Photo Identification, or a journey through pre-war Poland without a guide

The history of my ancestors from my dad’s side I know only fragmentarily. To reconstruct them, photo identification may help!

Early history of the family

Józef Pomykała

I know the history of my ancestors from my father’s side only fragmentarily. I know that my grandfather Józef Pomykała was born on February 21, 1913 in Wesoła in Brzozowski district. After the Second World War he worked as a cook in the Krakowskie Zakłady Gastronomicznych, and then as a cookmaster, i. e. the head chef, in the Officer School of Chemical Army in Montelupich Street. He died on 22 June 1973 and is buried in Krakow.
My grandfather’s parents (or my great-grandparents) were Maria and Ludwik Pomykała, but I don’t know where they were born or where their graves are. I only know that great-grandfather Ludwik worked in the Żywiec Brewery on some high position. It wasn’t until my private research that I was able to learn the names of my great-grandparents. However, not to make things too easy – my grandfather Józef was born just before the First World War in a still Austro-Hungarian village, far from Zywiec, where his father was to work.

Zofia Pomykała

My grandmother Zofia Pomykała, nee Maniecka, was born in Okocim on February 16, 1913, and her parents were Jan Maniecki and Maria, nee Skurnóg. I don’t know if Grandma had any siblings and I don’t know any of her relatives. I never heard that she was gainfully employed. She died in Cracow on January 24, 1984 and that is why I barely remember her.

Józef and Zofia's wedding

My grandfather Józef married my grandmother Zofia on February 13, 1938. On 23 July 1942, their daughter Irenka was born, but two and a half months later, on 4 October 1942, she died as a result of an epidemic which was then raging in Kazimierz, Kraków. She is buried in Cracow. After the war my grandparents had three more sons, including my dad. Apparently there was one more child – a girl who died at an unknown age in Gdańsk or Gdynia in 1939. Her grave is said to be gone.

Pre-war fate of my grandparents

As far as the pre-war fate of my grandparents is concerned, until the early 1950s, when they settled permanently in Kraków, the chronology is unclear. In 1938 grandfather Józef was staying at 9 Łazarza Street, at the same time someone was sending him postcards from Jastarnia. Probably in the same year my grandparents were also in Gdynia and Hel. In 1942 they lived in Kazimierz, at 6 Bocheńska Street. In 1946 one of their sons was born in Wesoła (in the same village as grandfather Józef), so the grandparents had to leave Kraków for some time. In 1949, they were in Kraków again, and although they changed their place of residence several times since then, they never left Kraków.

So I know very little about my dad’s family. A few tidbits thrown in passing, which I never got to see developed. But then it seemed like there would be time for that.

It was a surprising find. Admittedly, there were family albums at home, but from the post-war years. I’ve never seen that before.

So, not having much information and wanting to learn more about the pre-war fate of my dad’s family, one day I decided to analyze the photos myself and try photo identification.

Photo Identification

First step of photo identification

Most of the photographs from the mysterious album are somewhat worn out, show signs of being glued repeatedly, and were not described in any way in the album. In many of
the photos on the reverses there was a large layer of glue and black, white and grey cardboard left which I was afraid to remove because the cardboard was already delaminating.
The attempt to remove these layers was undertaken by my wife Karolina, slowly and carefully cleaning each reverse of the photograph. This has revealed handwritten inscriptions or stamps in places. On the other hand, several of the photos without a trace of glue, ironically, had no captions. Some of the photographs, in a larger format, are about 9 x 14 cm, while others are only 6 x 8 cm. The reverse of most photographs looked like this:

Below is an example of the tedious process of removing the accumulated glue and paper by my wife, who decided to check if the photographs do not hide some clues about the date, place or people.

Photo A. One of the least glued photographs. Here the layers of dark paper are relatively few.
Photo B. After cleaning, the date unexpectedly appeared: "15 II 1939". Unfortunately, this was an isolated case. On other reverses it was not possible to repeat this success.
Photo C. An attempt to enhance the preserved information using scanning, inversion and color modification.

Second step of photo identification

Cleaning up the reverses admittedly was a step forward, but it didn’t add much. We were left to strain our eyes and make the most of everything in the photographs. Each photo had to be approached individually. It took “only” two evenings to identify the locations in the open air, but it took much longer to flesh out the details. In the case of photographs from photographic studios, general identification was only possible with atelier stamps. Unfortunately, not all portraits had such markings. The most difficult part was accurately dating the photos, so in most cases I only give approximate years.

