Story of rescue

enlarge map

Papa Szymański’s Guest House. The Story of Ewelina Lipko-Lipczyńska

Throughout the whole war, about fifty people passed through our home, staying for a longer or shorter period or receiving immediate help. […] Most were Jews. […] There were also Poles wanted by the Gestapo” – Ewelina Lipko-Lipczyńska recalls her family home which, during World War II, was referred to as “Papa Szymański's Guest House” or “PPS” for short.


The Szymański Home in Ostrowiec

Anna Bayer-Dratwerowa who, during the war, found refuge there, described the Szymański home.

It was a large, two-storey house, with many, spacious rooms filled with people who, like me, were filled with sorrow. Here, they found advice and help and many even benefitted from material assistance.

The Szymański family – Jan and his daughters Ewelina, Wanda, Halina and Danuta – lived on Polna Street in Ostrowiec – at the time, in the Kielecki Province, now in the Świętokrzyskie Province. The girls’ mother, Wiktoria Eleonora, died prematurely in 1930. Jan (1881–1960) was a teacher, an active member of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) and a co-operative movement organiser in Kielce. During the war, as an active member of the underground, thanks to his contacts with the Town Hall, his arranged “Aryan papers” for those under his care. Sometimes he organised work for them in the hospital, in the vegetable store or in “Społem” stores.

Years later, Ewelina Lipko-Lipczyńska wrote: “We maintained ourselves through cultivating a large garden and a tract of field. What we did was selfless. We never took money from anyone. We never took any payment”.

Ewa Lipko-Lipczyńska, a Decent Human Being

From October 1939, Ewelina, known as “Ewa”, whom the War had separated from her husband Henryk, lived in the family home with her daughter Wiktoria. She belonged to the Union of Independent Socialist Youth, was a WRN activist and maintained contacts within the PPS. On Polna Street, she co-organised help for those in danger, taught in the underground school and was involved in the publishing of secret writings in “Robotnik”, “For a Better Tomorrow”.

When, in February 1943, a friend introduced her to Ewa on a Warsaw street, Anna Bayer-Dratwerowa was told, “She was an interesting person, a decent human being. […] She wrote a beautiful poem in which the refrain ‘The Sistine Chapel lies like the naked corpse of a Jew’” is repeated.

Unwilling Vagabonds, Saved From Death

The Szymański family arranged for Anna to be employed as a teacher in Ćmielów, not far from Ostrowiec. She stayed an extra night with them to be trained. Amongst the residents were an actor and also an academic with two doctorates, Dobiesław Damięcki and his actress wife, Irena Górska. Dobiesław, together with Wanda, Ewa’s sister, taught Anna mathematics. “Wanda prepared fortified eggnog for us […], and Damian [pseudonym Dobiesław – ed.] Damięcki, at the end of our joint efforts, said, “Now I’ll sing an aria for you from ‘The Vagabond King’”.

As I recall, the song he sung was one of the most beautiful I'd ever heard and [...] I realised that both he and I […] – rescued from death, “carriers of the light of education”, unwilling vagabonds, had found rest in this beautiful house.

The Szymański family gave refuge to many others. Ewa led several people out of the Ostrowiec ghetto. Among them were her school-friends Róża Rosenman, Cela Szotland-Gurfinkiel (Stefania Kowalska) and her daughter and Róża Szotland with her mother. She brought froends from the Warsaw ghetto to her father's house – Cecylia Lewicka and her daughter, Maria Karaś and her mother and Stefania Dromiewicz.

Others to find shelter in the Szymański home included theatre critic and director Andrzej Wróblewski, his wife Wanda and their small son. Wróblewski was actively involved in the underground. Ewa Lipko-Lipczyńska recalled, “He was a model of courage His courage and his knowledge of German helped in many difficult operations where people were saved”.

Papa Szymański’s Guest-House

With pride at the luck they had, Ewa recalled, “Throughout the whole war, about fifty people passed through our home, staying for a longer or shorter period or receiving immediate help. […] Most were Jews. […] There were also Poles wanted by the Gestapo. […] This happened over five long years, right next to a barracks full of German soldiers and in front of nieghbours – residents on Polna, Iłżecka and Browarna Streets!”.

