Tracing Percy Galkoff’s Polish routes

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Galkoff’s and the Secret Life of Pembroke Place is a partnership project between Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Museum of Liverpool. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, research has uncovered fascinating stories linked to this vibrant street from the 19th century to the present. The project focuses on two main heritage assets, Liverpool’s last surviving example of courtyard housing and P Galkoff’s kosher butchers shop. Today the shop's distinctive green tiled façade represents a sole remnant of a once thriving Jewish community in this area. In October 2017 the project team embarked on a research trip to Poland. They were joined by Lawrence Galkoff, the great-grandson of P Galkoff’s butchers shop owner Percy Galkoff.

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A plaque commemorating members of Warta's Jewish community

This trip was an exciting opportunity to uncover historic photographs and documents detailing the Galkoff family history, as well as to help paint a picture of the life Percy left behind in Poland when he moved to Britain in 1905.  The team followed Percy’s life across Poland, visiting archives in the small towns he lived and grew up in. At the State Archive in Lodz the team, along with researcher Agata Jujeczka, met with archivists who had identified birth records for Percy Galkoff (Perec Gelkop) as well as other family members.

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Lawrence Galkoff and researcher Agata Jujeczka view documents in Lodz

The next stop was to the small town of Warta, where Percy was born and lived until he was five years old. In the early 20th century the town’s population was around 5,000, half of which were Jewish. When the Second World War started this community was moved to a ghetto before being sent to the surrounding concentration camps. Although Percy left Poland in 1905, more than 60 members of the Galkoff family were killed during the Holocaust. With no surviving Jewish community in Warta today, the team met a local activist and historian campaigning to save the town’s one remaining Jewish cemetery. Next the team visited the State Archive in Sieradz. They were shown family archive documents such as a Book of Residents with a full listing of the Gelkopf family and their address (written after 1872) and a Card of Residents (a later system of the above – this time with a modern and identifiable street name). Due to recent PhD research that has enabled understanding of former street numbering, the location of the house was successfully found.

Man at the front door of a house

Lawrence Galkoff at the site of the house where his great-grandfather, Percy Galkoff lived

Today Percy’s family home is occupied by two modern houses that were built in the 1980s. The team discovered that Percy lived here from the age of five, and that the house is located just around the corner from the town’s synagogue. Although this building still stands, during the Second World War Nazis occupied the synagogue, which today has been converted into apartments and a builder’s workshop. Towards the end of the trip the team travelled to Warsaw to meet staff from POLIN, the Museum of Polish Jews. This was a brilliant opportunity to discuss the importance of explaining why individuals such as Percy decided to leave Poland during the early 20th century, as well as a chance to talk about the challenges and interest around Polish Jewish genealogical research. This research trip was incredibly important for the team, providing a true context of Percy’s life and journey to Britain.

Thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, work can now go ahead to preserve P Galkoff’s tiled façade, an iconic legacy of Liverpool’s Jewish history. The culmination of this work will be the recreation of the tiled frontage of P Galkoff’s, returned to its original finery at the Museum of Liverpool. This will be part of an exhibition that will reveal the Secret Life of Pembroke Place, due to open in October 2018.