Freda Piatkowska (Lesniewska) was born in 1924 in Baronowicze, Poland to a retired military officer and his wife. She was one of six children, the oldest daughter. She was 15 years old on a freezing winter night when her family was awakened by Russian soldiers, ordered to get their belongings together and be out on the street in sixty minutes.
Her family, along with 700,000 other Poles, were taken by military vehicles to awaiting trains, whose railroad cars were packed full of so-called enemies of the state, intelligentsia, active and retired military personnel, and their families. It is in these cars that they stayed for weeks with little food or water, no light or heat, unable to lay down, with only a hole in the floor as a bathroom. The only stops were to remove the dead and the dying from the cars.
When Freda's family finally saw daylight, it was in the forests of Siberia at a forced labor camp that produced lumber. Her family lived with many other families, in overcrowded barracks that encouraged disease and undernourishment for two years.
Upon release from the camp in 1941, her family became refugees, unable to go home to Poland, which was at the center of World War II. They joined the ranks of over 100,000 refugees who heard about an opportunity to join forces with the British Army in Persia. They traveled by train, truck and foot to Kazakhstan, and finally by boat to the shores of Persia.
Freda contracted malaria and nearly died along the way. She was nursed back to health by the Persians in a temporary tent hospital. Her brother and sister joined forces with the British and left for Tehran, while the rest of the family was transported to India to await transport to the United States.
The USS Hermitage carried Freda's family from India to Australia, and finally to California in 1943. Unfortunately, FDR would not allow the 900 refugees on the boat in the country. They were locked up in the Japanese internment camp, unsure of what would happen next. It was through the grace of the Mexican government that these people would finally find refuge.
Armed guards put the group on a train south. The armed guards disembarked at the border, and the refugees received an incredibly warm welcome from the citizens of Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico. A Polish community was created at an old Hacienda orphanage just outside of Leon. It is in this community that my babcia married my dziadzi, Joseph, and had my mother, Elizabeth.
Freda would spend ten years in Mexico waiting for admittance to the United States, and in 1953, was finally able to settle in the Chicago area with her family.
Freda had every reason to be angry and bitter, but instead her resilience was remarkable. She never fully recovered from the illness she contracted in her earlier years, but our home was warm, filled with music, especially mariachi, which was her favorite. Spending time in the kitchen with her were the best memories in my childhood. She let me help her make pierogi, and a variety of polish desserts, but it was more than that. We connected in a bond that was indestructible.
Freda passed away in 2002, but my memories of her live on in her recipes, her funny sayings that I share with my children, and in my heart.
When I decided to create Freda's Kitchen, it was truly to recreate that kitchen magic. I've been joined by an incredible group of international chefs and home cooks who have their own family memories that they want to share, too. We all want people to come together to cook as family. It's not just about learning recipes, but to connect, relax, rekindle childhood memories, and share our collective cultural experiences.
Freda's Kitchen is a place in the heart. We don't have our own kitchen space, but we create magic wherever we go with every meal that we make together.
I hope you will come cook with us as family and leave with some new memories of your own.