowny, Dominikow, and Starzynski.  The name Gidzinski appears to have changed with George’s generation.  Prior to that it was spelled “Gedzinski”.  The previously mentioned families were all somewhat prominent families in the village and the church.  This is evident because these families were large, they intermarried, and they were common sponsors of each other’s  babies.   It was very common for a family member of the grandparents to become the child’s sponsors.   There were always two sponsors, a male and female, who appear to always be related family members.

On the following page is a copy of an Austrian Cadastral Map of the village of Kossow that was made in 1828. A cadastral map is made to define property ownership boundaries.  Along with this was an “inventory of assets” of these villages, probably for taxation purposes.  The layout of the village was quite medieval with curvy streets leading to a central area where the church was.  I would think this was also the location of markets, celebrations, festivities and for that matter, hangings or other forms of rural justice.   There are several  Zarowny family properties.  One is located directly in the middle of the town on a peninsula formed by the two village roads.  There were many Zarowny’s in Kossow.  I have not been able to find a common ancestor for the many Zarowny families going back to the late 1700’s.  The Gidzinski family house and property was to the south of the Zarowny’s in a prominent central location along the river.  There is another Zarowny property to the left of the Gedzinski property along the river.  The Starzynski family house is located further out on the northeast side of town.

The people that lived nearest to the center of the villages were by and large the most prominent and often the oldest families in the village.  When I say prominent, I am not implying that these people were wealthy because clearly they were not.   At that time, there was little economic stratification.  Most people were subsistence agricultural workers.  That said, it is apparent by the family records that our ancestor families had some means.[15]  They  owned homes with buildings in the center of the village with several acres of land for animals and gardens.    The church records indicate that these families were active members of the local parish.  From the above information we can also assume that they were prominent members of the village community.  So, they had some status.


Early Deaths

Another observation I can make from the records is that people died at a fairly early age.   Children died at young ages and people died from “consumption” (cancer), convulsions (?), rubella or measles, typhus, scarlet fever, hydrops (child birth illness) and other illnesses.   Many people died of “ordinaris”.  How ordinary could it be to die at the age of 5?  So we see many people dying in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  Very few people lived to what we would consider to be a normal life span.  George Gidzinski’s grandfather Bartholomeus , with a family of 6 children, died in 1859 of pneumonia at the age of 39.  His youngest child was 9 months old at the time.  There was a Cholera epidemic that swept through the town in 1848 killing


      Cadastral Map the 1828 Austrian Spis Alfabetyyzny of Kossow, Galicia – Arrow shows Gedzinski property

any including George’s maternal great grandfather Christopher Zarowny.  He died at the age of 43.   I say swept, as per the Church records the illness killed many.  Cholera is a disease caused by people drinking bacteria infected water = poor sanitation practices. One thing that becomes apparent is that several generations of Gedzinski men died at an early age with young children in the household. 

Bartholomeus Gedzinski was born Aug 19, 1819.  He married Catharina Markiewicz on Aug 11, 1838 when he was 22 and she was 19.  They had their first child, Paul in 1841 and proceeded to have five more children, one of which died at age 5-1/2.  Catharina had children for 20 years, her last child Thecla being born in Aug 8, 1858.  Less than a year later, on Mar 1, 1859 Bartholomeus died at the age of 39.   Although Paul was 19 by then, this must have been tough for Catharina to raise several young children with her husband gone. 

One of Catharina’s youths was Joannes (Jan) Nepomus.   He was 5 when his father died.   When he grew up, he married a younger  Apolonia Sawrij – not sure when.  Their first child Paul was born when he was 29 and she 22.  They went on to have seven children including George, the author’s grandfather.   The previously mentioned Jantyk (Anthony or Tony) was born in 1904 and then the father Joannes dies in 1908 at the ripe old age of 52.  Once again, we find the mother, Apolonia being left with several young children at home without a husband.    By then the oldest son Paul would have been 24, but who  knows if he was still around?   We know that he migrated to Canada at some point, got married, had three children and eventually died in Vancouver at the age of 73.

