Łódż is Closer than you Think: Loretta Kiron Talks about Auschwitz, White Flight and Tennis
Interviewee: Loretta Kiron
Date: July 14, 2012
Interviewers: Joan Janshego and Carl Lankowski
Location: Kiron residence in Chevy Chase DC
Transcription (from audio recording) by: Carl Lankowski and Pam Lankowski
Q: Tell us when you were born.
LK: March 25, 1937. I was 75 years old this year.
Q: Where were you born?
LK: Weehawken, New Jersey. But I haven’t been there in a long, long time. Do you want to hear the story?
Q: Indeed, we do want to hear the story.
LK: It was 1937 during the Depression. Fortunately, my father got a job here in DC working for the Federal government. When he called my mom and said he had a job and had found a place for us to live, it was decided that it was time for my mom to bring my older brother and me to DC. So the story is that my mom came down from New Jersey on the train carrying me in a basket. I was six weeks old and have been here ever since. Not very well travelled.
Q: You have probably had the best adventure of any of us.
LK: Though I can’t remember it.
Q: So, we know when you arrived in Washington, DC. What kind of job did your father have?
LK: He was a transportation specialist and worked in the General Accounting Office. He knew all about freight rates.
Q: Where were you living with your parents when you first arrived in the area in 1937?
LK: It was in an apartment on 12th St. NE. We later moved to Takoma Park, Maryland and then to a house on Sheridan St., NW where we lived until 1956.
Q: Tell us a little about your parents’ origins.
LK: They were both first generation. Their parents were from Poland. My husband, too, was from Poland. So, I tell my children they are purebreds.
Q: Tell us whatever you know about where they came from and how they got here.
LK: My grandparents on both sides of the family were from Łódż, Poland, a large textile manufacturing city. My husband was actually born in Łódż which is an amazing coincidence. My grandfather on my mother’s side came to this country to avoid conscription by the Russian army. My grandmother on my mother’s side was already here with her parents. Her father, my great grandfather, owned a lot of real estate, which he lost during the Depression. My grandparents on my mother’s side, I believe, met in New York and married there. Her father was a salesman and went around the country selling shoes and what was referred to in those days as “dry goods.” He liked Knoxville, Tennessee, where they eventually settled down and bought a store called The Community Store. The dry goods they sold were shoes and clothes, which was what he knew. I don’t know if it is still there. We used to go down there for holidays to visit, and we stayed either with my grandparents or my mother’s sister’s family who also had a similar type of store there.
Q: What about your father’s side of the family?
LK: As I said, there were all from Łódż, too. My father comes from a family of 7 children, 4 sons and 3 daughters who are all deceased now. His father sold hats and his mother ran a fruit market. One of the brothers was an artist and I have a niece who is very artistic.
Would you like to know how I met my husband?
Q: We would!
LK: I grew up in Washington. My husband was a Holocaust survivor.
Q: Tell us what you can about that story.
LK: He was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944 where he was separated from his mother, never to see her again —and later to another concentration camp called Dora-Nordhausen from which he was one of the few people to escape. Dora is a camp that is not well-known. It was liberated by an American Army unit with Laura Bush’s father.
Q: No kidding?
LK: No kidding. We were invited to the White House on Memorial Day. I can show you the picture.
Q: We would love to see it.
LK: It is around the corner. Let’s have a look. (We move to the next room and view the picture of the Kirons with President George W. and Laura Bush. Other pictures and mementos surround it).
While we are here, also have a look at this plaque. Can you make out the wording?
Q: It says “Dora—Allan Kiron”.
LK: And do you see the leather? Those straps are from belts. Dora was a concentration camp where the Nazis were constructing an underground rocket factory in the Harz Mountains in Eastern Germany to assemble and launch V2 long range ballistic rockets, which they were going to use to attack the Allies. They didn’t want anybody to know about it, so they had the inmates, slave laborers, dig out with their hands and pick-axes and carry the heavy rocks out from the mountain to build this place. It was, as you can imagine, very hard work. There were big boulders to carry and they didn’t have anything to protect their hands. Slave laborers owned two things: a leather belt to hold up their pants and a spoon to eat with. My husband was a very creative person., When someone died from exhaustion or malnutrition, he would take the spoon, rub it against a rock and whittle down the end to make a tool so he could cut the belt which he fashioned into a cross making a kind of glove. He was able in this way to protect his hands so that he wouldn’t cut himself and avoid getting gangrene. When the other inmates saw what he was doing, they would trade him food for him to make the same type of thing. He had to be very careful that the Germans wouldn’t see what he was doing. And that is how he survived that concentration camp.
