At POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we wish to remember those Jews who helped other Jews on the “Aryan side” in occupied Poland. The Yad Vashem Institute does not honour these people with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, as that title is only bestowed upon non-Jews. They, also, are Righteous, as understood in the broad and universal accepted sense of the word – they are people who opposed the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany. They also defended dignity and human rights. Read the story of Janina Rechtleben-Wojciechowska from the Polish Righteous website section: Jews helping other Jews on the “Aryan side”.
In November 1940, Janina Rechtleben-Wojciechowska decided not to follow the German order to move to the ghetto established in Warsaw. She stayed on the so-called “Aryan side” of the city, where she became involved in the Polish resistance movement. Although she had to hide during the Holocaust due to her Jewish descent, she gave shelter to other Jews, mostly fugitives from the Warsaw Ghetto. Among those who found a safe haven in her flat was legendary cabaret artist Fryderyk Járosy, who was being pursued by the Gestapo. He taught Janina’s charges how to look and carry themselves in the streets so that their Jewish identity would not be discovered.
“Janka rented a sublet room in Filtrowa Street, to which she took Franciszek,” recalled writer and actress Stefania Grodzieńska in her memoirs Urodził go “Niebieski Ptak” (Polish: He Was Born from “A Blue Bird”), dedicated to Fryderyk “Franciszek” Járosy – her friend and founder of pre-war Warsaw cabarets. “They became life companions and remained together for the rest of their lives,” she wrote.
Janina Rechtleben – Jewish woman on the “Aryan side” of Warsaw
Janina Rechtleben-Wojciechowska met Fryderyk Járosy before the war, when he submitted two scripts to the Agency of Stage and Music Publishing. The company was run by Janina’s father, Stanisław Rechtleben – a well-known publicist from a Polonised family of Warsaw Jews. “Kuleczka” (“the Ball”), as Janina was called by her friends, worked in the publishing house’s office at 52 Leszno Street as a bookkeeper. Her husband was Konstanty Wojciechowski alias “Kot,” a reporter writing for Warsaw dailies.
“She had all the qualities of a noble person: she was exceptionally honest, courageous, helpful,” Grodzieńska described Janina. “In everyday life she lacked such qualities […] as a quick, snappy wit, indulgence resulting from not paying attention to principles, a happy-go-lucky attitude verging on recklessness. Janka was principled and strict.”
When the war broke out, Janina was in Warsaw all alone – her father had died a few months earlier and her grandparents, Jakub (Jankew) and Berta (Bradla) Rechtleben, had been dead for a long time, buried in the Jewish cemetery at Okopowa Street. Her extended family had emigrated to the United States and her marriage had probably come to an end even before the war.
Having no relatives to rely on, Janina decided not to move to the Warsaw Ghetto established by the Germans in the autumn of 1940. Instead, she lived on the so-called Aryan side, in Ochota district, in a tenement house for the employees of the PKO at 68/33 Filtrowa Street.
A hideout at Filtrowa Street. Janina’s aid to Jews from the ghetto
In occupied Warsaw, Janina Rechtleben became involved in underground operations – according to the accounts of her friends, she worked in the 2nd Information and Intelligence Department of the Home Army (Polish: Armia Krajowa) Headquarters. Her flat at 68 Filtrowa Street was used as a hideout of the Home Army. The resistance used it to store weapons and money and at times held their meetings there.
The apartment was also visited by Jews who had escaped from the ghetto. Janina would provide them with aid during the Holocaust. Due to her so-called “bad” appearance, she herself only went outside if absolutely necessary: “[…] in 1943, even before the Ghetto Uprising, Jews would come to this flat, accompanied by special liaisons,” recalled Kazimierz Koźniewski, fiancé of Janina’s neighbour. He thus described the operations in Ochota in a conversation with Anna Mieszkowska, the author of the Járosy’s biography:
“Fugitives from labour brigades and others would often come out through the sewers. They turned up in a terrible state. Emaciated, dirty, hungry, jittery. We must remember that all this happened after the deportation to Teblinka during Grosskation [in the summer of 1942 – ed.]. The Jews who remained in the [so-called “residual”] ghetto were usually involved in some kind of conspiratorial activity. Working in labour brigades, they had the possibility to leave the ghetto and bring back food or weapons on their way back. They looked tragic. Human shadows in rags! They would come to the expertly camouflaged flat of Janeczka and wait to receive clothes, documents, and further transfer to another safe place. Into the woods. They were often seriously ill people in urgent need of medical attention.”
Fryderyk Járosy. “Lessons of make-up” for Jews
Fryderyk Járosy, called Franciszek by his friends, was a master of ceremonies and director of Austrian-Jewish origin, manager of cabaret theatres in pre-war Warsaw. Arrested by the Germans in October 1939, he escaped from the convoy transporting him to interrogation.
From then on, he used false identity papers under the name “Franciszek Nowaczek.” For some time he stayed in hiding in the Warsaw Ghetto, probably aided by his fellow Jewish artists.
In Janina Rechtleben’s flat, he shared his stage experience and knowledge with the Jews in hiding. “This phenomenal director and true stage chameleon did not expect that his art would one day serve to save human lives,” wrote Stefania.
