The young man on the right in this photo is my father at age 20, playing chess with his friend Gustav Lamb in a suburb of Paris in the year 1925. On the back of the photo he wrote (in German): Mein Freund Gustav und ich beim Schachspiel in BoisColombes – Sept 1925 (Villa Osouf) dort wohnten wir.-
This means: “My friend Gustav and I playing chess in Bois-Colombes – Sept 1925 (Villa Osouf). We lived there.”
Nearly ninety-six years later, in July 2021, I took a train from Paris to Bois-Colombes (two stops on the J-line) and went looking for Villa Osouf, which turned out to be a pleasant little impasse off of Rue Victor Hugo, just a ten-minute walk from the station.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, the word Villa is often used in France to mean not just a free-standing house, but a gated neighborhood. Villa Osouf does indeed have a lockable gate at the entrance, but it was wide open when I was there, so I could go in and have a look.
There are seven houses in Villa Osouf, all built in the early 20th century, but I don’t know which one my father was living in.
During this period, from 1924 to the beginning of 1928, he was working for a wholesale costume jewelry company in Paris, the reason being that his home town (in what is now the Czech Republic) was a town where glass and costume jewelry were the main industries. His family had an export business, and through their contacts to business partners in France they were able to find a job in Paris for their youngest son, as well as a room where he could live in somebody’s house in Bois-Colombes.
Since the company he worked for in Paris was mainly an export company, he was gradually able to meet people from all over the world who were in the costume jewelry business, including a certain Mr. Morris from Morris, Mann & Reilly Inc. in Chicago.
Since 1999, Villa Osouf is one of eight streets in Bois-Colombes which are protected by a municipal zoning regulation aimed at preserving their “architectural harmony” by prohibiting any building projects that would disrupt “the specific character of the alignment or the architecture” of the houses.
Osouf is a family name, but not a very common one.
According to the French genealogical website Filae, Osouf is only the 17,877th most common family name in France, in other words it is quite rare. Since 1890, only 541 persons with that family name have been born in France. Osouf is a Norman name (i.e. from the Normandie region of France), but the name is of Germanic origin, coming from oswulf — os meaning a pagan god and wulf meaning wolf.
In eighth-century England there was briefly a king named Oswulf. He was king of Northumbria from 758 to 759, but he was murdered (as kings often were in those days) before completing the first year of his reign.
I suppose the most famous French person named Osouf was the sculptor Jean Osouf (1898–1996), who was taught or at least encouraged by Aristide Maillol. Currently in France there is a film director called Valérie Osouf, who is known particularly for her documentaries on post-colonial Africa.
P.S. The only thing I know about my father’s friend Gustav Lamb is that he later emigrated to Argentina. In 1931 he was living in Buenos Aires, according to my father’s address book for that year.
My photos and text in this post are from 2021.