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“Mum was a person with her head in the clouds”. The Story of the Wołodkowicz Family

During World War II, Izabella Wołodkowicz, her son Wincenty and cousin Maria helped Jews in Warsaw, providing them with refuge and with false identity documents. In 1944, in their apartment at 40 Mokotowska Street, among those whom they hid was Lilian Falk, née Raviv (Worobejczyk). Additionally, Wincenty worked the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.


Following the prewar death of her husband, Izabella Wołodkowicz (née Morsztyn) moved, with her children, in with her brother, to the home at 40 Mokotowska Street in Warsaw.

The Germans […] did a search once. They were looking for Uncle Paweł, a high-ranking official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. […] On the desk, they saw a photgraph of Von Ribbentrop, with a dedication, in a silver frame decorated with a swastika. Wicek [ed: Izabela’s son] had placed it there intentionally. It was a souvenir from a meeting of Polish and German foreign ministers and the signing of a non-aggression pact. […] They looked through every piece of paper and confiscated everything from the desk, taking that photograph first. We farewelled them with a polite “Heil Hitler”.

Paweł Morsztyn died of heart disease in 1940, while escaping with Generał Władysław Sikorski from France to Great Britain.

The apartment on Mokotowska Street was spacious and richly decorated. “There was a beautiful, oak mosaic on the floor. black with bright stars. […] There were beautiful paintings, pretty Meissen crockery for dozens of people and baccarat crystal”. A servant, Aleksandra, slept in a recess in the kitchen.

The Help Given to Jews by the Wołodkowicz Family 

Lilian Falk, née Raviv (Worobejczyk), was born in Warsaw. In 1939, she was six years old. When the War broke out, her father Mosze was in Palestine. Together with her mother, Dr Rozalia Szajn-Worobejczyk, a physician, she found herself in the Warsaw ghetto, from which they managed to escape to the “Aryan side”

Rozalia found employment with Maria Lisowska-Wołodkowicz, Izabella’s cousin, on Wilcza Street. Maria, an aristocrat, supported herself and her teenage children by selling home-made pate. Her husband, like Rozalia’s husband, remained abroad. Dr. Szajn-Worobejczyk obtained a room and a salary for working in the production of the pate. She stayed there on false papers, as a refugee from a small town. The women, both in a similar situation, took a liking to each other. According to Lilian, they would talk until late in the night. For Maria, it was the first time she had everhad contact with a Jew. She asked Rozalia about the customs and, in view of her profession, she consulted her on health issues.

In our home, the hair of the small children was bleached before, with false documents, they came under the care of the Niepokalanki (Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Bless Virgin Mary). Mum […] kept Jewish children for a certain time. Two or three of them would stay at Mokotowska Street. One of the little girls, who stayed for a couple of months, was called Lilka.

– recalled Elżbieta Morawska (née Wołodkowicz).

Lilian, meanwhile, for several weeks (or months, most likely in 1944), lived with Izabella at Mokotowska Street. Her mother would visit her there. “She would visit Lilka from time to time and sit with her near the fireplace”, recalled Izabella. The presence of the little girl could have aroused suspicion so, when guests were expected, she closed the little one in a room.

My mother kept everything secret from Aleksandra, the servant who helped her clean the home. When, one time, she told her to give something to her daughter (little Lilka), the servant reproachfully said, “What are you saying, I know everything”. 

Izabella’s children, young adults, were all active in the Home Army. When they had the time, they would tutor the girl. They gave her books. For Lilian, at the time eleven-years-old, her time at Mokotowska is a clear memory:

[…] She remembered our mother as a short, very pleasant woman. Apparently, she always asked, “What do you want for dinner, because there is nothing?”. And more than once, she would begin cooking without even taking off her hat. Mum was a person with her head in the clouds but, thanks to that, our home was always cheerful and a pleasant atmosphere prevailed.

When money ran out, the family would sell off something more valuable. “A beautiful dresser, which stood in the living room, was sold first”. 

Wincenty Wołodkowicz, one of Izabela's two sons, was active in the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews. He would arrange false documents:

Wicek was murdered by the Germans in 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising. At the time, he was active in “Żegota”, in the publication of an underground newspaper. That office was located on Marszałkowska Street, […] near Unia Lubelska Square. From there, in the first days of the uprising, the Gestapo took everyone to the Szucha prison and shot them. Helenka found out about it from people from the Pruszków transit camp, who showed her his photo. They didn’t know his name, only his pseudonym. […] There, Helenka also met a woman who, after seeing Wicek’s photo, said that she knew him by such and such a pseudonym. 

During the Uprising, Izabella left Warsaw and fled to Kraków. Together with one of her daughters, they supported themselves by selling jewellery. They also worked in a factory producing sandals and slippers.

The Postwar Fate of the Rescuers and the Rescued

After the War, Izabella returned to Warsaw. Strangers had taken over her apartment. There were no glass panes in the windows. She forced her way into her own kitchen. She slept under a cloak on a wooden bench. Gradually, her relatives from abroad began supporting her. She burned letters from them lest they be found by the Security Office (UB).

Lilian left Poland. She settled in Canada, where she became a university English professor “Maria and my mother remained friends. They shared memories and their common dislike of pate. On several occasions, I met Maria and her son, Andrzej, who lives in Ottawa”. She never met Izabella again from the time she left her home. Izabella died in 1957.

On 10th June 1982, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem honoured Izabella and Maria Wołodkowic with the title of Righteous Among the Nations

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego w Warszawie, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, 349/24/2233