His passes helped to provide aid. The story of Jan Starczewski
Jan Starczewski,Director of the Department of Social Welfare and Public Health of the Warsaw City Council in 1934-1943, recalls: “In September 1939, numerous large groups of refugees sought refuge in Warsaw. Amongst them were many Jews. Following the occupation of Warsaw, the invaders began bringing huge transports of Jewish people who had been displaced from districts in the country. The Jewish population in Warsaw significantly exceeded 400,000. […] Epidemics broke out. Hunger set in. […] an order came through telling us to cease providing aid to the Jewish population, as well as to hand over, to the Jewish Community Council, all care facilities for Jews which were being run by the city”.
Jan Starczewski, pseudonym “Andrzej Korecki”, was born on 8th February 1904 in Warsaw. As a teenager, he took part in the Polish-Bolshevik War. He graduated from the Warsaw University Faculy of Law and Political Science. After obatining the positio of Director of the Department of Social Welfare and Public Health, he reorganised the facility.
“[…] he divided the city into ten care districts, each with its own health and social welfare centre. He introduced new methods to combat the effects of child abandonment. He improved the work of the Father Boduen Home for Mothers and Children and expanded the care activities aimed at children in foster families, as well as services for the unemployed”.
Orphanages and hospitals cam under his jurisdiction. From the beginning of the occupation, he involved himself in the activities of the underground, mainly in the saving of children, including Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. He was aware of the activities of his department's staff in saving Jews from the ghetto. He employed Irena Sendler and her work-colleagues – he also involved himself also in providing that help. He obtained documents which would disguise someone's ethnic origins and sought refuges in the convents of orders of nuns.
He recalled: “Despite the severe prohibitions imposed by the occupiers, the Department of Welfare and Health continued to help, providing money and food to the ghetto, bringing children out of there and helping to enable adults to escape. Under the pretext of combatting the epidemic (the sanitary service was part of the department), a group of deperment staff were provided with passes which authorised them to cross the boundaries of the ghetto. Thanks to this, we were able to maintain direct contact with organisations and individuals active in providing care within the ghetto”.
In the publication Ten jest z Ojczyzny mojej... (This is from my Homeland), Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna write about his involvement: “The employment of people, from the underground, into the sanitary staff was also facilitated by the Department Director. Jan Starczewski. Among other things, the sanitary staff brought typhus vaccines into the ghetto. The vaccines were produced illegally by the National Institute of Hygiene. Prof. Dr Feliks Przesmycki estimates that, until the outbreak of armed battles in the Warsaw Ghetto, 6,500-7,000 doses of the vaccine had been delivered, around 1,000 of those doses brought in by Irena Sendler and Irena Schultz, who continued entering the ghetto until January 1943. [Children were being brought out the ghetto to the 'Aryan side' until April 1943 – ed.]”.
In a letter written to Jan Dobraczyński after the War, Irena Schultz admitted: “Is it possible not to mention Jan Starczewski, who was perfectly aware to what extent he exposed himself as the boss? Of course he knew perfectly well that, in giving me the pass into the ghetto, he was accepting that (…) it served to help victims in the ghetto”.
In February 1943, as the result of helping children displaced from the Zamość region [Operation Zamość, 1942-1943], he was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz [No. 121625]. As adults, in their post-War testimony, Maria and Jerzy wrote: “We were children – Jerzy was 11 then and Maria was 7.We remember that our father sent notes smuggled out of Auschwitz”.
He survived until the end of the War in the camp at Bergen-Belsen from where, sick with typhus and at the cost the Red Cross, he was sent to Sweden for treatment. He returned to Poland in 1946.
His children recall: “With our father […], we often visited Matusia [Sister. Matylda Getter – ed.] at the Congregation [the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary – ed.] on ul. Hoża in Warsaw. We listened to the wartime memories about working to save Jewish children. The names of Jewish doctors, whom father had led out of the ghetto, were mentioned. Father had placed his friend, with his wife and two daughters, into Ulrychów, at the Sisters of the Family of Mary. The family survived the War and, in 1947, he found his friend employment. We are not providing the names, because the younger daughter, with whom Maria is friends, has completely cut her ties to her Jewish roots.
In our home, there was also a Jewish friend […] Wawelberg. He came from a well-known family who found the Wawelberg University. In 1956, Wawelberg was forced to emigrate. He left for South America. Maria remembers that he came to say goodbye to our father. To this day, we have a souvenir of his farewekk – the figure of a dancer in the Skaryszewski Park, with the signature 'A grateful WW'”.
After the War he worked in government institutions – the Office of the Council of Minister and the Ministry of Finance. For several years, he lecturd at the Higher School of Mental Hygiene and in course conducted by National Institute of Hygiene. He was involved in helping former prisoners of German concentration camps and was active in the Society of Friends of Children. He co-founded the first Polish centre for aiding abandoned or orphaned children. He wrote publications, principally on the subject of child welfare.
He died in Warsaw on 20th December 1981 and was buried in the Powązki Cemetery.
- “I’m saving a human being who’s asking for help”
Read the story of sister Matylda Getter
- “I singled out centres, exclusively those run by nuns, which I could trust”
Read the story of Jan Dobraczyński
- “I was raised in a spirit in which religion, nationality and belonging to some race was a matter of indifference – it was the person who mattered!”
Read the story of Irena Sendlerowa