Q: How long was he there?
LK: I don’t know how many months, but I do know that when the Allies were coming and the Germans knew they were going to be defeated, they took all the inmates out on April 14, 1945 and they marched them to a town in Germany called Gardelegen where all the prisoners were put in a barn which was set on fire to kill all the people inside. He was one of those people, but he managed to get out through a hole made by the explosion. His clothes and body were in flames. It was dark, so he knew the Germans could see him. He rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames and crawled on the ground through the forest to get away from the Germans.
Q: What an amazing story!
LK: He was one of I don’t know how many people who survived that.
Q: The world is better for having had him around.
LK: With the war over he was sent to a refugee camp in Germany. From there, at the age of 16, he was able to get onto the SS Ernie Pyle, a ship transporting people to the United States. He arrived in NYC knowing only one word of English, “OK,” From there he was sent to a Jewish Orphanage in Cleveland, Ohio and was later sent to Kanas City, Missouri, where a mid-western Christian family took him in as a foster child. There he was able to finish high school. I don’t know how he did it, but he finished high school in one year and learned English. He was very smart and knew he wanted to go to college. He enlisted in the US Army and after his discharge was eligible for the GI Bill of Rights to get his education.
Q: What years were those? Sounds like the 1950s.
LK: His Army service was in Korea from March 13, 1949 to October 1, 1952. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1956 after which he came to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, where we met. I graduated from high school in 1955 and had gotten a summer job in 1956 working in the Patent Office as a typist. The government used to hire young people back then just for the summer. My brother also worked at the Patent Office and told me about the job opening. I was assigned to the same division as my husband—Division 59 organic chemistry. In those days we didn’t have computers. He would submit to me his hand-written responses to patent applications which I was supposed to type up but I could not read his handwriting. So, I constantly had to go back to his cubby hole and interview him: “what is this word?” One thing led to another…
Over the years we developed a mutual interest in gardening. Do you know Scott and Helen Nearing? They were the original back-to-the-earth movement people. They lived up in Maine and were promoting organic gardening. We were interested in that and went to visit them. We had a mini farm in our back yard growing corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and even figs. A neighbor took a photo of us in our “corn field.” It is a take off on the painting, “American Gothic”. Here is our version:
Q: Could we go back—I wanted to ask about Allan’s wartime experience. He was a teenager when he was in the camps?
LK: That’s right. His family name was Choroszcz. That, actually, is the name of a small town in Poland that his family had come from because people used to take the name of the town they lived in. Łódż, where he was born and grew up, was a big textile manufacturing center.
Q: I just watched a film with the Polish film-maker Andrzej Wajda last week that is set in 19th century Łódż and is about the industrial barons there.
LK: I would love to see it and so, too, would my son, who is the curator of the Judaica collection at the University of Pennsylvania.
Q: What talent you have in the family!
LK: So I met my husband at the Patent Office.
Q: Where were you living at the time?
LK: In Washington at 521 Sheridan Street, NW.
Q: Where is that?
LK: On the other side of the park, near Coolidge High School, where I graduated from. When we got married in 1957, I was very young — 20 years old, right after I received my AA degree.
Q: Where did you attend college?
LK: I went to George Washington University.
Q: What were you studying?
LK: I was a language major taking German, Spanish, French, and English. I also was the Number 1 tennis player for GW. After getting married I worked for a couple of years, first at the IRS and then at the FHA. In quick succession, I had four children in six and a half years. When we first got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex apartment on Second Street, NE.
Q: Around Brookland?
