Ask Our Man in Warsaw
Compiled by Our Warsaw Correspondent Robert Strybel


Robert Strybel

ul. Kaniowska 24

01-529 Warsaw, Poland

or e-mail: [email protected]


Q: Recently I had need to acquire a birth certificate for my mother, who is 90 years of age. When I received the document I was surprise to see that it had the birth place of both her mother and father as Austria. We were always told it was Poland. I'd like to know if that was a result of Poland being invaded by Germany prior to World War I. I seem to recall reading something about that occurrence and that Poland was divided among, what where then, German satellite countries.

A: Yes, between 1772 and 1918 Poland got carved up by its three aggressive neighbors: Russia, Russia (Germany) and Austria. People still said they were born in Poland, which remained an ethnographic, cultural and religious concept but was no longer a sovereign passport-issuing state. Poles coming from those three partition zones often had Austria, Germany or Russia written in their documents. The Austrian partition zone stretched across southern Poland on into Ukraine and was known as Galicja (in Polish) or Galizien (in German).


COMMENT: Don’t’ print my name (only intials) but I want you to know that Poland has no business being in Iraq or Afghanistan. Why should Polish soldiers risk their lives for the US big money interests, when America makes Polish visitors stand in visa lines like unwanted Third World aliens or suspected terrorists? America also has no business being there either.

ANSWER: This debate has raged for several years now in Poland, the US and other countries as well. Successive Polish governments have held that being a staunch US and NATO ally is in Poland’s best long-term interests, is its best security guarantee, helps assert its political independence against Western European-led European Union domination and makes Poland at least a medium-sized player in the interational arena. The Polish opposition agrees with your point of view, claims Poland is acting like Washington’s lackey and that its loyalty to America is not being reciprocated, with the visa issue usually cited as proof. So weighty and controversial an issue certainly cannot be resolved in this or any other question & answer column, but it at least brings the opposing options before the Pol-Am public.


Q: I’m involved in the expansion into Poland of ACN, a company that deals in the deregulation of the utility industries. We are currently in 19 different countries around the world and Poland will be number 20. We are looking for good people in Poland who would like to become involved with our company as independent representatives and I am hoping you could be so kind as to point me in the right direction. This could be a very lucrative opportunity for anyone who takes advantage of it.

A: Here are some contacts that may be helpful:

1. American Chamber of Commerce
Warsaw Financial Center
ulica Emilii Plater 35
00-133 Warsaw
Tel: (022) 520 5999. Fax: (022) 520 5998.
E-mail: [email protected] Website:

2. Polish-American Chamber of Commerce
4800 N. Milwaukee Ave, Suite # 206
Chicago, Illinois 60630
Phone: (773) 205-1998
Fax: (773) 205-4238
Email: [email protected]

3. Gazeta Wyborcza
This nationally circulated newspaper’s Monday job supplement is read by more than three million Poles and is said to be the best way to contact potential employees.
Tel: (4822) 555-5555
E-mail: [email protected]


Q: I have family in the Rzeszów area, where my father left land to me and my two brothers, however, my uncle claims that the land has disappeared. I know that my mother, who is still alive but in ill health, saw my father’s name in the village record books. I would like to know whether it is possible to sell the land (2 morgi) and give the monies to my brother who lost his job due to a closure of an old steel factory in Żory. Where can he turn?

A: Property cases can be rather complicated and tricky, so a matter such is this would have to be approached cautiously. Existing records, documents and a will (if any) need to be tracked down and possibly on-the-spot interviews might also be required. Also, would the other brother, to whom the land was willed, agree to turn his share of the land sale proceeds to the brother you have mentioned? The only way to go in this matter would be to hire a good lawyer specializing in property cases. You could help your family by offering to pay his fee in whole or in part, although simply giving up your third of the inheritance would also be a contribution. However, since less than three acres is involved, someone would do well to calculate whether all the expense is worth it.


Q: Would you have any idea how much per page it would cost to translate an English book to Polish?

A: In Warsaw, translation fees from English to Polish range from 15 to about 35 zlotys (about $4.80 - $11) per A4 page (1,800 characters). With book-sized publications, the client is often able to negotiate a price with the translation agency. I presume it would be somewhat pricier to have the job done in the US.


