The Ślązak Family

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“To all of us, Stefcia was the youngest child”. The story of the Ślązak family

During the German occupation, Józef and Agnieszka Ślązak helped Giza Alterwajn, a Jewish child taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Ślązak family hid the girl in their apartment in the suburbs of Warsaw for almost four years. After the war, Giza emigrated from Poland. The Holocaust Survivor and Danuta Gałkowa, Ślązak’s daughter met again after 64 years.


The married couple of Józef Ślązak and Agnieszka née Starzyńska lived in Warsaw at 47 Wincentego St. (Targówek district). They had 6 children.They both came from the families of socialist traditions.At the time of Nazi occupation Józef worked as a conductor (many a time he passed through the ghetto by tram), while Agnieszka kept the house.

The help for Jewish children

In 1942 Agnieszka Ślązak brought from the Warsaw Ghetto a year-and-a-half child wrapped in cloths like a bundle. The baby’s name was Giza Alterwajn. Not much is known about the context of the whole matter – Agnieszka never talked about it. A friend of the family, who was a doctor, helped to treat the child, while the oldest daughter Danuta, thanks to her underground contacts, procured for the girl a birth certificate for the name of “Stefania Szymkowiak”.

In the eyes of the family members (with the exception of the oldest daughter) and neighbors, the girl passed as a cousin. Before World War II, Giza’s parents had owned a shop on Marszałkowska St. They both died: her mother in Treblinka extermination camp, and her father – soon after the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.



Dangerous situation – neighbors’ denunciation

After a short time, the house superintendent named Wiatrak informed on an unregistered child of probably Jewish origin that was living in the house.Luckily, the case was hushed up thanks to the help of a friend “blue” policeman from the nearby police station. Still, Agnieszka Ślązak had to pay a visit to the station to make a statement.

“My parents were very sensitive to human misery”.

– remembers Danuta, when asked about the motives behind her parents’ decision to accept a Jewish child. “To all of us, Stefcia was the youngest child and we treated her like our own, well, like our own sister”, Danuta explains.  

Danuta Gałkowa’s activities in the Underground

When the Warsaw Uprising (1944) broke out, Józef Ślązak was deported to the concentration camp in Flossenbürg, where he died at the end of 1944.

Danuta Ślązak (after the war Gałkowa) was a member of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army). She took part in the Uprising and worked as a nurse in Warsaw’s Old Town; before the capitulation of this district, she was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. For many days she hid together with wounded insurgents in the ruins of the city. She was awarded the Order Virtuti Militari of the V Class and the Florence Nightingale medal among other awards.

Giza Alterwajn, treated like their own child, remained under protection of the Ślązak family until 1945, when Agnieszka Ślązak finally managed to find her cousins.



Photo as Symbol. Meeeting after Years

Stefcia and her cousins moved to Łódź and later departed for Uruguay to her family, where she settled permanently.The contact with the Ślązak family was broken.For many years Giza's protectors at the time of the occupation were unaware of her whereabouts.It was as late as in 2009 when Danuta Gałkowa got a phone call from Giza. Shortly after, Giza and her family visited Poland. The moment of Giza's welcome by Danuta at Warsaw Chopin Airport after 64 years of separation was captured in the symbolic photo.

On June 1, 2010, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem honoured Danuta Gałkowa and her parents Józef and Agnieszka Ślązak (posthumously) with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Suchodolska Magdalena, The interview with Danuta Gałkowa, Warsaw 4.11.2010