In this third chapter on my Great Great Grandfather Theodore Puchalski’s revolutionary adventures, I focus on his final exile to Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire. Theodore arrived in Istanbul around 1850 and spent the rest of his life there. Although very little documentary evidence about him survives, his life can to some extent be re-imagined through the evidence of other Polish exiles and the events that took place which he would have been a part of.
Arrival in Istanbul
Many of the Poles exiled in France from the 1830-31 revolt took up arms again in 1848 when a tide of Revolts swept across Europe, fighting in campaigns in Italy, Austria and Hungary. We do not know for certain which Theodore joined, except that the vast majority of refugees who ended up in Turkey, were participants of the Hungarian Revolution.
Although initially a refuge, for many Turkey became a permanent home due to its proximity to their main enemy, Russia, and potential further opportunities to make incursions to restore the state of Poland in the future. The Polish government in exile, Hotel Lambert in Paris, did nothing to discourage this and had in fact established the Agency of the Polish Eastern Mission (Agencja Główna Misji Wschodniej) in Istanbul, headed up by Michał Czajkowski (aka Mehmed Sadik Pasha) to organise the Poles and liaise between Paris and the Sublime Porte (i.e. Ottoman government administration in Istanbul). Michał Czajkowski was the principle negotiator in the purchase of land for the establishment of the Polish colony of Polonezkoy in 1842 and he also established an Ottoman Cossack military unit which saw some action in the Balkans during the Crimean War.
In 1850, Czajkowski was a key figure in securing the transfer of Polish refugees to Istanbul from the camp at Shumla in Bulgaria. He and his wife used their house in Cihangir as a receiving centre for the new polish emigrés, acting as a go between for them and the Sublime Porte. Theodore is not listed in the census of Polish refugees in Istanbul which was sent to the Sublime Porte in March 18501, so he probably arrived a little later.
Polish Life in Pera
Arriving in the European part of the city, Theodore would have found himself living in a real melting pot of different nationalities, religions and cultures. Paulina Dominik’s review of polish emigré experiences in Istanbul2 provides a detailed account of the Polish community that emerged. Their arrival marked a massive influx on the local Levantine population which was dominated by French and Italian communities. The number of exiles was estimated to be as high as 7000 in the 1850s. However the Turks tended to see all Hungarians, Slavs, Dalmatians, Romanians and Poles etc as one homogeneous group so the actual number of Poles may have been much lower.
Many of them settled in the Pera district (now Beyoğlu) in an area that became known as leh mahallesi (Polish neighbourhood) which formed around the side street Leh Sokagi (Polish Street or Rue de Pologne, now called Nur-i-Ziya) which was just off the Grand Rue de Pera (now Istiklal Kaddesi). This street used to house the Polish legation to the Sublime Porte and later a recruiting office for Poles signing up for the Russo-Ottoman War in 1877. None of these buildings survive today but the street is still there.
The emigrés also settled in a number of other districts including Tatavla and Yeni Sehir (now Kurtulus) and the village of Bebek on the Bosphorus which was considered a little Polish colony. Here they built their wooden houses in the Polish style. A few also went to the already established Polish community of Polonezkoy about 15km outside the city.
The Polish community were real nationalists and liked to congregate in Polish bars and cafes such as the Bulbul cafe on Grande Rue de Pera and the family homes of compatriots. Here they would listen to poetry recitals, lectures on Polish literature or discuss politics.
They were mostly Roman Catholic. The churches they frequented included St Antony of Padua on the Grande Rue de Pera, which was also popular with the Italian community, the St Esprit Cathedral, situated around Pangalti/Sisli (the composer Donizetti is buried there), and the Georgian church of Notre Dame de Lourdes, also in the Sisli district north of Taksim Square. The first record found for Theodore in 1853 comes from the church of St Mary Draperis, also on Grande Rue de Pera which suggests he lived in Leh Mahallesi neighbourhood. A few years later family records appear in the St Esprit Cathedral in Sisli/Pangalti.
Click on the icons in the map below for the location of some of these Polish haunts.
