The Tazbir family
“The boarding school staff were neither saints nor heroes, but just ordinary people”. The Story of the Tazbir Family
After many years, Wanda Tazbir wrote the following for the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem:
Our family had very many Jewish friends and it would never have occurred to us to differentiate between Poles and Jews. We gave the Jews the same help as we would have given to Poles who needed it.
Stanisław and Ludwika Tazbir, with their daughter Wanda, lived in Warsaw at 74 Hoża Street, apartment 5. From 1931, belonged to the “Tęcza” (Rainbow) Scout Troop at Warsaw Instiutute and School for the Deaf. Following the outbreak of war, she joined the underground (pseudonyms: “Dobrochna”, “Suliborska”, “Dopływ”). he belonged to a scouting Auxiliary Unit and, in 1942–1944, she as a sanitation instructor in the Home Army. She studied Polish at the secret Warsaw University and, herself, taught history and Polish language in secret classes while, at the same time, working at a school as a secretary.
Stanisław was a lawyer and a social and educational activist. From the beginning of the occupation, he served as head of the Child and Youth Care Section of the Central Welfare Council (RGO). He established several institutions which, among those under their care, were also Jewish orphans. In Warsaw, boarding schools were located on Sienkiewicza Street in Śródmieście, on Dobrogniewa Street in Wola and on Zajączka Street in Żoliborz. In 1941, the RGO headed by Tazbir took over, from the Polish Red Cross, the orphanage on Morszyńska Street in Sadyba.
Many of the Tazbirs' friends found themselves in the Warsaw ghetto. Among them was Salomea Bergstein (Szlifersztein), a pre-War teacher of Wanda's. After escaping to the “Aryan side”, she contacted her former student asking for help to find a safe hiding-place. This was arranged by a priest she knew – Marian Pirożyński, from the Redemptorist Monastery on Karolkowa Street. She was given a birth certificate in the name of "Marty Janiszewska from Miechów" and was placed with Emilia Sołtykowa on Mokotowska Street, where 20-30 ghetto escapees were in hiding.
Wanda delivered meals to Salomea, whic had been prepared by her mother, Ludwika. She also provided funds from Joint, which this American Jewish organisation granted to Jews in hiding. When she visited Salomea Bergstein, she met, among others, Helena Rosenberg and her small daughter Tusia, Mrs Gurfinkiel and her small daughter Guta, as well as Anna Cegielska (at the time, using another name). In the spring of 1942, their host would, daily, demand money and jewelry from those hiding in the apartment, due to her fear of German soldiers over-running her home.
Wanda relocated Salomea Bergstein to a friend – Mrs Różalska and, after some time, she also took in the teacher's husband. She put Mrs Rosenberg and Mrs Cegielska in contact with a friend – Mrs Kossobudzka. She took two-year-old Tusia with her to her parents' apartment on Hoża Street.
After the War, Wanda wrote:
That house was particularly dangerous, because its five-storeys were filled with German soldiers. Father Marian Pirożyński issued Tusia (for no payment) a birth certificate. Of course, because of her Jewish appearance, we kept the child away from the windows. But she took advantage of a moment of inattention because, in the autumn of 1942, a passerby came to us saying that he had seen a Jewish child in our window and that it would be better for us to hide her.
Ksiądz Pirożyński referred the Wochelski sisters from Skierniewice to the Tazbir family;
Unfortunately, when I and Mrs Wochelska took Tusia on the tram to the railway station, she made such a fuss about not wanting to go, because of the danger, I had to take her back home – even though people tried to hide us from the Germans.
Gutta Gurfinkiel travelled to Skierniewice, while Tusia was placed by Stanisław Tazbir in the boarding school at 25 Morszyńska Street in Sadyba.
One of the RGO managers, Zofia Mierzwińska-Szybka, recalled:
At the time our Section took over the boarding school, it was located in a secluded, single-storey tenement, located a short distance from the Czerniakowski fort. Between the north side of the building and the fort, there was a narrow moat, with the water running towards the east, under a wooden bridge which crossed Powsińska Street. The dormitory could easily accommodate about sixty children, but it probably had around fifty. Groups of Jewish children were kept in each of the dormitories. In particular, many of these children were gathered into 45 Moszyńska Street, which was headed by the brave and courageous Jadwiga Strzałecka.
