The relationships of Andre Citroen, Poland and it’s capital Warsaw, seem to be much closer than we could have guessed.
Andre Gustave Citroen was born on February 5, 1878, in Paris, as the fifth child of Louis Citroen and Masha Amalia Kleinmann, the lady born and raised as a Varsovian. Andre’s paternal grandfather was Barend Limoenman of Dutch origin. Andre’s grandpa’s family sold exotic fruit. Over time, however, they became involved in jewellery and diamond trading. Then, Barend Limoenman and his family moved to Paris. Due to the difficulty in pronouncing Limoenman, he decided to change his surname to Citroen. Parents of Andre Citroen’s future mother, Masha Amalia Kleinmann, namely Isaac and Miriam Kleinmann, lived in Warsaw during the partitions in the Kingdom of Poland. This time was difficult for the Polish nation and other ethnic groups.
Mr and Mrs Kleinmann had eleven children: Bernard, Salomea, Julia, Amalia, Balbina, Eleonora, Anna, Flora, Tekla, Jonas, Michael. They owned a tenement house on 49 Królewska Street in the so-called “Northern District” and occupied a sizeable eight-room apartment on the second floor. The tenement house did not survive until our time (GPS coordinates 52.237067, 21.003756). It was hit by bombs already in the first days of World War II mainly because of its location in the very centre of Warsaw. During the Warsaw Uprising (1944), it experienced a real siege, becoming a silent witness to the heroically fighting insurgents in defence of their city against the invader and there’s no sign of the building today.
Izaak Kleinmann was a merchant and had a monopoly on selling salt from a mine in Wieliczka in the Kingdom of Poland. Thanks to this venture, he was a wealthy man for that time. Despite being the father of eleven, money was not a problem for him, and so he looked around Europe for suitable husbands for his eight daughters. He was an emancipated, modern Jew, a cosmopolitan who fluently spoke German rather than Polish. He felt better in Berlin or Vienna than in Warsaw. Kleinmann daughters received a thorough education, they knew foreign languages, they were pretty, wealthy, and their father quickly found spouses among Dutch, German, French Jews, educated gentlemen, devoid of complexes. The most beautiful and probably the luckiest of the ladies was Amalia because she married the Dutch banker Louis Citroen.
The wedding of Maza Amalia and Louis Citroen took place in Warsaw on October 31, 1870, in one of the Hasidic prayer houses. The newlyweds went to live in Paris. They had five children: Jeanne (1872), Hugues (1873), Fernande (1874), Bernard (1875), and of course the said youngest son Andre (1878).
Amalia, who went to Paris, missed her family and the Vistula Region, as the Kingdom of Poland was commonly named. Her contacts with the family left behind in Warsaw were mainly by letters. An interesting fact of this correspondence was that Amalia wrote the letters to her family in German. In 1884, when Andre Citroen was only 6, his father Louis Citroen committed suicide during a nervous disorder. At this point, all the family chores, as well as running a jewellery business fell on Amalia. However, she was a strong woman who did not give up and tried at all costs to face the difficulties and meet all the challenges.
Meanwhile, in Warsaw in 1888, the energetic Isaac Kleinmann dies. He was buried next to Gustav Horowitz’s prematurely deceased son-in-law in the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw at Gesia street, which today is Okopowa street. His tomb survived, and it also contains Polish inscriptions (Sector 32, row 19, no. 58, pl M). GPS coordinates 52.246507, 20.974729.
Amalia’s grandparents and parents could not go to Paris, as they had many problems with arranging more children and running their own salt business, which filled their time. No photograph of the Kleinmann grandparents survived until today. Family photos were destroyed and burned during the Warsaw Uprising.
