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“I had a lot of soldier's luck”. The story of Janusz Ginalski

Before the war, the Ginalski family lived in Warsaw. Leon (1891­–1944) was an officer in the Polish Army, head of the Accounting-Cash Department and the Headquarters Pay Office of the Ministry of Military Affairs. His wife, Janina (née Konczyńska, dec'd. 1985), looked after their home and raised their sons – Janusz (1927–2016) and Seweryn (1930–2011). From 1930, they occupied an apartment at 22 Szeroka Street (today called Kłopotowskiego) in Praga. Many Jews lived in their neighbourhood.

In an interview with POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Janusz Ginalski recalls:

There was a synagogue on the corner of Jagiellońska and Szeroka, next to which was a cheder. The Veterans' Home was nearby. I remember that 1863 insurgents lived there. They wore navy-blue uniforms and hats. All soldiers, irrespective of rank, even the marshall, honoured them. In Praga, I had a friend, Dawid. Once, he took me to a gathering in the attic of our tenement building. As it turned out, it was a meeting of the Communist Party. He didn't belong to it himself, but of course he knew everything that was going on there. The presence of an officer's son resulted in considerable consternation amongst the people gathered there!

In 1937, the Ginalski family moved to a new government apartment at Rakowiecka Street in Mokotów. They lived in a spacious four-room apartment, No.25, on the second floor of a modern building. In this new environment, Janusz became involved in scouting and attended the 11th November Primary School No. 191 at 14 Narbutta Street. He recalled:

Here, I had another great friend. His name was Welwek. Together, we battled with those in the neighbouring yard. Naturally, we were the knights. We had swords and shields made of wood. Once, Welwek wanted to paint these swords. So, he stole a can of silver paint from a shop, for which he was later punished decently.

Together with his mother and brother, Janusz Ginalski spent the summer of 1939 at the family's holiday home in Józefów. In the new school year, he was to have begun studying at the prestigious Cadet School in Lwów, where his father had secured him a place. However, those plans were disrupted by the outbreak of war. In the first days of September, the whole family was evacuated from Warsaw and its surroundings, via miltary transport, to the East. They were first taken to Lublin where, after a long night's journey, they changed from a car to a train and headed towards Tarnopol:

I remember one such evening. We stood in a field. A military transport, heading in the opposite direction, had stopped. Fortunately, we were not attacked by the German air force. In the moonlight, in that silence, soldiers heading to the front were singing Oh, my rosemary” and White roses are blooming. The mood was so unusual in that cloudless night. Later, the train continued to stop now and then. Local farmers jumped on. They mainly brought pickled cucumbers in cans. They were great and they wanted groszs for them.

At the end of October, into November, after several weeks of winding through Lwów, Kowel, Brześć and Białystok, the Ginalski family returned to Warsaw. The windows of their apartment on Rakowiecka Street had been broken so, temporarily, they stayed in the home of Janina's sister, located on the corner of Pogodna and Grottgera Streets. From the beginning of German occupation, they were active in the underground. Leon served as quartermaster of District IV of the Związek Walki Zbrojnej-Armia Krajowa (Armed Struggle Union-Home Army; then: AK) and, from that time, for fear of being arrested, he hid with neighbours of his wife and sons, on the corner of Rakowiecka and Fałata Streets, which they only learned about four years later, on the eve of the Warsaw Uprising. In 1943, Janusz also joined the AK. He was fictitiously employed in a photographic studio at 1 Marszałkowska Street (existing from 1936 to this day – as of 01/08/2018), and then with Mr. Wiśniewski at 7 Trębacka Street.

In May 1944, the Ginalski apartment had become an important underground contact-point run by Janina. It also sheltered a Jewish woman, with her six-year-old son, Maciej:

I asked my mother where she had come from to us. She replied, She received a recommendation”. Her surname was Sarnecka. Her first name was supposedly Malwina, but always, when we talked, we referred to her as “Pani Sarnecka”. She led a completely separate life […] in her room with her son Maciej. Generally, some man would visit her each day. He would disappear before the curfew hour. In the morning, she would leave early for work and would return late, at around four or five. So that there was no chance for any personal contact. Maybe she had more contact with my mother. She had to cook something for herself and there was only one kitchen with a coal stove.

[…] During the war, conditions did not favour any social life. Carbide was mainly used, so that it wasn't pleasant to sit, for any length of time, in that spluttering light with its unpleasant smell […] Social life took place in the evenings in the kitchen. Potatoes were grated for, let's say, pancakes, which were fried in rapeseed oil with onions. Bread rations were very small. So dishes were cooked which the Germans called “ein Topf gerichte”, meaning, in one pot. Vegetables were in the form of a mixture and fairly thick – mainly swede and potatoes.

