The Bukowiński Family

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“I remember his strong handshake”. The story of the Bukowiński family

Leon Bukowiński was born and raised in Warsaw. In 1918 he took part in the disarming of the German army, and then, in 1919–1921, he fought as a volunteer in the Polish-Bolshevik war. For his services he was awarded the medal of the Decade of Independence. He worked as a clerk in the Municipal Board in Warsaw. Before the outbreak of World War II, Bukowiński lived with his wife, Jadwiga, and sons, Bohdan and Tadeusz, in Grochów at 22 Łukiska Street. Their home was destroyed by the Germans in the autumn of 1939. Leon managed to renovate part of the apartment, adapting two rooms for use.

Bukowiński was a member of the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”, formed in December 1942 – he provided food and funds to the hiding Jews. He and his wife saved twenty-two Jews: men, women and children. He hid some of them in his house (providing temporary or longer shelter in the house and in the basement), he placed some of them with his relatives and friends. He took people who were at risk of denunciation to their next hideouts, including those from out of Warsaw (e.g. from Częstochowa). Thanks to his work in the laboratory of the criminal police, he could warn Jews about denunciations and provide them with false documents.

In 1940 Mojżesz Borensztejn (Marian Borkowski) met Bukowiński, whom he asked to rescue two of his children – Chaim (Wojtek) and Ruth (Wanda). His mother Gitla (née Frenkel) (1891–1942?) and sisters, Sara Piotrowska (1912–1942?), Idla Borensztejn (1915–1942?), and Estera Borensztejn (1916–1942?) died in Treblinka, and his father Abram (1890-1943) in the camp in Poniatów. Bukowiński escorted his wife Ryne (Irena) through the court buildings at Leszno. First, he placed her and her children with his cousin, Poniewierska, in Radość, and Borensztajn initially stayed with Mrs. Świdzińska at Smolna Street in Warsaw. In August 1942, Bukowinski brought the Borensztajns, who were threatened by blackmailers, to his house. They were to stay there only until they found a new hiding place, but they remained under his roof for two years, until September 1944. Leon gave them false documents under the name Lachowicz. Irena and her children were presented to the neighbours as relatives and could normally leave the house. Marian, however, due to his Jewish appearance, could go out only at night for a breath of fresh air. Bukowiński’s children called the hiding man their “godmother”.

When Germans visited the house or in other dangerous situations, Marian hid in the basement of a neighbouring abandoned house. He got there by a specially dug tunnel, which he made himself, leading from the kitchen to the garden. The entrance to the tunnel was masked with an extra bed on which one of Bukowiński’s son slept.

Marian’s son, Wojtek, accompanied Bohdan and Tadeusz to church and went shopping at the market in Szembeka square. For several months the boy was hiding with Leon Bukowiński’s brother – Stefan – who was the head of a school in Ciechanów.

In an interview given to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in 2014, Bukowiński’s younger son, Tadeusz, told about the Spartan conditions in which the Boresztajn family were hiding. After the arrival of the Russians, the Borensztajns left the apartment in Grochów, went to Otwock, and then through France moved to Canada and settled in Montreal.

Bukowiński also took care of Irena’s sister – Leokadia Berlińska and her husband Wolf (Władysław), who at the beginning of the German occupation moved from Łódź to Warsaw. Leokadia, who was presented as his cousin, was provided with false documents and placed with Wiktoria Heli in Saska Kępa, where she worked as a maid. Berliński first went to Hotel Polski, and then to Pawiak, from which Bukowiński organized his escape. Ryna’s and Leokadia’s mother – Noemi Gliklich – also received help from Bukowińscy. Because she spoke with a strong accent – on Bukowiński’s advice, she pretended to be dumb. Her sons were killed: Szmuel (b. 1918) and Izrael (b. 1920).

Bukowiński also took care of five-year old Tadeusz Bóbr. For three years, Leon’s cousin, Poniewierska, hid the boy in Radość, near Warsaw. Leon also defended (using a firearm) Mrs. Liberow and her son from blackmailers, when he took them from Waszyngtona Avenue to Praga. He placed the eight-person family from Sosnowiec, the Igrows, at Karowa Street. He helped Mirosława Igra and her husband and Jasiński move from Częstochowa to Warsaw.

Bukowińscy were a deeply religious family and felt that as Catholics they should help people who were in need. According to Leokadia Berlińska, Bukowinski was “like a real father” to her family. The Jews stressed that Leon not only saved them in situations of mortal danger, but also restored the persecuted with faith in people. In 1947 five Jews ,whom Bukowiński and his family helped  during the war while risking their own lives, sent a letter to the Board of the Jewish Community with a  request “to honour him on the battlefield in defence of human beings”. They also asked to take care of Bukowiński “so that he would not have any problems for working in [the laboratory of – ed.] the criminal police during the German occupation”.

After the survivors left, Bukowińscy kept in touch with many of them. In 1963 they went to Israel at the invitation of the Berliński family. A year later they planted a tree in Yad Vashem. In 1978 Bohdan was killed in a car accident. In 1988, at the invitation of Chaim (Wojtek) Borensztajn, Bukowińscy went to Montreal, they also visited his sister in New York. In 2014 Tadeusz Bukowinski became a member of the Polish Society of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area



  • Ignacy Strączek, Interwiev with Tadeusz Bukowiński, 1.08.2014
  • Grynberg Michał, Księga Sprawiedliwych

    The lexicon includes the stories of Poles honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations in the years 1963-1989. The list of entries is preceded by a preface by Icchak Arad and Chaim CheferThe Righteous of the World.