Family closeness

When one examines the family records and cadastral map, some other observations can be made.   It is apparent that the Gedzinski, Markiewicz, Zaowny and Sawrij families lived close to each other in the old central part of town.  They or their relatives were birth sponsors of each other’s children and their children married into each other’s families.  Catharina Markiewicz was a prime example of this.    She was born in 1822 in house #62 which is located about 3 properties to the east of the Gedzinski property.   There are a number of buildings on the property.  It’s hard to read the name on the cadastral map, but it does not appear to be a Markiewicz.   Her male birth sponsor was Marcin Gedzinski, who ended up becoming her father-in-law.   Her female sponsor was Agnes Markiewicz who was probably her mother’s sister.    As mentioned above, Catharina’s husband Bartholomeus Gedzinski died in 1859 of pneumonia at the age of 39.  Bart was born and died in house #70.   Catharina the matriarch died in house #70, so one can assume that she moved in to house #70 when she got married.  Catharina lived to the age of 80 in 1902.  So when grandpa Grzegorz Gidzinski was born in 1893, she would have been his 69 year old grandmother living on the property, if not in his house.  I’m sure he would have known her well.

What these birth and death records show is that several of the Gedzinski men died relatively young and that the mothers were left to raise the family.  This also tends to show the importance in these older days of sponsorship.  It was likely that family members/sponsors helped to raise these families.  It shows the importance of having an extended family.  It is also interesting that George migrated to North America two years after his father’s death.  I do not recall him mentioning such a tragedy.  The difficult family life may have been a factor in him wanting to get away and not be a burden.

Balkan Connection and DNA

One of the interesting things is that DNA testing has shown that Rolfe Jaremus and several other distant Gidzinski relatives from Kosow show strong Balkan origins.  This is interesting because the Greek Catholic Church in Kosow happens to be named after and dedicated to St. Parachivia (Saint Paraskeva of the Balkans).    Place names which are the names of villages and towns, roads and churches usually do not change.  They tend to  reflect the oldest origins of a place.  So it is interesting  that Kosow’s lone Christian church is dedicated to a Balkan Saint.  This is probably not coincidental, rather it reflects the likely old[16] Balkan origin of at least some of the early, influential  inhabitants of Kosow as well as a portion of our origins.  From the thoroughly Polish family names that exist in the oldest known church records going back to the mid-18th century, one could surmise that during the centuries of Polish rule in Galicia, and the dominant Polish culture and language, that Kosow’s Balkan origins got “washed out”.

The Village of Kosow

So besides tending the family plot, so to speak, what else went on in Kossow?  Historic analysis shows that serfdom was the dominant relationship between peasants and nobility, and was a major feature of the economy in this area.   Villages like Kossow were “owned” by a nobleman who in turn provided services or paid dues (usually in the form of grain) to the local duke or feudal lord of the region.  Serfdom in this region dates back to the 12th century when this involved a family or worker providing a few days of service or work to the feudal lord.  As time went on, this service increased and became more defined.  Serfs were categorized into those that owned land and those that did not.  All peasants who held land from a feudal lord had to perform services or deliver goods to their lord. 

By the Polish Kingdom years (15th through 18th centuries) the demands upon the peasants became greater.  As society became more stratified, the manorial estates became more elaborate along with demands for grain for export.  These developments fell more so upon the backs of the peasants who by this time were essentially working full time for the feudal lords.  Poland actually was considered a pretty good place for peasants compared to other parts of Europe, even Western Europe and certainly Russia, where conditions were even more oppressive.   Under pressure from the serfs in the 18th century, Poland enacted various reforms granting peasants greater freedom and requiring less work.  As the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth was being partitioned, Poland enacted major reforms enshrined in the 1791 Constitution, which was considered the most democratic constitution in European history.   It gave peasants protections and rights from the state wresting controls from the feudal lords.  This “freedom” as it was called, and the fleeing of Russian serfs to Poland was one of the justifications of Catharine the Great of Russia, and for the Prussians for gobbling up Poland in 1795.  So, under Austrian Rule, these liberal reforms were rolled back, although feudalism, though not dead, was on its last legs.

One of the author’s likely distant Kosow relatives, Czeslawa Zarowny Grzygorczyk provided the following account:

Xavier Starzynski was a count in Volhynia near the town of Rowno.  He took part in the 1863 Polish Uprising against Russia.  The uprising did not succeed, so to avoid imprisonment, Starzynski  fled to Austrian Galicia, settling in Kossow.  He brought with him a fair amount of wealth.  At that time the current lord of Kossow had gone bankrupt.  Xavier had enough money to buy the estate, however he was worried that doing so would reveal his identity to the authorities.  Although the Austrian administrators were not in cahoots with the Russians, they were not interested in a Polish Rebellion in their lands either.  So Xavier hired an Armenian financer named Bogdanowicz to buy the estate for him.  The Bogdanowicz family owned Kossow until the end of WWII, when the Soviets took over this land.  Xavier Starzynski changed his surname to Zarowny, as there were many other Zarowny’s in town.

