Week 4 of 52 Ancestors

Week 4 (22-28 Jan 18) prompt is ‘Invite to Dinner’

As soon as I read this prompt I knew I would write about my paternal grandmother Henryka Kotwic nee Teszner.  I still miss her cooking.  She made the best cabbage rolls, oyster-blade, rissoles and potato dumplings ever.  Whenever you visited, no matter whether you had just eaten, you would find yourself eating something.  You could never say no.  I still to this day have never tasted anything better than her rissoles. They just melted in your mouth.

stush (116)
c1990 – Christmas Spread

 Henryka Teszner

Henryka was born on a little farm in the Russian town of Zhytomyr on 21 January 1921 to Johan and Helena Teszner. Unfortunately, Johan a musician, died when Henryka was little more than a baby. Walking home from a dance where he had played in a band, Johan through tiredness and maybe a few too many vodkas fell asleep in the snow.

When Helena re-married, Henryka went to live with her maternal grandparents until her mother’s new family grew and she  was bought back to help with the cleaning and taking care of her younger siblings. Sadly she always felt like the hired help rather than family and missed the carefree life she had with her grandparents.

At age 18, Henryka was taken by the Germans at the beginning of WW2 to work on the farms.  As she was tall and strongly built, she did manual work and drove tractors.  Despite the circumstances she enjoyed the work and being away from home.

Nearing the end of the war she was taken to the Hildesh war camp in Hann-Munden, Germany where she met a Polish musician named Stanislaw and had a great romance.

She soon discovered she was going to become a mother and by the time her son Stan arrived on 28 July 1946 the war was officially over.  Not wanting to go to a strange town with Stanislaw and with no real attachments back home, as her mother had passed, Henryka decided to stay in the camp. Emigrating to either America or Australia then became a choice. She chose Australia.


Before leaving camp she had met and grown fond of a Polish soldier, Jan Kotwic.  He had also chosen Australia but was on a different ship so they agreed to meet up in Australia.

Jan departed Bremerhaven on 27 September 1950 on-board USAT General CH Muir and arrived in Melbourne on 26 October.  Henryka and Stan boarded the Fairsea also from Bremerhaven some nine days later on 6 October 1950 and arrived in Melbourne on 7 November 1950, eleven days after Jan.

Immigration Document Smaller

On arrival, displaced persons were initially sent to Bonegilla near the New South Wales border for a time.  By the time Henryka and Jan married on 14 July 1951 they were living in Geelong.  Jan adopted Stan on 10 March 1954.

Henryka worked at Goodchild Shoe Factory and Jan at the Geelong Salt Works and Fords Motor Company to save to build themselves a home. In those days, immigrants from Europe would all help each other by sharing a home to allow families to save, as they believed in paying as you go, and so by the time they had completed their homes they were owned them out right. They built their first home in Miller Street, Newcomb where they lived happily for quite a few years.

Deciding they would like a bigger house with some land they purchased land at 50 Pitman Street, Newcomb and began building. When the house was only half completed Henryka, then 40, was astounded to find that another baby was on its way.  Although the house was not yet finished, they moved into the back part of the house and managed just fine until it was finally completed. Being a double block they set about making the unused portion into a fruit and vegetable garden complete with chickens (for eggs and eating).

John Henry Kotwic arrived on 12 October 1961 and Henryka settled back into being a full-time mum.

On 4 January 1969, Stan married Maureen Elizabeth Shingles whom he had met while working at Brintons Carpet Factory.  Belinda Jane Kotwic arrived in July that year and Henryka was thrilled to have a little girl to fuss over.  When Maureen returned to work,   Henryka looked after her granddaughter until she was 4 years old.

Henryka became a proud grandmother again on 7 May 1973 when Michael John Kotwic was born to carry on the Kotwic name.

In January 1989, Henryka and Jan decided to move to a smaller house and moved into a new unit in Oxford Street, Whittington and was especially happy when John built his house next door.

Henryka was still close enough to walk to Bellarine Village, several times a week and was one of the few women who actually enjoyed grocery shopping.

John became engaged to Christine Skiba and they celebrated their engagement as well as Jan’s 77th birthday with a family dinner on 21 June 1991. Jan had gone to bed a very happy man with both his boys settled. Sadly he passed away that night, and life from that time on seemed very lonely for Henryka.

Her life brightened again with the arrival of her third grandchild to fuss over Adam on 16 November 1994. She was happy to have another boy to carry on the Kotwic name.

On 4 Aug 1997 Jaidyn Thomas Payne, her first great-grandchild was born, much to her delight, followed by the arrival of Tahlia Jean Payne on 15 September 1999, Riley Jacob Kotwic on 22 August 2001 and Charlotte Rose Kotwic on 4 May 2004.

Grandies (13)
Four Generations of ‘Kotwic’ women – Belinda, Maureen, Henryka & baby Tahlia

After suffering many years of pain from Angina, Henryka decided to have bypass surgery in 2000. Unfortunately she was to have a stroke not quite 12 months later. She was moved from Geelong Hospital to Maryville Nursing home at Western Beach where she passed away four years later on 20 July 2005.  She was buried with Jan in Geelong Eastern Cemetery.

Jan & Henryka Kotwic Headstone - Geelong

Henryka was a rather serious woman, perhaps a little by nature, but more-so from her life experiences. She did however have a real fun side. She could be very humorous and fun loving and though we didn’t get to see that side of her as often as we may have liked, it was always there just beneath the surface. (Quote from daughter-in-law Maureen from Henryka’s Eulogy)

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I have been researching my family history since 2009. I am interested it the family names Shingles, McEwan, Snowdon & Witt around Gippsland and Wodonga areas of Victoria, Australia

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