‘Priceless’ Polish folk outfits stolen in Wicker Park smash-and-grab

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Soprano Marlena Dzis (right) wears a handmade Polish folk costume in a recent Lira Ensemble performance. The outfit she is wearing is one of five stolen from her car just before Christmas. | Photos by Warren Johnson, courtesy of Dzis.

After five handmade Polish folk outfits were stolen from her car in a smash-and-grab over the weekend, a Wicker Park woman spent most of Christmas rifling through dumpsters in search of the garments.

“It was such a beautiful day, Christmas, and for someone to steal something that represents your culture, your heritage and your family, it’s just so sad,” Marlena Dzis said.

Sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning, a thief or thieves smashed the back-passenger side window of Dzis’ 2012 white Hyundai Accent while the car was parked in the 1400 block of North Wicker Park Avenue.

Dzis said an olive green garment bag stuffed with five costumes on loan from The Lira Ensemble was the only thing taken from her car.

Each costume, representing a different region in Poland, is so fitted and customized that Dzis said the outfits would be difficult to fit anyone else. The priceless clothing is made in Poland and sewn by hand, including the beading and embroidery.

Office Thomas Sweeney, a Chicago Police spokesman, confirmed the theft, which happened sometime between 8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.

Dzis, a 31-year-old fundraiser for a school in Humboldt Park and a former music teacher, also sings soprano with The Lira Ensemble, a professional performing arts company specializing in Polish music, song and dance.

Members of The Lira Ensemble, including soprano Marlena Dzis, wear traditional Polish outfits. | Photos by Warren Johnson, courtesy of Dzis.

Members of The Lira Ensemble, including soprano Marlena Dzis, wear traditional Polish outfits. | Photos by Warren Johnson, courtesy of Dzis.

Dzis was born in Poland and moved to Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood with her parents when she was a child. She said joining the well-established Lira group four years ago was “a lifetime dream.”

She had expected to wear the handmade outfits, sewn and embroidered in Poland just for her, for as long as she could.

“People see their families in us, their mothers, their grandmothers. They see them in our faces and in the music we sing. It means the world to be able to do that for someone. I had planned to be with this company for a lifetime. These costumes are so hard to replace,” Dzis said.

Along with combing alleys and putting out the word on her Facebook page, Dzis said she spent the past few days calling 14 pawn shops, two resale shops in Wicker Park and the nonprofit group Gaia, in case the thieves happened to have ditched the contents of her garment bag into one of the many self-serve green donation boxes around the neighborhood.

At one point, Dzis said she even followed a garbage truck into a landfill and asked the driver what she should do.

“The dumpster guy said chances are one in a million because garbage gets compressed,” she said.

Dzis is thankful that a technician at Easy Auto Glass in Belmont Cragin stayed past closing time on Christmas Eve to replace the glass in her car window, after she drove 20 miles to a church in Morton Grove where she was contracted to do a non-Lira performance.

“I drove [to the church] with a shattered window. I was on my way to the church when I saw my car had been broken into. The church organist gave me a garbage bag and I taped it in the window until I got to the shop,” she said. She is scheduled to participate in two concerts next weekend and needs to wear the costumes.

“We are thinking of a Plan B, and it will require full communication with the other girls to see what they have. The director [of Lira] had a vision for these shows and that will have to change, unless someone sees these costumes,” Dzis said.

If anyone has seen the garments, or has tips, email marlenadzis@gmail.com

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