“He gave them acting lessons in both external and internal make-up. He was really looking forward to taking new people under his charge,” Kazimierz Koźniewski explained. “When nobody came for a long time, he would become very impatient and even bored. I am sure that none of the Jews staying in that flat knew the story of this man who was taking great pains to prepare them for an important test. Their future lives depended on whether they would pass. I never asked him how he knew how to expertly change dressings or bandage heads,” he said.
Fryderyk Járosy taught Jews in hiding how they should carry themselves out in the streets, how not to be afraid and walk around with their heads held high, exuding an air of confidence. This was to prevent the Jews from being denounced by Poles or arrested by Germans.
“[…] Járosy’s room became a transit point for dozens of illegals. It was there that they received their first tips: how much it cost to buy a tram ticket or bread, how to comb their hair, what faces to make in order to achieve the best possible ‘look’,” wrote Stefania Grodzieńska, who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto together with her husband Jerzy Jurandot in August 1942 and would at times come by the premises at 68 Filtrowa Street to visit her old friend.
“Those who had ‘the look’ […] were sent to hideouts – the father of one of our acquaintances spent three years hiding in a bed frame – while those who didn’t have ‘the look,’ also called the ones ‘who could go out in the street,’ were given job assignments. [...] In the peak of the manhunt for people of Jewish origin, 68 Filtrowa Street was visited by people whose facial expression alone could be their death sentence, but they left the flat changed, with the belief that they would survive, though this was not necessarily always the case,” she wrote.
Janina Járosy. Emigration and post-war life
On 31 July 1944, the order to begin the Warsaw Uprising was given by Antoni Chruściel alias “Monter,” the commander of the Warsaw district of the Home Army. He issued the instruction from the same building which housed Janina’s flat at 68 Filtrowa Street. On 10 August, after the uprising was suppressed by the Germans, Janina Rechtleben and Fryderyk Járosy were sent to a transit camp in Pruszków together with all inhabitants of Ochota. They were both deported to German concentration camps – Járosy to Buchenwald and Rechtleben to Ravensbrück. They were reunited in May 1945. They never returned to Poland.
In 1947, Járosy resided in Tel Aviv, where he got a six-month engagement as the director of the Li-La-Lo Theatre. In a letter to Hanka Ordonówna, an artist living in Beirut and one of Járosy’s private and professional partners, he wrote:
“[…] I am looking at a photo of you which Helena gave me in London, and until I see you myself, I transfer onto it all my heartfelt thoughts, all the deepest feelings that have accompanied my […] memories of you – whether it be when we were sitting together [in jail] in Daniłowiczowska Street and I was worried sick about you, or in the underground movement, when fate linked me with a wonderful woman (Janka) who greatly admired you and with whom we discussed you many times, when my host from the organisation (K. Koźniewski) played some of your records to keep my spirits up […].”
Járosy and Rechtleben settled in London. They lived with Edward Rechtleben, Janina’s brother, who supported them by working as an accountant. During his stay in London, Fryderyk wrote the play Okoliczności łagodzące (Polish: Mitigating Circumstances) under the pen name “Jan Wojciechowski.” The work was first staged on 2 December 1951 at the Polish Centre. As noted by Anna Mieszkowska, Járosy’s pen name “[…] was a homage to the woman to whom he owed his salvation, with whom he remained in London until his death.” Janina also inspired one of the characters in the play, appearing there as “Zagórska.”
They never married, but after Fryderyk’s death in 1960, Janina took his surname with the consent of his daughter Marina. She visited Warsaw in the 1970s. She died in 1980. Her ashes are resting in the Stare Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.
“I remember that [Járosy] said the following about Janka: ‘Throughout my life I was accompanied by beautiful, graceful, even clever and witty women, but this is the first time that I am accompanied by a human being,’” wrote Koźniewski.
Karolina Dzięciołowska, ed. Mateusz Szczepaniak, consultation: Anna Mieszkowska, March 2021
- Jews helping other Jews on the so-called Aryan side | Read selected stories of rescue »
- Jews hiding on the so-called Aryan side | See the conditions of hiding in occupied Poland »
- Situation of Jews in occupied Poland | Learn more on the Holocaust »
- Stefania Grodzieńska, Urodził go „Niebieski Ptak”, Akapit Press, Łódź 2000.
- Fryderyk Járosy, Okoliczności łagodzące, Archiwum Emigracji, Toruń 2004.
- Kazimierz Koźniewski, Słownik swoich i obcych [czyli alfabet Koźniewskiego], Wydawnictwo ISKRY, Warszawa, 1994.
- Anna Mieszkowska, Jestem Járosy! Zawsze ten sam..., Warszawskie Wydawnictwo Literackie Muza, Warszawa 2008.
- Anna Mieszkowska, Listy do pani Hanki, „Archiwum Emigracji. Studia – Szkice – Dokumenty” 2002–2003, z. 5–6.
- Anna Mieszkowska, List Janiny Járosy do Juliusza Sakowskiego, „Archiwum Emigracji. Studia – Szkice – Dokumenty” 2011, z. 1–2.
- Anna Mieszkowska, Mistrzowie kabaretu: Marian Hemar i Fryderyk Járosy. Od Qui pro Quo do Londynu, Wydawnictwo Zwierciadło, Warszawa 2016.
- Anna Mieszkowska, Zawsze ten sam, czyli Frydery Jarosy na emigracji w latach 1945-1960 [in:] „Pamiętnik Teatralny” 1998, z. 1–2.