“Żegota” Children's Department Established 75 Years Ago

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 24 August 2018
On 16th August 1943, a Children's Department was established within the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”. The Council was set up on 4th December 1942 by the Government Delegation for Poland. The new Department was to “care for orphans and other Jewish children in need of care and to place then into institutions or with private families”. The Department was headed by Aleksandra Dargielowa, pseud. “Teresa” (1890–1959), who was a teacher and social activist. During World War II, she headed one of the Warsaw offices of the Central Welfare Council. One of the Department's staff was Irena Sendler, who would later lead it.

The Children's Department was the third department within the “Żegota” structure, the other two being the Housing Department (1st April 1943) and the Outreach Department (1st July 1943). It continued the support activities aimed at Jewish children which, for several months previously, had been conducted by Irena Sendler and her co-workers (including Jadwiga Piotrowska and Irena Schultz) from the Warsaw Municipal Social Welfare Department, as well as by Izabella Kuczkowska from the Human Protection Department of the Community Self-Help Organisation and which was supported financially by the Council. From the moment of its establishment, those under the care of the network of social workers came under the direct care of “Żegota”.

The minutes of the Council presidium meeting held on 16th August 1943 read [original spelling for: T. Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942–1945, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warszawa 1982, pp. 379-380]:

2. Miss D. [Aleksandra Dargielowa] is invited by Mr Mikołaj [Leon Feiner] to be a candidate for supervisor of care for children. Mr Marek [Ferdynand Arczyński] presents Miss D's activities in this area within the Council to this time, among them being within the Council's direction planning and intentions. He also recommends agreement with the WOC, the SOS [the Human Protection Department  of the Community Self-Help Organisation], which already had information in this area which is available to Miss D.

Miss D. presents three possibilities for the placement of children: 1. convent and RGO orphanages, 2. health-care facilities which have the option of placement into private homes, 3. the creation of new facilities, e.g. branches of “Our Home” in Bielany.

Mr. Marek proposes a meeting of understanding between Miss D. and Miss Jolanta [Irena Sendler], to which Miss D. agrees.

It was agreed that Miss D. be supervisor of childre care matters conducted by the Council with a salary of 1,000 zł per month. […]

4. Mr. Trojan (Julian Grobelny) proposes the creation of a committee comprising Miss Iza, Jolanta, Miss D. and Mr. Mikołaj and Mr Bor[owski] [Adolf Berman] to deal with child matters. The proposal was accepted.

As Anna Bikont states in her book Sendlerowa. W ukryciu, original documents, dated September 1943, regarding the work of the department have been preserved in the archive of the kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot. On the scraps of paper, Aleksandra Dargielowa wrote that, within one month, she had received 25,000 zł from the Council and, in August, “thirty-six cases had been dealt with – twenty-two were being dealt with – fifty-eight cases in total”. The same piece of paper has written upon it “the number of children”: five hundred and seventy-five – in local municipal establishments (probably those of the Father Boduen Small Children's Home) fifty-three, in RGO institutions twenty-two, and in communal facilities (probably convents) five hundred children. The financial requirements of the Department for October were set at 120,000 zł.

“This development, which is extremely important, depends, however, on the amount of funds which the Council cannot unfortunately provide. The budget allocated by the Council to this department is around 30,000 zł. Therefore, Jewish organisations have made a special subsidy for this purpose in October in the amount of 50,000 zł, as such an amount was necessary to meet present needs” – from a report on the Council's activities for the period from December 1942 to October 1943. [T. Prekerowa. dz. cyt., p. 395].

In September 1943, Aleksandra Dargielowa tendered her resignation as head of the department due to her excessive work obligations in the RGO. From the beginning of October, Irena Sendler became head of the department which, at that time, was caring for ninety-nine chidlren.

Read the story of the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”

Among the articles are those presenting profiles of Council members, the Council's structure, its modes of operation and how it has been commemorated in Poland and Israel, as well as memorabilia from the collection of POLIN Museum.