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The Story of Ludwik Rostkowski (1894-1973)

He was born in 1894 in Moscow. From 1912, he studied medicine at Moscow University. Already, by that time, he was actively engaged in helping poor students, chairing the Fraternity to Help All Poor University Students. He was also one of the organisers of the Union of Progressive Independent Youth.

In 1922, he graduated in medicine at the Jagiellonian University, suspending his studies to take part in the Polish-Bolshevik War. He first job was in Wilna, at the Eye Clinic of the local university. There, he also took care of children suffering from trachoma, a chronic eye disease. As a volunteer, he also looked after children at the university's Children's Clinic. In 1926, he left to work in Zakopane.

In 1930, he graduated from the Wilna University as an ophthalmology specialist. During the following years, he devoted his career to fighting trachoma. From 1934, he managed an anti-trachoma clinic in Wilna and, at the same time, as part of the Red Cross in the Wileńskie Province, he organised so-called Czołówki – mobile eye clinics. In the second half of the 1930's, he led anti-trachoma activities throughout the country, at the same time working in the Health Department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Rostkowski served as an army doctor. In the second half of 1940, he joined the underground Liaison Committee of Democratic and Socialist Doctors in Warsaw, which provided medical assistance to members of the underground, people in hiding, as well as to Jews. Rostkowski also served in the Home Army's Warsaw District Sanitary Authority.

At the end of 1940, he started and edited an underground, medical periodical, popularly known as the "Abecadłem Lekarskim" (Medical Alphabet). Among others, he would publish articles about the situation of Jews in Polish territory. Of his role in that periodical, Lucjan Dobroszycki wrote, "In the initial period of occupation, during the establishment of the ghettoes and the banning of Jews from owning apartments and places of work, appeals were made to Polish doctors not to take over the practices of non-Aryans without their permission. In situations where this was enforced, it was recommended that the temporary owners look after the property of their colleagues and to secretly help them materially".  

Rostkowski  was also directly involved in helping the Jewish population. In October 1943, he headed the Medical Department of "Żegota", the Council to Aid Jews. He was helped in his work by his son Ludwik (pseudnym "Lutek"), at the time, a medical student. In a small room behind a restaurant on Krakowski Przedmieście, he met with "Żegota" activisits. Helena Kozłowska, relying on Rostkowski's reports, wrote this about his work with the Jewish population, "Dr Rostowski would learn about Jews in need of medical attention from the architectural engineer Emilia Hiżowa (Barbara), who belonged to the leadership of Żegota, sometimes also from another architectural engineer Romuald Miller (both leaders of the Democratic Party)  and from Mr Arciszewski (brother of a well-known PPS activist). (…) Dr Rostkowski was given the addresses of the people who needed help, with a rough description of the illness. With the help of his son, he recruited medical specialists or nurses to perform the treatments. (…) There were very many home visits. The number of visits Dr Rostowski would give to a single doctor varied from a few to several dozen monthly. For a certain period, there was not a day when a sick, non-Aryan was not visited".  

Rostowski also helped Jews in his apartment at 17 Senatorska Street, for which he was repeatedly risking arrest. Rostkowski's wife, Janina, recalls that period this way, "I don't remember their surnames. I don't remember their first names. I only remember the fear in  their eyes, fear which turned into terror at the sound of footsteps behind a door. Around fifteen would come through our door".

One of those in hiding was arrested by the Gestapo when he left his hiding-place. When told about this, the Rostkowski couple quickly left their apartment. A few weeks later, they returned, counting on the fact that the matter had died down. On 7th February 1944, Janina received confidential information from a municipal employee, a former patient of her husband's, that she needed to leave her apartment immediately. She hid in St. Ann's church. As she later learned, the Germans had come to their apartment. They were "visited" by the Germans on two other occasions – in mid-February and in April 1944.

During the period of the Warsaw Uprising, Ludwik Rostkowski worked in the Dzieciątka Jezus Hospital. He then left the city together with other civilians.

When the War ended, he initially worked in the Health Department of the Warsaw Municipal Authority and then later in the Trachoma and Ophthalmology Department of the Ministry of Health. Just as before the War, he devoted himself to fighting trachoma, establishing clinics around the country and preparing other doctors to combat the illness. He also committed himself to working in various community and professional organisations. He belonged to the Warsaw-Białystok Medical Chanber, the Union of Health Service Employees (from 1946), the Polish Society of  Ophthalmologists and the Eyesight Health Section of the Polish Health Association. In the years 1954-1958, he chaired the Ophthalmology Research Council of the Ministry of Health, the International Anti-Trachoma League, the French Ophthalmology Society, the Indian Ophthalmology Society and the Committee of Experts of the World Health Organisation. From 1945, he belonged to the PPS (Polish Labour Party) and, from 1948, he was a member of the PZPR (Polish Communist Party).

He died on 21st October 1973 in Warsaw and was buried in the Powązkowski Cemetery.

On 13th October 1997, his son, Ludwik (pseudonym "Lutek") was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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Bibliography

  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Lewinówna Zofia, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Warszawa 2007
    This publication consists of 3 parts: monographic outline of the issue of aid given to the Jews; collection of German and Polish documents concerning the histories of Jews and the aid given to them; collection of the post-war reports created by Poles and Jews about the aid.
  • Instytut Historii PAN (wyd.), Narodowy Instytut Audiowizualny (wyd. internetowy), Polski Słownik Biograficzny
  • Prekerowa Teresa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942-1945, Warszawa 1982
    A monograph concerning the Council to Aid Jews, an organization operating during the war in the Government Delegation for Poland and providing help to Jews, especially those hiding on “the Aryan side”.
  • Wojak T., Kęcik D., Docent Ludwik Rostkowski (1894-1973), „Okulistyka” 2009, nr 3