Xavier is not believed to be related to our Zarowny’s or Starzynski’s.  This story is meant to illustrate that Kossow was an owned town or estate during our families’ historic times.

Significantly, it should be realized that virtually all of the Gidzinski family ancestors, in their various church records were identified as  “Agr” or “Agricola” - agricultural workers   So from these designations and what we know about how things worked one can extrapolate that the grown men largely had “part time jobs” to use a modern term, working for the local village baron or estate, and their other job was raising their own food and animals on their home plot.  The women were largely responsible for domestic matters: raising the children, cooking the meals, probably working in the gardens.  Keep in mind, this kind of subsistence living meant growing and storing food for the family for the entire year.  There were no grocery stores.  It also tells us that our family ancestors were not the blacksmiths, tanners or carpenters in the village.

The Gidzinski Diaspora  

Over the last 150 years, many members of the Gidzinski and related families left Kossow as part of a great Galician Diaspora (or dispersion).  As mentioned, Grandpa George and many family members went to Winnipeg and other communities in Manitoba in the early years of the 20th century.  A large number of Zarowny descendants live in Manitoba today.  Other family members went to other parts of Poland, to Germany, the UK and Australia.   Those early migrations were primarily for work or better economic opportunity.   Unlike the Figus family, the Gidzinski’s primarily bought one way tickets.  They moved to new lands and rarely returned.

 In 1918, and for the next 21 years, Galicia became part of a newly formed Poland and this area stabilized and there was reduced migration.  The migration to the US at least was also significantly reduced because of the backlash against immigrants and the feeling that the northern cities were becoming unrecognizably foreign.

During the 1930’s the neighboring Ukrainians that fell under Soviet domination were forced off of their small land holdings into larger villages.  The Ukrainian land holders (like the Gidzinski's) called Kulaks, were forced to move or were starved and killed as part of Stalin’s effort to industrialize the Soviet Union.  Between 10 and 20 million Ukrainians starved or murdered by the Communists.  The Poles were lucky to not experience that fate.

During WWII however, this area was taken over initially by the Soviets, then the Germans invaded, and finally the Russians came back and took this land.  During the war years, many Ukrainians sided with the invading Germans who openly promised Ukrainian independence from Poland and Russia.   This was a very divisive situation as Poles and Ukrainians intermarried, so there was mixed loyalties.  Many Poles were put to death.  The same fate befell many Ukrainians when the communists took back this area.  The large Jewish population of this area largely vanished.  Six million Jews were killed in German Concentration Camps and by other means.  After the war, most of the remaining Jews either moved into the Russian areas, or migrated west to American, the UK or south to the newly formed Israel.

After WWII, as part of the Armistice Agreement, all Polish peoples in these Kresy (eastern Polish) lands were directed to move out of what became the Ukrainian SSR.   Polish people were directed to leave the Ukrainian and Lithuanian lands, Russians, Germans and Ukrainians were exiled from Poland.  This happened throughout east central Europe in the interest of creating countries that were more ethnically homogenous.  This was a part of one of the largest human resettlement programs in history.    Many Polish family members left and were resettled into the former Silesian and Pomeranian German lands that were given to Poland in return for the Soviet confiscation of the eastern third of Poland.  Many other Poles including Teodor Jaremus left the newly reconstituted, but communist Poland and went to afore mentioned countries.  As a result of all of this, most of the Gidzinski family members are scattered throughout the world.

Front and back of Immigration Registry Card for George Gidzinski, Chiago, IL Sept 3, 1931


One of the family stories from George Gidzinski was about his grandfather, pictured to the left, who was said to have died in Winnipeg at the ripe old age of 110.  And then he was said to have died in a house fire!  I am hopeful that someday I might be able to verify this story but I can certainly say that it was not his paternal Gedzinski grandfather.


So that is my history of the Figus and Gidzinski Families and what we know about their origins.  Your questions and comments are welcome.