There was little social contact between the Poles and their Turkish hosts. The Poles were grateful for the support they received from the Turks and saw them as allies, but had no desire for assimilation. A small number of army officers from the Polish campaigns had converted to Islam in order to protect themselves from extradition and probable execution including Michał Czajkowski. The Sultan encouraged this further by offering them lucrative positions in the Ottoman army, the administration and the major industries but it was very unpopular with the rank and file Polish who regarded this as apostasy and a betrayal of their nationalist cause.
The Poles did however successfully integrate with their Levantine neighbours, through their shared Catholicism and political interests. For instance like Theodore, many of the Poles had lived in exile in France or fought alongside Italians during the 1848 Revolts so were familiar with their languages and traditions too. Marriages between these communities was not uncommon as exemplified by Theodore’s own marriage around 1852-3.
A New Life and Family in Istanbul
Theodore married Angela Ainis (aka Ainisi) who came from Messina in Sicily. She was very young at around 15 years old while he was about 41. The marriage record has not been found but it is assumed from other records that it took place in Istanbul.
So what was Angela doing in Istanbul and how did she get there? The name Ainis turns out to be quite rare and is almost entirely confined to Sicily, specifically around Messina, apart from a few families in Northern Italy and the USA and a small concentration found also in Indonesia! There are civil records online for Messina3 which so far have turned up three birth records for Angela Ainis/Ainissi in Messina, that tally with dates and her age as recorded on her death register. These are:
- Angela born 18 February 1836 to Domenico Ainis and Nicoletta Allegra.
- Angela born 20 September 1837 to Giuseppe Ainis and Santa de Francesco, occupation trafficante (translates as dealer). At least one child from this family emigrated to the USA. It seems unlikely family members would migrate in opposite directions.
- Angela born 27 September 1837 to Rosario Ainis and Emilia Nascio, occupation proprietor (property or business owner).
So, one possibility is that she was the daughter of a family who migrated and became Levantine traders. There was a major industrialist in Messina called Gaetano Ainis, born 1840. According to the Italian National Biography4, he ran a very large textile business, established in the 1830s by his father, with trade links in the Middle East, but at this stage it is impossible to say if there is any connection to the families above.
Another possibility is that her parents joined the 1848 Revolts and also ended up as refugees in Turkey. One of the first of the 1848 Revolts took place in Sicily and particularly focused around Palermo and Messina. As was observed in my last post however, the Italian refugees were largely dispersed to Gallipoli.
I have commented before on the great age disparities seen in marriages of this period which often amounted to contractual arrangements between families. By modern and particularly western standards, the very young age at which girls were married off would be considered completely inappropriate, but in those days women and children had the status of “chattels” or property and their own wishes and desires were completely subordinate to the patriarch of the family. Their options were very constrained and their financial security was precarious. The circumstances around Theodore and Angela’s marriage are a mystery. It seems unlikely that this was a marriage for love, but was it for status or protection? What perhaps it does tell us is that Theodore had managed to establish himself as a reasonable prospect by 1853. Many of the refugees had nothing more than the clothes they stood up in when they arrived in Istanbul. A man could not expect to find himself a wife unless he had a means of supporting her.
Theodore and Angela went on to have four children:-
Christina Josephine (my Great Grandmother) was born 9 December 1853. She was baptised on 22 January 1854 at the church of St Mary Draperis in Pera, Istanbul. Her Godparents were Jozef Ratynski and Regina Ozerski.
Sophia (known as Sophie) born 21 July 1857, baptised 9 August 1857 at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godfather was Joannes (John) Lizorksi or Zicorski and Godmother Zofia Ratynski (nee Gorcynska, Jozef’s wife).
Maria (known as Marie) born 31 July 1860, baptised 11 November 1860 also at St Esprit Cathedral. Her Godparents were Charles and Maria Theobald.
Leonard Roman born 10 February 1867, baptised 24 February at St Mary Draperis. His Godfather was Placido Ainis (possibly a brother, uncle or cousin of Angela) and his Godmother was his eldest sister, Christina.
By all accounts, the family life of the Puchalskis was for many years quite comfortable. My grandma passed down stories of hunting trips and picnics in the forest which she thought had taken place in Poland but must actually have been in the Belgrade Forest north of Istanbul or around the wooded farmlands of Polonezkoy.