Third step of photo identification

In an attempt to date the photos we searched the resources of the internet. The ideal would be to find a similar photo with a full description of the place and time, or at least some photos to narrow down the time frame. I was aware that over the years everything changes, new buildings are constructed and old ones are demolished, vegetation grows or is cut down, walls of buildings deteriorate or are renovated – places are alive and in just a year they can change beyond recognition. Finding carefully described comparative material would give us confidence. We looked through some tens of thousands of photos, but usually there was either no accurate dating, or the photo was from too early or too late a period, or finally the place was framed from a different perspective and the details we were interested in were not visible. We also tried dating by looking for information about photographic establishments, existing companies or premises whose signs were visible in some of the photographs, but usually these companies had a long tradition, so this did not yield the expected results. In the end, we arranged the photographs according to our knowledge and what we were able to verify in our search.

Below are the photos I found and the process of identifying the locations and dates based on what could be gleaned from each photo.

Mysterious Album

Photo 1

We found the above photograph to be the oldest. Supposedly, it features the parents of my grandmother Zofia – Jan and Maria Maniecki. I know absolutely nothing about them, neither where they were born, nor how many children they had, nor where they are buried (however, thanks to Your Roots in Poland I managed to find out my great-grandmother Maria’s maiden name – Skurnóg). The photo comes from Dworzak Brothers Photographic Studio in Nowy Sacz, 46 Jagiellonska Street (stamp on the reverse). The address of the atelier and my grandmother Zofia’s birthplace, Okocim, suggest that my great-grandparents came from that area. We found only information that the workshop of the Dworzak Brothers operated at 46 Jagiellońska Street from the mid 1920s, and in the 1930s another photographer, Józef Zacharski, had his studio at this address (he moved here with his workshop from 34 Jagiellońska Street). In my opinion, we can assume that the photo was taken in the mid-1920s.

Photo 2

In this photograph, I recognized my grandmother Zofia Pomykała, nee Maniecka. It’s not clear what atelier she’s posing in. Maybe it’s just a school photo because grandma is wearing her middle school uniform. This is probably in the late 1920s, and Grandma is a couple of years old here. No stamp on the reverse.

Photo 3 and 4

The next two photographs of my grandmother Zofia were taken in an unknown photographic establishment. Unfortunately, the photos do not have any stamps or description to help identify them more closely. We assume these are photos from the last years of junior high school, grandma may be eighteen here.

Photo 5

In this tiny photograph (4. 5 x 6. 5 cm), my grandmother Zofia is, I believe, already about twenty years old. No stamp on the reverse. Probably a photo for some document.

Photo 6

I assume this is a wedding photo. My grandmother Zofia and my grandfather Józef Pomykała are in the foreground, behind them stand witnesses – persons unknown and, despite attempts at comparisons, unrecognized in other extant photographs (although my wife suspects that the standing man is also immortalized in photograph number 9). The picture was taken in the photographic studio “Janina” in Krakow. We have not been able to find any information about this studio (the currently existing Kraków Foto-Studio “Janina” was established long after the war). It is safe to say that this photograph dates back to 1938, because thanks to the help of Your Roots in Poland we found out that my grandparents got married on February 13, 1938

Photo 7

It is cold here, probably winter weather, my grandparents, Zofia and Józef Pomykała, are dressed in thick coats. Entering Wawel from Podzamcze Street,
in the background you can see the tenement house at 24 Kanonicza Street, the so-called “House under the Telegraph”, and on the left the corner of the tenement house number 25, the Dlugosz House. A uniformed man walking behind his grandparents was a helpful clue in dating this photograph. This is probably an air force officer, whom I identified by the round cap with a visible eagle, the main belt with a transverse shoulder strap, and above all, by the characteristic cut of the officer’s type coat used in the air force. This uniform came into service by virtue of the Journal of Orders of 30 May 1936 concerning “new dress regulations for airborne soldiers”. This information narrows down the date this photograph was taken to four years, but given when my grandparents married, I would guess it is 1938. On the reverse side there is only a partially visible stamp, but my wife managed to uncover it and read: “Leica-Film, Krakow, Floriańska 5”. Unfortunately, we have not found anything more about this photographic studio apart from the information that it operated in Krakow in the 1920s and 1930s

