translated by Scotia Gilroy
Maria Rey Chazen (Chasin) was born in 1900, probably in Łódź. She was three years older than her brother Georges Rosenburg, who lived in Paris before World War II and then moved to Mexico and France after the war, where he lived under the name Gregory R. Marshak. They were from a family connected to the textiles industry in Łódź.
Records in the building registry of the city of Łódź from the year 1893 show that the Wyszewiański & Chasin Co. purchased a plot of land on Południowa Street, renamed Rewolucja 1905 Roku Street after World War II. One of the shareholders of this company, with the last name of Chasin, is very likely an ancestor of the future eminent pianist, Maria Rey Chasin.
The history of the street where this industrialist bought a parcel of land is as interesting as the history of the Chasin family. In 1905, when Maria was five years old, battles took place on the barricades at the intersection of Południowa and Wschodna Streets, to which there is now a commemorative plaque set in the wall of a building. At address number 19 on this street it is possible to still see the only Yiddish-language inscription that remains in Łódź from pre-war years. It is an advertisement for the Łódź-based Linas Hacholim aid society for ill people. Right next to this, at number 18, there was a small, private prayer house called the Józef Nelken Synagogue, built in 1902, which was destroyed by the Germans during the war. It was right next to the Wyszewiański & Chasin Co., a wholesale yarn distributor, which was located at number 23 according to the business registry from the years 1926-27, and then at number 20 according to the Trade, Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Address Registry of Poland for the Year 1930. Over time, the Wyszewiański & Chasin Co. expanded and had a branch at 9 Zielona Street, shopping centers at 40 Gdańska Street and 111 Piotrkowska Street, as well as a company called Uniopol which sold yarn and textile products at 23 Cegielniana Street (later Śródmiejska Street).
Most likely the first factory in Warsaw producing varnished furniture, at 9 Nowolipki Street, was part of this family company. In issue no. 274 of Gazeta Codzienna [The Daily News] from 1937 we can read the following: WARSAW'S LEADING VARNISHED FURNITURE FACTORY, S. CHASIN. 9 NOWOLIPKI STREET, WARSAW. TEL. 11-53-52. Wanting to obtain an accurate picture of the situation, we contacted a senior and pioneering industrialist in this field, Mr. Chasin, of 9 Nowolipki Street, who shared the following information with us: "My thread company," stated Mr. Chasin, "has existed since 1893, but I began to manufacture varnished furniture a bit later. I would like to stress that I am a pioneer in varnished furniture production in Warsaw."
The Chasin family was known for its charity. In 1900, Dziennik polityczno-przemyłowy Rozwój announced: The board of directors of the Łódź-based Jewish Charity Society has the honor of announcing that the following people have made donations to support poor Jewish weavers who have been left without a means of supporting themselves as a result of the current industrial stagnation. J. Chasin has donated 25 roubles to this cause.
Young Maria and her brother grew up in wonderful circumstances, surrounded by highly-qualified governesses. Maria was able to develop her passion for music and perfect her piano-playing skills. She lived with her family on streets where the Chasin companies were registered: Południowa, Śródmiejska and Cegielniana Streets. According to the Registry of Telephone Network Subscriptions for the Years 1932-33, Maria Chasin lived at 46 Śródmiejska Street, and her telephone number was 210-39. This phone book also lists a journalist named David Chasin as living at this same address. In turn, the Address Registry of the City of Łódź and the Łódź Province for the Years 1937-39 lists the pianist as Maria Chazen rather than Maria Chasin, and provides a different address – 76 Południowa Street. Dr. David Chasin was also listed at this address, and his telephone number was 202-74. The Industry, Trade, Finance and Educational Institution Address Registry of Poland for the Year 1937 also lists, in the "Doctors" section, David Chasin as living at 76 Południowa Street. While the street names in Łódź changed three times during the 1930s, these first names and surnames remained the same. But as for who Dr. Chasin was in relation to Maria, there is no information.
Maria grew up and developed her musical passion by performing and composing in Poland and abroad. In 1927, the young pianist performed on French radio. In February 1934, Une Semaine de Paris reported on a concert by the Poulet Orchestra in the City Theater in Paris, named after Sarah Bernhardt at that time. The orchestra was conducted by Gustav Gloez and the singer Olga Lynn was the soloist, with Maria Chasin on piano. The program included Marcel Labey's "Third Symphony," Weber's "Oberon," Moussorgski's "Chant et danse de la mort," and Marcel Delannoy's "Petite Suite." In this same year, Maria performed more concerts with the Poulet Orchestra, conducted by Gloez, as a piano soloist together with another Polish virtuoso, Jan Smeterlin, a friend of Szymanowski and Gile Marchex from France. The orchestra mostly played pieces by Marcel Labey.
