Jerzy Skarbek had inherited a noble name, a rich family history, and little sense of restraint. The Skarbeks owned acres of land, an assortment of houses, a collection of farms, and stables full of thoroughbred horses, but by his mid-twenties Jerzy's indulgence in wine and women, roulette and racing had quickly diminished his income. In 1898 his family arranged for him to marry an exceedingly wealthy, clever and 'absolutely beautiful' Jewish banking heiress. In December that year, Stefania Goldfeder, newly baptized, was delighted to be embraced into the fold of one of Poland's oldest families. The marriage was solemnized in the rites of the Helvetic Reform Church, apparently acceptable to both the Roman Catholic Skarbeks and the Goldfeders, who were non-observant Jews.
The wedding caused a scandal, albeit a minor one. No one in Warsaw had any doubts about the bridegroom's motives, and there were some knowing smiles when the society pages chose to celebrate the Goldfeder family as belonging to 'a class of financiers actively involved in the task of the material reconstruction of our martyred nation'. Jews, once sheltered by the Polish Commonwealth, had been heavily discriminated against by the Russian occupiers, and although there was a small assimilated Jewish intelligentsia, most Polish Jews spoke a different language, ate different food and wore different clothes. They were a source of curiosity, to be patronized or avoided. Even assimilated Jewish families were still subject to social ostracism, and if Jewish doctors and lawyers were popular it was partly because they brought with them a certain sort of professional distance. Once Jerzy and Stefania's wedding ceremony was over, the members of the nobility and those of 'the financial circles' went their own ways, each with good reason to frown upon the motives of the other in this union. But while it was said that Jerzy did not marry Stefania, but rather he married her money, it is perhaps equally true that Stefania married the noble Skarbek name. The following year Jerzy bought a grand country estate at M?odzieszyn, which he felt both befitted a married man of his station, and was far enough removed to soften some of the noisier Warsaw gossip [Jerzy Skarbek is listed as the landowner of the Wechadlow estate, in the Pinczo district, where Christine probably lived until she was three years old, when they moved to Trzepnica].
Excerpted from The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley. Copyright © 2013 by Clare Mulley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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