The Kowalski Family

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The Story of the Kowalski Family

“Six people passed safely through our apartment”, wrote Halina Kowalska, telling her story to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. “We treated them all like family”.

Halina lived in a studio apartment at 60 Obozowa Street in Warsaw, with her husband Władysław and four-year-old daughter Zosia. “The room had a small recess which contained a sink and a small gas stove. There was also a tiny hallway and an equally small toilet. In total, we had about thirty square metres”. Among their neighbours, they were known as the “Lityński family”. That was Halina's maiden name were among their neighbours. Of the three of them, only she was registered to live in this studio apartment. 

Halina

Halina was born in 1905 in Druja (today in Belarus). Her father, Professor Alfred Lityński, was an ichthyologist, a pioneer in Polish hydrobiology and limnology. He was one of the first scientists in Poland to conduct research into water fauna, in terms of ecology. 

During the occupation, Halina Kowalska worked as a manager of the “Dal” company. Its director was a German who organised a workshop in the ghetto – a “szopka” being a factory which worked for the Third Reich.

Obtaining one of these jobs was every Jew's dream, because no one was deported from there. They had a momentary certainty that they would survive. Some workers in my factory supervised work in these workshops, supplied the raw materials and brought out the finished products.

Halina bought a pass into the ghetto from one of these internediaries. Thanks to this, she was able to visit friends and smuggle in messages and food.

Władysław

Władysław Kowalski was born in 1894 in Paprotnia near Rawa Mazowiecka into a peasant family. 

In his youth, he became involved in the peasant movement and, following World War I, during which he fought in the Russian army, he became involved in the communist movement. In 1928, he joined the Communist Party of Poland, for which he was arrested in 1932. in the 1930's, he began writing as a columnist and as an author. 

During the occupation, he hid from the Germans. He was active in the Polish Workers' Party. As Vice-President of the General Committee of the People's Party (Stronnictwo Ludowe), he took part in the preparations for the establishment of the Polish National Liberation Committee .

No one checked his name in the administration, nor if he was registered. This proved invaluable during the war. No one suspected that there as a “Władysław Kowalski” amongst the Lityński family. The Germans' searches for my husband proved futile.

Ill with tuberculosis, he look older than he actually was. 

[…] he removed traces of himself, changed some of the details on his “ausweis”. He added ten years to his real age. He changed “Władysław” to “Włodzimierz” and gave his occupation as “bookkeeper”. 

Rami and Dalia

In the first instance, two Jewish girls found themselves under the roof of the Kowalski family. Rami was a kindergarten friend of Zosia's and the daughter of nurse Ala Grynberg. Dalia was an orphan whom Ala had also raised. They lived in the same neighbourhood on ulica Bolecha. In 1940, when the ghetto was established in Warsaw, Ala asked the Kowalski family to care for the girls. She, herself, went to live behind the ghetto wall.

The neighbours knew both girls well and that's why them staying with us was dangerous. After organising Ala from the ghetto, I put all three into a sled and took both girls away. It was at the time when Aryans could still enter the ghetto without any problems.

Sisters

When the Germans proceeded to organise the Warsaw ghetto, Władysław, sensing the intentions of the occupying powers, suggested to Halina that they warn their Jewish friends against moving into the closed district. Halina contacted Jadwiga Mesz, a friend from her school days. However, Jadwiga, just like her sister Wanda, was already living in the ghetto.

She thought that, as a doctor, she would survive the war there and be safe their in her profession. 

Jadwiga brought food to the sisters.

I don't deny that I was extremely fearful when I entered the ghetto, since bringing food into the ghetto could be severely punished.

When Jadwiga asked Halina to hide Wanda in her home, Mrs Kowalska agreed with her husband.

He was in hiding himself. There were gatherings and various underground meetings held in our apartment […]. He agreed without a thought. 

They arranged to meet at the pharmacy on the border of the ghetto. Together, they entered the “Aryan side”.

We were both without money, but we had to manage to survive somehow.

Jadwiga also came to Obozowa Street. She left the ghetto with a group of workers. She slipped awy from them and waited for Halina.

Told that Jadzia was already on the Aryan side, I went to Mokotów to meet her. At that time, Mokotów was not built up like it is today. I saw the potato field and a hat popping up and disappearing in it. It was her.

Halina took Jadwiga safely to Wola.

I brought all her clothes from the ghetto by wearing them, covered in a fur coat – the only warm clothing. The issue of the fur was very risky because having it could mean the severest punishment. But I took the risk, countering my fear with a lot of nerve […].

Jadwiga's husband, Mozrycer, as “Michał Dziarnowski” was also in hiding.

When he wanted to know what was happening with his family and to relax a little, he would come to us in Koło.

The sisters' next hiding place was in Milanówek.

The Rydygier Couple

She also helped Mrs Rydygier whose husband, a Pole, lived outside the ghetto.

Basia

Four-year-oold Basia spent only a few weeks with the Kowalski family.

Those, who had been hiding her, were being blackmailed and, as her mother told me, they were waiting for passports they had purchased, which the Swiss were to provide. All I know is that Basia's father was an outstanding Warsaw lawyer. Her mother was a pretty, young and well-groomed woman. She spoke in a beautiful, literary style.

Basia was very sick.

Every time she evacuated her bowels, they would fall out and had to be pushed back into place. She was a very pleasant child. She took to us completely, but greeted her mother enthusiatically.

Rywa

Maria Antosiak manager of a mydlarnia (a shop selling cleaning products, what was a drugstore of that time) located in the same building where they lived. One day, she asked Halina if she and her husband would  ake care of an orphan. The little girl's name was Ania, but, actually, she was really Rywa Lejtman. She grew very close to her rescuers.

[…] Ania asked us if she could call us her parents and so a daughter was born to us. 

My husband tried to extract her parants from the ghetto, but they were take to Trawniki and that is where they were killed.

After the war

After the war, Rami and Dalia, Ala Grynberg's daughter and ward, emigrated to Israel.

Ala Grynberg remained in the ghetto, even though she could have left it. She helped people at the station and on the wagons […]. 

The sisters in the  Mesz home remained in Warsaw. 

Over a period of time, Ani, as “Ania Kowalska”, went to school in Warsaw. After that, she left for Israel and settled in Haifa. She changed her surname to “Wolfstein”. She had two children. They remained in contact and, when she visited Poland, she stayed with the Kowalski couple.

Ania invited me to Israel. However, first, my husband's illness would not permit me to leave Warsaw and then I felt too old for such an escapade.

However, their daughter, Zosia, did visit her in Israel.

The Jewish Community Council knew well about our position during the war. I don't remember if, at that time, there was already an [Israeli – ed.] embassy but, over many years, we were sent some luxury matzah.

Halina Kowalska worked as a teacher. 

In May 1945, Władysław became the first Deputy Chairman of the State National Council (Krajowa Rada Narodowa). In Moscow, he participated in talks regarding the creation of the Provisional Government of National Unity (Tymczasowy Rząd Jedności Narodowej). He was a member of the council of the People's Party (Stronnictwo Ludowe) and, in June, was nominated for the position of Minister of Culture and the Arts. In 1947–1952, he served as Speaker of the Sejm. At that same time, he published novels, short stories and articles on rural subjects. In October 1956, he was dismissed from his position as President of the Supreme Executive Committee of the United People's Party (Zjednoczone Stronnictwo Ludowe) and as a member of the Polish State Council (Rada Państwa).

He committed suicide on 12th December 1958. The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) included the street, named after him, on the list of changes which were to take place under the “Decommunisation Act” in 2016.

In 1995, the Yad Vashem Institute honoured the Kowalski couple with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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