Tołwiński Stanisław

enlarge map
Photos : 7

“The Social Construction Enterprise is known for it's wide rescue activities”. The Story of Stanisław Tołwiński

The Społeczne Przedsiębiorstwo Budowlane (SBP; Social Construction Enterprise) was established by the Warszawska Spółdzielnia Mieszkaniowa (WSM; Warsaw Housing Cooperative) in 1928. Both institutions, who “had as their aim the development of construction cooperatives and the construction of cheap worker's apartments”, were co-founded by Stanisław Tołwiński, a cooperative activist and builder. He was active in many parties, both unions and associations. He was a post-War Mayor of Warsaw, a goverment minister and a member of the PRL Sejm. “(…) he usually worked, simultaneously, in several institutions, all concerned with related activities”.

He was born on 11th October 1895 in Strzemieszyce Wielkie, the son of technical engineer Kazimierz and Maria née Markowska. In 1912, he studied at the Technical Institute in St. Petersburg, in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, where he joined the Progressive-Independence Youth Union (Filarecja). He did not graduate. In 1915, he went to Warsaw to make contact with the Revolutionary Faction of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). He was arrested in July and spent two years in prison. In May 1918, at the initiative of the PPS, he began working at the “Promień” Workers' Food Cooperative in Warsaw. Again, he was arrested and again released. He continued his cooperative activities. From 1921, he attended the Free Polish University in the Faculty of Socio-Economics, from which he graduated in 1927. His mentor was Teodor Toeplitz, head of the Polish Residential Reform Society.

During the occupation, apart from working at the SPB and the Architecture and Urban Planning Studio (PAU), he also worked with the Warsaw city authorities (WSM). Among other things, he dealt with the renovation and conservation of WSM buildings. In Professional Vocational Training Courses, he lectured in the organisation and management of housing cooperatives. On the recommendation of the Workers' Party of Polish Socialists (RPPS), he joined the Polish National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa), where he became chairman of the Social and Economic Planning Circle. Occasionally, he would have to go into hiding, while married and having children at the time.

In the pages of his book Lwy z mojego podwórka (Lions from my backyard) Jarosław Abramow-Newerly recalls: “The Social Construction Enterprise was excellently organised, grouping within its ranks pre-War cooperative activists. Under the guise of official activity, the WSM and SPB hid pre-War leftist organisations led by eminent PPS activists such as Antoni Zdanowski, Józef Dzięgielewski, […] Marian and Bolesław Nowicki and Adam Próchnik. Stanisław Szwalbe [co-organiser in the WSM and SPB – ed.] worked with Tołwiński in the SPB. The head of an SPB brigade, which hired his father [Igor Newerly – ed.] as a glazier, was Władysław Uziębło, a well-known PPS activist and Vice-President in Lublin and Radom.

The SPB offices were located within the grounds of the WSM in Żoliborz, at 16/18 Krasińskiego Street. Janusz Durko was one of the workers at the SPB. In an interview with POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, he recalled: “(...) Żoliborz was kind of an enclave, a closed environment in which few people would ever think about going to the ghetto”.

Jarosław Abramow-Newerly wrote that, usually, nothing happened to those who stayed on the “Aryan side”. In his testimony to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, survivor Aleksander Dyszko-Wolski wrote: “The SPB is known for its wide support for and hiding of Jews, socialists and communists, the creative intelligentsia – politicians”.

A civil engineer born in February 1913 in Białystok, he hid with his wife child in, among other places, Warsaw. In 1943-1944, he worked in PAU which was headed by Helena Syrkus, an avant-garde architect, who worked together with her husband Szymon, also an architect: “That studio was a clandestine institution, preparing plans for the reconstruction of the country after the War. […] It depended on Stanisław Tołwiński. […] He protected the hiding Jews by employing them, providing them with material support and making it easier for them to check in to the WSM. He was friendly towards me and supported my work at the PAU, the Social Economics Institute, also underground) and in work for the PPR Central Committee”.

The Wolski family also received a little food aid. “In 1943, I was caught on ulica Potocka in Warsaw by 'shmaltzowniks' (among others from Kripo and the Police) [Kripo, Kriminalpolizei – German criminal police – ed.]. Stanisław Tołwiński used his own money to pay bribes for my release”.

Mieczysław Karol Dubiński was born in 1915 in Warsaw. When the War broke out, he was studying at the Warsaw Polytechnic. In 1939, he managed to get to Lwów and continued his studies there. In March 1941, he married Judyta Isz with whom, in November, he returned to Warsaw on “Aryan papers”. The spent half a year in the ghetto.In the spring of 1942, they crossed to the “Aryan side”, where Mieczysław found work at the SPB. In his 1994 testimony to the Yad Vashem Institute, he wrote: “He [Stanisław Tołwiński – ed.] employed me on constructions external to Warsaw, fully knowing of my Jewish roots”.

Thanks to his employment documentation (Arbeitsusweiss), Mieczysław could move around freely and obtained a permit for an apartment in Pruszków. He worked there on one of the major buildings run by the SPB. He also worked in the Kieleckie and Krakowskie (Szczekociny) Provinces, where agricultural and dairy cooperatives were also established.

“In all certainty, I can say that the SPB consciously employed Jews, both on construction sites and in warehouses, as well as in its offices on ul. Krasińskiego in Warsaw. For example, among the employees of the partly-underground Architectural and Urban Planning Studio were Szymon and Helena Syrkus and engineerAleksander Wolski. Employed in the general departments were Maria Aszer, Zofia Pilc and several other people whose names I can't remember”.

During the Warsaw Uprising, those hiding in the SPB, together with the other staff, survived within the organisation's premises. Following the Uprising, they found themselves in various places within the General Government. They were paid by field agencies of the Społem (Cooperative). Mieczysław Dubiński recalls: “I was also one of those people. At the end of September 1944, I found myself in Zalesie near Warsaw where, thanks to the help mentioned before, I could survive that period until January 1945, until the area was taken over by the Polish Army and Soviet units”. After the War, he settled in Gothenburg in Sweden. He obtained his doctorate at the Chalmer University of Technology and then lectured at the Polish University in London.

After the Warsaw Uprising, Stanisław Tołwiński found himself in the camp in Pruszków, from where he managed to get to Końskie, then to Kraków and Lublin. According to a statement, made by his daughter Danuta Metera in 1995, after the War he remained in close contact with his former work colleagues. In 1946, he joined the Polish Workers Party. He served as Mayor of Warsaw (1945-1949) and chaired the Presidium of the Capital City Council (1945-1950). He was active in the reconstruction of the capital city.

He died in 1969 in Warsaw. He was buried in the Powązki Military Cemetery.

According to Mieczysław Dubiński: “Not everyone in the leadership of the SPB who, during the War, helped Stanisław Tołwiński and saved lives or who fought for human dignity for their fellow Jewish citizens, survived the horrors of that 'contemptible time'. The extent of the human sacrifice is now fully revealed. I consider that it is a serious mistake that it has taken me so long to submit this testimony. Among the reasons is the fact that I have no contact with the family of the deceased”.

On 10th April 1997, Stanisław Tołwiński was honoured posthumously with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Since 14th May 1970, one of the streets in the Sady Żoliborskie estate in Warsaw bears his name. The estate was constructed by the WSM.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area