Abramowicz Natalia

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Story of Rescue - Abramowicz Natalia

Michał Steinlauf, his wife Małka and their two children: nine-year-old Bajla-Sura and four-year-old Kalman lived in Radomsko. Michał was the owner of a factory. For six years, they had a live-in nanny for the children, Weronika Kalek.

Before the war Steinlauf got acquainted with Natalia Abramowicz, whose parents grew and sold flowers in Radomsko. Her house was located on the outskirts of the city and she shared it with her brother after the death of their parents. The Abramowicz family were Evangelical Protestants. In 1923 Natalia Abramowicz's brother-in-law had a company specializing in bentwood items, which he owned in partnership with two Jews.

In 1923 Michał Steinlauf got a job at that company and moved into the house of the Abramowicz family. He stayed with them even when the company went bankrupt and he found a new job.

When the Steinlauf family moved into the ghetto, established in Radomsko as early as December 1939, Weronika supplied them with food. The Steinlaufs managed to escape in October 1942, most probably just before the liquidation action that started on 9 October 1942. Within three days, almost all the Jews were transported from the ghetto to the extermination camp in Treblinka. Małka's brother Jakub Wygodzki and his wife Pola escaped with Michał, Małka and their children.

For about 10 months the whole family stayed in an attic hideout prepared by Natalia Abramowicz. In an interview published by the “Saint Louis Post” in 1971, Abramowicz stated “it is hard to say whether he [Steinlauf] asked me first or if I proposed it”. Thanks to the garden, which was now used to grow potatoes and other vegetables instead of flowers, the woman could feed the adults and children in the hideout.

Wanda Kalek refused to leave the children and went into hiding with the Steinlauf family. Natalia tried to stay in the house at all times and she did not let anyone in for fear of being denounced. For a short period Abramowicz also protected Zisl and Chana, daughters of the widow Balcia (Bela) Dąbrower (née Gliksman) (1901-1942), a dressmaker and friend. Both died when their bunker in the ghetto was exposed.

In the spring of 1943 many homes in Radomsko were searched by German police. The Steinlaufs feared that Kalman's cries might give away their presence. In an atmosphere of growing threat, the decision was reached that the women and children, with Weronika's help, would move to a new hiding place in Częstochowa. Sadly, the person who agreed to protect Małka, her children and sister-in-law betrayed them.

Everyone was arrested, including Weronika. When messages from his family in Częstochowa stopped coming, Michał started to suspect the worst. Abramowicz recalls that he spent whole days at the one tiny window. Meanwhile Jakub Wygodzki found another hiding place.

On 8 May 1943 the Gestapo showed up at home of Natalia Abramowicz. By drawing the attention of the police away from the attic, Natalia enabled Michał's escape. She later claimed that the traces of Jews in her house were left by people who lived in the attic without her knowledge.

Even so, Abramowicz was arrested and imprisoned, first in her home town, then in Częstochowa, where she was sentenced to death. For the first two weeks in prison, she saw Małka with her children and sister-in-law, but they were shot on 20 June 1943.

Abramowicz's sentence was changed to life imprisonment, as her family had been on the Volksliste from the start of the occupation. As the front approached, Natalia was taken to Hamburg and then to Bremen with all the other prisoners. Liberated by British soldiers, she never returned to Poland. Until 1950 she stayed in a DP camp near Hamburg. There she had a visit from Steinlauf, who confirmed that his closest family members were dead. Since she had always dreamed of visiting the US, Natalia decided to migrate there. Initially she was employed as a housekeeper in Welsh, Louisiana, then moved to Saint Louis, where she worked in nut processing and struggled with poverty and illness on her own.

After the war Steinlauf left for France. He started a new family by marrying Neta and had a son, Seweryn. Steinlauf found Abramowicz in the DP camp and begged her to leave for Australia with him and his new family. However, that was when Abramowicz decided to move to the US.

Steinlauf and his family settled in Melbourne. He was the director of a shirt factory and a member of B’nei B’rith. Jakub Wygodzki migrated to the US, where he died in the late 1960s. Steinlauf regularly exchanged letters with Natalia and sent her pictures of his new family.

In 1969 Yad Vashem decided to award Natalia Abramowicz the title of Righteous Among the Nations. In 1971 Steinlauf travelled to Saint Louis to attend the ceremony of awarding the medal and diploma. According to a report from the ceremony, published 2 June 1971 in the “St. Louis Jewish Light”, when accepting her medal Abramowicz said: “I am an ordinary person and I do not need any distinctions. I only tried to help my friends in Poland's darkest hour”. Articles about Abramowicz published in Saint Louis press urged the local Jewish community to surround her with friendly care. The Jewish Federation of Saint Louis provided medical care and housing to the Righteous woman.

In 1977 the title of Righteous Among the Nations was also awarded to Weronika Kalek.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Yad Vashem, 533