The Justyna family

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The story of Maria Magdalena Śpiewak

Sabina and Helena Szwarc were students at the school where Kazimiera Justyna taught. Her daughters, Danuta and Maria, were the same age as the Szwarc sisters. They were, 16 and 14 respectively, when the war broke out. The Justyna sisters paid several visits to the Szwarcs in the ghetto.

“In 1941 or 42 their mum came to ours, kneeled before her and begged, ‘Save my two daughters.’” Maria Śpiewak remembers.

Kazimiera Justyna hid the girls in the attic. They spent three weeks there. The room was not heated and had no bathroom access. The floor under the attic was occupied by Mr Kacprzak, the school headmaster.

“Once, Kacprzak spoke to mum in the yard and said: ‘Mrs Justyna, please do something with what you’re keeping upstairs, because my nerves are in shreds.’”

Kazimiera Justyna’s house served as a base of the Home Army’s underground activity, and her daughters were couriers. Maria later went on to work in Home Army intelligence. Both girls used false names, which allowed them to escape from a Gestapo raid. Their mother was tortured for information on the location of her daughters.

Kazimiera’s Home Army colleague provided new identity cards for those who had been rescued. Sabina and Helena Szwarc heeded their father’s advice and used their false papers to go to Germany for work. Their mother died, denounced by some Polish children, while their father, interned at a timber plant, was later killed in Buchenwald. Their brother, Natan, survived his time in a camp. The siblings met in the US after the war, where they later settled. Maria continues to live in the house where the Szwarc sisters were hidden.

Maria married after the war and was imprisoned for two years in the 1950s for her involvement with the Home Army. She completed her medical studies after her release.

Bibliography

  • Strączek Ignacy, Interview with Maria Śpiewak, 4.04.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009