Index of Gidzinski/Figus Family Lineage Surnames

Surname                                              Side of Lineage                                 Town/Village                                        

Andruskow                                          Gidzinski                                              Kosow

Bielski                                                  Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Dominikow                                          Gidzinski                                             Kosow

Figus                                                    Figus                                                   Czarny Dunajec

Fudala                                                  Figus                                                  Czarny Dunajec

Gedzinski                                            Gidzinski                                             Kosow

Gidzinski                                              Gidzinski                                             Kosow

Glowicki                                               Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Harbut                                                  Figus                                                   Czarny Dunajec

Kasper                                                 Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Kwak                                                    Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Las                                                       Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Majchrzak                                            Figus                                                   Czarny Dunajec

Markiewicz                                          Gidzinski                                             Kosow

Mis                                                        Figus                                                   Odrowaz near Czarny Dunajec

Ratulowski                                           Figus                                                    Ciche near Czarny Dunajec

Sawrij                                                   Gidzinski                                              Kosow

Siedlicki                                               Gidzinski                                              Kosow

Starzynski                                            Gidzinski                                              Kosow

Szymala                                                Figus                                                   Czarny Dunajec

Zarowny                                                Gidzinski                                              Kosow


Please note that I am not using the Polish letter symbols (because I haven’t figured this out yet).  The L in Las has a slash through it and is pronounced “Wa” rather than “L” in English.  Be aware that Polish surnames can and usually vary depending upon the sex of the person.   A male surname of Gidzinski (ski – son of) would be Gidzinska (daughter of) for a female.  Most records show the male form, but not all.  Also records occasionally  show “scy” as an ending for a name which means “family of”.  In this case the ski or ska ending is replaced with the scy ending – Gidzinscy.  This is mostly done for surnames that end in ski/ska.


Ancient Origins


This section contains information about the older history of Czarny Dunajec and Kossow and the areas that they were a part of.  

Czarny Dunajec 

Czarny Dunajec (CzD) is a fairly young town that, from historical documents, was originally settled in the 13th century.  The name Czarny Dunajec (Black “Du ni yetz”) refers to the color of the Dunajec River that runs through the town.    It is located along a travel route from Krakow, Poland to Budapest, Hungary.  It is also located in the foot hills of the Tatra Mountains.  This area is known as the Podhale.   In those early days, the Roman Catholic Cistercian religious order was authorized by the Prince of Krakow to colonize the area.  Polish settlers under the direction of Jan Pieniazek came in to the area from the north.   CzD was officially founded in 1552.  

Now you might ask “why wasn’t this area settled earlier?”.   It probably had a few inhabitants, but not many. The reason was, this is a cold, mountainous area with short cool summers and long cold winters.  In this mountainous climate, it often didn’t get warm until July and by late September the snow begins to fall.  So there was a very short growing season and the kind of crops that could be grown needed to either be cold tolerant or have a very short growing season.  Wheat, for example does not grow in this region.[17]  Grazing cattle cannot get enough to eat during the short summers, so goats and sheep, which are better able to traverse the mountain trails and scavenge on mountain plants were a better choice.  Pigs could be grown here, but usually would be gotten in the spring, grown in the summer and butchered in the fall.  The Podhale area was a remote, isolated mountainous area that was only pleasant during the summer months. 


Traditional Gorale Fiddler

In the Podhale, several villages located in the Spisz sub-region to the immediate south were founded by Wallachian (Romanian) Sheep herders.   The Wallachian or Wallachian’s colonized remote, mountainous areas.  There were also a number of villages in the Pieniny Region that were organized by Hungarian settlers.  There is a famous Hungarian castle (Niedzica) that was built in the 14th century that is a popular tourist site today.  Niedzica is located on the Slovakian border (which is close to CzD) and a nearby town, Orawa that was founded in the 16th century by another Hungarian (Thurzo) family.   Adding to the mix, there were German settlers that came into certain villages in the area.  The Podhale area followed what was known as German Law principles. The Polanized Germans, Wallachian sheep herders, Hungarians and native Poles created a unique Gorale Highlander culture that characterizes the region. 

The Gorale people, from a physical characteristic perspective tend to be taller and lankier than most Poles[18].   They often have blue or light colored eyes and straight, thin brown hair.  Children often have blond hair which turns brown as the children age.  The Gorale people enjoy string music instruments like the bass and the fiddle.  They even play the bagpipe.   Zakopane, the cultural capital of the area is today renowned for its folk music bands and festivals.   The Gorale people are also renowned for their folk dancing.  There are a number of dance groups from this area.  Of course, the dancers wear traditional folk outfits.   That said, the Zakopane cultural “celebration” is more so a late 20th century experience, it didn’t exist when Anna Figus was a girl.  At that time, these folk customs existed but they were not celebrated with such fan fair as is today. 