Photo 8

In this photo my grandfather Józef is marching on the left, unfortunately I don’t know who the other two people are. Behind them the Main Railway Station, the wing of
the building from the side of Lubicz Street. The photographer taking the picture was standing near the place where the end stop for narrow-gauge trams was at that time. The side entrance to the Station can be seen in the upper left corner of the photograph. In the dozen or so archival photos I’ve found of the Station building from before 1933, what caught my eye were the two entrances side by side, while in later photos the door on the left is converted to a window. Also visible in several photographs from 1933 is the bright, freshly laid stone plinth beneath the new window, which a few years later had darkened and no longer stood out as much. Moreover, on the photographs from 1938-1942 on both sides of the entrance there are dark plaques, which are missing on my photograph. So maybe this photo is from 1937 and should come before photo number 6. I think it’s a spring photo because everyone is dressed in light coats. On the reverse side a barely visible stamp of the Cracow photographic company “Leica-Film” from Florianska 5.

Photo 9

My grandfather Józef is standing on the left, unfortunately I don’t know who the man on the right is (perhaps he is indeed a witness from the wedding). At first, my wife and I both thought that the photo showed Kraków’s Cloth Hall from the eastern side, in the place where the entrance to today’s Museum of the Underground Market Square (a branch of the Historical Museum of Kraków) is located. We were misled by the characteristic metal gate that has been preserved there to this day. But as we stood in front of the place, something didn’t feel right. The solution to the riddle was provided by the capitals of the columns (each head of the column in the Cloth Hall is decorated differently). This is how we found the capitol with the leaf motif on the west side of the Cloth Hall, opposite the Town Hall. That’s where this pre-war photograph was taken. A fragment of the signboard “H. M. Godziszewska” can be seen in the upper left corner. It was a “storehouse of materials for all manual works”, located at 30 Sukiennice Street. We presume this is the late 1930s, possibly the same year as in photograph number 8. No stamp on the reverse

Photo 10

This photo shows people we don’t know. Perhaps the clergyman or the man photographed with him were important to my family in some way, which is why this photo was preserved in an old album. The place was identified by my wife, who, noticing the characteristic ornaments on the stone doorframes and arches in the upper left corner of
the photo, recognized the Cloth Hall from the side of Bracka Street. We don’t know what year it is, perhaps also the late 1930s.

Photo 11

In this photo, my grandmother Zofia is walking on an asphalt alley, behind her is the Cloth Hall from the west, a fragment of the central risalit is visible, and in
the background, of course, the Adam Mickiewicz Monument. We don’t know what year it is. It was probably spring in the late 1930s, as indicated by Grandma’s fashionable, lightweight clothing. My wife managed to uncover the stamp on the reverse of the photograph, unfortunately not much can be seen on it, only: “Miki-Film Kraków”. My wife suspects that this is a photographic shop from Jasna 6, m. 8 (today it is Wojciech Bogusławski Street). My wife established that such a plant did indeed exist in Kraków in the 1930s, but that was all.

Photo 12

My grandfather Józef Pomykała (on the right) with an unknown man in the background of a car. Similarly to other pictures we risked to say that this is also Cracow. In the photograph, apart from the people posing and the car, seemingly little else is visible. My attention, however, was drawn to the characteristic pole, visible in the upper left corner of the photo. I followed it thinking that it was a traction pole of pre-war Krakow trams. Due to a large number of visible trees I checked the streets near Planty, through which narrow-gauge and normal-gauge trams entered the Old Town. But nowhere could I see buildings similar to those seen in the depths here. So I concentrated on other details.

On the building behind the traction pole, I finally recognized the characteristic window of Czynciel’s Tenement House, at 4 Market Square (the alternate address was 9 Mariacki Square). The accuracy of the location was confirmed by the white stone pillar of the fence next to St. Mary’s Church (founded by Urszula Dembińska at the end of the 18th century). Although I knew that in the past there were many more trees on the Main Square than today, I did not think that any of them could overshadow St. Mary’s Church. Moreover, I was still intrigued by the visible asphalt under the car and not the pavement. So it remained to determine where on the Market Square the photo was taken. We were helped by photographs of Krakow from the 1930s which showed a narrow, asphalt avenue parallel to the eastern side of the Cloth Hall, rows of trees and the pillar I was interested in earlier, which turned out not to be a traction but a lighting pillar. So the picture was taken in the south-east corner of the Cloth Hall, in front of the exit of Noworolski’s Cafe.

