Of all my ancestors, I feel a special connection to my maternal grandfather,
Jozef Cymer. Maybe it is because I know more of him than of any other family member, or maybe because I think I am very much like him, or maybe because of his WWII photo album which I discovered as a child among some family documents and have viewed many times since then, fascinated by some exotic locations (well, less exotic since 1968 when I emigrated to Israel).
But let’s start from the beginning: Jozef Cymer was born in Lodz on 18 October 1890, son of Zajwel Cymer and Estera Majta Perle.
His 1926 hand-written CV which I obtained from the Central Archives of the Polish Army in Warsaw says the following about his early life:
After graduating from the so-called Alexander School [named after the Russian Czar, Alexander III] in June 1908, in September of that year I passed an additional exam at the Lodz High School for Boys and obtained a degree of an apprentice in pharmacy and, as such, started to work at the Gessner Pharmacy in Lodz where I did my entire apprenticeship.
In March 1912 I went to Dorpat [today Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia] where in May I obtained a title of a pharmacy assistant from the local university. After returning to Lodz I again worked at the Gessner Pharmacy in that capacity.
At the end of 1912 I was summoned to the army service and sent to Aschabad [today Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan] where I served for half a year before being released as unfit for service.
I returned to Lodz where I worked at the Grodzicki Pharmacy until September 1914 when I moved to Rybinsk in the Jaroslav Gubernia. I worked there for half a year and then moved to Novorossiysk in the Chornomorskaya Gubernia where I worked in a pharmacy for two years and a half. In August 1917 I started to study at the Rostov-on-Don university and graduated with distinction in 1919.
When in October 1918 the High Command of the Polish Army in the East in Rostov-on-Don summoned Poles [residing in the former Russian Empire] to report for army service I presented myself but my service was adjourned until June 1919 in order for me to be able to conclude my education. Already in April, having passed the last exams I reported for the army service and was sent to the Polish Legion in Novorossiysk. After the Bolsheviks occupied Odessa, I was released. I stayed for a while in Novorossiysk and then returned to Poland with a group of refugees.
His life after 1919 is best described in a document I got from the UK Ministry of Defense
and which is, most probably, based, partially at least, on information provided by my grandfather.
Jozef Cymer in July 1938
The exterior and the interior of the "Cymer pharmacy" on recent photographs (Courtesy of the Calendula Pharmacy in Lodz)
In the meantime he married my grandmother, Zofia Feferman (born in Lodz on 7 February 1900, daughter of Boruch and Golda Geguzyn) and on 20 December 1923 their only child, my mother Eugenia (known to all as Krysia) Cymer, was born in Lodz.
After the verification of his degree he opened his own pharmacy at 37 Wolczanska Street in Lodz. Soon after his death in 1951 my grandmother received a letter from a former employee at his pharmacy, Maryla Erlich, which gives a solid impression of how he had run his business:
Time and again I can hear this refrain vibrating in my ears: Do you realize what meaning carries this humble prescription that you are working upon? Do you remember that this is a medicine which should provide a respite to a sick person? Do you remember that everything, absolutely everything, no matter if I am present or absent, should be done lege artis [in a correct way]?
When I return now in my thoughts to that period [when I worked at Cymer’s pharmacy], I see Magister Jozef Cymer at his desk bent over his microscope . He would check and verify, verify and check. It did not matter whether the merchandise came from a wholesaler or was an ointment prepared by us. It was irrelevant that the ointment has been stirred an uncountable number of times and that was beautifully packed in a porcelain jar with a nice sticker on it. He would throw it away with one movement of his hand. Our long faces that so much work and effort has been discarded would not be of any help.
And how many problems the wholesalers would have with the “Cymer’s Pharmacy”!. So often while ordering merchandise by phone you would hear some kind of an unclear sigh on the other side of the line: “Yes, we have this stuff but most probably it is not good enough for Magister Cymer.
Jozef Cymer's birth certificate signed by the mayor of Lodz [Lodz being at that time a part of the Russian Empire, all the official business was conducted in Russian] (Source: AP Lodz/State Archives in Lodz)
Maryla Erlich in a pharmacy in a DP camp in Germany (Courtesy of her granddaughter)