The children appear to have been well educated with all three girls able to read, write and draw fluently, to sew and to play musical instruments. A photo survives somewhere of Christina with a violin while an old letter talks of Marie playing the harp. As was typical of the Levantine families in the eastern Mediterranean, Christina and her siblings spoke several languages. This was of course an absolute necessity when your mother is Italian, your father Polish, and your community French-speaking. It’s believed Christina also spoke Russian. The language she spoke least well was English!
The Ratynski Connection
The presence of Jozef and Zofia Ratynski as godparents to two of the children is significant and very interesting. Jozef was another Polish refugee from the Hungarian Revolt who became a prominent and very wealthy entrepreneur and member of the Polish establishment in Istanbul, sufficient to warrant an entry in the 47 volume Polish National Biography5. A key question is whether he was chosen to be a godparent as a family friend or as a patron. Often families would ask a parish priest, doctor or a community leader to be a godparent as a sort of insurance policy for the child.
My feeling is that Jozef was a family friend because he and Theodore seem to have had a few more things in common than just their nationality. Jozef was born in Kamieniec Podolski (then part of Greater Poland, now Kamianets-Podilskyi, Ukraine). According to one family member (Frank Calleja b.1892), the Puchalskis originally came from the Kiev area, also part of Ukraine on the border with Galicia. He and Theodore both started out in Istanbul as woodworkers, Jozef was a carpenter and Theodore was a cabinet maker. These were valuable skills when they arrived because Polish (and Ottoman) houses were always built in wood and the Polish community had to set to work to build their own communities.
As an example, in 1861, the Georgian church, Notre Dame de Lourdes, was built in the Feriköy/Sisli district of Istanbul. Jozef Ratynski is known to have designed and made the altar piece which includes an image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa which was paid for by the Polish community (Dominik).
In an interesting blog about this church its author questioned what a Polish altar piece was doing in a Georgian church and this provides the answer!
Jozef Ratynski soon moved on from carpentry. He went into partnership with another Polish emigré called Henryk Groppler. Now Groppler had a house in Bebek that like Michał Czajkowski’s, also acted as a receiving house for new Polish arrivals. It was also renowned as one of the cultural meeting places for Polish recitals and debates. It seems likely therefore that if Theodore knew Ratynski, he must also have come into contact with Groppler, perhaps in the early days of settlement. Groppler was a watchmaker and jeweller by trade but he and Ratynski branched out and became co-owners of a marble mine in Bandirma, exporting across the Mediterranean. They both became extremely rich to the extent that they were able to buy their own fleet of ships! When eventually the marble trade went into decline, they moved on to mining gypsum.
Polish Politics in Istanbul
Although we have no further documentary evidence on Theodore’s life in Istanbul, an enduring family legend has been that his involvement in the Polish revolts led to him leaving his children in an orphanage for safe keeping. As we can now be fairly sure that Theodore was involved in the two Revolts (1831 and 1848) that took place before any of his children were born, we can safely assume his interest in Polish politics did not disappear when he settled in Istanbul and it is indeed likely that he participated in some way in the later actions.
In 1853-56 during the Crimean war, the Polish national poet, political activist and all round national Polish hero Adam Mickiewicz arrived in Istanbul to meet with Michał Czajkowski. His mission was to recruit Poles in support of the Ottomans against Russia. The bigger picture was to remove Russia from Crimea and then move on to reclaim Poland. Consequently Mickiewicz visited and spoke at many of the Polish cultural haunts and would have been a massive draw for patriotic Poles. It seems highly likely Theodore would have attended one of these meetings and Ratynski and Groppler are certainly believed to have been involved. Did Theodore take up arms again, we don’t know? At that time, his wife was expecting their first child, my Great Grandmother Christina. Maybe on this occasion he provided support in some other capacity.