Once the scene was identified, it remained to determine the make of the car. Contrary to appearances, it was quite a challenge due to the fact that the car was photographed from
the back, while in all automotive publications vehicles are usually presented from the front. My first association led of course to the Fiat 508, due to the similarity and popularity of
this model in Poland in the 1930s. However, there were a number of details that didn’t match up, especially body elements, the spare wheel mount, or the early model of the arrow turn signal (Albert Ebner’s invention), which I didn’t notice on the Fiat 508 archive photos.
After this disappointment, I started to look for all makes and models of cars available in Poland in the 1920s and 1930s, but unfortunately this did not bring any results. So I focused on the shiny elements visible in the photograph. The chrome trim on the engine cover helped solve the mystery, which is how I came across. . again on the Fiat brand, but this time the 514 model. It was produced in several versions, the picture above probably shows a four-door version – the Fiat 514 L. The car’s all-black license plate (A30-231) made it possible to date the photo fairly accurately, as such registrations were in effect on September 1, 1937 (before that, the plates were white). So everything indicates that the photo was taken between 1937 and 1939, while the clothes, especially the grandfather’s pumps, suggest the summer period.

Seeing this photo for the first time reminded me of what my dad once said as we drove through Zywiec. According to him, my great-grandfather (father of my grandfather Józef Pomykała) worked in Żywiec Brewery and held a high position. He was supposedly so wealthy that he presented each of his children – and he was to have twelve of them – with
a car (however, thanks to Your Roots in Poland it turned out that there were eight children: four daughters and four sons, four of whom unfortunately died in childhood). I suppose it’s just a family legend and I don’t think that so many cars were bought, but for sure one of the cars survived the war, because my dad remembered that in his childhood he was taken by some uncle in an old, pre-war car for trips from Cracow to Ojców (although the car could break down several times on the way). It crossed my mind if it wasn’t one of the family cars in this photo. . .

Photo 13

The photo shows my elegant grandmother, Zofia Pomykała, with a no less elegant few-year-old girl wearing gloves and carrying her own handbag, which my wife pointed out to me. I don’t know who this girl is; she looks like her grandmother, maybe she’s a relative. The photo was taken at St. Mary’s Square, overlooking St. Barbara’s Church and tenement house number 7. An incomplete inscription can be seen above the grandmother’s head, but it was fairly easy to read. This is the signboard of the shop “Porębski i Zimler” at Rynek Główny 8 (sometimes interchangeably 7), where before the war there was a “small goods store”, offering underwear, among other things. This was the appearance of the signboard between 1937 and 1939. Comparing Grandma’s clothing to the one she is wearing in photograph number 14, one might venture to say that these are the summer months of 1938.

We were trying to find out who the girl in the photograph was. We had some rudimentary information about my grandparents’ daughter, who supposedly died in tragic circumstances in 1939 and is buried in Gdansk or Gdynia. However, this information could not be confirmed, and in the case of the girl in this photo, the time frame does not match.

Photo 14

 In this photograph in the form of a postcard – a souvenir from the cruise –
I recognized my grandmother Zofia (wearing a white hat) and my grandfather Józef sitting next to her.

This photo was probably the most challenging. First of all, I knew immediately that this is not Cracow at all, secondly: the photograph is overexposed and the only points of reference are the ship and a visible fragment of the waterfront.Then I remembered my father’s relative’s connections to Gdańsk. However, it was a false trail and searches of archival photographs of Gdansk (especially of the waterfront) yielded nothing. Then I decided that maybe it was Gdynia, because before the war the relations between the Free City of Gdańsk and Poland were tense.

