Story of rescue

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“I decided to offer very humble possibilities against inhumane intentions”. The Story of Krystyna Konwerska

Krystyna Konwerska née Sarwińska was born in 1911 in Kielce into a family which had, as she herself said, progressive views. She was the daughter of Roman and Helena née Michalek. Already, as an electrical engineering student at the Warsaw Polytechnic, she was active in the leftist movement. Among other places, she worked in the Polish Section of the International Organisation to Aid Revolutionaries, the so-called “Red Help in Poland” which, between 1924 and 1938, was part of the Polish Communist Party. She prepared packages for children whose mothers had been imprisoned for political activities. The need to help the persecuted and the abused was an important part of her life. According to her daughter, Joanna Hrabowska, “For her, it was natural to help someone who had been harmed”.

During World War II, Krystyna Konwerska organised and conducted secret classes for young people in her home in Gołąbki, at 2 Wiejska Street (today, 2 Koronacyjna Street, in a suburb of Warsaw). Her husband Kazimierz, being an electrical engineer, was active in decrypting German Army communications and in producing false documents for people threatened with arrest. Krystyna arranged food and lodgings for them both, sharing their modest food supplies.

In a statement written in 1986 for the Jewish Historical Institute, she wrote:

I decided to offer very humble possibilities against inhumane intentions. In our home, there were constantly 2–4 Jews or others who were being persecuted. The first three-member Jewish family were the Wojdysławskis who, in 1941–42, stayed for more than a year with their seven-year-old son, Janusz. They moved out when the local inhabitants began showing an unhealthy interest.

A hiding-place had been built in the attic, between boards covering the chimney and also in the basement under an enclosure for the goat. Her daughter recalls:

I remember how fear dominated at the time that the neighbours would see the dirt being carried out. People stayed with us who were in danger of being arrested. From Grodna, there was the Blinowski couple, with their two children Janek and Jędrekiem or the Jewish families such as the Wojdysławskis, the Oxners, Regina and Irenka, the daughter of Katarzyna from Kraków and others. I don't even know all the names.

Janina Oxner, who periodically stayed in Konwerski home, in a testimony for Yad Yashem, recalled:

Mrs Konwerska's help consisted of renting my parents [Leon and Jadwiga née Landsberg – ed.] an apartment as ordinary tenants, even though she knew of their origins. She did so without any additional material benefit […] and, as far as possible, watched over their safety. In 1942, as the result of blackmail, my parents were forced to leave Gołąbki.

A neighbour, Zofia Kijkowska, also testified, in this case, as to Krystyna's activities.

At the end of 1942 or the beginning of 1943, Felek, a ten-year-old boy, also came to stay at the Konwerski home. He had escaped from the ghetto with his mother and twin brother. Mrs Konwerska recalled:

A farmer from around Piastów had taken them in. His mother had fallen ill and died. They buried her in the farmyard. One day, Felek's brother did not return to the house. The terrified farmer moved Felek […] and he came to stay with me. He still had sores from the ghetto. He got better, his humour returned and he even got up to mischief, which moved me.

The boy stayed in Gołąbki until August 1943. when Krystyna's mother, Helena Sarwińska née Michalek, as well as her sister Aniela and her husband Roman Metalmann were arrested in Kielce. Aniela was heavily pregnant at the time. “It was dangerous for Felek to continue staying with us”, noted Joanna Hrabowska. The boy was given into the care of the Szczerbetki family where he remained until the end of the War.

Helena was a painter. She played the piano and danced. Aniela was a graduate of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and took care of the garden. Roman was a dentist. Joanna Hrabowska recalls how his patatients waiting room also served as a place on contact for those in the underground:

Blackmailers would denounce people to the gestapo. On three occasions, those reports were intercepted at the Kielce post office, which is why my aunt and uncle were warned and asked to Kielce as quickly as possible. However, my aunt decided that she first wanted to give birth to her child. The gestapo came for them sooner. 

At that time, Krystyna Konwerska took action in order to rescue Aniela's child, but the prison doctor refused to help them. The child was killed soon after it was born. Aniela and Roman were shot after many weeks of interrogation. Helena was sent to Auschwitz where she died soon after.

Despite these tragic events. Konwerska did not refuse to help those in need. She actively took part in organising accommodation and food for a group of several hundred refugees who had found themselves in Gołąbki during the first days following the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. Until the end of the war, she gave shelter to a friend from her student days, Tomila Luberadzka-Blinowska, and her family.

After the war, Krystyna Konwerska joined into the work of rebuilding her ruined country. With her education, she helped organise communications – the reconstruction of telephone exchanges and then, as a government official, she was sent to carry out agricultural reforms and planting operations in theso-called “Recovered Territories”. He daughter observes, “Just like thousands of other people with leftist views, she worked on rebuilding Poland for iedological reasons, often for remuneration which, at first, consisted of a plate of hot soup”.

In 1946–1948, she organised the Telecommunications Industry Union. In 1948–1954, she served as the Director of the Investment Department of the Ministry of Communications and then Chief Director of the Telecommunications Works Enterprise. In 1954–1965, she worked in the State Economic Planning Commission. From 1965 until her retirement, she worked in the State Institute of Economics and Industrial Organisation. In 1972, she earned a doctorate from the Poznań Polytechnic.

Thanks to her help, Janusz Wojdysławski, Felek, Irena (surname unknown), Janina Oxner with her mother and sister, all survived the Holocaust. Leon Oxner perished several before the arrival of the Red Army. Years later, she recalled:

I suppose that I don't need to add that I sheltered these people without any self-interest – it is impossible to risk my life, and that of my family, for a some money. If any of those under my care had any money, they used it to cover my costs as much as possible. Only Mrs. Oxner, on her own initiative and almost every day, offered my little daughter a piece of bread or a piece of cake for afternoon tea, which was then quite meaningful.

On 20th June 1990, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem honoured Krystyna Konwerska with the title of  Righteous Among the Nations. The honour came on the initiative of Janina Oxner.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, Teczka Krystyny Konwerskiej, 349/24/849
  • Hrabowska Joanna, Moja Mama Krystyna Konwerska z d. Sarwińska, Sprawiedliwa wśród Narodów Świata