Bussold Stanisława

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Elżunia and the Silver Spoon. The Story of Elżbieta Ficowska (Koppel) and her Polish mother, Stanisława Bussold

During the years of German occupation, Stanisława Bussold helped Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, working together with Irena Sendler. In 1942,  a baby girl name Elżunia was taken into an emergency care unit for Jewish children. She had been taken out of the ghetto. Stanisława took care of the child - permanently. 

"People, whom my mother led out of the ghetto, told me that she always went with them - never before nor after. She did this so as to comfort them, to make it easier for them", says Elżbieta Ficowska in an interview for POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Helping Jewish Women - Working with Irena Sendler

During the German occupation, Stanisława Bussold worked as a paramedic and midwife in a health centre on ul. Działdowska in Warsaw. The centre raised money for Jews locked up behind the walls of the Warsaw ghetto

She worked together with Irena Sendler. She delivered food ration-cards to the ghetto. She led people out to the "Aryan side" and took in new-borns from Jewish women who were hiding in occupied Warsaw

In her apartment at ul. Kałuszyńska in Kamionek, she provided emergency care for Jewish children. She prepared them to be transferred to safe places. She produced false identity papers for them and taught them Christian prayers. 

Rescue From the Ghetto - Saving Elżunia

"I've never seen a photo of my mother or my father - no one. Everything was lost in the ghetto. My birth certificate is a silver spoon”, says Elżbieta Ficowska. 

Her mother, Henia Koppel, gave birth to her in the Warsaw ghetto. In order to save the child, she decided to move her to the "Aryan side". The six-month-old baby was given medicine to sleep and was taken away in a wooden box hidden amongst bricks. The box also held a silver spoon upon which was engraved her name and her date of birth:

"Elżunia, 5 I 1942”.

The child was driven out by Stanisława's step-son, Paweł Bussold, who had a pass into the ghetto. Elżbieta was meant to go to a specific woman, but that woman contracted tuberculosis. Despite having no plans to do so, Stanisława Bussold took good care of Elżunia. Every day, a nanny - Janina Peciak - looked after the girl. She took calls from the child's mother from inside the ghetto and would put the phone next to the chatty, little girl. The last such conversation took place in October 1942. 

Henia perished on 3rd November 1943, in the forced-labour camp in Poniatowa. Elżbieta's father, Josel, perished during the major liquidation operation of the Warsaw ghetto (July-September 1942). He was shot at the Umschlagplatz when he refused to get into a wagon.

Chocolate and Mystery - Elżbieta's Childhood

The little girl's childhood was spent in comfortable circumstances. 

"Mum already had two grown-up children, both around forty-years-old and they were independent. I was the recipient of all her maternal, and possibly her grandmotherly, emotions. […] After the War, she earned a good living and everything was for her beloved child. […] I remember chocolate in big blocks, cocoa and groceries on the shelfł. My beloved nanny, who always wanted the best for me and who thought that chocolate was just that, fed me this chocolate. She would say, 'Eat it and you'll grow', and would stand me up against the door frame and draw a line on it”.

Out of concern for the child, for a long time, Stanisława Bussold would not allow Elżbieta to learn of her true Jewish origins. 

"I was six-months-old when I was uprooted from my Jewish environment. I grew up in a Catholic home. My mother didn't go to church every Sunday, but she made sure that I attended a mass for children.”

During the War, she was hidden from the Germans. After the War, she was also hidden - from Jewish organisations seeking to recover the children who had been saved. 

"When I was around five-years-old, Jews from Israel and from the United States came to collect the children who had been saved. They asked a shopkeeper about me. I told my mum about this. She became agitated and the whole staff of 'aunties', including Irena Sendler, began to visit us. I was watched. I couldn't go outside to play with other children.”

Taming Taboos - a Jewish Identity

Elżbieta was seventeen-years-old when she discovered that she was Jewish. A question from a school-friend and vague memories gave her food for thought about her origins. 

"It was taboo. There was absolutely no mention of Jews. I don't remember learning about them in school. I went to my Polish language teacher and asked, 'Professor, can you tell me who Jews are?' He took me to the library and talked with me for two hours. He told me about Jews and about the War. He didn't ask me any questions. Slowly, slowly, I became accustomed to it.”

At home, she rebelled and, after one argument, she ran away. 

"I was always doing something wrong and my angry mum once said, 'You always have to do the opposite. That's your Jewish character'. I ran away from home, not because of my Jewish character, but because I felt that she was cutting herself off from me.”

Both Your Two Mothers

Elżbieta searched for information about her Jewish family. She returned to the issue thanks to her husband, poet Jerzy Ficowski. "He was fascinated by my story. He wrote the famous poem 'Both Your Two Mothers'": 

"[…] It was both your two mothers
who taught you,
so don't be surprised at all
when you say
I  a m."

On 28th April 1970, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem posthumously honoured Stanisława Bussold with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

In the years 2002-2006, Elżbieta Ficowska served as Chairperson of the Association of the “Children of the Holocaust” in Poland. In 2015, she donated a copy of her silver spoon, from the Warsaw ghetto (see photograph above ⤻), to POLIN Museum collection.