And indeed, first we managed to find an identical construction of the waterfront next to the pre-war Gdynia Harbourmaster’s Office. But it didn’t all add up, I still had doubts and kept looking. Finally managed to find in the Allegro archive some photographs from a similar trip on the same ship, from the same waterfront, but not overexposed – you could see the buildings in the background. Knowing that Gdynia’s buildings were not too badly damaged during WWII (except for the port itself), I hoped that these buildings still existed. With the help of Google Maps I managed to find a characteristic building, fortunately still standing at 38 Jerzego Waszyngtona Street – the former Port Construction Office Building. This identified the location where the photograph was taken. The ship is moored in Basin I of the President, at the Pomeranian Quay. Today, in this place you can see the ship-museum – the destroyer ORP “Błyskawica”. Unfortunately, my photograph, as well as all the photos I found, did not capture the name of the vessel (apparently the author of all these souvenir photographs-postcards at the time focused on the passengers, not including the bow of the ship).

However, my wife and I persisted in finding the name of this unit. Firstly, we discovered that in Gdynia in the second half of the 1930s the tycoon of passenger motorboats carrying tourists around the Gdynia harbour was Robert Wilke. Secondly, we came across a forum where Polish ships of intra-port communication were discussed based on Jerzy Micinski’s Book of Polish Ships: 1918-1945. The names of the units and their parameters, including length, width, and maximum number of passengers carried, are given after this book. In my postcard and those found on Allegro, although only part of the motorboat is photographed, you can see that it would fit 72 people in twelve rows of benches. So in terms of the number of passengers and the width of the motorboat only “Gryf” belonging to the company “Robert Wilke – Motorówki Pasażerskie” matched. Other vessels of similar width took fewer passengers on board, while those that took similar or more tourists were too wide and had three rows of benches. Unfortunately, there is only one poor quality photo of Robert Wilke’s fleet available on the internet, in which the “Gryf” is somewhat obscured by other vessels. In the book Gdynia and the Sea, published in 1938 by the shipowner himself, apart from the photograph we already know, Wilke himself did not boast about his ships. But my attention was drawn by the cover of the book, where, in my opinion, the illustrator quite faithfully rendered the figure of “Griffin”. With that, I tried to calculate the length of the craft and the approximate number of passengers. Thus, assuming that the racks of the tarpaulin are distant from each other by around 1. 5 m and there are probably twelve of them, while the bow deck occupies almost ⅓ of the length, I calculated that the motorboat visible on my postcard may have the length of ,,Griffin” (i. e. 24. 2 m). Also assuming that between the frames there are two rows of benches accommodating twelve persons, the number of rows will be 22, six persons in each (in the last row at the stern seven persons will sit due to the lack of passage between the benches), so the total number of persons will be 133 – and this is the maximum number of passengers of “Gryf” given in the mentioned Book of Polish ships. The motorboat entrance visible in my photo is probably located in the middle of the passenger pad. I hope to be able to confirm this conjecture at some point.

By the way, it is worth mentioning the interesting history of the “Griffin” itself, which was built at the end of World War I as a submarine destroyer (U-Boot-Zerstörer), after the war it served as a mail ship, while in the early 1930s it had its adventurous episode – as the property of Franz Jäger, an alcohol smuggler, under the name of “Hassan Birr” it smuggled spirits to the Scandinavian countries. In 1935 the ship was purchased by Robert Wilke. After rebuilding and renaming as “Gryf” it started service as a cruising motorboat. In 1939 it was sunk by the Germans.

Again, postcards from the Internet came to the rescue in determining the presumed date of this photograph, especially those that were mailed and had handwritten and stamped reverses with specific dates. Several of these, including one dated July 1939, show that four racks were completed at the stern. On other postcards, dated 1938, these additional racks are not yet present. The reverse of my photograph lacks any stamp or inscription, but I believe it is from 1938. Robert Wilke’s motorboats carried up to 200,000 tourists during the season from mid-June to mid-September. Since there is no set of passengers here, grandma is in the same costume as in photo #13, and grandpa is in pugs – it may be the beginning of the season.