LK: No – we lived in Riggs Park just off South Dakota Avenue near Riggs Road. It was a new building with four units and cost us $72 a month which we paid for with my salary and saved my husband’s salary to buy a house. And it was a nice apartment. One problem—here’s a little story—there are railroad tracks running right behind it. We said that’s OK—we figured we wouldn’t be home during the day to hear it. Well, the first night we slept there at about 2:00 a.m. brrrrrmmm brrmmmm—a train rumbled through—it sounded like it was coming right into the apartment. We only heard it that one time—we think we just ignored it in our sleep after that. When I became pregnant with my first child we knew we would need another bedroom and right around that time two-bedroom apartments were being built right across the street. That’s where we moved after Michael was born. When I got pregnant with the second child we thought, well, we think we better buy a house. We always wanted to live in the city. All my friends at that time were moving out to the suburbs. This was the era of Mayor Barry—“Oh, the schools are horrible; you don’t want to live in DC.” And I said “my husband doesn’t want to commute. I know where there is a really lovely area. It’s on the other side of the park where there are nice homes and good schools.” Having grown up in DC I knew the city. We came here, looked at homes, and found a beautiful house on 31st Street in Barnaby Woods which we loved and could afford. So we bought it and moved in.
Q: What year was that?
LK: I know the year we bought this house. Let’s see. Arthur was born in 1962. So it must have been around 1962 or 1963. But that was only a two bedroom house, and I kept having children. So we put an addition on that house – another bedroom and a library. My husband loved to build and did a lot of the interior carpentry work. We stayed in that house until my fourth child was born. Finally, we decided we really needed to buy a bigger house. We found this one which needed a lot of work. By that time, homes had increased a lot in value. But this one was within reach as it cost about the same as the sales price of the one we owned because it needed a lot of work. We settled in August of 1968. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April of that year. There were riots in the city; many people did not want to take a chance on real estate in the District so we were able to get the home at an affordable price. Later on we added on this breakfast room and that library behind you.
Q: Where did the kids attend school?
LK: They went to Lafayette, Deal and Wilson, except for one who went to Burke for the 7th, 8th and 9th grades. (DC had Junior High Schools then.) Lafayette at that time had “open classrooms” which did not suit him well. It was too chaotic for him. We were lucky to get him into Burke which was a pretty new school at the time. Jill Moskowitz, a wonderful English teacher, helped him tremendously. He stayed there until he went to Wilson because our oldest son was going to college and it was difficult to pay for two private schools. My four sons are all doing well. I am very proud of them. The oldest one, Michael, is an electrical engineer and works for L-3, a defense contractor, and he is now subcontracted out to the Metropolitan Airports Authority as a systems engineer responsible for the electronic and safety equipment at Reagan and Dulles airports. My second son, Arthur, is the curator of the Judaica Collection at the University of Pennsylvania.
Q: He is a historian?
LK: Yes. Arthur’s interest is in Jewish studies and history. He has an undergraduate degree from Brandeis, a Masters from Stanford and a PhD from Columbia University.
The third one is the executive editor of the MIT Sloan Business Review. He formerly was a writer and researcher at Harvard University. He graduated from Oberlin College and has a PhD from Rochester University. The youngest is a finance genius and has his own company. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and is the one we put into Burke. He obviously turned out all right because he writes his own patents, having learned his English very well. So I am a very proud mother.
Q: As well you should be.
LK: They are all contributing members of society. My husband and I always told them to bring fame, not infamy to the family.
Q: OK—it is 1968 and you have four kids and you are making decisions about DC. You made a fundamental decision: you decided to stay in DC.
Q: Give us a flavor of the conversations you were carrying out with neighbors at that time who were not staying.
LK: Their main concern was the schools—and I know a lot of people are still concerned about them. But we always felt that a lot of our children’s education was going to come from the family. Arthur, the curator, was on the Wilson High School team competing against public and private schools on a radio show called “It’s Academic” and they got to the finals. Education was always a big factor in bringing up our children. I read books to my children and we took many trips to the wonderful museums downtown. We thought we found people who shared our values. And we were right. And we weren’t afraid, you know. Maybe there was some doubt. But the determination to stay here was stronger than any doubt we might have had. I am glad we did stay. I think we made the best decision for our family. I didn’t want to move out to suburbia with all those cookie-cutter homes. Did you ever live in suburbia?
Q: I used to ten years ago and moved here for that reason.
