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 extracted from the Warsaw Ghetto. For almost four years, the Ślązak family hid the girl in their apartment in the suburbs of Warsaw. After the war, Giza emigrated from Poland. The Holocaust Survivor and Danuta Gałkowa, the Ślązaks' daughter, met again after sixty-four years.

Józef and Agnieszka (née Starzyńska) Ślązak lived in Warsaw at at ul. Wincenta 47 (Targówek district). They had six children.They both came from the families with socialist traditions.At the time of Nazi occupation, Józef worked as a conductor. Many a time, his tram would pass through the ghetto. Agnieszka looked after the home.

Help for Jewish children

In 1942, from the Warsaw Ghetto, Agnieszka Ślązak brought 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 a birth certificate for the girl the name of “Stefania Szymkowiak”.

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

A dangerous situation – a neighbor's denunciation

After a short time, the building superintendent, Wiatrak, informed on an unregistered child, probably of Jewish origin, that was living in the building. Luckily, the case was hushed up thanks to the help of a friendly “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”.

- recalled 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.  

Second Lieutenant 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 (V Class) and the Florence Nightingale Medal, among other awards.

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

An Iconic Photograph - Meeting after Many Years

Stefcia and her cousins moved to Łódź and later departed for Uruguay to her family. There, she settled permanently. Contact with the Ślązak family was broken. For many years, Giza's protectors, during the time of the occupation, were unaware of her whereabouts. It was as late as in 2009 when Danuta Gałkowa received 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 an iconic photograph.

On 1st June 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


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