Spanish Flu - Warsaw (1919)

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EN - Almost 102 ago, on 11 November 1918, the Poles celebrated the restoration of independence (Niepodległość) with joy. Aged 8, our Grandfather Leon Książyk was not the last to rejoice, collecting the small flags, postcards and other trinkets distributed on this occasion. The war years had been terrible for the people of Warsaw. The Niepodległość enthusiasm was visible and shared by all. Many houses were decorated with patriotic pictures and ribbons.

Still, alarming news were coming from France. A so-called Spanish flu pandemic (Hiszpanka) had broke out in the final months of the conflict. In Poland, many families were still remembering the cholera epidemics that had swept through the country in 1831, 1847-49, 1852, and 1873. In 1892, a deadly flu had launched an early-warning alert. It is generally accepted that the first wave of Hiszpanka reached Poland during the summer 1918. The return of Polish soldiers engaged in the French armies accelerated the spread. The flu spread over the country in three successive waves, until the fall of 1920. 

  • No respite

By the end of the summer of 1918, the Hiszpanka was in Warsaw. The observations of the time show a peak between September and November. The Grandmother of Leon died during the second wave in 1919. Aged 77, Julianna (de domo Słomczyńska) was born in 1842. She was living with her husband Paulin Krzyna (1844-1921) in Dᶏbrowa, on the estate that Grzegorz Krzyna (1743-1805) had acquired in the 1780s. Dᶏbrowa was located some 40km from Warsaw and Leon spent most of his holidays there. We don't know how did she get infected but the pandemic did not spared this isolated hamlet.

The death of Babcia Julianna highlighted that eucalyptus fumigations, camphor poultices and other grandmother recipes failed to eliminate miasma. In Warsaw, Walenty and Jozefa, Leon's parents, were living in Swiętokrzyska Street. This downtown area was a very busy place with many banks and the proximity to the Great Post Office. Jozefa, had just lost his mother. She had three children at home: Leon (9 years old), Ciesław (8 years old) and Wladisław (6 years old). She was also worried about Małgorzata, her eldest daughter. Aged 20, this newlywed had left home to the dismay of her brother Leon.

  • Homemade masks

With the arrival of the Hiszpanka, hygiene activists had intensified their fight. Thus far mobilized against typhus and dysentery, they were now facing a new threat. Jozefa was aware of the basic rules of prophylaxis and she knew that the fight against the pandemic was a race against time. The schools had remained open, but many parents kept their children at home. Leon was very happy with these unexpected holidays.

At the request of the Women's Committee of the All Saints Parish (Parafia Wszystkich Świętych), Jozefa joined the “home brigades”. She decided to sacrifice a few sheets from her trousseau to sew homemade masks. The post-WWI period was a time of scarcity. Thread and needles were precious. All the scraps of fabric were reused. This contribution of women contributed to mitigate the impact of the flu. During the pandemics in Warsaw, more than 800 000 people were sick. In Poland, the number of victims who died from the Hiszpanka is estimated between 250 000 and 300 000. 

  • Four generations later

Today, in April 2020, Jozefa's great-granddaughter Sophie continues this fight against the flu. She is leading a medical and social center in New Jersey, the second most-impacted State in the US. To protect her team, Sophie has launched the production of "homemade" masks. With this little scenery in our dollhouse, we want to pay tribute to the resilience of all the women of our family. We also express our gratitude to the medical and food chain staffs who keep engaged, braving the danger to carry out their mission.

Suggested reading: Jan Wnęk - Pandemia grypy hiszpanki (1918-1919) w świetle polskiej prasy (2014)

Memory of a Dollhouse

- Bitwa Warsawska (1920)

- A Paper Army in Grunwald (1920)

- Exploring the Pantry (1920)

- Spanish Flu in Warsaw (1918)

- Pickles Season (1910)

- Laundry Day (1910)

- Visit to Grandma (1937)


©Ksiazyk 2015