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“My name became her party pseudonym.” The story of rescue of Katarzyna Meloch by Jadwiga Deneko

During German occupation, Jadwiga Deneko (née Sałek, pseudonym “Kasia”) belonged to the Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists. Together with her brother Tadeusz Sałek, she helped Jews as part of their activities in the party, and also cooperated with the Children’s Department of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews. She died on 6th or 8th January 1944, probably shot in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Thanks to Jadwiga Deneko’s help, Katarzyna Meloch survived the war. In the 1980’s, in wishing to have her saviour honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, Katarzyna endeavoured to gather information about other survivors.

“Forty years after Nazi occupation, Tadeusz Sałek, the brother of ‘Mrs Wisia’, on the list of survivors who owe their lives to his sister, he has the names of four people – the wife of my uncle Jacek Goldman, Eugenia Sigalin, Maria Taglicht and Jan Szelubski. Five-year-old Bronka, the five-year-old daughter of Maria Taglicht is also there, as am I – Katarzyn Meloch”.

Tadeusz Sałek used the surname Salek-Deneko when describing what happened to his sister. It is the surname which appears on the documents. He also mentions activities in which he too participated. At the time, they lived together in the Koło district of Warsaw at 76 Obozowa Street.

Jadwiga Deneko’s Activity in the Underground

She was born in 1912 and graduated from high school in Łódź. Katarzyna Meloch wrote: “Jadwiga Deneka was a student of my mother’s Wanda Meloch. She later became a family friend”. In 1934–1938, she continued her studies at the Social Work-Education Faculty of the Free Polish University. Her daughter, Haneczka, died on 29th August 1939, just before the outbreak of the war.

“Having given up on life and deciding to die, she joined the fight at the Warsaw barricades. After the capitulation […] she made organisational contact with a group of Polish socialists conducts political work amongst young workers in Koło. At her instigation, an RPPS [Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists – ed.] People’s Militia brigade is established in 1942. It later becomes part of III Company Czwartaków in the People’s Army [a Battalion of the People’s Army whichwas established in October 1943 – ed.]. She maintains contact with the Warsaw Ghetto. A series of people pass through the apartment of her and her brother Tadeusz Sałeka. They are then directed to the partisans, while Jewish children are placed with Polish families”. 

Jadwiga worked together with the Children’s Department of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.

“My name became her party pseudonym”.

The Help for Katarzyna Meloch

The Meloch couple ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto in November 1940 and made contact with Jadwiga. The Deneko siblings communicated with the closed off area through Ala Grynberg, a nurse, who had a pass at her disposal. In August 1942, during the major liquidation operation, a temporary peace fell on the ghetto. It was then that the Meloch couple fled to the “Aryan side”. The first to arrive at Obozowa was Michalina Goldman, Katarzyna’s grandmother. The girl’s uncle, Jacek Goldman, prepared the operation to get the girl out. From behind the wall, she emerged with Ala Grynberg. There, by the gate to the home, waited Barbara Wardzianka, a Polish nurse from the hospital in Wola. They travelled to Koło by tram. Neither she nor her grandmother had “Aryan” papers.

Katarzyna Meloch wrote: 

“I left the ghetto during a summer heat wave. I don’t remember much about the apartment in Koło. I remembmr seeing huge tomatoes by the window, ripening in the sun. They caught my eye when I arrived from the closed-off district where, since the Unschlagplatz had been in operation, it wasn’t clear if it was summer or winter. Our ‘saviour’ not only conspired and hid Jews, she also cultivated a garden plot! I used to go to the plot with my grandmother […]. And we had a complete sense of security!”.

Hiding in the Father Boduen and the Turkowice Orphanages

Kasia remained on Obozowa for a several weeks. She learned Christian prayers and tradions. In the end, she received, from a priest in Targówek, an authentic birth certificate in the name of Irena Dąbrowska, who had died. Jadwiga then place the girl in the Father G.P. Boduen Small Children’s Orphanage at 75 Nowogrodzka Street in Warsaw. She then tried to get into an orphanage as far as possible from Warsaw. Kasia (Irena) went to Zamość, to the Turkowic nuns. The place was run by sisters, the Congregation of Sister Handmaids to the Most Holy Virgin Mary.

“Her concern for my safety never left her. To me, this ten or eleven-year-old girl, she wrote letters and sent food parcels. She kept in personal contact with the Turkowic nuns. Because she was involved in underground work (in the PPS) [RPPS – ed.], she was afraid that if she ‘fell’, the Germans could trace her back to me. So she asked the Mother Superior, Aniel Polechajłło, to move me to another orphange. The Mother Superior […] apparently said, ‘You could only be calm about her if she stays in Turkowic. It is safe here’. She removed my name from the register of Turkowic children, but that is where I remained”.