Unfortunately, on 26 November 1855, Mickiewicz succumbed to the latest cholera epidemic that had broken out in Istanbul and died. The Poles along with the wider Slav community in Istanbul were utterly devastated by the news. A letter from one of his friends describes the scene of his funeral procession down to the port for his transportation back to France6 :
“A pair of oxen pulled a plain casket through the muddy streets of Beyoğlu. I assumed there would be nobody but us Poles taking part in the procession, but it wasn’t long before we understood how wrong I was. A teeming mass of mourners wearing black filed in behind us, covering the street. People from all nations were present, Serbians, Dalmatians, Montenegrians, Albanians, Italians, with Bulgarians in the majority. This was their way of showing respect for the genius of the Slavic poet.”Years later Mickiewicz’s wooden house burned down. Groppler suggested building a memorial to the poet on the site but Ratynski was determined to go one better and built a stone replica of the original house. Some of Mickiewicz’s internal organs are buried in a tomb in the basement of the building. The house remained in the ownership of Ratynski’s descendants until very recently. In 1955 it was made into the Mickiewicz Museum and in the 1990s was bought by the Polish government7. Sadly, it has now permanently closed.
1863 January Rising
The January Uprising of 1863-4 was largely a guerilla campaign of Polish insurgents involving numerous small units of badly trained men from the artisan, lower gentry and intelligentsia. It emerged in the lands of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a reaction to greater Russification and suppression of Polish culture culminating in a law forcing conscription of all young men into the Russian army. The Uprising involved around 1200 battles and skirmishes against a standing Russian army of around 300,000.
The leaders found some diplomatic support from the other Western powers but nothing in the way of concrete financial or military help. However in Istanbul, many members of the Polish diaspora did try to help. It was this conflict that I think gave rise to the family legend that Theodore had his young children placed in an orphanage in order for him to return and fight for his country. His compatriot Ratynski was involved in securing munitions and helped to organise a unit to return to Poland. This contingent left Istanbul in 1863 and got as far as Moldova before being beaten back. We just do not know if Theodore was actually part of this action but it is interesting to note that Christina and Sophie would have been 10 and 6 years old respectively while Marie was just a toddler. The story has come down Christina’s line but not Marie’s but she would have been just too young to have any memory of this. As it happens there are no records for any of the children being placed in an orphanage at this time so it appears this story has been mixed up with other unrelated events that happened later on.
The revolt in Poland was completely defeated in 1864 and once again led to massive and very harsh reprisals against insurgents causing a fresh wave of refugees to flood into Istanbul.
The last conflict involving the Poles was the Russo Ottoman War of 1877-78 in which the Ottomans were soundly beaten. It seems unlikely that Theodore took any role in this as he was by this time quite elderly. The failure of this campaign and waning support from the Ottoman regime however caused many Poles to give up all hope in further insurrections and become completely resigned to the terminal loss of their homeland.
The loss of hope in the Polish national cause seems to have coincided with a decline in the Puchalski’s domestic fortunes, as the family sadly fell apart and into penury.
Angela died aged just 36 in Sept 1873, cause unknown. She was buried in a “temporary” grave in the Ferikoy Latin RC Cemetery, so the family clearly did not have any money to buy a plot and perhaps Theodore was unable to work or make enough to make ends meet.
At this time, Christina was working as a dress designer and living above the shop at Madame Demilleville’s, 303, Grande Rue de Pera. Her sister Sophie was 16 so may have worked there too but she was soon to marry (in February 1874 to a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Burguy).
This left their 61 year old father with Marie age 13, who had lifelong eyesight problems and was possibly blind, and 6 year old Leonard. My Great Grandfather Henri Callus had been ‘courting’ Christina around this time, but years passed and by the age of 30 people must have long considered her “left on the shelf”. It is now clear that this was because she had a duty as the eldest child, to look after her father.
In July 1874, Marie was placed in the St Joseph’s orphanage on Boğazkesen Caddesi where she was to remain until March 1876. Her brother Leonard was known throughout his adult life as Leonard Brossart, which makes me suspect that he may have been fostered out or even adopted by another family.