Some of the key historical activities in the Podhale included sheep herding, cheese making, wooden  peg style (no nails) house construction, wood carving, salt mining, metal mining and smelting  and of course, subsistence farming activities.  As for farming, the key crops were rye, barley, oats and potatoes.  All of the source records that I have for our relative’s list “agr” or agriculture worker as our ancestor’s occupation.  Prior to the 20th century, there was little economic stratification which means that there were not poor people and rich people.  Most everyone was either poor, or not quite so poor.   Most people worked on small, subsistence farms.  

Characteristic of an area with a lot of snow, the Podhale area houses have a distinctive wooden log cabin type of architecture that resembles Norwegian Stave buildings with steep roofs, large eaves, and siding on the upper parts that is angular.   The design of these buildings is one of the distinctive cultural marker of this area.  The Gorale people also spoke their own dialect of Polish. 

Another unique aspect of the Gorale culture is their traditional dress, the men’s outfit is the most distinctive.  If you look at the men’s Gorale’ outfit it looks very similar to a traditional Greek or Balkan folk outfit.  The men’s white heavy woolen pants with black stripes down the side even have a red ball on the outside ankle.   The pants cover the top of the foot.  They wear a very thick ornamented leather belt.   They have a large white woolen capes and a black Cloth cap that has of all things, a bead of sea shells on the band.  That seems strange, since they are very far from any sea.  The Gorale outfit also includes a heavily hand carved wooden shepherd’s hatchet/cane.  Today these outfits are worn at folk festivals and celebrations.


Gorale’ Highlanders in Podhale log cabin making goats’ cheese.

 Ted Figus – Mountaineering guide on right.   July 1991


I would think that these outfits are a result of the Wallachian/ Romanian sheep herders who while traversing the mountains in their yearly grazing routes interfaced with Greek, Macedonian, and “Yugoslavian” shepherds coming north.   In my (author’s) DNA tests, I have some Bosnia-Herzegovina DNA yet no known ancestors from that area.  That DNA linkage probably goes back several thousand years, not sure, but the Gorale’ outfits reflect a very different tradition than most traditional Polish folk outfits.  

During the early years, villages like CzD were “owned” by landlords.   Ownership, as I understand it, means that the people had to pay a tax to the landlord.  The ownership passed through different landlords over time.    In the 16th Century the Czarny Dunajec “Flower”[19] was bought by the Ratulowski Family.  Interestingly, Anna Figus’ great grandmother was Sophia Ratulowski, who may have been part of the landlord’s family.  So there may have been some local prominence in the family lineage.   By the early 17th century, the Ratulowski family sold CzD because it wasn’t making the family any money.  

 In 1819, a few decades after the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned, CzD, along with several other neighboring villages was “sold” to a Jan Pajeczkowski.    A few years later, a Rev. Szczurkowski acting on behalf of a group of villagers managed to release the villages and put them under “common ownership”.   One can say that the Gorale people take great pride in their independence, however their independence was often more a reflection of the poor economic conditions of the area.  “They can’t produce anything, so just leave them alone”.


While the Gorale’ people were subsistence people, living off the land, doing shepherding, subsistence farming, cheese making and wood working and mining, they were also industrious people.  I believe they had to be to live in such a cold, remote climate.  That said, because of the endemic poverty and the remoteness, beginning in the late 1800’s some of these Gorale’ people started working abroad.  They went to the United States to make money and hopefully bring it back home.  Some of the key destinations for early Gorale migrants were Chicago and the Pennsylvania.  Because of the robust and diverse economic activity, Chicago became a key US destination.  Pennsylvania was also a destination because of its need for miners.  The success of the early Gorale “pioneers” encouraged other to come and eventually there was a flood of Gorale’ people in Chicago, particularly to the near northwest  (Wicker Park) and Southwest sides (Bridgeport and Midway Airport) areas.

Gorale people in traditional folk dress.  Each village has small variations on a common theme.  Notice the green colors in the man’s cape, the feather in men’s cap and the long embroidered scarf from the woman’s hair ball. 