Q: From which area of Poland did most immigrants journey from during the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th?

A: For various reasons including proximity to traditional ports of departure (Hamburg and Bremen), financial status (fewer dirt-poor peasants of eastern Poland could afford the steamship ticket) and oppressive laws limiting Polish language use and ownership rights, the first major flood of immigrants to American came from the Prussian partition zone including Wielkapolska (Poznań region), Pomerania (Kashubs) and Sielsia.

The first Polish settlers at Panna Maria, Texas, as were the first Polish pioneers in your home state, who settled in Parisville, Posen, Alpena, Bay City and Detroit, came from the Prussian-ruled Poland. Only later were they joined by immigrants from the “Kongresówka” (Russian occupation zone) and Galicja (Austrian-held southern Poland).


Q: I teach Polish seminarians in a local seminary, and it was suggested to me that a book on American English pronunciation might go over in Poland. Would you know of any publishers?

A: I have checked around and invariably found my way to Poland’s leading textbook producer and distributor, Wydawnictwa Szkolne i Pedagogiczne (School and Pedagogical Publishers). The man I spoke with there, Mr Piotr Bieżuński (tel. 4822-576-2513) advised me to have you submit your offer to the following address: Oferta Wydawnicza, WSiP SA, Al. Jerozolimskie 136, 02-305 Warsaw, Poland; or via e-mail to: [email protected]

He did not sound too encouraging, however, saying they have scores of offers of which only a handful actually gets chosen. Considering your experience in teaching Polish seminarians, perhaps that would be a better way to go. SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, MI has an ESL program for seminarians from Poland and perhaps might be interested in your book. To find out, please contact:

Rev. Msgr Charles G. Kosanke, Rector/President,
SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary
3535 Indian Trail
Orchard Lake, MI 48324
tel. 248-683-0313; e-mail: [email protected]

From my own perspective I can only say that competition in this area is extremely stiff these days. The Polish market is flooded with English-learning textbooks, guides, phrase books and lexicons not to mention CDs, CD-ROMs and online learning programs.


Q: I was wondering about an instructor’s name Tschekunow. Someone said it was Russian but I thought the Russians used the “ov”, whereas the “ow” seems to be the Polish spelling.

A: Russian names are spelled in the Cyrillic alphabet so the name you mentioned was originally written Чекунов. Tschekunow is the German transcription, the English one being Chekunov. The bearer of this name apparently had it transcribed the German way somewhere along the line in Europe and simply left it that way after coming to America. Otherwise he would end up having more than one spelling in different documents. A case in point is the Russian composer Чайковсий which first got transcribed by the Germans into Tschaikowsky, and soon the common English transcription that caught on and remains with us to this day was Tschaikovsky. According to today’s English transcription norms it should read Chaikovsky. Incidentally, the Polish transcription of the surname you mentioned and the Russian composer’s name would be: Czekunow and Czajkowski respectively.


Q: Have you ever heard of anyone searching for Polish war bonds? I have some from the 1930s and 1940s and was wondering if anyone would be interested in purchasing some or all of them .

A: Not off hand, but having your query and e-mail address printed here may be a way of reaching prospective buyers of such collectibles. Good luck!


Q: I’ve got three questions:

1) Could you recommend a good driver in Poland who can take you all over the country for a reasonable price?
2) Can people sit in on sessions of the Sejm as boring as that may be?
3) How can a Pol-Am parish carry out a traditional odpust for its feast day?

A: Re 1) Yes, worthy of recommendation is Lech Nowodworski, a reliable, cultured older gentleman with a degree in architecture who owns a taxi and can take you anywhere in Poland you want to go. His fee is quite reasonable by American standards. His address: Aleja Jana Pawła 20 m. 618, 00-133 Warsaw, Poland; phone: 4822-624-3911.

2. Yes, there is a gallery for the public in the Sejm, the lower but main chamber of Poland’s parliament.

3) The traditional “odpust” or parish fair usually includes a religious procession, holy mass and other services such as benediction of the Holy Sacrament, vespers, etc. stalls selling various wares as well as food concessions are usually available on our near the parish grounds. Just to make sure everything is above board, the pastor would probably do well to consult his local diocesan curia to see if such a parish celebration can be linked to a plenary indulgence (that’s what the word “odpust” means).