LK: Everybody in suburbia seemed to be the same kind of people. Here there was a lot of diversity, richness and cultural advantages that we prized.
Q: Tell us about your experience in the neighborhood and its connections with DC more broadly.
LK: I joined the League of Women Voters because I hoped to get voting representation for the District of Columbia. I am not a real fan of statehood but I can remember my parents living in DC and every four years going to New Jersey to vote for the President, which at that time DC could not. When DC finally got the vote it was very important to me. I joined the League because I thought I could make a difference. Obviously I did not, but I did work on the household hazardous waste committee which I chaired. I was interested in the safe disposal of things like batteries, oil paints, antifreeze and the like. I have always been very interested in the environment. Clean water, clean air, and healthy food are an important part in my life. After reading up on household hazardous waste it occurred to me that the League could work with the city to set up a collection program for this. And we did. It used to be that the waste could be brought to a collection point at Carter Barron. Now you can bring it once a month to Fort Totten.
We used to be active up at the school working at the Lafayette Fair and raising a lot of money for the school. I also taught tennis at the 16th Street Courts.
Q: Tell us about that.
LK: After my children were all in school, I went back to playing tennis. I played with some friend at Lafayette. People used to ask “why don’t you teach?” I had played competitive tennis and was nationally ranked when I was 18. At that time I had qualified to play at Forest Hills in the Nationals while playing for Jr. Wightman cup squad. I played a lot of tennis. But teach? All I could think of was that Pauline Betz Addie and Poncho Gonzalez were professionals. Do you know those names?
LK: Those were the professionals I used to go and see on tour. And to teach professionally, well, I wasn’t quite in that category. But for around here, I was good enough, so I said “well, if you can find me some people who want to take lessons, I’ll teach.” So, they got together a group of people. I used to go to 16th Street and rent a court. They would pay for the court and I taught until I had to leave to be home for my children when they came home from school. That was a lot of fun. It was my way of doing something outside of the home and earning some money, too.
Q: It sounds like you were doing this already when you were living in Barnaby Woods.
LK: I was working when we got married. I stopped working after the first child was born because I wanted to be the one to raise my children. I only started teaching tennis after we moved into this house. I played tennis in between babies, but I hadn’t gotten back into it seriously.
Q: Did Allan play?
LK: He dabbled. He said he beat me once with a drop shot when I was nine months pregnant. Hard to bend down to get those in that condition.
Q: And your children?
LK: Yes, they all love tennis.
Q: Did you also teach up at the 33rd Street courts (Lafayette)?
LK: It wasn’t as easy to teach there. At that time Chico—do you know Chico?—was there. I have a picture of him. Would you like to see it?
Q: Yes, please.
LK: I have to actually tell you that when I learned tennis, he was actually the one who taught me when I was living on Sheridan Street. Takoma Park Recreation Center was in my neighborhood and had tennis courts and Chico used to teach there. Well, my parents couldn’t afford tennis lessons. So I used to approach Chico with “Oh, Chico, how do you hit the forehand?” It’s funny, because the people Chico taught for money never did anything with their tennis. But the kids who played on public courts and didn’t take tennis lessons were the ones who became more serious with it. We really wanted to learn how to play.
When we moved here, I saw Chico and we revived our friendship. By that time I was a grown woman. Can you see the wooden tennis racquet in the photo?
Q: Yeah. So you deferred to Chico by taking students on the 16th Street courts.
LK: That’s right.
Q: So, how did this picture come to you?
LK: When he died, a man by the name of Sal Arrigo and I became the executors of Chico’s estate because he didn’t have a will. He had no family that we knew of so it was up to us to take possession of his property for him. This picture was in one of the boxes that he had.
Q: Was Chico sick for some period of time?
LK: I think it was for a couple of years. He got an infection on his leg. I don’t know how he got it, but I remember seeing him sitting on a bench at the courts and seeing that it was infected with pus and was painful. I told him he just had to get it taken care of. I even offered to take him to my doctor and pay for the visit, but he wouldn’t do it. It got to the point where he couldn’t stand. Ann Hilton, a tennis playing friend who lived on Nevada Avenue, and I had fundraisers to help him financially. The money was held in trust at Blessed Sacrament Church. First, we placed him in a group home. Later, we got him into the Upton Home, where the hospice is now on Upton Street off Wisconsin Avenue.