Ted Figus’ traditional Gorale log house – Zakopane, 1991


The Polish Immigrant experience in the late 19th and early 20th centuries represented a dramatic cultural change for the Polish immigrant particularly for those immigrants coming from small towns and remote villages.  In these towns or villages, life for a Polish Catholic family revolved around the family and the church.  The focus for people was upon living according to the customs and mores established by the village community, the church dictates, the local priest (who was like a mayor), and the relatives, in particular the elders of the family.  There was little focus upon economics except at a rudimentary level.  98% of a family’s needs were provided for from “within” – growing vegetables, animals for milk and meat and cutting wood for fuel or construction.  Most clothing was made in the family or by a local seamstress.  Sales of livestock or grain was done to raise some money to buy shoes, ceramic or metal items usually obtained from a local craftsman or from a known local market.  Money was also raised to buy land, however this was a very occasional and rare event.  It was considered sinful to be focused upon having money, or hording money.  Unlike our monetary based economy of today, status was conferred by conforming to the social, religious and familial expectations.   It was also considered rather sinful to try to become someone more important than the rest of the family.  An immigrant was expected to get a job abroad and make some money so that one could return home, buy a neighboring farm plot and marry a local peasant woman or man from the village.  When young immigrants went to Germany or American, it was considered a dangerous process not just because of the difficult passage, but also  because this family member would be exposed to all kinds of new things that would corrupt his or her soul.  They might fall away from church attendance.  Parents were often severely troubled by their teenage or young adult offspring  when they wouldn’t write home, and God forbid that they decided to stay in the other country.[20] 


Kossow (Kosiv)

Kossow is the village where the Gidzinski family came from.   Kossow lies along in the Bila River Valley and is a highly fertile agricultural area.  It is in an area of rolling hills, but it is not in the mountains like CzD.   The Bila River which is more like a stream, flows southeast through the village into the Seret River that runs through the city of Chortkiv.  From there the Seret River runs southeast into the Dniester River.  The Dniester River is the major river way in the region running from the eastern border of present day Poland eastward across the Ukraine, bordering Moldova and flowing on to the Black Sea, the mouth of which is south of Odessa.   The Dniester is similar to the Ohio River in its size and importance.  River ways are very important because in ancient and modern times they were a key highway for commerce and inter-regional travel.  People in Kossow, were much more likely to trade and deal with people in towns and villages downstream from Kosiv.  One reason is that where the river runs, the land alongside is flatter.  It has always been easier to transport goods downstream by water than by cart or wagon over land.


A little bit about the Dniester River valley people in ancient history.  From Wikipedia:


During the Neolithic, the Dniester River was the center of one of the most advanced civilizations on earth at the time. The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture flourished in this area from roughly 5300 to 2600 BC, leaving behind thousands of archeological sites. Their settlements had up to 15,000 inhabitants, making them among the first large farming communities in the world.[7]



After that period, the Vandals or Lugii Tribes were known to inhabit this area.  This is the core area where Proto-Slavic Tribes were known to have developed.  The two most prominent groups in this immediate region were known as the Zarubintsy Culture on the eastern side of this area and the Przeworsk Culture to the west.  Kossow was located between these two cultures.


The Zarubintsy Culture “was one of the earliest known cultures of this area from the 3rd century BC until 1st century AD.  These proto-Slavic people  engaged in the growing of grain, raising animals including sheep, goat,  cattle, horses and swine. There is evidence they traded  animal skins with traders on the Black Sea.  Some of their settlements were defended with earthen ditches and row mounds, structures thought to have been built to defend against horse mounted raiders from the steppes.  Dwellings were either of surface or semi-subterranean types, with posts supporting the walls, a hearth in the middle, and large conic pits located nearby.  Inhabitants practiced cremation. Cremated remains were either placed in large, hand-made ceramic urns, or were placed in a large pit and surrounded by food and ornaments. 

The Przeworsk culture people lived in small, rather unprotected villages, populated by a few dozen residents at most.  The villages were made up of several houses, usually set partially below ground level, each house covering an area of 8–22 square meters. The inhabitants knew how to dig and build wells, so the settlements didn't have to be located near bodies of water.  Archeological evidence shows that the people rotated their fields between grain crops, animal grazing and allowing the field to go fallow. 

Several  settlements made up a settlement region, within which the residents cooperated economically and buried their dead in a common cemetery.  The settlement areas were separated from other settlements  by large wilderness areas.   A number of such settlements possibly made up a tribe which as the early Roman historian Tacitus stated, were zones "of mutual fear".  If the tribes were closely related, they would join together to fight common enemies.  One of the early kinds of “industry” was the mining and selling of salt.  Examination of cemeteries showed that many of them were used for several centuries.  It also showed that the population density of this area was low.   Some of the dead were cremated with their ashes placed in urns. 