I wanted to save people and, because it was the Jews who were under the greatest threat, I saved Jews. This activity was also successful because of our neighbours who, undoubtedly, knew what we were doing and, out of respect and love for my parents, remained silent. So, talking about Papa Szymański’s Guest-House was taboo.

Insiders knew what the abbreviation “PPS” stood for.

Additional protection for our home was provided by the meteorological station which was visible from the street. For many years, my father ran it for the Institute of Meteorology, something which he continued throughout the war. The station seemed to be in the hands of the Germans, which maybe saved us from round-ups and searches.

Ewa and Wanda Brought Help – Even in Situations With No Way Out

Ewa went to school together with Róża Rosenman (Shoshana Wachholder). Later, they studied in Warsaw – they lost contact. Following the outbreak of war, Róża returned to her hometown, where she found herself in the ghetto. It was there that Ewa looked for her and brought her to “Papa Szymański’s Guest-House” and, thanks to her brother-in-law, Mr Kryczyński, a Muslim, she was equipped with papers of a Muslim woman, “Zinaida Piekarczyk”. With these new documents, Róża was sent to work in the home of Warsaw doctor. Dr. Śmigóra.

After being denounced, she spent a year in Pawiak, in a cell for seamstresses. But, again, she was able to be rescued”, wrote Edward Rostal in his account contained in “Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej”.

In March 1943, the Szymański sisters, together with Wanda's husband, found an apartment for Cyrla Rakocz and her two sons. “To them, I was a complete stranger”, wrote Cyrla, after the war. Even in situations where “there was no way out”, their help could be counted upon. By telephone, she had repeatedly called for help.

When, in one instance, they were unable to help me personally, they turned to an underground organisation which sent threatening letters to my persecutors. That saved me.

Cela Szotland-Gurfinkiel (Stefania Kowalska) was friends with Wanda since junior high school. When the Ostrowiec ghetto was being liquidated, she handed her two-year-old daughter over to her friend and left the city using “Aryan papers” provided to her by Ewa. Ewa recalled,

Cela […] hid in my sister’s apartment in Warsaw (Stalowa Street)”, while her little daughter, three-year-old Teresa remained with us.

However, someone recognised the littel girl and people began talking. Ewa immediately fled with Teresa and her own daughter from Ostrowiec to Podhale. Her aunt, Róża Szotland, found refuge with nuns in a convent.

In Kielce, on the way back to Ostrowiec, Ewa fell victim to a round-up.

I was then separated from my child. My daughter was cared for by strangers. I was assigned to digging ditches – trenches near Opatow, where I stayed in various places for more than two weeks. From there, I managed to escape.

She found her daughter and, together, they returned to their family.

A Return to Studies and Work at School

After the War, with her father, Ewa organised “accelerated education” classes for those whose learning had been delayed due to the war. She taught Polish language. She returned to her studies in the Philosophy Faculty of the Jagiellonian University. She participated in cultural activities. Following Jan Szymański’s death in 1963, she moved to Warsaw, where she worked in the XXXIV Gen. Karol Świerczewski Senior High School (from 1991, the school was named after Miguel de Cervantes) in the Warsaw district of Mokotów.

Righteous Among the Nations

In 1966, she visited Israel at the invitation of Róża Rosenman, through whose efforts she was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. On 30th July, she planted a tree in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. She wrote, “This is the only award I have received, one of which I am very proud”. During her stay in Israel, she wrote a poem which she dedicated to Róża’s daughter, Edna, and to all children born in Israel. Directed at them, she wrote, “[…] Your are happy at home, like all children, free from degradation”.

Her Departure in March’68

When, in 1968, the Polish communist authorities launched its antisemitic campaign, she publicly protested against the censorship and the attack on Jews. For that, she lost her job. “[…] My stay in Israel, my Yad Vashem certificate and my position as a Polish language teacher during that period of intensified antisemitism, contributed to me losing my job and my children had their pathways to further study closed off”. She decided to leave:

[...] together with the last Polish Jews, among whom were many of my students. [...] After surrendering my Polish citizenship, I was allowed to leave the country.

In 1969, she settled in Sweden. In 1996, she received Honorary Citizenship of the State of Israel. In Stockholm, she lived with her family, surrounded by friends and foster children.