Q: Did the leg infection kill him?
LK: No, he actually died when he fell off his bed and hit his head while in the Washington Home.
Q: Was he there for a while?
LK: Yes, he was there for a year or so.
Q: We have heard that his funeral was well attended.
LK: Yes. It was very nice. Two Catholic Priests played Spanish music on guitars and gave him a nice eulogy. He was buried in The Gate of Heaven cemetery in a plot that I selected.
Q: Where is that?
LK: On Georgia Avenue in Maryland. He wanted to be buried in a Catholic cemetery.
Q: Did he have any family?
LK: Not that anyone here knew about.
Q: He sounds like quite a character.
LK: He was a real character.
Q: Do we know where he was from?
LK: He used to say he was from a country in South America, but we think there may have been a little bit of hedging on that. We found some documents from Baltimore. He always used to speak in Spanish [syntax]: “down sit and have a seat” or “you have the tails of a pig.” “Carumba” was a favorite of his. I don’t know whether he was putting on an act or not, but he never deviated from it.
Q: Do you know his full name?
LK: It was Wyo Rodriguez Gonzales or Senor Chico Wyo Gonzalez Rodriguez.
Q: Tell us about other institutions in the neighborhood, like Broad Branch Market.
LK: I can tell you about the Market in relation to Chico. There used to be a big picture of Chico hanging on the wall in the back of the store behind the meat counter. It was accompanied by the text: “If you know tennis, you know Chico”. Broad Branch was always a big hang out like it is today. The kids used to all go over there, get their candy and whatever. We were all distressed when we heard it would be closing down. Then we heard it was going to be rebuilt. Everybody was really glad.
Q: Did you know the Bondareffs when they owned it?
LK: I didn’t know them personally. I think they used to live right across the street from the Broad Branch Market.
Q: One of the themes we are trying to develop is racial integration. How did this affect the neighborhood in the 1960s and 1970s?
LK: On our street there were a lot of liberals – very Democratic, nobody was running. There was no white flight. When I moved into this house there was a black couple up the street – the Haleys – George and Hope. They had two children, a daughter, Grace, and a son, James, who is still living there. That was fine with me. That was part of the whole idea of living in DC, to have some diversity. George was a pillar of the neighborhood. He was very involved with the Chevy Chase Citizens Association. He was a Tuskegee Airman in his younger days, later buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. When I played in tennis tournaments I played against black people. They were people. It wasn’t anything that I was concerned with. Growing up, my mom worked and every once in a while she would have a black woman come in and do some housework. I actually have very fond memories of one particular woman, because she would talk to me, ask me questions and was interested in me. She was nice. As far as I was concerned it wasn’t a problem. And it was never an issue for me personally. Of course, I know not everyone thought like I did.
Q: We have learned that busing caused some disruption when it was introduced to integrate Wilson.
LK: Yes, I guess that parents were afraid that the quality of education would go down. But, first, well in advance of any busing, some African-American teachers were part of the teaching staff at Wilson.
Q: We have heard that there was some white flight linked to concerns about the quality of the schools.
LK: Right. But I didn’t see any of that on this street. Even with the busing, if people were concerned and they had the means, they put their children into private schools but they stayed here. When my kids were in high school, they made friends with black children and they did well in school. That was important to us.
Q: When were your children at Wilson?
LK: Let’s see—the first baby was born in 1959, so 18 years later was 1977. So it was between 1977 and 1984 when the youngest graduated.
Q: We skipped part of the narrative about you and your husband at the Patent Office. How long was he there?
LK: He retired at age 55 in 1984.
Q: What was his name?
LK: His English name was Allan. His Polish name was Abram.
Q: And his last name got changed, too?
LK: Yes. It was Choroszcz. When he was in the Army during the Korean conflict and there was a roll call, the sergeant would be going down the list—Smith, Jones… (silence)…and then he would say…here! (laughter). Nobody could pronounce his name. Whenever there was a pause, he knew that was his name. After the war he decided to change his name so that he wouldn’t have that problem anymore. KIRON actually derives from five letters from members of his family that died in the Holocaust. He was the only survivor of his immediate family, his parents and two brothers and a sister.