In the village of Siemiechów a grave was found of a Przeworsk warrior who must have taken part in the Germanic Ariovistus expedition during the 70–50 BC period.  The grave contained Celtic weapons and an Alpine region manufactured helmet used as an urn, together with local ceramics.  The burial gifts, for some reason were often bent or broken, and then burned with the body. The burials range from poor to rich people, the latter ones supplied with fancy Celtic and then Roman imports.  This not only showed that there was social stratification.  It also shows that these people fought, traded and interacted with Germanic, Celtic and Roman people


From ancient times the eastern Galician area was a transportation corridor for people as well as goods and materials.  Bordered by the Carpathian Mountain range to the south and the Pripet Marshes to the north, this area was an area where in good times, commerce and trade occurred between the Black and Baltic Seas.  The Dniester River was part of a southern Varangian Trade Route that ran from the Swedish or Viking lands through Poland to the Dniester River into the Black Sea and on to Constantinople, in today’s Turkey.  The western shores of the Black sea were areas where Greek colonies settled. 


The Trade Route from the Varangian’s to the Greeks was used to transport different kinds of merchandise:  Wine, spices, jewelry, glass, expensive fabrics, icons, and books came from the Byzantine Empire.  Volhyn traded spinning wheels and other items. Certain kinds of weapons and handicrafts came from Scandinavia.  The Northern Rus' offered timber, fur, honey, and wax, while the Baltic tribes traded amber.


So this was an area (particularly along the major river ways) where there were traders and merchants moving between the sea ports and the major towns and cities.  In bad times, this area of rolling hills became the highway for horse mounted eastern invaders:  the Mongols, Tatars and Cossacks. It was also a battleground for the larger kingdoms:  The Poles from the northwest, the Hungarians from the south, the Germans and even French from the west, and the Russians from the Northeast.   





In the late 12th century, the first known rulers of eastern Galicia were Rurik (Slavic) rulers from the Kiev area to the east.   The earliest ruler was Vladimir of Novgorod, from a Rurik family branch known as Rostislavichi. He was able to establish a dynasty that lasted 100 years.  He and several of his sons including Lev and Danylo successfully consolidated the area although they also served under Mongol overlords.   The Mongols and Tatars in what was called the Golden Horde were a major threat and power directly to the east.   Hungarians ruled the area for a short period in the early 13th Then in 1221, Prince Daniel of Galicia took back control of the area and founded the city of Lvov (L’viv – Ukrainian) naming it after his son Lev.  They united the area with the territory to the north creating a more powerful principality of Halych-Volhynia.  The names Halych and Galicia are names for the same region.



In 1349, in the course of the Galicia–Volhynia Wars, King Casimir III the Great of Poland conquered the major part of Galicia and put an end to the “independence” of this territory.   Following the death of Casimir in 1370, Poland entered into a personal union with Hungary (1370-1382) and Ruthenia (Galicia) came under the rule of a Ruthenian lord, Vladislaus II of Opole, appointed by the King of Hungary.  Later Galicia was ruled for short time by various Hungarian voivodes of Ruthenia.   Under the Polish Jagiellonian dynasty (from 1386 to 1572) the Kingdom of Poland revived and reconstituted its territories.  The historic Galician area became the Ruthenian Voivodship.  For 400 years, this area was part of the Kingdom of Poland.


[1] Current Ukrainian name is Kosiv

[2] When Rolfe and Ted went to the Ukrainian SSR in 1991, they visited the wrong Kossow!

[3] I include religious orientation because this was a very important cultural factor and indicator or ethnicity.  Jews were about as likely to marry a gentile as a horse marrying a cow.  Eastern rite ethnicities, like Ukrainian and Russian were more easily intermarrying.

[4] The Russians considered the Ukrainians as wayward cousins as well.

[5] Polanised – over the centuries, the Wallachian’s, Hungarians and Germans incorporated themselves into the dominant Polish culture.

[6] I refer to family somewhat broadly, as there were many families that contributed to the Figus lineage.

[7] American Warsaw by Dominic Pacyga 2019

[9] Which is interesting, because as I am writing this 100 years later we are in the midst of a deadly Coronavirus pandemic.

[10] It is interesting because as I am writing this, a Corona Virus has broken out in Wuhan, China.  It is a very lethal virus as well.

