Maria M. Ksshemianska (we call her Musechka) was born in 1900 in a small, romantic Polish town of Suwalki, when Poland was part of the Russian Empire. Suwalki was a military town, 15 miles from the German border and the city of Keninsberg. After WW Two Keninsberg became Kaliningrad with entirely Russian population and new buildings. Musechka can't imagine all that.

 

The Ksshemianskis occupied the three-story house with balconies on the main street of Suwalki---St. Peterburgski prospect (ul.Kościuszki, 64), where all the town elite resided.

 

Musechka does not consider her family rich. In reality her father made quite a fortune, building roads and bridges for the Russian Ministry of Transportation. On the leftovers of that fortune the family lived comfortably even after the fall of the Russian Empire. The Ksshemianskis had servants, nannies and tutors for their children, horses and carriages. Musechka's father took the children and their friends for a ride on the first automobile in town. Musechka's mother ordered cloths from Warsaw seamstresses. The Minister of Transportation of Russia Count Obolenski was a guest at Ksshemianskis', when Musechka was too little to remember it well. Local business men played cards and dined at their home.

 

Musechka's mother Minna came from a dynasty of the beloved estate managers near Kovno (Kaunas). She was brought up and received the same education as the children of the estate owner, a Polish noble. All the children considered themselves siblings and gathered at the estate for the family reunions. Such close Polish- Jewish ties were common among the Jews and the Polish gentry.

 

Musechka's mother spoke French, Polish, German and Russian. She graduated from the Belastoc Ladies' Institute -- one of the most prestigious colleges for the girls in the Imperial Russia. Russian was a major spoken language in the Ksshemianskis' family and they identify themselves as Russians.

 

Musechka received a typical upbringing of a child in well-to -do family as any "perfectly normal trilingual child in a family with a large library" (Vladimir Nabokov). At 3 Musechka's sweet Polish nanny Kasja gave way to a strict French governess Madmuazel Denis Prevost. Old Frau Straus (the strictest) taught children the piano. Suwalki had large German population and German was commonly spoken.

 

The Russian nobility preferred to speak French rather than Russian even in private. The Ksshemianski's neighbor Colonel Gudkov had two young daughters. The Gudkovs and their friends, white jacket's officers with bouquets of flowers, greeted the Ksshemianskis in French. For some reason Musechka remembers in great details the romantic conversations in French between maudmazel Gudkov and one of the officers.

 

The relationships between different ethnicities in Musechka's family as well as in Suwalki were idyllic. A protestant kirche, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky, a Catholic church and a synagogue were located on the same street and close to each other. Officers were invited to the Hasidic weddings and klezmorim played at the courts of local gentry. A good number of solders in the Russian army were Jewish and received special accommodations for Jewish holidays. At that time otherwise non-observant hosts observed Judaic traditions. For Passover two solders stayed at the Ksshsemianskis' house. Musechka remembers well one of the solders, very pleasant and well-educated young man from Crimea. Afterwards he sent them parcels of fruits at winter. At Seder table all the members of the household were present, including tutors and servants. Russian officers, Polish nobles, German merchants and other friendly non-Jews were officially invited to the synagogue on Yom Kippur as was customary in many places.

 

Musechka was very outgoing and always had many friends of different faiths. Russian Orthodox friends invited her to Christmas parties and she enjoyed them a lot. Musechka claims that she never encountered anti-Semitism in Russia, contrary to the popular memory. She knew about pogroms and the Beilis affair, but it could never happen in Suwalki. "The army was near by", clarifies Musechka.

 

During WW One Musechka's father served at the General Headquarters of the Russian Army (Stavka). He built roads and bridges, then destroyed them after the retreating army had passed. Later the Stavka together with Musechka moved to Mogilev in Belarus, where Nicholas had abdicated in March of 1917. In Mogilev Musechka's older sister wedded to an officer from Moscow and all the family moved to Moscow. Eventually, in the confusion of the revolution and civil war the Kshsemianskis returned to Suwalki and found their house ransacked apparently by retreating German troops as witnesses told.

 

Musechka's brother Abel (Alek), studied medicine in Berlin Universities. She joint him there. There were nowhere to study in Suwalki. In Berlin Musechka learnt typing and some accounting with the help of her brother and his friends.

 

Her photographs of that time captured the glory and fun of Berlin's Roaring Twenties, Goldenen Zwanziger (the golden twenties). She smoked, and she drank, and she flirted (harmlessly and before the marriage). Although she denies flirting entirely, "We were just friends." She went to opera, and "degenerate art" exhibits. She partied in nightclubs: in famous Eldorado, in Russian Der blaue Vogel and Casino Russ, where Musechka landed her first job as a secretary, typing correspondence, announcements and menus. One night she was introduced to Alexander Vertinsky. He sought a scenic engagement in Casino Russ. The owner of Casino Russ Marry Brant had a girlfriend and greeted customers in drag. Later she moved to New York and found success on Broadway.

 

In 1925, Musechka married an engineer from St. Petersburg. Her first love and fiancé, a student of Technische Hochschule in Charlottenburg (Berlin Technical Institute) Max (Maximilian) Polski was left with the broken heart. She asked me to find out on the internet if he ever married and what happened to him. The years in Germany were the happiest time in Musechka's life, a paradise in dangerous times .

 

When Nazis were in power in 1933, Musechka's German friends helped her enormously in her everyday struggles under the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. Musechka lost her job in the bank and had very bleak prospects of getting another employment. Many stores refused to sell just anything to Jews; by law grocery owners allowed Jews to shop only a half an hour before closing time. All Jews had to register at the local police station. Numerous ids were introduced. Many Musechka's friends were taken away and never heard about. Anybody could be arrested at any time. Miraculously Musechka managed to get a job in a pharmaceutical company headed by Dr. Pulitzee. She felt obligated to tell Dr. Pulitzee about her origin right away, at their first meeting: would he still consider hiring her? So, she became his secretary and interpreter. Perhaps, she would not survive without his protection, advice and encouragement. Dr. Pulitzer saved her from arrests many times.

 

A photographer offered Musechka to feel out an "Aryan" id, explaining that he ran out of the other forms. A grocer organized a home delivery service.

 

Much help came from the affluent Jewish-German family of Hertha Rainer contrary to the common tendency of the German Jews to discriminate against their Eastern European coreligionists. The Rainers were somewhat shielded from the Nazis by their wealth , also by their German relatives and friends.

 

Musechka's husband was arrested in Frankfurt in the train to Paris. Musechka also got off the train, crying. A conductor told her to go back , not to cry, the train would not leave without him. He gave his word he would find her husband and bring him back safe. (Musechka enjoys saying in German his exact words). And he did. The departure was delayed for almost an hour.

 

Musechka's mother, sister-in- law and 9 years old niece perished in Vilno in the first days of German occupation as most of the Vilno Jews. Her brother poisoned himself in Dautmergen concentration camp in Southern Germany. Musechka's sister-in-law Zina and her husband uncle Sasha had committed suicide in Grenoble, France.

 

After moving to the United States in 1939 with the help of her uncle, a famous New York lawyer , Musechka and her husband worked as interpreters in the United Nations.

 

Musechka was married twice. Second time to an Austrian, from Vienna.

 

Musechka would like to visit Moscow, Suwalki, and maybe Berlin, on TV is not the same.

 

Musechka is certainly a record breaker in regards of her wits, mechanical and mathematical skills. She is mega-intelligent, intensely happy, full of life and love. She is beyond meaning of age.

 

This is a very abridged version of Musechka's biography. So-o-o much missed.

 

If you would like to send Musechka a good wish, a question or a comment, please email us right here (to(at)lenad.net).