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The story of Aleksander Kamiński

Aleksander Kamiński was born in Warsaw on 28th January 1903. His father, Jan, was a pharmacist. His mother, Petronela (nee Kaźmierczak) was a housewife. In 1905, the Kamiński family left Warsaw and settled in Kiev, where Aleksander graduated from a four-year comprehensive school. Following the death of his father in 1911, he interrupted his studies, only to resume them again seven years later in Uman, to where he had moved with his mother. In 1921, he returned to Poland.  

He settled in a home for orphans in Pruszków and continued his education. After matriculating, he began studying history at Warsaw University. Shortly after, following years of separation, he reunited with his mother. To support both of them, Kamiński found work as, among other positions, the manager of the hall of resident at the Rada Główna Opiekuńcza (Central Welfare Council) in Pruszków. After finishing his studies, he began work as a teacher at the Stanisław Kostki High School in Warsaw. In 1930-1931, he was hall of residence manager at the Związek Osadników Wojskowych (Union of Servicemen Settlers) youth trade school Warsaw.

Service in Scouting

When he was fifteen years old, he joined the scouting movement. In 1918, he took the pledge with the T. Kościuszki Męskia Drużyna Skautowej (male scout troupe) in Uman. He advanced rapidly from Patrol Leader to Scouting Lieutenant. From 1920, he headed the entire Scout Troop in Uman. He continued his service in scouting in Pruszków, where he joined the S. Czarnecki 1st Pruszków Scout Troop and the T. Tan 3rd Pruszków Scout Troop. In 1924, he achieved the rank of Assistant Scoutmaster. A year later, he was Commander of the Pruszków Scouts. From 1928 to 1930, now as a Scoutmaster, he directed the Chorągiew Mazowiecka ZHP (the Chorągiew Mazowiecka Scouting Movement).

During that period, Kamiński began his love affair with writing and journalism. In the Pruszków Scouts, he began publishing his magazine "Znicz" (The Candle). At the same time, he wrote for "Iskier" (The Spark), "Płomyk" (The Glimmer) and "Na tropie" (On the Trail).

In the 1930's, he became involved with the Cubs. In Górki Wielkie, he ran the Cubs Instructors School and, later, the Scouting Centre, where he spent the last three years prior to the outbreak of war.

World War II

The outbreak of war found Aleksander Kamiński in Górki Wielkie. From there, he got to Warsaw where he immediately became involved himself working for the scouting underground. From October 1939, he joined the Główna Kwatera Szarych Szeregów (Scouting "Grey Ranks" Movement Headquarters). At the same time, he joined the Służba Zwycięstwu Polsce (Service for Poland's Victory), where he worked under the pseudonym of "Kaźmierczak".

In November of the same year, he took over the post of Editor-in-Chief of the KG ZWZ-AK's (Home Army's) press organ, the "Biuletyn Informacyjny" (Information Bulletin), which he established. From November 1942, when he was threatened with being unmasked, he began functioning under the pseudonym of "Hubert". He continued as Editor-in-Chief until the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising.

In December 1940, he established the Organizacja Małego Sabotażu (Small Sabotage Organisation), which had the codename "Wawer" and was responsible to the KG ZWZ-AK Home Army Command). Kamiński became its commander, with the pseudonym "Dąbrowski" and held the position until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. The organisation dealt with countering German propaganda, as well as taking direct action against Germans and collaborators. Towards this aim, among other things, they smashed the windows of Poles who collaborated with the occupiers, distributed leaflets and threw tear gas into cinemas, etc. From the hands of "Wawer" members came, among other things, drawings of the Polish Fighting Anchor and the "V" sign. Writing about the organisation's activities, Kamiński, under the pen-name "J. Górecki", wrote Wielka gra (The Great Game),  a book which became a kind of handbook for underground activity.

In April 1941, he was appointed to the position of Chief of the Information and Propaganda Bureau of the Warsaw Headquarters of the Home Army. He held this position until 1944, under the pseudonym "Faktor", and lhen later as "Fabrykant". There, he occupied himself with countering the propaganda of the enemy. In the second half of 1942, as part of the Bureau, he set up the "Sztuka" cell, whose task it was to activate artists, writers, actors, poets and painters, and to publish the results of their work in the "Biuletyn Informacyjny".

At that same time, Kamiński expanded the Bureau's publishing activities, the pubishing house being known under the codename "KOPR". Amongst KOPR's book collection was a booklet written by Antoni Szymanowski, entitled "Likwidacja getta warszawskiego" (The Liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto), written in the form of a diary, chronicling events in the ghetto from June to September 1942. With Kamiński's approval, Maria Kahn's "Na oczach świata" (Before the Eyes of the World) was published, telling of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. The effect of KOPR's work is described in the expanded version of Kamiński's "Kamienie na szaniec" (Stones for the Rampart), which, after the War, was to become his most well-known work.

