THE Galkoff family of Liverpool needs no introduction. The history of Percy Galkoff’s green-tiled butcher shop has been the focus of a new exhibition about Liverpool Jewry at the city’s museum.
But how he came to the city has often been pondered — and often related incorrectly.
Southport-born great-grandson Lawrence, a broadcast consultant, explained: “There was always a story about him escaping the Russian army, where he was a drummer boy.
“They thought he went to New York first, then moved to the UK, ending up in Liverpool. It actually isn’t true.
“The records in Poland show he was discharged from the army in 1903.
“You could buy your way out at the time and pay someone to take your place, which is what he did.
“He got a passport, then, in 1904, he left.
“He literally, bought a train ticket, got on a boat to Hull and came to Liverpool.”
The 54-year-old, who has been involved with the production of major television events for several decades — including every UK general election since 1983, the Scottish Referendum, the UK European Referendum, American presidential elections, the Eurovision Song Contest and Glastonbury music festival — has been on a hunt to find out his late-great grandfather’s family history.
London-based Lawrence said: “We never thought we could find anything out. He never spoke about his past and we didn’t know about his family.
“I never knew him as he died before I was born.”
But it was during a trip to find a location for broadcasting a programme about the European elections around 10 years ago, that Lawrence realised he had the tools at his disposal to unlock his family history.
He said: “I look after BBC election programmes and had gone to Warsaw to meet a fixer (someone who sources locations) called Chris.
“I told him that my family came from Poland, but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find out more.
“He told me he was part of the research team for the programme Who Do You Think You Are?
“I forgot about it for a few years, but eventually found some time and called him.
“I told him that we had a map with the Polish town of Sieradz circled on it, which was Russian-occupied when Percy was living there.”
Lawrence’s contact sent a Russian-speaking interpreter to Sieradz, and then to Wroc — the nearest major city.
To his surprise, he started receiving emails with photographs of documentation regarding his family history.
He recalled: “They found documents showing that his grandfather was also called Percy, born in 1813, and it goes even further back as there was documentation about his parents.
“You suddenly find family members you never knew existed — it’s quite an emotional thing.
“It helped me discover more about his background, what kind of life he had and why he came here.
“Percy was raised in a small Polish village, and, having been there, you realise that life wasn’t pleasant — it wasn’t quite that villagey life you see in Fiddler on the Roof.”
Local residents told Lawrence that his family had money and savings to afford a train ticket and the boat to Hull, and that he came to the UK for a “better life”.
But, he added, Percy “never spoke about it”.
The reason why became clear very quickly.
He said: “He left most of his relatives behind in 1904. When you start looking back at the war records, most of them ended up in concentration camps.
“Not knowing what had happened could have caused a lot of guilt.”
Upon arriving in Liverpool, Percy opened the iconic Galkoff’s kosher butcher’s shop. The famous green-tiled frontage now forms the centre of a new exhibition.
“All he did was open a butcher’s shop, although he might have been a really good marketer given the fame those tiles have brought!
“It’s amazing, he really was in the right place at the right time.”
A film of Lawrence’s journey of discovery is available to view at the Museum of Liverpool’s exhibition ‘Galkoff’s and the Secret Life of Pembroke Place’.
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