Maria also performed on Polish radio – the Goniec Częstochowski reported that at 4 p.m. on August 1st, 1936, there was a broadcast of her piano recital.
In a letter from Bruno Schulz to George Pinette, Maria's cousin, written with the aim of arranging translation and publication of Cinnamon Shops in Italian, Schulz refers to Maria as Dr. Chasin, from which one can conclude that by the year 1937 she had obtained a PhD.
Maria had numerous social contacts. Her brother, Georges Rosenberg, lived in Paris and fought in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's troops, and later often spent time in Mexico. Her cousin, George Pinette, a journalist and impresario, lived in Milan. Maria was friends with Henri Barbuss, who was a member of the French Communist Party and a biographer of Stalin, as well as the French writer Romain Rolland, the sculptor Naum Aronson, and the Russian painter Aleksandra Pregel. She was often a guest in the home of her mother and stepfather, Michaił Tsetlin, where politicians, writers and artists such as Leon Baksta, Natalia Gontcharova, Michaił Larionov, Marevna, Diego Rivera, Amadeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Emile Antoine Bourdelle frequently met. These frequent visitors in the Tsetlin family home gave Maria's friend, Aleksandra Pregel, an opportunity to become influenced by contemporary artistic trends. Maria Chasin suggested to Schulz that he should meet her in a letter written in 1938:
Please call Aleksandra Pregel on behalf of Roman Tumarkin, her uncle and my friend, who is here in Zakopane temporarily and has been inquiring about when you can visit her. She is a Russian painter who has been living in Paris for a long time (…), a very rich woman with a lot of influence and many acquaintances who may prove useful to you. (…) Please call her right after you arrive (…) ask her for help and recommendations of art dealers and galleries. She knows all of the art critics in Paris.
Chasin introduced Schulz to many new people, such as Siegfrid Kraucauer, a German writer, literary scholar, film expert and sociologist living in Paris from 1939 to 1941, and then in New York. Schulz and Kraucauer became friends and maintained contact through letters.
Maria was a frequent visitor to Zakopane, where she spent holidays in the charming Villa Astoria on Droga do Białego Street (presently the Stefan Żeromski House of Creative Work, which hosts Poland's most eminent writers). Villa Astoria had rooms with balconies for 30 people. It was situated in a unique spot in Zakopane, on a short, quiet, charming street that led to the White Forest. The Biały Potok River flowed just beyond the villa's fence. It was a wonderful place, with Tatra valleys and trails leading up to mountain peaks. It was here in Zakopane in 1935, during one of her holidays, that Witkacy introduced her to Bruno Schulz.
After the war, Maria lived in New York. In a letter to Jerzy Ficowski, she recalled her relationship with Schulz as follows:
(…) it was an intense, unusual and long-term friendship. When letters no longer satisfied him, he travelled to Łódź to see me, often without warning, as if driven by inspiration (….) We had a shared understanding of everything that was invisible, imperceptible to others (….) I had many letters from him, which I buried in my garden before leaving Poland. My address was 46 Kościuszko Avenue in Łódź. I also had many of his drawings, and also a print which I gave to a famous pianist in Zakopane, Egon Petri, who was completely enchanted by it (…) Schulz's letters were buried in my garden before my departure for Warsaw a few months after the war began (…) I definitely buried them in a glass or metal container – in the garden opposite the window, where the watchman lived (…) They would be worth finding because of their content. It seems strange to me now that I subconsciously realized at that time the importance of saving these letters. I buried Bruno's letters, but I burned letters from my close French friends – Henri Barbusse and Romain Rolland.
Did Maria burn her Parisian friends' letters because she was afraid of something? Why did she not hide them in the garden with the letters from Bruno Schulz? Whether she destroyed them due to their political content is unknown, although it is certain that both Romain Rolland and Henri Barbusse were involved in pre-war communist activities, and were sympathetic towards Bolshevist and Stalinist causes. Perhaps Maria feared that her correspondence with them would cast suspicion upon her, and thus she decided to destroy their letters. Why did she treat letters from Bruno differently? She meticulously packed them into a container and hid them in the ground in the hope that someday she would come back for them, not aware of the imminent catastrophe. Years later she recalled:
(…) there were many intimate letters among them, for example about his feelings for me, as if for a person he knew only from his dreams, not from real life. What was decisive in our friendship was our comprehension of things that were incomprehensible and nearly nonexistent for others. Simultaneously – we translated these things into a shared, almost musical language – hearing things that were beyond words.
Many years later, Maria Chazen's brother, Gregory R. Marshak, recalled his sister's relationship with Schulz in a letter to Jerzy Ficowski:
(…) I know that he had very intense feelings for her, and even admiration, and that he wrote to her that for a long time he had dreamed of women like her and that finally this dream had come true.