[11][11] When living on the near west side, my mother said that the bathroom for the house was actually under the sidewalk.  That’s another story.

[12] When Ted and I went to CzD in 1991 we stayed with a family where the men ate in the dining room and the women at in the kitchen.

[13] That’s a joke.

[14] As I have their church birth entries

[15] They were able to send many family members to Canada and the US.  This was an indicator or at least moderate wealth.

[16] I am thinking that the Balkan roots go back 4-800 years.  This is just a guess.

[17] So this might explain why my daughter is gluten intolerant

[18] Think in terms of Uncle John Gidzinski or Aunty Ollie.

[19] The purpose of folwarks was to produce surplus produce for export. The first folwarks were created on church- and monastery-owned grounds. Later they were adopted by both the nobility (szlachta) and rich peasants (singular: sołtys), but the sołtys positions were eventually taken over by the szlachta

[20] As per Thomas and Znaniecki’s landmark social study – The Polish Peasant in Europe and America – 1918-1920

                                        Our Families’ Connections to Ships

It may seem that our family has few connections to ships.  Overall, that would be true.  We are primarily landlubbers.  Most of our relatives came from places a long way from the sea, and most moved to Chicago where there wasn’t much seafaring in the 20th century.  That said there are a few connections that I can think of.

Certainly the most obvious were the migration trips that all of our Polish ancestors took.  In particular, Anna Figus and George Gidzinski came to North America by ship in 1911 and 1910 respectively.

Perhaps the most famous connection was with John Gidzinski.  Somewhat by accident, John became a Merchant Marine during WWII.  He was out for a stroll while the Navy recruiter that he was about to see was out to lunch.  He stopped in to talk with the MM recruiter and the rest was history.   The Merchant Marines were the military organization that transported equipment and goods of all kinds from America to where the war was at.  The United States, along with Britain and France were allied with Communist Soviet Union in fighting the Nazi’s.  It certainly was not a marriage made in heaven, but rather one made out of necessity.  

From April, 1943 until January of 1948 John Gidzinski served on eight ships and a dozen engagements.  On one of his trips, Uncle Johnny was part of a convoy that brought a truck assembly factory to the Russian city of Murmansk.  The delivery of the US factory to Russia was a pretty hairy ordeal.  John was a seaman onboard the SS John J. Abel.  While in the Barent’s Sea east of Norway they were being hunted by the German warship Sharnhorst and they were the bait.  Sure enough the Scharnhorst came after them, but one of the British destroyers managed to hit the German warship with a torpedo and on December 26, 1943 it was sunk. 

Uncle Johnny was very proud of the metal that he got for this service.  More information about his Merchant Marine service can be found in a book called “They Couldn’t Have Won the War Without Us” edited by Pete Peterson.   John wrote a chapter of the book.

Another John was a sea captain.  This time it was a Polish cousin of John’s named Jan Figus.  Jan was the nephew of Anna Figus, our grandmother.  Although Jan was from Czarny Dunajec, Poland which is located in the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, there was a history of sea faring within the family.  Jan’s father, also named Jan was a famous sea captain.  I am not familiar with his accomplishments or if he was involved during the war, but Jan the son was the sea captain of The Admiral Arciszewski a Polish fishing ship that fished in the north Atlantic.  Jan was a highly admired Sea Captain.  Because of his knowledge of the sea, members of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts conducted research on board Jan’s ship.   

Fishing scene onboard the Admiral Arciszewski, Szczecin, 1985


Captain Jan Figus (left) onboard the Admiral Arciszewski out of Szezesin, Poland – 1985

Another seaman was Teodor Jaremus.  After the war, while spending time in a Displaced Persons camp in Bamberg, Germany, Ted went to culinary school and learned to be a cook.  In 1947 he returned to his home in Gdynia where he got a job as a cook onboard several ocean going ships.  In 1948, he worked on the SS Kilinski out of Gdansk, Poland.  That same year he was onboard the SS Warzinski out of Gdynia.  He told about having been to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  While on shore leave with three other Poles in Galveston, Texas they decided to take “extended shore leave”,  never returning.  Ted made his way up to Coloma, Michigan where he got a job as a cook.  Six months later he came down to Chicago.


Ted Jaremus, circa 1947


 Polish Sailing log for Ted Jaremus - 1948


So these are some of the connections that our family has to ships.  If you know of others, let me know.


Rolfe Jaremus, March, 2021



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