Q: By the time you met him, he already had adopted the name Allan Kiron…
LK: Yes. I used to tease him. I told him it’s a good thing you have that name. I don’t know if I would have married you.
Q: What is your maiden name?
LK: It is Lowe.
LK: Yes. It was actually shortened from Lowsky and before that Goglowski. As I said, I am from Poland, or my grandparents were. Everyone changed their names when they came to this country. At immigration they would assign you one they could pronounce and spell.
I regret that I didn’t learn any Polish. Allan didn’t pass any along to the children either. I think he wanted to divorce himself from previous painful experiences. He didn’t want to be reminded.
Q: Did you talk about it much?
LK: It was very hard for him to talk about his past. In fact, the Shoah Foundation, which takes oral histories, contacted him, but he would not allow himself to be interviewed.
He wrote a haunting poem once, “Where should I put the flowers, my son?” When we visited Israel, he put it in one of the little niches in Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. It was also published in the Jewish Forward under his mother’s name. One day we got a phone call asking to speak to his mother, Lisa Choroszcz. It was I who answered. I said just a minute please and I got my husband to talk to the person. It was the New York Holocaust Museum. They had discovered his poem and wanted to read it at the dedication. They were looking for Lisa Choroszcz. He started crying. He explained that he had written it in memory of his mother. You can see all the books in the bookcases here about the Holocaust. It was a big part of his life. I always thought that one of the reasons he married me was because I didn’t know anything about his background. I represented a new beginning for him. He could just start his life anew, like a second life.
Q: That makes a lot of sense.
LK: He didn’t teach his children Polish, though he did teach them a little Russian. He knew Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Yiddish and English. And he knew a little Japanese, because he lived in Japan for a while. He just wanted to make a break with that part of his life.
Q: His background was scientific?
LK: Yes. He was a chemist and very smart. He was a MENSA. You have to have a certain IQ. I used to say he’s the brains and I’m the brawn.
Q: But you knew about his wartime experiences…
LK: Oh yes. He showed me his tattoo number. It was the first thing he actually showed to me. I had never seen something like that. I was about 18 years old. I knew about the war and about what happened to the Jews. I am Jewish and I knew about the persecution of the Jews, but I really hadn’t any first-hand knowledge of that.
He couldn’t entirely escape the terrible experiences of the war. In addition to being a chemist in the Patent Office, he was a technical advisor to the Congress. One day in his duties as an advisor, Werner Von Braun was being interviewed. You may remember that Von Braun was the German scientist responsible for developing the V-2 rocket, which was being done at the Dora Concentration Camp where Allan was a slave laborer. Von Braun periodically made visits to the camp to note the progress of the program and was aware of the harsh conditions there. Allan saw him many times. He, Allan, was supposed to ask Von Braun some questions but his war time memories were too painful and he asked to be relieved of that responsibility which he was.
Q: Are you a member of Temple Sinai?
LK: No. He did not want to join any synagogue. None of my sons were bar-mitzvahs. However, the youngest, when he was in Madison, Wisconsin, decided that he wanted to learn about Judaism. He contacted a rabbi learned Hebrew, and learned history. He was dating a woman from South Africa whose cousin or uncle was a cantor. They went to South Africa for a wedding. The cantor called him to the bema. In Judaism there is a ceremony where you recite things from the Torah. Kenneth, our youngest, did this and became a bar-mitzvah at the age of 22. And then my son who is the Judaica curator—was like … sorry, I just need to know about my background. He went to Israel and learned Hebrew. It was: if you are not going to teach me, I am going to find out for myself. All of Allan’s attempts to deny them their Jewish background didn’t quite work. Still, even though he didn’t teach them religion, they knew they were Jewish. We would observe the holidays. And he was very proud to be a Jew. Jacques Haifez—oh, a Jew. Einstein, a Jew, he would say, always letting them know when a Jew won the Nobel Prize. There was no shame in being Jewish, but he grew up in a very orthodox family where he was put through the paces of going to cheder, the Hebrew school, and other religious schools. His father quizzed him and drilled him on Judaism and he didn’t want his children to have to go through that. It’s funny, because three sons are knowledgeable about Judaism now. One son even has a child in Jewish day school.