She worked together with the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews, as did her husband Janusz Strzałecki, a painter artist, who, from the middle of 1943, was a member of the leadership of the Council's Kraków branch. Their daughter Elżbieta, born in 1938, grew up with the children in the boatrding school. “Nothing bad can happen to Elżbietka”, Strzałecka would say, calling her the boarding school's mascot. Apart from the Jewish chioldren, Jews working on false papers also stayed there.
In Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej... (This Is My Homeland...), Wanda Waliszewska wrote:
[…] neither the children nor the staff lived in hiding. Some had a very semitic appearance, both the boys and the girls. [...] The boarding school staff lived there, but many personnel also came from the outside, like the plumber, the electrician, like the boiler stoker and various others. Apart from the manager, only two of her friends knew that there were Jewish children and workers in the boarding school. She would only talk about them with those two friends. One of them was me, the other was a nurse. However, it wasn't possible for the rest of the staff not to have guessed, but no one betrayed that fact.
Apart from Jews, others in danger also hid in Sadyba.
In a small town neighbourhood […], where everyone knew everyone else, it would sometimes be difficult to go into hiding. So, apart from the children and staff, there would sometimes be someone else. The staff of the boarding school was not made up of saints or heroes, they were completely ordinary people […].
During the period of the ghetto liquidation, the number of Jewish children in the board school grew. One day, to Sadyba, Strzałecka brought a boy who had been entrusted into her care.
The boy had an extremely semitic appearance and had already been passed through many hands. He was terribly dirty and the hair on his head was totally matted. The manager, not wanting to bring him into the boarding school in such a terrible condition, went with him to the barber for him to, at least, have a haircut. The barber shop was full of people. People looked at the child in horror and began whispering amongst themselves. The barber walked up to the manager and only said, "Go immediately and take this child with you". So she left, but she had to take a tram with him in order to return home.
In the winter of 1944, probably on 5th February, the Gestapo et up a roadblock in Sadyba. Strzałecka was returning to health follow a heavy bout of flu. The Germans entered the building at breakfast time. At that time, Wanda Waliszewska found herself in the room of her closest colleague Jadwiga:
[…] we both thought the same – the Jewish children and workers are in the building. There was a revolver in the manager's desk drawer. It had been brought for safekeeping by a boy who belonged to an underground organisation. And one of the staff, who also belonged to that organisation, had the day before brought in a series of publications and instructions and many other “crimes”.
The leader of the Germans inspected documents and identity cards. He threw things out of the cupboards and questioned Strzałecka and, finally, demanded of her to show him the children. The blackade lasted until sunset. Stanisław Tazbir recalled Jadwiga Strzałecka:
She had maintained her calm at the boarding school during the entire occupation. After the Uprising and after the deportation by the Germans (on 2nd September) of the boarding school and the whole population of Sadyba, with the children and all the staff, she reached Kraków and, from there with the help of the RGO, they went to Poronin where they certainly would have remained until March 1945.
Wanda Tazbir took part in the Warsaw Uprising and, after it was put down, she ended up in prisoner-of-war camps in Lamsdorf and Oberlangen. Following liberation, she spent two years in England. After returning to Poland in 1947, she graduated in Polish Studies. She worked in the PWN editorial office and continued being active in the scouting movement. She was also active in the Polish-Israeli Friendship Society. Stanisław worked as a publisher, connected with the Warsaw Municipal Public Library, where he served as Deputy Diector.
About the 1990's, Wanda wrote:
Everyone I helped survived the War, with one exception – Mr Bergstein, whom the Germans killed during the Warsaw Uprising. After the War, Mrs Rosenberg married again – to Mr Lewkowicz. Her daughter, Tusia, invited me three times for long stays with her in the USA. I am in constant mail contact with Tusia […]. Mrs. Bergstein (now Szlifersztein) now lives permanently in Sweden together with her husband. I'm in contact with her.
On 26th January 1994, the Yad Vashem Institute decided to honour Stanisław Tazbir and his daughther Wanda with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.