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"Children Came, They Played With Us for a Few Days and Then Disappeared" - the Story of Róża Zawadzka

Before the outbreak of the War, Róża Zawadzka, her husband and daughter Ewa lived in Łódż at ul. Narutowicza. She came from a family of intellectuals. She received her basic education at the Polish Free University under the direction of Helena Radlińska, the creator of social pedagogy in Poland. She also travelled and undertook internships abroad and utilised the knowledge she gained in her work with children and young people. Róża was a communal activist and, in 1937, became a child care inspector in Łódż.

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Róża's husband, an army officer by profession, was arrested and ended up in an officers' prisoner-of-war camp. He remained imprisoned throughout the occupation. However, her mother, as the family found out informally, had been added to a Gestapo list of suspects and she was threatened with arrest. So as to avoid this, she decided to take the whole family out of Łódż and move to Warsaw.

Ewa Wańkowicz, Róża Zawadzka's daughter, in an interview with the POLIN Museum recalled, "My mother remained in Łódż. As she later wrote to my father in the prisoner-of-war camp, she stayed so that she could coordinate care for the children and to secure the whole structure. Łódź was already incorporated into the Reich, so she stayed to organise a Polish structure to look after the children, so that they did not become Germanised. We reached Warsaw, our grandmother's brother, a historian who lived on ulica Filtrowa”.

At that time, Ewa was cared for by her grandmother who was "occupied writing Czartoryski monographs and was uninterested in the War. Even when there were air raids, she wouldn't go down to the shelter. She stayed where she was”.

In Łódż,  Róża Zawadzka continued her social work, organising a structure to look after children. She joined the rest of the family in Warsaw in 1940 and, there, she did the same work. In the occupied capital city, she was appointed head of the IX Social Welfare Centre. After a time, the Zawadzki family moved from Warsaw to Skolimów.

Róża involved herself in helping Jewish children. She became a liaison officer. She worked together with Irena Sendler, leading Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and placing them into secure shelter on the "Aryan side". One of Róża's tasks was to prepare the children for life in Polish Catholic suuroundings.

Her apartment, like those of many of Sendler's co-workers, became known as "emergency shelters”. Children who had been led outside the ghetto walls ended up there. It was here where they were taught prayers, as well as Polish songs and nursery rhymes. This was done in case they came into contact with szmalcownicy (blackmailers) or Germans, so that they could demonstrate their knowledge, thereby hiding their true identity. After the War, Ewa said, "I think that my mother's role in rescuing Jewish children was on a par with that of Irena Sendler's”.

Róża's daughter recalled that various children turned up in their apartment, "They came, they played with us for a few days and then they disappeared”. She remembers that Rami and Deli stayed with them the longest. They were the daughters of her mother's friend, Alicja Gołąb-Grynberg. However, she did not know that they were Jewish children. No one in the home cared about anyone's origins.

In order not to endanger her own daughter and, at the same time, to continue rescuing Jewish children and her other welfare activities, Róża decided to place Ewa in a child care institution in Milanówka run by nuns. She would visit her there. Ewa recalls that those were the times she waited for the most, "My mother always cared about my safety, about the safety of her own mother. Even though she didn't give me that much time, she gave me her love”.

Róża did not survive the War. She died during the Warsaw Uprising. In her last letter to her husband, she wrote, "All my life, I have loved Poland, Ewa and you. She looks like me. That will help you raise her”. When the occupation ended, Ewa's father returned to Poland and took care of his daughter and his mother-in-law.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

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.
  • Józef Markiewicz, 11.12.2015