In the summer of 1891, Miriam Kleinmann and her daughter Julia Horowitz went on vacation. Part of the family decided to go to a guest house in Otwock near Warsaw. However, Miriam Kleinmann refused to go to Otwock together in exchange for a trip to Ciechocinek with her granddaughter Janina. The granddaughter, on the other hand, did not want to go with her grandmother as she hoped to enjoy bathing and playing together with her peers. Mrs Miriam Kleinmann took offence at everyone and went to Ciechocinek with her son Jonas. During her stay in Ciechocinek, Mrs Kleinmann got a twist in her stomach after overeating with raspberry and died.
Miriam Klienmann’s funeral took place at the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. All Miriam’s daughters came from abroad: Eleonora, Flora from the Netherlands, Anna, Balbina, Amalia from Paris and Tekla from Germany. The Warsaw siblings hosted them. For Amalia, as it later turned out, this was the last visit to Poland. She came alone, leaving all her children at home. It was also the last great meeting of the Kleinmann family. The gathering filled with aristocratic ladies in big hats with feathers and rustling dresses who decided to attend the funeral ceremony. They brought suitcases filled to the brim, furs, and expensive gifts. During the funeral ceremonies, there was no ending to sobs and lamentations, as the tradition of the Judaic religion dictates, but all this despair was just for show. Miriam Kleinmann was rather famous for her callousness and selfishness among the family, which is why her death did not move anyone in the family. Andre Citroen’s grandmother’s grave is in Warsaw at Okopowa Street (sector 5, row 26, No. 65) GPS coordinates 52.245342, 20.97739.
But let’s go back to 1891. The death of Miriam Kleinmann caused a considerable change in the life of one of Miriam’s daughters, Julia Horowitz and her nine children who lived in Warsaw. Wealthy siblings waived all the inheritance rights after the deceased mother for the benefit of Julia. She inherited a tenement house at 49 Królewska Street and cash capital. Thanks to this decision, Julia did not have to worry about dowries for girls or money to teach her sons. At one point, she became a wealthy person.
After grandma Miriam Kleinmann’s funeral, they all went to their homes, including Amalia Kleinmann. As I mentioned earlier, Amalia Citroen’s contact with her family was mostly by letters; however, Julia’s daughters visited aunt Amalia in Paris. Around 1896-1897, Miriam Kleinmann’s granddaughter Janina visited Paris. She was delighted to stay at Amalia Citroen’s house.
And this is where we stop for a while for an exciting story. Janina was shown around Paris by Amalia’s 17-year-old son, Andre Gustave. Once, they went to Versailles together. Unfortunately, there was a large crowd at the entrance, so without further ado, young Andre, slightly raised his bowler, and said briefly “La Presse”. At that moment the people parted, letting Andre and his cousin Janina pass, so they could quickly visit the Palace and the gardens. Janina mentioned this incident many times, as then she thought, young Andre would go high and, as you can see, she was not mistaken. Janina’s stay in Paris was enjoyable.
Aunt Amalia liked her niece and took her everywhere, showed her around friendly fashion houses, Paris museums, bought many beautiful things, and dresses. She also promised to guide Janina’s future. But, as it usually happens, life played a trick on Janina. Suddenly, it turned out that at the moment Janina wanted to inform her mother about her plans for the future, the postman unexpectedly brought a letter advising that Janina should return to Warsaw. Her sister Kamila decided to go to study in Berlin, and Janina did not want to leave her mother, Julia alone in Warsaw
In 1899, just two years after Janina’s visit to Paris, the mother of Andre Gustave – Masha Amalia Citroen – died at the age of 48. The funeral took place on May 25, 1899, in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Her untimely death had a significant impact on the future of her youngest son Andre.
On January 24, 2020, at the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street, a meeting took place between Mr Remigiusz Sosnowski – Cemetery Administrator, Mr Jedrzej Chmielewski – editor of the largest French automotive portal in Poland Francuskie.pl, Mr Michał Bojańczyk – husband of the great-granddaughter Jeanne Goldfeder primo voto Citroen and Mr Ryszard Olszewski, researcher of the ties between the Citroen family with Warsaw and Poland. The primary purpose of the meeting was to accurately identify the graves and write down their geographical GPS location.