In the early 1880s scandal rocked the family. Marie was given an eye operation by a very famous ophthalmologist of international repute and standing called Dr Edwin van Millingen. This took place at the St Joseph’s orphanage where perhaps she had gone back to, to work. In the old fashioned sense of the word, he seduced her and she became pregnant. Marie’s baby called Mary, was born in Graz in Austria in June 1880. As Edwin had done his medical training in Vienna he must have sent her there for her confinement as Marie would certainly not have had the means to do so on her own. Inevitably, when she returned with the baby the truth got out.
It must have been a huge scandal at the time, as for one, Edwin was already married and for two, he resolutely refused to give her up despite the class divide and the approbation of his family and society at large. He must have set her up in another house because in 1882, they had a second child together, which they called Edwin. It seems (in what must have been quite a rare state of affairs), the seducer did not abandon his quarry because he was in fact madly in love with her. (Her grand daughter Cora told me she also happened to be incredibly beautiful)!
Meanwhile Sophie was abandoned by her husband who went to live in Marseille, presumably with another woman, leaving her with 2 young children to feed on her own and no income. So she found work in the Pera district as a seamstress and “modiste” (bonnet maker).
Both situations must have been very hard for Theodore to take and it seems likely led to estrangement from his youngest daughter. He died in 1882 aged 70 and was also interred in a temporary grave in Ferikoy cemetery.
In 1884 the law in France was changed to allow divorce and Sophie immediately instigated it. The same month her divorce came through, Christina was finally able to marry Henri at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Galata. Unusually the marriage is also registered with the church of St Anthony of Padua and when the couple moved to Cardiff in the UK the following year, they registered the marriage again with the British Registry Office. It seems they were determined to ensure that no impediment would be allowed to separate them again. Finally in December 1884, Edwin’s Austrian wife Johanna died and just 10 days later, he married Marie (with their third child on the way)!
So what to make of my revolutionary forebear? It is puzzling that his children did not provide a decent burial although of course it may be that it was genuinely beyond their means. Or it may be that they found their father hard to love – a romantic idealist forever looking back to an imagined golden age and wishing for a future that could never be realised? Such people can be hard to live with; uncompromising in their goals, inflexible and dogmatic in their values and beliefs. Maybe they felt as a family they had already sacrificed enough. Can it be a coincidence that all the children changed their surnames to a Frenchified version – Pouhalski/y apart from Leonard whose name changed to Brossart (also French)! Surely something that Theodore the patriot could not possibly have tolerated in his lifetime?!
Ultimately though I feel rather sad that Theodore and Angela ended up in pauper graves. Theodore was one of many exiles who took big risks, traveled enormous distances across Europe and made great sacrifices for the Polish cause yet died penniless and in obscurity, far from his beloved homeland. I hope therefore that my retelling of this story will serve as a way of providing some recognition for his and his compatriots’ efforts.
I would like to thank the very long list of individuals who have helped me with this research including: Guido Buldrini, Marie Ann Marandet, Craig Encer, Andrew and Armina Callus, Judith Mulcahy, Archives of St Vincent de Paul & the Sisters of Chariteé in Paris, Paulina Dominik, Beata Page, Magda Glodek at the Bibliotheque Polonaise Paris, members of the Citi-data Forum.
1 List of Polish Refugees sent to the Sublime Porte, March 1850, Archives of the National Ossoliński Institute in Wroclaw, AZNiO 6514/I.
2Dominik, P. (2015), From the Polish Times of Pera: Late Ottoman Istanbul through the Lens of Polish Emigration. History Takes Place: Istanbul. Dynamics of Urban Change, (eds.) Anna Hofmann & Ayşe Öncü, Jovis Verlag, GmbH, 2015, 92-103.
3Civil Record Archives for Messina at: Antenati – Gli Archivi per la Ricerca Anagrafica
4Italian National Biography at: http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/gaetano-ainis_(Dizionario-Biografico)/
5Polski Slownik Biograficzny (volumes 30 and 34).
A Georgian Church in Istanbul at: https://georgiasomethingyouknowwhatever.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/a-georgian-catholic-church-in-istanbul/
6 Letter excerpt from T.T. Jez at https://humaozay.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/adam-mickiewicz.html
More maps of Polish Istanbul at: http://polskistambul.blogspot.co.uk/ (English language version no longer available).