Q: Would you know where I could get portraits of Kościuszko, Pułaski, King Jan Sobieski, Piłsudski and Władyłsaw Sikorski? I am planning on donating the portraits to the Polish- American Historical Site Association, the organization that maintains St. Albertus, the oldest Polish Church in Detroit, Michigan. The rectory has a meeting room and the portraits will look very nice on the wall.

A: The Polish CEZAS company, which provides schools in Poland with teaching aids, currently has in stock a set of 12”x16” sepia portraits comprising John Paul II, Kościuszko, Piłsudski, Madam Skłodowska-Curie, Chopin, Paderewski and Kopernik. The cardboard version costs 210 złotys (app. $68) and the set of glass-framed models is 320zł ($103). They have also got a complete set of 7”x9” color portraits of all the Kings and Princes of Poland. The plastic-foil version runs 302zł ($98) and the glass-framed type is 695zł ($212). If interested please contact Bronisława Góra at [email protected] for more information such as payment procedure, delivery time and shipping details. For any missing portraits see Professor Roman Solecki’s Prominent Poles Web site at:


Q: Can you please tell me the significance of the custom of bread, wine and salt when a bride and groom enter their reception? What does each item stand for?

A: Bread is the staff of life and signifies abundance, so the family would never have to go hungry. Salt, a traditional preservative that protects against spoilage, symbolizes good health and keeping diseases away. And the wine, vodka or other spirit suggests good fellowship, the joy of communal celebration at such festive and memorable events as weddings. Sometimes the presenter (mother of the bride or whoever) jokingly asks the bride: “What do you prefer -- the salt, the bread or the groom?” (Czy wolisz sól, chleb czy pana młodego?) The answer is: “I prefer the salt, bread and the groom so he could earn the money to pay for it with.” (Wolę sól, chleb i pana młodego, żeby zarobił na niego.)


Q: We have a painting that was given to us by a donor that is a portrait of either a Jewish rabbi or craftsman. The name on the painting appears to be T. Kokiatak. I have tried to find out information on the artist but have come up with nothing. Do you know any resources of Polish artists that I might check? He may be a regional artist and very little is known about him.

A: Kokiatak does not look like a Polish surname, and that is borne out by the fact that not a single person in Poland bears it. Neither is it found in Jewish surname resources. Since English speakers occasionally confuse the Polish barred “Ł” with the letter “K”, I checked a few similar-appearing surnames and found there are 214 people in today’s Poland called Kołatek, 122 with the Kogutek surname and 31 named Kokotek. Incidentally, I also found Kogutek and Kokotek on Polish-Jewish surname lists. Without establishing the correct spelling of the artist’s name, it would next to impossible to track down any of his paintings. And if he was a local or amateur artist, his paintings may have never been recorded anywhere.


COMMENT: I have always cringed every time I saw Auschwitz referred to as a “Polish death camp”. I want to thank you for providing the correct information on this. Your article put a new spin on all this.

REPLY: Unfortunately, one article does not make that much difference, in fact hundreds of Pol-Ams regularly write letters to the editor on this subject, but few get printed. Editors of Jewish extraction regard Poland as “the world’s largest Jewish graveyard” and it seems to make little difference to many of them what the camps are called. Those on non-Jewish background often do not see what “the big deal” is. “The camps were in Poland, weren’t they?” is a common reaction. In 2007, UNESCO is expected to give final approval to a Polish government motion renaming Auschwitz to “the former Nazi German concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.”


Q: Rebtel Networks AB have entered into an agreement with Grupa SA, owner of Poland’s leading Internet portal, allowing friends and family in Poland and worldwide to phone each over their mobile phones at local rates for a fee of only $1 per week. What is the best way to spread word of this new arrangement in Poland?

A: Probably the best way to publicize your offer would be to go through Poland’s business and financial media which eagerly report such mergers and opportunities:

Parkiet (
Puls Biznesu (
Warsaw Business Journal (
BusinessWeek Polska (
Rzeczpsopolita (
Gazeta Wyborcza (,0.html)
Harvard Business Review Polska (
Polish Market Review (
The Warsaw Voice (
Nowe Życie Gospodarcze (
Profit (

Pol-AM readers interested in finding out more about the $1 a week local phoning to Poland should visit:


Q: My English-speaking grandson wants to learn Polish. Is there a Web site where he could learn on the Internet with my help from time to time?