Photo 15 and 16

Both photographs show my grandfather Józef (on the right), while the man with a moustache and wearing a light shirt is apparently my grandfather’s partner – Kazimierz. Recognizing these photos is a real lucky guess. While working on the photograph number 14, the first keyword entered into Google search engine was: “1930s, cruise ship, Gdańsk”. One of the search results was s/s Gdansk – a Polish steam coastal passenger ship. My attention was immediately drawn to the characteristic superstructure, the location of the lifeboats and the ventilation stacks. In my opinion there is no doubt that s/s Danzig is immortalized in the above photographs. It was much more difficult to determine where the photos were taken

Admittedly, my wife managed to carefully uncover from under the layers of glue and paper on both reverses the stamps: “Foto-Przystań Gdynia, skrytka pocztowa”, so it would be
a valuable clue, if not for the fact that in Gdynia a wooden Passenger Pier, where ships of this type used to dock, stood until 1934, when it was pulled down during the construction of the First President’s Basin. It seemed to me, however, that the above photos are from a similar time as photograph number 14 (judging by the appearance and clothing of my grandfather Józef), so they probably could not have been taken in Gdynia, but only developed there. Unfortunately, despite the undisputed identification of the ship, the location remained a mystery for a while, as the only hint was the transverse arrangement of planks on the pier. However, I found information that s/s Gdañsk sailed in the late 1930s on the routes Gdynia-Jastarnia and Gdynia-Hel, so I checked both harbours. After looking through several dozens of photos on the Internet, I came to the conclusion that it must be the marina on Hel, because only there the planks on the pier are arranged like on my photograph. The photos may have been taken in 1938. An additional hint were three postcards from Jastarnia preserved in an old album. We were able to read the dates on two: June 16 and July 10, 1938. Unfortunately
the contents of the cards are illegible, but I suspect they may be related to this photograph.

Photo 17

According to my dad’s relative, the photograph depicts a certain Kazimierz, a partner with whom my grandfather Józef supposedly ran a restaurant in Gdansk in the second half of the 1930s. I doubt it myself, I would rather suspect it was about Gdynia. So far I have not been able to confirm information about the restaurant, nor do I know
the name of my grandfather’s partner. Kazimierz‘s photo was taken by a photographer in Ostrów Wielkopolski on Marszałka Pilsudskiego street (unfortunately, I couldn’t find any mention of this photographer’s shop) and was, according to the inscription on the reverse, given to my grandfather “Józik” as a memento of February 15, 1939 (see photos A-C).
This is the only photo that hid a specific date.

Photo 18

Filomena Karczmarczyk – a mysterious person who appears as an addressee on two postcards from 1926 and 1934. We do not know if he is in any of the surviving photographs. The card from 1926 (obverse and reverse of number 18 on the photograph) was sent from Kalisz and addressed as follows: “Kraków, 13 Garbarska St. , Grandmaster Staszewski, for Miss Fili Karczmarczyk in Kraków”. Director Staszewski is probably Józef, a private official from the years 1926-1934, according to the Address Book of the City of Cracow and Cracow Voivodeship – yearbook 1933/34. A card from 1934, sent for Easter, shows the same address. The card is signed only with initials that we can’t match to any names we know.

We don’t know who Filomena was, but someone has kept in touch with her over the years. Amongst so few photos and postcards pasted from album to album, it makes me wonder why exactly these cards survived, if they were important to someone and if it could have been a relative of grandma or grandpa.

Photo identification - summary

Through research, a little luck, and the invaluable help of his wife, many things were learned. But what I discovered and what I read from the photographs still only approximates the time and place, saying nothing more about the people and circumstances themselves. From scraps of news and found photos, an elusive and unclear history of my family from my dad’s side of the family was forming. And while there are actually still more white spaces, and more answers raise more questions, the photo ID process itself was fascinating.

In the course of preparing this article, new facts have emerged to reveal a little more. Your Roots in Poland has a huge contribution to make. We especially want to thank Kinga Borowiec, Karolina Szlęzak, Łukasz Karpecki and Adam Sasinowski. Thanks to them we found out, among other things, where exactly my grandfather Jozef was born, how many siblings he really had (seven – four sisters and three brothers), in which plants he worked after the war, what maiden name my great-grandmother from my grandmother Zofia‘s side had, where my grandparents lived during the Second World War and in later years, and what their fate was in post-war Cracow. Still, my family’s pre-war history remains largely a mystery to me.

If anyone has any knowledge about the people in these photographs or would be able to provide some facts about the Pomykała or Maniecki families – please contact me via Your Roots in Poland. [The photographs presented in this article, marked with the ARS RECO logo, are private property and their copying, distribution, publication in any form (including electronic) without the permission of the owner is prohibited]

Marek Pomykała, Cooperation: Karolina Glazor-Pomykała

Picture of ArsReco