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He was Zofia Kossak's Personal Messenger. The Story of Janusz Jabłoński

Janusz Jabłoński begins his memoirs with Zofia Kossak was extremely careless. She believed people”. As a sixteen-year-old during the occupation, together with his mother, he was active in the underground with writer Zofia Kossak, at whose initiative two undergound organisations were formed – the Catholic Front for the Rebirth of Poland and the Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.

Before the War, the Jabłoński family, proud of its landowner traditions, lived on an extensive family estate in Pniewno (Mazowieckie Province). Their idyllic life on the Narew River manor was interrupted by the outbreak of war. At that time, Jerzy WłodzimierzJabłoński (1895-1986) – social activist, local government official and member of the Polish parliament, his wife Maria née Łączkowski (1900-1943) and their children Janusz (b. 1925) and Ewa (1934-2008), moved to Warsaw. There, they rented a two-storey apartment, at 13 Jesionowa Street, in a villa belonging to a friend, Mr Wierzbicki. A garden adjoined the house and, nearby, was the villa of the Polish President Stanisław Wojciechowski. 

During the first months of occupation, during a social gathering in the apartment of their friends, the Lasocki family, on Czerwonego Krzyża Street, Maria Jabłońska met her friends' cousin Zofia Kossak (1889-1968), a pre-War, well-known writer and columnist. Through her, she became involved in the activities of the underground, becoming one of her closest collaborators. "They trusted each other”, stresses Janusz. Evidence of the friendship between the families was that Zofia's famous dog, Fopcia, was a puppy from the Jabłoński family's skye terrier Happy. The pup was a gift to her mother, Annia Kossak (née Kisielnicki).

In the underground, Maria monitored radio broadcasts. She worked in the Information and Propaganda Bureau of the Home Army Headquarters: “We had a rule at home - to know as little as possible. For that reason, I never knew the details mof my mother's activities”.

It was not long before Janusz became involved in the underground: “Before the Christmas holiday, Kossak organised a patriotic nativity play. She suggested that I take part. Naturally, I agreed. Not long after, she asked if I'd like to help her in other matters. It was then that I became her personal courier. 

Initially, his work involved the distribution of messages, often verbally. Then, from April 1942, he distributed “Prawda”, the underground information organ of the Front for the Rebirth of Poland, edited by Zofia Kossak. The newspapers were collected from the printing house by couriers Zofia Janiczkówna, Maria Tomaszewska (ps. “Urszula”) and Stanisława Wdowińska (ps. “Irena”) and placed in a secret place at 4 Radna Street, where Zofia Kossak lived with her ailing mother. Janusz recalls: “There was a small hiding-place under the floor-covering in a tiny room near above the gate. You opened it with a pin. When a certain number of newspapers were put there, it was closed up and hidden by the floor-covering”.

Newspapers were brought, on a bicycle, to the apartment of Anna and Roman Lasocki at 9 Bracka Street and also to the home of sculptor Zofia Trzcińska-Kamińska. They were also taken to the campus of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences at 8 Rakowiecka Street: “I passed on documents and publications to Professor Kozłowska who worked in the greenhouse. She placed them into glass vessels and hid them in the bottoms of flower boxes. After covering them with soil, she planted plants in them. Only the three of us knew about this. 

He recalls a moment of danger: “On the corner of Nowy Świat Street, there was the Café Club, only for Germans. Once, while I was riding my bicycle along the street, the parcel carrier fell off and all the packages fell onto the street. A young lieutenant stepped outside. I was terrified. It was a few kilos. He looked at me and began helping me to collect them. “This is the end”, I thought. We re-packed the parcel carrier. Hurriedly, I said, 'Danke!' and rode away. From that time, I bound the packages more firmly”.

After Zofia Kossak and Wanda Krahelska-Filipowiczowa established the Konrad Żegota Provisional Committee to Aid Jews (27th September 1942), the activities of Janusz Jabłoński and those of his mother changed. As he says: “They became more intensive. There were more small tasks to complete”.

As a personal courier, he notes that: “Zofia Kossak was extremely careless. She believed people. We constantly told her, 'Auntie', don't do it yourself. Let her leave it to us!” But there was no chance that she wouldn't endanger herself. She was full of enthusiasm”.