Janusz assumes that Mrs Sarnecka came from Warsaw and “must have belonged to the intelligentsia”. She and her son had false documents and a so-called “good appearance”. For that reason, she was able to in Schneider's office on Unia Lubelska Square, belonging to the Todt Organisation. They dealt in the transporttion of forced labourers to the East. During her absence from the home, Maciej mainly spent his time under the care of Seweryn, Janusz's younger brother.

Mr Ginalski comments:

She had almost no possessions, only what she was wearing. There was a couch in the room – always made up as a bed and closed up, as though no one ever used it. Anyway, once or twice, my mother asked me to water the flowers in there, so that I saw that the room looked as though no one lived there.

He also recalls an instance of danger and the help which he received from Mrs Sarnecka:

In June, my uncle got married. The wedding took place in Wiśniowa Góra. It was a very hot day. I took off the jacket which I was wearing. Its cloth was a kind of herringbone. When we returned to my grandfather's after the wedding, I realised something terrible – my wallet containing my documents was missing – it had my Arbeitskarte and most important, my Kenkarte. […] This was a catastrophic situation. Not having documents meant, at a minimum, deportation to a camp. Good, if it was to the Reich – worse, if it was to a concentration camp – and even worse if it meant interrogation by the Gestapo. No one emerged alive from there. […] New documents had to be arranged for me. On the Monday, Mama went to Warsaw. She used Mrs Sarnecka, who said, Good, I'll give me a document which certifies that he is expected to leave for work and that his documents are here in the office”. She only asked that the document only be shown to the Germans if it was absolutely necessary. […] Without doubt, Mrs Sarnecka risked her life for me.

Two days later, Janusz Ginalski's wallet was found, together with his documents. The document issued in Schneider's office was immediately destroyed.

The Sarnecki mother and son lived at Rakowiecka Street until June1944. They moved out after the home was dearched. According to Janusz:

The doorbell rang one morning at eight o'clock. Two men walked in – one a Polish policeman, the other from the Kripo. [Kriminalpolizei – ed.], who had happened to visit the family in Stara Miłosna that day, “We have information that you are keeping caraculs”. Mum says, “Gentlemen, as you can see, I'm alone here, just with my sons”. “And your sons are Janusz and Seweryn?”. “Yes sirWe need to conduct a search. Mum then says to Seweryn, “Januszku, take Sewerek with you and go for a walk, because I still need to talk with these gentlemen”. My brother took Maciej by the hand and went out. […] When they returned, Mum immediately went to Mrs Sarnecka. She asked that Maciek be brought to her at five o'clock. Mrs Sarnecka then took Maciek and disappeared.

Two months later, the Warsaw Uprising broke out. Leon (pseudonym “Opat”) perished on the first day of fighting. Janusz (pseudosym “Janusz”) served as a liaison officer for Chief-of-Staff Janusz Chyczewski (pseud. “Pawlak”) in the “Baszta” Regiment. Then, until 10th September, he served as a paramedic in a field hospital in the Franciscan Sisters school at 21 Rakowiecka Street. After the fall of the Uprising, Janina, Janusz and Seweryn Ginalski went to the Gronkiewicz family in the village of Piekarowo near Piekar. There, they were offered shelter and stayed until the Red Army and the First Division of the Polish Army entered the left bank of Warsaw on 17th January 1945.

After the war, they returned to Warsaw. Their Mokotów apartment had been destroyed which is why they lived, temporarily, with relatives. Janina soon got a job as a secretary at the Spirit Factory Monopoly and were given a company apartment on Ząbkowska Street in Praga. Mrs Sarnecka managed to survive the war together with her son, Maciek. They settled in Canada:

At the beginning of 1946, a letter arrived. Two Security Service men (bezpieczniacy) brought it. […] They began asking, “How do you know this woman? Who is she?”. They were too interested and Mum, during her staff interview at work, had not reported that she had friends overseas, something which was required. She told them that we knew each other from the period of occupation. From that time, we lost contact, permanently, with Mrs Sarnecki and Maciek.

A few years later, Janusz Ginalski graduated from the Aviation Department of the Warsaw Polytechnic. He belonged to the Warsaw Areoclub and then to the Central Military Sports Club, where he was active in motorboat sports. Initaially, he worked at the Institute of Precision Mechanics and then, from 1965 to 2016, in the Department of Materials Research and Diagnostics of the Institute of Power Engineering in Warsaw. From 1987, he held the status of professor. For his many years of scientific and research work, he was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

In the final years of his life, he was active in the AK “Baszta” Regiment Veterans organisation. When speaking about his wartime experiences, he repeated, “I had a lot of soldier's luck”.

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