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“My door will always be open to you”. The Story of Józefa Senior

Józefa Senior was born on 23rd June 1899 in Pilzno, in the Czech Republic. She married Edward Senior, an architect, a Polish Jew, whose family came from Częstochowa. In 1935, Joasia, their daughter, came into the world. They lived in Saska Kępa in Warsaw, at 27 Nobla Street, Apartment 3.

Amongst her friends, she was called “Żozetka”, the result of years spent in France. Among the Seniors's friends was the lawyer Lola Altuszuler, through whom Józefa met her cousin Mosze Antopolski. The architects Roman and Grzegorz Sigalin were among Edwarda's closest friends. Through them, the Seniors met their sister, Eugenia.

On 6th September 1939, Colonel Roman Umiastowski, head of propaganda in the Commander-in-Chief's staff, called upon men capable of bearing arms and not yet enlisted in the army, to leave the capital and head east, where they were to be mobilised. Edward Senior joined the thousands of others from Warsaw and never returned. He ended up in the camp at Stutthof and perished there. Józefa was left on her own, with four-year-old Joasią – with no family and without a profession. She began giving German language lessons.

As a Russian prisoner, Mosze Antopolski ended up captive in Suchożlebach. He escaped and managed to reach Warsaw. He assumed the name “Stanisław Laskowski” and frequently changed his hiding-places. In the meantime, he made contact with Józefa Senior. Not wishing to endanger her, he initially declined her offer to live at her address. “She greeted me with the words, 'Where do you live?' She said, 'So you know, my door is always open to you'”.

When he could no longer stay where he was, he neverthless turned to Józefa Senior. He lived with her – with breaks – until the end of the War, and paid no money for his upkeep. He worked with the underground.

“It happened that we took about thirteen Jews out of the ghetto. 'Żeńka' (the occupation pseudonym of a woman belonging to an underground organisation. I don't remember her real name) told me that we had to place them somewhere, […] before they could be placed individually […] I asked 'Żozetka' if I could bring them for just one night. She didn't hesitate even for a moment. Those thirteen people were in her apartment, coming straight from the ghetto. Suddenly, we heard the police coming up the stairs. They knocked on the door. 'Żozetka' opened it (She was fluent in German). It turned out that the police had come about the unblacked-out windows of a neighbour (a Volksdeuttsch), Szmatloch”.

In the spring of 1943, Eugenia Sigalin went across to the “Aryan side”, just before the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Henryk Woliński, pseudonym “Wacław”, head of the Jewish Department of the Home Army's Information and Propaganda Bureau, arranged documents for her under the name “Janina Wydra”. She hid with Jadwiga Deneka in the Koło district of Warsaw until she had to leave to make space for someone else. It was then that she moved in with “Żozetka”.

In a statement to the Yad Vashem Institute, she wrote: “[…] the house on Nobla Street was connected to a property on Styka Street. The residents of these two small, single-storey building would meet in a shared garden. I appeared at the house on Nobla as a stranger, pretending to be a tutor for Joasia Senior, 'Żozetki's' daughter”.

In addition, her host arranged work for Eugenia as a housekeeper in Saska Kępa. The uprising was taking place in the ghetto. “(…)  this was a period of particularly intensive hunting for Jews in hiding. It was even more dangerous than in other periods during the Nazi occupation. I walked along the streets wearing a hat. I was often looked at under my hat. My appearance was 'checked'”.

In 1943, seventeen-year-old Joasia Senior was attending school. She worked out that one should talk about what was happening at home. Her mother introduced her to Eugenia as “Janka”.

“'Żozetka' would often make the mistake of calling me 'Genia' instead of 'Janka'. Joasia never made that mistake… When the Polish Army entered the right bank of Warsaw (that same day) she asked, 'Can I call you 'Geniu' now? She understood everything and had never talked to anyone – just as her mother had told her to do. What did not work well, here, was the popular saying during the Nazi occupation – 'A child at home, the Gestapo at home'...”.

Eugenia Sigalin remained at Nobla Street until liberation. Amongst thepeople living at that address, apart from Stanisław Laskowski, about whom she did not know, was the Jew Mosze Antopolski, a boy with “a semitic appearance”.

“(…) he was the same age as Joasia Senior. He had a heart condition and his lips were always blue. Children laughed at him, saying that he ate blueberries. Now I know that he was Rysio Blum, the son of a friend of the Senior family”.

Józefa “Żozetka” was not associated with any underground organisation. He saved people at her own initiative. She died on 10th January 1981.

In a testimony to Yad Vashem, Mosze Antopolski wrote: “I live in Israel. I came to Poland to visit Józefa Senior's daughter (Joanna Tybora). I met Eugenia Sigalin. We both owe her our lives and, for this reason, we are acting jointly in this matter. I must also add why we have left it so late to honour this extraordinary woman. Both Eugenia Sigalin and I are of an age when the balance of life requires good in exchange for good. This is a matter of conscience”.

On 26th December 1988, she was honoured posthumously with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Her memorial tree grows today in Jerusalem's Garden of the Righteous.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, 394/24/994