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Janusz was ordered to take care of a Jew who was hiding in the attic of a tenement on Noakowskiego Street. He brought him food and newspapers, as well as throwing out the rubbish. He also received an order to take, to Szymanow, two small girls who had been extracted from the ghetto. Zofia Kossak's daughter, Anna Szatkowska (1928-2015), was studying there under the false surname of “Sokołowska”. Janusz's sister was also in a nearby student residence run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She had left Warsaw because of the danger. 

Due to his activities with the Home Army, Janusz was at home less and less often. Many people found refuge there. For example, as Janusz states, they included Jan Karski: “He would go for walks in Pole Mokotowskie. Sometimes, I accompanied him. Once, he took me to cafe U Aktorek, which was located at the corner of Piękna and Piusa XI Street”. 

From September 1943, chemical enginéer Wilhelm Grossman hid at Jesionowej 13. He used the surname “Jedlicki”. He occupied a room on the second floor, which had a hiding-place built into it and was stocked with food supplies. Because of his “bad appearance”, he could not leave the apartment. With Maria's help, his wife Wanda and son Witold were in hiding outside of Warsaw, while his younger son Jerzy was with the Marian Fathers in Bielany. A year earlier, at Grossman's request, Maria had led his ten-year-old nephew Lucjan Meszorer and four-year-old niece Ludwika out of the Warsaw ghetto. She found safe refuge for them on the "Aryan side" where they survived until the end of the War.

As Janusz recalls: “Mr Jedlicki was the king of the kitchen. In the evenings, he weighed soap and I made cigarettes. That gave him an income. Over that time, we became good friends. We talked a lot. I knew that I could always go to him and ask about mathematics. My parents basically never helped me in my studies”.

Grossman lived at Jesionowa Street until the sudden illness of Maria Jabłońska. Mrs Daniszewska, a Jewish doctor who was also a friend, took care of her. Fearing denunciation, she did not call an ambulance in time. Janusz was then staying with his father in Jackowice where, throughout the War, he administered the estate. Maria died in her son's presence on 27th October1943. 

Following this family tragedy, Ewa Jabłońska was cared for by her father. At the time, Maria's superior, the manager of the Home Army BIP's Information Department lived at Jesionowa Street. He was Jerzy Makowiecki (ps. “Małecki”, 1886-1944) and was there with his wife Zofia. On 13th June 1944, the couple was kidnapped from Jesionowej and then murdered outside of Warsaw. The circumstances surrounding the crime were never fully clarified. The murder was probably inspired by Witold Bieńkowski (ps. “Wenecki”, 1906-1965), a Home Army counter-intelligence officer, manager of the Jewish Department of the Government Delegation for Poland, together with nationalist officers.

Earlier, on 27th September 1943, Zofia Kossak and her liaison officer Maria Tomaszewska were arrested by the Germans on Oboźna Street. When arrested, Kossak was carrying “blotting paper” and had false appers under the surname “Śliwińska”. She was taken to Pawiak Prison. On 5th October, she found herself in Auschwitz and then, in 1944, she was returned to Pawiak from where she was released in July through the efforts of the underground.

Janusz Jabłoński survived the Warsaw Uprising. After the War, he studied in the Electrical Faculty of the Łódź University of Technology and then in the Warsaw Polytechnic from which he graduated in 1950. His father Jerzy settled permanently in Warsaw while his sister Ewa Jabłońska-Deptuła graduated in history and lectured at the Catholic University of Lublin. She was active in the “Solidarność” movement.

Wilhelm Grossman perished during the War in unexplained circumstances. His wife Wanda (née Perlis, 1899-1967) survived the Holocaust, together their sons. Witold (1929-1995) became a sociologist and a Klub Krzywego Koła activist. Following his emigration to Israel, he wrote Chamy i Żydy about the factional differences in the Polish Communist Party. Jerzy (1930-2018) became an historian of ideas and an intelligence researcher. 

At the request of Witold and Jerzy Jedlicki, on 27th April 1992, Maria Jabłońska was posthumously honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Her son Janusz stresses that “she treated helping others as a moral obligation”.

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Bibliography

  • Jabłoński Janusz, Bo życie tak się ułożyło…, Warszawa 2015
  • Jedlicki Jerzy, Blizny po ukąszeniu. Nie marksizm mnie uwiódł, „Więź” 2004, nr 1
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Pałaszewska Mirosława, Zofia Kossak w latach II wojny światowej, „Niepodległość i Pamięć” 2005, nr 2-3
  • Szczepaniak Mateusz, 21.09.2016