Szmalcownicy. Eugenia Sigalin on the “Aryan side”

Kasia’s aunt, Eugenia Sigalin, the wife of Jacek Goldman, also found refuge in Jadwiga Deneko’s him in Koło. In the ghetto, she had work in the hospital on Leszno Street.

“Some of the (hospital) workers were taken out, as if they were going to work for the Germans, to communicate and arrange as much as possible outside the ghetto precinct. […] I went with the cart-driver. We were wearing armbands. Outside the walls, we took them off. We drove to Koło, so-called ‘wooden’ […] as it was surrounded by Germans. I got out there”.

The women were surrounded by szmalcownicy (blackmailers), who threatened that they would hand them over to the Germans. They took her case contained the documents and told her to hand over her coat. When they left, others came. 

“[…] they ordered me to take off my shoes and then, at that moment, they suddenly disappeared. It turned out that this little street led to a bus stop. At the bus stop, two women ran up to me saying that they often attack people there and asked why I didn’t shout out. I said that they threatened me with a weapon. We went our separate ways and meandered through the small streets, wanting to confuse any tracing of us and reached Wisia’s small apartment where she greeted me”.

Eugenia Sigalin tried to extract her husband Jacek onto the “Aryan side”. He wanted to join the partisans. It was March 1943 “I went to get him and, by tram, I brought him to Koło, while I moved from Koło to Saska Kępa, to my friend, Josseta Senior”.

The Help for Jan Szelubski and the Taglicht Family

Jan Szelubski was a fugitive from Lublin. Tadeusz Sałek recalls: 

“He and his wife, Zosia Baranowska, lived with us for several months in 1943 – until he left to join the partisans in the Ryk region. He worked with me in the carpentry workshop in Warsaw, at 11 Zajęcza Street while, at the same time, being active in the underground as a member of the Armia Ludowa [People’s Army – at the time, Gwardia Ludowa People’s Guard – ed.], part of the Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists”.

Jadwiga also supported the Taglicht family – Maria, Karol and their little daughter Anusia-Brońcia. The parents wavered as to where to place the child. “So we finally consulted Wisia. She was the expert because, before the war, she worked in some orphanage and was interested in refuges for homeless children”.

Jadwiga placed Brońcia in the Father Boduen Home. Thanks to that, for a certain period, her parents could keep in contact with their child. Tadeusz Sałek recalls what happened later to the little girl: “For two years, Brońcia lived with my parents in the village of Sałki-Pionki (Suskowola Council). She lived there until May 1944, until my father was warned by a Armia Krajowa [Home Army] partisan group that the child was in danger. We arranged for her to be taken into an orphanage in Radom, where she remained until liberation”.

The search and Jadwiga Deneko’s death

The circumstances surrounding the death of Jadwiga Deneko are ambiguous. Stories vary with respect to the date and place of her execution. She had dropped into an underground site at 15 Nowiniarska or Świętojerska Streets where, during a search, weapons, a radio transmitter and 13–14 Jews were discovered. They had been in a hiding-place under the shop and, according to Jakub Mulak [Polska lewica socjalistyczna 1939–1944, Warsaw 1990], this was where they carried out technical work, such as printing. “In mid-1943, she was arrested in the premises at 15 Nowiniarska Street, while the RPPS’s ‘Biuletyn informacyjny’ was being printed”.

According to Eugenia Sigalin: 

“I know that she worked in a ‘scrap office’. […] Probably, someone someone denounced her. The Jews, knowing that they were going to their deaths, said that they had never seen her before, that she must have come to the office as an apprentice”. 

Władysław Bartoszewski, in Warszawski Pierścień Śmierci (The Warsaw Ring of Death) wrote: 

“On 25th November 1943, in a home on Świętojerska Street, Jadwiga Sałek-Deneko (born 1911, pseud. ‘Kasia’), RPPS distribution director, was arrested at the same time. She was a dedicated activist of that party, a colleague of Marczak, who was also executed”.

Under interrogation, she betrayed no one. The Germans shot her on 6th or 8th January 1944. She died either in Pawiak Prison or in the ruins of the ghetto, together with the Jews who had been arrested.

On 27th January 1987, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem posthumously honoured Jadwiga Deneko and her brother Tadeusz Sałek with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area