A: You can start with these:


Q: After curing Polish dill pickles for 2-7 days what do I do next? Do I transfer the cured pickles to another jar and use the water or what? Or, do I just leave the pickles in the curing mixture and refrigerate? And if I leave the pickles in the same curing mixture would this then not over-cure the pickles?

A: Refrigeration will slow down the curing process, but it’s best to transfer fully cured pickles to quart or pint glass jars (the jar size depends on how many pickle-eaters there are in your household, because after opening they should be used up fairly quickly), add brine to cover, seal and refrigerate. In rural Poland people have cool cellars (under 55°F) which are good for this purpose. Also store in fridge any left-over brine in a sealed glass jar. It's great for souring soups, bean dishes, etc. Also for Polish "alka-seltzer": 1 part cold brine 1 part club soda. A great mineral and fluid replenisher the morning after!


Q: During our trip to Poland, we had an exceptional version of “kremówki” (papal cream cakes – Pope John Paul II’s favorite dessert) at a restaurant called Karczma Halit, located very close to the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Any chance of getting the recipe?

A: Considering how competitive things are these days, restaurants rarely give away their trade secrets. The best I can do is to supply my wife’s recipe for what have come to be known as papal cream cakes.

For the dough:

1. Thaw 1 package (400 gram or about 14 oz) frozen rolled-out puff pastry and cut into 2 pieces.
2. Rinse baking sheet with cold water and on it bake dough in preheated 450° oven about 20 min (or according to directions on package) until golden.
3. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

For the filling:

1. Beat 2 egg yolks with 4 T sugar until thick and creamy.
2. Dissolve 2 T potato starch (or corn starch) and ˝ t vanilla extract in ˝ c cold milk.
3. Stir milk and starch into yolk mixture and mix well.
4. Bring 1˝ c milk to boil.
5. Into boiling milk stir the yolk-milk-starch mixture and, stirring constantly, cook until a thick and creamy pudding-like mixture forms. Set aside to cool.
6. Beat 7 oz (a scant cup) soft butter with 1⅔ c confectioner’s sugar until fluffy and gradually add the cold pudding a little at a time, beating until mixture is smooth and fluffy. Towards the end, beat in 1 T lemon juice.

To assemble and serve:

1. On one half of the baked dough spread the filling.
2. Cover with the other piece of baked dough and press down lightly.
3. Refrigerate at least 1 hr or until filling is set.
4. Carefully cut into squares with sharp knife (taking care that filling does not squish out the sides) and dust with confectioner’s sugar.


Q: We are expecting a blessed event in February and it’s going to be a boy. So far my husband and I both agree on Adam or Zachariasz, or just Zachary, but could you please enlighten us as to how much Zachary is a part of the Polish heritage-language.

A: Zachariasz is very rare, since only 268 people have such a first name in today’s Poland, a country of 38 million. And there are only eight Poles named Zachary. From a Polish point of view, it has a rather Biblical ring to it. (It was the name of John the Baptizer’s father.) It never was too popular in Poland but its Russian equivalent Захар (Zakhar) was fairly common in Imperial Russia. In an American setting, probably everyone at school and work would call someone with this first name Zack.


Q: My older sister tells me when our mom made homemade beet soup, she used something she referred to as “blind robin”. Any chance you can tell me what that is? I thought maybe it was the anchovies that are rolled around a green caper. Might that be it?

A: The blind robin seems to be a kippered herring snack which probably is very salty and tastes a lot like an anchovy. There is nothing Polish about the name, but Polonian cooks have long incorporated various American foods in their Polish dishes. One company that distributes blind robins is CNA VENDING, 9430 Pont Road, Albion PA 16401; tel. 814-440-2283. Incidentally, a few anchovies, diced fine, are sometimes used to enhance the flavor of Polish Christmas Eve sauerkraut & mushrooms.


Q: I am interested in finding out more about my Polish roots, my ancestors and maybe even having my family tree drawn up. Where on the web can I find out something more about this?

A: You can start by visiting as well as The numerous links you find there will lead you on a guided tour in quest of your ancestral heritage.