Moussia 5: Her ancestry – the Sila-Nowicki family

Maria Sila-Nowicki (“Moussia”) was born 25 January 1895 in Moscow into an ancient hereditary Polish nobility who lived for centuries in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, country in Union with Poland since 1386. After the partition of  Poland at the end of the eighteenth century, the whole Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Central/Eastern Poland  was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The Nowicki family who had estates in the district of Lepel  (province of Vitebsk, now Belarus), lost it all after Napoleon’s  army passed through in 1812 and devastated the region. Maria’s family were like many Polish families who saw their survival in the professions or in the Russian Imperial Military service. They took university degrees in medicine, law or in technical fields. Since a decree of Catherine II ‘The Great’, these fields  were reserved for the hereditary nobility.

The grandfather of Moussia, Wiktor-Franciszek Sila-Nowicki (1813-1910), obtained in 1882 a decree from the Imperial Heraldry to return to the full use of the name Sila-Nowicki, lost in the 100 years before. This decree was extended to his wife and all his children and descendants  and required a proven genealogy going back to the late sixteenth century.

Wiktor, who had worked for the administration of the Imperial   Estates,  worked later in the Orel  and  Novgorod  district government but  remained a resident of Moscow. Later,  he became a director of a newly built railway system. This earned him two retirement pensions later in life. In 1895 he bought a small  estate, Wylagi in the parish of Kazimierz Dolny, province of Lublin, south-east of Warsaw in Poland.

In 1849, Wiktor married Julia, Baroness Witte von Wittenheim (1823- 1855) of a Baltic family. She died young, probably in childbirth of her fourth son Mieczyslaw who was to die soon thereafter. A Lutheran, she was buried in the Lutheran cemetary in Moscow. Wiktor was left with four small boys who had all been baptized Roman Catholics. In 1859 he married Jozefina Dowgiallo (1841-1908), from an ancient Lithuanian family. Jozefina was 28 years younger than Wiktor and was a most loving step-mother for his small sons, whom she brought up together with the five children she would have by Wiktor.The people on the picture above, taken in Moscow in 1878, are all children of Wiktor-Franciszek with Julia and Jozefina. All spoke fluent Polish in addition to Russian.

Moussia’s father Wiktor (1854-1917), then not yet married, is seated on the right, with his half-sister and godchild Stanislawa on his knee (1874 – died at Wylagi in 1952). Standing to the right is Julian who became a doctor of medicine (1861-1919). Standing in the middle is Wladyslaw (1850 – ?), a doctor of medicine. He was married to Eugenia Baranovsky, aunt of Moussia’s first husband Vladimir Baranovsky.The brother who sits behind a small table is Emanuel (1852-1917) who was Governor of Moscow in the rank of general during the february 1917 Revolution. The girl on the right is Jozefa (1867- died 1941 at Wylagi) and the girl sitting on the left is Zofia (1872 – died 1943). At the far left, standing : Helena, who remained unmarried (1859, Nowgorod -1901, Wylagi). Not shown is Alexander, who was born in 1878, the year the picture was taken, who died in 1941. He became a lawyer, having graduated from the University of Moscow, as had his brother Wladyslav, who became a doctor of medicine.

Alexander was the father of the famous Polish lawyer Wladyslaw Sila-Nowicki (1913-1994), Moussia’s full cousin, the intrepid lawyer of the Polish trade union Solidarnosc, who was sentenced in Poland by the communists to five death sentences and saved by a miracle (his eight companions were executed), but was  jailed for 10 years (released in 1956).

This family, like so many similar families in the same period, was torn apart by the Russian Revolution and again by the Second World War. Fate even drew some of them into different camps, as we will see later also for the Baranovsky family.

Emanuel and Wiktor were killed in the turbulence of the Russian revolution. So were two of the three sons of Julian. On 13 June 1905, Zofia and Stanislawa, in a double ceremony attended by Moussia then 10 years old  and her brother Julian of eight years, married in Kazimierz Dolny, Wladyslaw and Ignacy Dzierzynski, two brothers of the man already considered to be the renegade of the family: Felix, later the first chief of the Cheka, the feared Soviet secret police. Zofia’s husband Wladyslav Dzierzynski  became a famous neurologist. He was killed in Lodz, Poland by the Gestapo in 1942. Zofia herself died in a gulag near Alma Ata in Kazakhstan in 1943. Stanislawa’s husband Ignacy Dzierzynski (1879-1953) graduated with distinction in mathematics, physics, natural history and geography at Moscow University in 1904, became a teacher in Warsaw and later worked in independent Poland in the Ministry of Education. He died in Wylagi in 1953. Stanislawa and Ignacy had a daughter Wanda Jozefa (1906- 1914) and a son Olgierd Emanuel (1910 in Warsaw – 1995 in England).

Moussia’s first cousin Olgierd married Julia Anna Misterko (1910-1992 in Siena, Tuscany, Italy) in Kazimiersz Dolny and fought with General Sikorski’s Polish Army during the Second World war. After the war, he was stripped of his Polish nationality and inheritance by the communists and so was his only son, Andrzej Leszek Dzierzynski born 3 December 1936 in Warsaw. Andrzej is an artist painter, known  as André Dzierzynski, who lives in England and Tuscany.

André  Dzierzynski is the person who, very generously, made all this genealogical information available to me, including the family picture. He paints the landscapes of Tuscany in Italy  and the Provence in France, using the ancient technique of egg-tempera ( He has also been a rich source of information to me about his aunt Moussia, whom he has known personally.

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