All the while, Kamiński became heavily engaged in matters effecting the Jewish people. Before the War, he had strong ties with active members of the Jewish organisation Hashomer Hatzair, with whom he connected as head of the Minorities Department of the Scouting Association Headquarters. In the 1930's, he chaired the General Headquarters of the Association of Jewish Scout Troops and Cub Packs. After the ghetto was established in Warsaw, he was kept regularly informed, by his Jewish friends, of the tragic situation of the Jews. The information which he received was then published in the pages of the "Biuletyn Informacyjny". He remained in constant contact with Jerzy Grasberg, a Scoutmaster in the Jewish scouting movement, a liaison with the Grey Ranks and "Biuletyn" correspondent from the Warsaw Ghetto.

Knowledge about the situation of the Jewish people was provided to him by residents of other ghettoes and by escapees from transports heading for the camps. In his work, he was assisted by Irena Adamowicz, who had secretly entered ghettoes in Białystok, Wilna and Kowno. Through Kamiński, contact was made with the Jewish Fighting Organisation. He was also in close contact with Icchak Cukierman, JFO's liaison with the Home Army (AK). He referred to himself, his co-workers, the scouts, Adamowicz and Tadeusz Kwaśniewski as "ambassadors of the Jewish resistance movement" to the ZWZ-AK (Home Army headquarters).

Kamiński frequently criticised the Polish Underground for its attitude in being too conservative when it came to actively helping the Jews. Władysław Bartoszewski recalled that "Kamiński had been idealistic and was not alligned to any party. Rather, he was idealistically closer to the former PPS. He came from an environment which formed ethical, clean and idealistic scouts”. Due to his sympathies and his activities for the Jewish population, he found himself on a list, compiled in 1944 by the NSZ (National Armed Forces), of individuals linked to Żegota and was suspected of being a communist sympathiser. In it, Kamiński is described as a "philosemite".

In March 1943, Kamiński also helped Jerzy Grasberg and his wife to get out of the ghetto. He also provided Jews with "Aryan" papers and, as he said, "made more of them in 1943-1944 than did the Government-in-Exile". After the fall of the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, he comitted himself to helping the Jewish underground. Among those whom he helped to hide on the "Aryan side" was Luba Gewisser. He found her an apartment and provided her with papers. Thanks to his help, she survived the War.

After the fall of the Warsaw Uprising and a stay in a camp in Pruszków, Kamiński withdrew from his underground activities. He lived in Skierniewice until the War ended.

After the War

At the end of the War, he moved to Łódź. There, he took a job with the Katedra Pedagogiki Społecznej (Department of Social Pedagogy) at Łódź University, while still remaining active within the scouting movement. From January 1946, he served as Acting Head of the Scouting Council and, from the following March, he was Vice-Chairman of the ZHP (Polish Scouting Movement). In 1947, he received his Ph.D. and, in that same year, Związek Literatów Polskich (Polish Writers' Union). By that time, he was beginning to have problems with the Communist authorities. In 1948, for "reactionary views about scouting", he was removed from his position of Vice-Chairman of the ZHP. In January of the following year, for ideological reasons, he was removed from scouting and deprived of his position as an instructor. The year after, he was dismissed from Łódź Universitykiego and, due to censorship, his books were removed from libraries and bookshops. Kamiński remained under constant surveillance by the UB (Security Service).

He returned to his work in scouting in 1956. For a year and a half, he chaired the Naczelna Rada Harcerska. He supported the reactivation of the ZHP in an agreement with the authorities and, despite their approval, he remained opposed to the ideological compliance of Communist Party organisations.

In 1958, Kamiński returned to Łódź University, where he received his post-doctorate qualification. He died in Warsaw in 1978 and was buried in Powązki Cemetery. In 1991, he was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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Bibliography

  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Polacy – Żydzi – Okupacja. Fakty, postawy, refleksje, Warszawa 2016
  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Lewinówna Zofia, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Warszawa 2007
    This publication consists of 3 parts: monographic outline of the issue of aid given to the Jews; collection of German and Polish documents concerning the histories of Jews and the aid given to them; collection of the post-war reports created by Poles and Jews about the aid.
  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Z kart wojennej służby Aleksandra Kamińskiego, „Tygodnik Powszechny” 1978, nr 18-19
  • Friszke Andrzej, Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego 1956-1963. Społeczna organizacja wychowawcza w systemie politycznym PRL, Warszawa 2016
  • Heska-Kwaśniewicz Krystyna, Braterstwo i służba. Rzecz o pisarstwie Aleksandra Kamińskiemu, Katowice 1998
  • Nycz Edwarda (red.), Aleksander Kamiński, działacz i uczony, Opole 1993
  • Wierzbicki Marek (red.), Studia z dziejów harcerstwa 1944-1989, Warszawa 2009
  • Żbikowski Andrzej red., Polacy i Żydzi pod okupacją niemiecką 1939-1945. Studia i materiały, Warszawa 2006

    The publication consists of articles whose authors analyze certain aspects of Polish-Jewish relations during the German occupation. The book contains six regional studies and four thematic studies devoted to, among other things, Polish Righteous and the negative attitudes of Poles toward Jews.