Winnicka Maria

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“I wanted to show my solidarity. It was a question of my conscience, I could not have acted differently” - the story of Maria Winnicka

Maria Winnicka was the daughter of the renowned financier Antoni Jaroszewicz. After World War I, she arrived in Warsaw from St. Petersburg with her mother and sister Alicja.

Before the outbreak of World War II Maria lived with her husband Leszek in a large apartment at 10 Bracka Street in Warsaw. Leszek held a degree from the Warsaw University of Technology and worked as a chemical engineer. During the war Maria gave birth to two children: daughter Ewa in 1941 and son Jakub in April 1943. The family's main source of livelihood was Maria's synthetic jewellery shop. Her husband was active in the Home Army and worked in grenade production.

The first person sheltered by Maria Winnicka was the renowned professor of mathematics Zygmunt Szczawiński, author of pre-war math textbooks for secondary schools, teacher of mathematics at the Zofia Sierpińska Philology Junior High School for Girls. Maria Winnicka's son Jakub, in an interview for the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in 2014, said: “Szczawiński lost his home early during the occupation and often fell victim to blackmail because his appearance gave away his origin”. Maria Winnicka found hiding places for him and rode with him around Warsaw. During one of these escapades, Szczawiński, who obscured his face for fear of being identified, captured the interest of a fellow tram passenger. Winnicka defended her ward, explaining that she was transporting a neighbour, ill with tuberculosis, to the hospital. Szczawiński was killed in the Wola district while hiding in a nunnery during the Warsaw Uprising.

With the help of Jadwiga Dymidziuk, her children's nanny, Winnicka collected Jewish children roaming around on the “Aryan” side. The women nursed sick children, dressed their wounds, washed and mended their clothes, taught them Polish words and prayers. They also arranged for house calls from
Dr. Bolesław Łopieński, a trusted physician. Due to threats from the neighbours, about fifteen children needed to be moved from the Winnicki apartment to the country.

Winnicka repeatedly entered the Warsaw ghetto to help the family of Franciszka Tusk-Scheinwechslerowa, a graduate of Polish philology from the University of Warsaw. They knew each other because Maria sometimes attended underground classes conducted by Franciszka. Ewa and Jakub Winnicki remember their mother's dramatic tale of the time she tried to save Franciszka's son, Wojtuś (b. 1935). At night, having bribed a Blue Police officer, she went into the Umschlagplatz, but she failed to find the child. Afterwards, she entered the ghetto several more times and used her pregnancy to smuggle food.

Winnicka also helped Franciszka Tusk-Scheinwechslerowa shortly after her escape from the ghetto. For the first few days Franciszka stayed with her friends, but none could keep her long. On the “Aryan” side, she was known as Natalia Obrębska. In the Warsaw ghetto, she had lost her entire family: her parents Chana Tusk (1891-1942) and Hercki (1889-1942), her husband Dawid (Tadeusz) Scheinwechsler, his parents and siblings. Winnicka placed Franciszka with her sister's mother-in-law Mrs Sommer, then in a villa belonging to her friend Klementyna Porowska. Later on, Franciszka was under the care of the Ojrzanowski sisters, Maria and Janina. Winnicka and Tusk-Scheinwechslerowa lost contact during the Warsaw Uprising.

After the uprising Maria, her husband and children found themselves in the Pruszków transit camp. They managed to escape from transport. With her husband suffering from pneumonia, Maria went to Zakopane, where she organized a daring escape after his arrest. After the war the Winnickis lived in Silesia. In 1948 Maria Winnicka gave birth to her daughter Zula, who required constant care. In 1959 the family moved to Kielce. Winnicka took up various jobs: she was a telephone operator and a saleswoman in a shoe shop.

In 1960 Franciszka, who returned to Warsaw after the war and kept the name she had used during the occupation, managed to find Maria through the Red Cross. In her letter to Winnicka, she wrote: “Dear Maria! Finally, after years of searching, the Red Cross managed to track you down. I am so happy that you and your immediate family survived this terrible war and the chaos of the Warsaw Uprising. I have also made it. But I did not win this war. I was left completely alone. None of my loved ones survived, which you already knew before we lost contact during the uprising. How I want to embrace you again and enjoy your friendly gaze”. The women never saw each other again, however, as Maria avoided arranging a meeting. Jakub Winnicki quotes his mother: “I could never bear to meet that gaze, because I had two children during the occupation and saved both, while she only had one and lost it”. Years later, Jakub Winnicki found Franciszka's name in a telephone book. Afterwards, Ewa and Jakub would visit her from time to time.

To Winnicka, her actions during the occupation were motivated by a simple humanitarian impulse. In a conversation with her son Jakub Winnicki in 1960, Maria said, “I wanted to show my solidarity. It was a question of my conscience, I could not have acted differently. That was my way of fighting”. Her son Jakub made efforts to have his mother posthumously awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations in the conviction that it is important to keep the memory of noble deeds alive for the benefit of future generations. In an article published in “Gazeta Wyborcza” in April 2014, he said: “We are all born equal in every respect, including the potential for intolerance that lives within us. It is perpetuated and reinforced by foolish adults. Education and diligent self-improvement can remedy that. This idea has guided me for many years. This is why, after much hesitation, I sent the application and documents to Yad Vashem to have my mother posthumously awarded the honorary medal and the title of Righteous Among the Nations. She would never have done that on her own”.

On 19 February 2013 the Yad Vashem Institute decided to award Maria Winnicka the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Klara Jackl, Interwiev with Ewa and Jakub Winnicki, 27.06.2014
  • Winnicki Jakub, Jakże znów pragnę panią uściskać, "Gazeta Wyborcza-Warszawa", nr 8/05