Q: I have seen this pattern in my own family. The first ones here often want to leave the old world behind. The new generation seeks insight from the old identities.
LK: So, do you raise your children in the Jewish tradition?
Q: Actually, one son is in Poland even as we speak. I come from a Christian background. With this Polish background we are interested in the totality of Polish life. I was a student of Jan Karski at Georgetown in the 1960s. Just last month President Obama awarded him the Medal of Freedom posthumously for his death-defying work in providing the first eye-witness account of Jewish persecution to President Roosevelt. That is the kind of Polish heritage I associate with.
But we really do want to hear about your experience in the neighborhood.
LK: Let me start with something about this house. It was built by Charles E. Miller, Jr. in 1934. His father was a well known apiarist. Charles Jr. had a daughter, Margaret, who married Kay Chapman. They, in turn, had a daughter also named Margaret. When we bought this house, it had been rented out for many years. We found things in the house—furniture, books and the like. We even have the original blueprints of the house. Many of Charles Miller Sr.’s papers were left behind when we moved in.
Next door was a wonderful couple by the name of Spence, John and Myrta. He was an architect. If you look at that house, you can see there is an addition on the back which he designed. I was a young woman of 30 with four children when we moved in. Myrta welcomed us to the neighborhood by bringing us her home baked cookies. Every Christmas she would also bring us Christmas goodies that she had baked. She gave us the dogwood tree out in the front. The pachysandra growing outside this window came from her garden originally, too. She was just the most wonderful woman. After John died, she moved to North Carolina where she later passed away. She sold the house to Tom and Louise Wilson, who is a decorator, and who painted the house the color it is now. The Leshers moved in after the Wilsons left and they are still here.
On the other side of our house lived the Joffe family. Their son, Mike, used to work at the Chevy Chase Community Center and the Lafayette Recreation Center. He played the guitar and was the one who took the photo of my husband and me in our “corn field.”
There was also an interesting family across the alley from the Haleys’ home. Before the Charo-Fishers, who are there now, there were Deborah and Elliot Blum who had two children, Belinda and Jonathan Blum. The Blums were very good friends of the Needelmans, the ones who told you about me. Jonathan became a well known artist who lives in Brooklyn now. He often comes to Eastern Market on Capitol Hill to sell his paintings. Let me show you one. For my husband’s birthday in 1994 he painted this portrait. These must all be my husband’s brain cells (laughter). Jonathan is still a good friend with my son, David, the one at MIT. Jonathan is Jewish and paints a lot of things with a Jewish theme. He gave me this piece the last time I saw him—“The Ten Tribes”, a print of an original.
Before the Blums, the Finnukins lived in that house. They had four sons.
And right across the street where Todd and Julie now live, lived the Spivaks, Jonathan and Dorothy. Their claim to fame is that Jonathan’s father, Lawrence Spivak, was a co-founder of the TV news program, Meet the Press. He was the host of that program from 1966 to 1975 and died in March 1994. Jonathan worked for The Wall Street Journal and was living in France the last time I heard.
Q: Did you say Allan wrote children’s books?
LK: Yes, indeed. Let me get one for you.
Q: Oh, it is The Book of FUNNY: Limericks, Poems, and Puns For Children Ages 1 to 103 Covering Animals from A to Z.
He was a new Dr. Suess, I guess! The copyright date is 2001. When did Allan decease?
LK: December 27, 2011. He was a man of many talents. He built things; he wrote things; he played the stock market.
Q: How old was he when he died?
Q: He did the actual building?
LK: When he was younger he started the renovation of this house and later got a contractor to help finish it. He made furniture and could fix just about anything.
There are other interesting neighbors on this street. An English woman, Miss Eleanor Watt, lived in one of the two row houses. She was a very elderly lady who used to mow the steep slope in front of her house with a push mower. After she died someone put ivy on the hill.
Q: Are there grandkids in the picture?
LK: Yes! I have four of them—three grandsons and a granddaughter. Their names are Lila, Gabe, Martin and Daniel.
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