Dobraczynski Jan

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“I singled out centres, exclusively those run by nuns, which I could trust” – the story of Jan Dobraczyński

Jan Dobraczyński was a writer, a columnist and was active in the nationalist movement. During the Communist period of the PRL, he worked closely with state authorities. During the War, as a clerk in the Warsaw Department of Social Welfare, he was active in operations to save Jewish children.

He was born and lived in Warsaw. After completing his studies in 1932, he found employment in the Municipal Social Welfare department in the Warsaw’s Old City. For a few years, he worked in Lublin. In 1941, he returned to the capital and rejoined the Department.  From the beginning of the War, he was active in the underground as he was not all that busy in the Department. Soon after, he was promoted – he became manager of the Adult and Child Protective Care Unit.

The task of the Section was to categorise people finding themselves in difficult material circumstances and referring them on to support centres. Referrals were made on the basis of interviews, birth certificates and health certificates. During the War period, they dealt mainly with orphans, and abandoned and homeless children. They would find their way to Warsaw institutions which reported Welfare Department (e,g, to the Father G.P. Boduena Infants Home, the Institute for Older Children, Young Delinquents Unit) or to centres in other regions of Poland run by groupings of nuns. During the occupation, these places would often receive material help from underground sources.

Jan Dobraczyński knew, personally, many managers of these care centres and remained on friendly terms with them. He was trusted. He knew well the director of the Father G.P. Boduena Infants Home, Dr Maria Wierzbowska, and Sister Stanisława Polechajło, Mother Superior of the the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of Godin Turkowice.The Department staff in Warsaw (especially those involved in the underground) also found an ally in him. For that reason, departmental carers turned to Dobraczyński asking for support for the operations to help Jewish children.

In his memoirs, Dobraczyński wrote, “One day, my staff, namely social workers in the Department, came to me about this matter. That whole group (I’ll name only Irena Sendler, Jaga (Jadwiga Piotrowska, Nonna Jastrzębska, Halina Kozłowska, Janina Barczakowa and Halina Szablak) had for some time, on their own volition, been running operations extracting Jewish children from the ghetto and placing into one or another of the Section’s care centres on the basis of falsified interview records and after arranging the entire matter with heads of the different centres. However, these possibilities had now been exhausted”.

Dobraczyński became involved in the operations. As Section manager, he could independently direct children to centres. Dobraczyński’s good contacts with directors of the centres proved to be invaluable. “I decided to call upon their help. I singled out centres, exclusively those run by nuns, which I could trust and to where I could direct the children”.

Section staff organised false papers (birth certificates and social work interviews) for all the Jewish children whom they managed to get out of the ghetto. Next, they sent a request, personally signed by Dobraczyński, to a care centre. Irena Sendler writes, “Very quickly, Jan Dobraczyński came to an understanding with the underground which agreed to guide the Jewish children to Polish centres. Each case involving a Jewish child from the ghetto was signed by Jan”.

However, signing these types of documents did not fall within the usual responsibilities of the Section manager. A close collaborator of Dobraczyński’s, Jadwiga Piotrowska (awarded the “Righteous” Medal in 1987) stresses, “Normally, the section manager would not sign these papers. Jan’s signature was simply a code, and at the same time a signal to those interested, that we were dealing with a child, as we said then, requiring special care and attention – a Jewish child”.

In his memoirs, Jan Dobraczyński admits that “my contribution to these operations were minimal. I didn’t look for these children. I didn’t transport them. I didn’t create the false papers”.

In reality, the care workers put themselves in the direct line of danger in smuggling children out of the ghetto, putting them up in their own homes, delivering them to care centres and providing false papers. However, all referrals were signed by Dobraczyński who took all the responsibility for these operations onto himself. If denunciation should happen, then it would most certainly have been he who would have been the first to bear the consequences. Fortunately, it never came to that. During their operations, the section care workers managed to save 500-700 children.

On 12th September 1993, the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Jan Dobraczyński the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”. Dobraczyński died not long afterwards on 5th March 1993. Dobraczyński’s involvement in helping Jewish children was attested to by co-workers Irena Sendler and Jadwiga Piotrowska, as well as by two of those rescued in Turkowice, Katarzyna Meloch and Michał Głowiński.

We thank Mrs. Mirosława Pałaszewska for access to material relating to Jan Dobraczyński.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Dobraczyński Jan, Tylko w jednym życiu, Warszawa 1977