Ambroziewicz Julian

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Story of Rescue - Ambroziewicz Julian

When War broke out, Leon Joselzon was living at 17 Zamenhofa Street. This tenement, at the corner of Zamenhofa and Gęsia, lay in the heart of the Jewish Northern District, right next to where the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews stands today. It was there that Joselzon ran his “Rozpęd” Polish Machinery Centre through which he sold sewing machines.

“The Joselzon family was known throughout the district as being well- to-do. They owned a four-storey residential building, with two courtyards, on Nowolipki Street in Warsaw, as well as a large guesthouse in the health spa town of Kaczy Dół (now called Międzylesie)”, according to architect Julian Ambroziewicz, whose parents knew Leon’s parents. “Leon Jolson (Joselzon) represented the Singer company in Poland and was a very wealthy man”.

During the occupation, the Joselzon family found themselves in the ghetto. Leon’s pre-War experience in the knitting industry proved to be useful to him. He was employed in the German Karl Georg Schulz workshop at 78 Leszno Street. Located within the ghetto, it produced clothing for the Wehrmacht. Sweaters and warm socks would soon prove to be useful on the Russian front. The German managers valued Jolson as a specialist. Together with his wife Anna, he lived in a house next to the factory. He was given a pass with which he was able to leave the ghetto. Escape to the “Aryan side” was only a question of time.

In his memoirs, he wrote, “From (underground) organisations came the news that Jews, even those who were employed in the German workshops, would be sent to (liquidation) camps (ed: certainly meaning extermination camps). From the moment that the news reached us, we began to look for contacts on the “Aryan side”. We contacted one of our pre-War friends – the engineer Julian Ambroziewicz”.

Ambroziewicz was not only an architect, he was also an officer in the Home Army (ZWZ-AK). Following orders from his superiors in the underground, he rebuilt houses which had been destroyed in September 1939 and camouflaged hiding places within them. There the underground stored weapons and radio equipment.

Many years later, in a short article prepared for the Jewish Historical Institute, the architect wrote, “In 1941, I was approached by the lawyer Józef Rozenowaj, a dear friend from the K. Kulwiec Junior High School. He asked about creating a hiding place for his friend Joselzon (today, Jolson). Due to the fact that the entire construction brigade was in my unit (Home Army Platoon 1670), I agreed”.

He designed four hiding places for the Joselzon family – two in a house at 25 Świętokrzyska Street, one at 164 Puławska Street and one at 4 Kopernika Street. Leon Jolson assisted with the finances. All of them had a dual purpose. They served both as equipment storage for the Home Army and as hiding places for escapees from the ghetto.

In his writings, Jolson says not one word about his crossing into the “Aryan side”. Which way did they get out? Did they benefit from the pass from the Schultz workshop and pass through one of the ghetto gates?

In their book “The Warsaw Ghetto – a Guide to a Non-Existent City”, Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak write, “The technique for leaving was simple enough – most often past one of the posts (ed.: within brigades of Jewish workers employed outside the ghetto), from which, at an appropriate moment, one could separate, remove one’s armband and disappear into the crowd. One could also pass through the Court building on Leszno, through the cemetery wall or past bribed guards”.

What is known is that Leon escaped to the “Aryan side” with his wife Anną and his mother Blima Joselzon. At first, they stayed at Świętokrzyska Street, when there was an especially constructed cupboard on the lowest storey. The bathroom could be accessed through it.

“I equipped Jolson with a radio, a weapon, grenades, etc. I would visit them often”, noted Julian Ambroziewicz.

They had to move address due to the flushing of water having betrayed them. It was noticed by office workers who had stayed at work longer than usual. The Joselzon family then moved to Puławska Street. Even there, it was not safe as the girlfriends of German soldiers had moved into the adjoining apartment. In the end, they found themselves in the hiding place at Apartment 4, 21 Kopernika Street, on the fifth floor. The construction of this tenement had been commenced, before the War, by a Jewish investor named Wolanow. He never managed to complete it.

“My grandfather said that the building had been unfinished and unusable. There were not even stairs to the apartment containing the hiding place. Food was passed in through the window”, says Agata Ambroziewicz, the architect’s granddaughter.

“I heard that food was drawn up in a bucket containing lime so that, from the outside, it would look like part of the renovation work”, says Anna Briesemeister. In 1945, when her family moved into the tenement, the stairs were still not finished. “You  had to go upstairs using planks. Mum always said, ‘Don’t look down and walk close to the wall”.

By day, the Joselzon family locked themselves inside the hiding place. They sat in a dark and stuffy cubbyhole, 2.5 m long and 1.5 m wide. They only entered the room under cover of darkness. How did they feel? How did they spend their time? Where there moments of danger?

Jolson’s manuscript does not provide answers. So again, we refer to the book by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak. They write, “Sitting for weeks or months in a confined space, loneliness, memories of the ghetto and the loss of relatives – it all leads to depression. (...) Time spent in hiding was empty, monotonous, unvarying and somewhat unreal. It was like being without existing. During their time, many would begin writing their memoirs”.

While in hiding in the apartment on Kopernika, Blima Joselzon died. She had already been ill. A doctor sent to her by Julian Ambroziewicz diagnosed advanced cancer. Half a century later, Leon Jolson spoke about it with Super Express journalist Dagmar Kowalska. “My mother’s body lay on the floor. Our fear was greater than our sorrow. It was only a couple of days later that Ambroziewicz took her during the night in a goods chest. He arranged for a permit to have her buried in the Bródnowski Cemetery. The plaque on her grave read: Ś.P. Stefania Rudnicka”  The death certificate organised by the architect, signed and sealed by the cathedral parish of St. John the Baptist, gave her date of death as 20th August 1943.

For rescuing Jews, after the War, Julian Ambroziewicz was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. He died in 1989.

Leon and Anna remained in Kopernika until the Warsaw Uprising. They left the apartment on 7th September 1944. They found themselves on a train carrying Uprising participants to a German camp. They escaped from the transport and reached the village of Bednary Rzeczne near Żyrardów. Here, villagers took them in.

“Their name was Wolniewicz. We were also using false papers. I was Edward Krasiewicz and my wife was Janina Kuczyńska. The Wolniewicz family was sent to us by God!!! At that time, it was so had to find such honest and deeply believing people”, wrote Leon Jolson. In January 1945, he set out alone for Warsaw. “To my surprise, I found the building at 4 Kopernika Street intact, undamaged. In my apartment, everything was as I had left it. The hiding place was untouched, with the radio, weapon and food still there!!!”

He returned to the village to collect Anna. They again lived in Apartment 4, 21 Kopernika Street. A woman, described by Leon as “our housekeeper Dunia”, joined them. “She was our trusted contact from the moment we had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto”. They shared the apartment on the fifth floor until the end of March 1945.

They later left Poland. Through Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Rumania, they travelled to the West. They settled in New York where their difficult to pronounce surname of Joselzon was changed to Jolson. Leon established a company selling sewing machines. They left Dunia the apartment with the hiding place. After a certin time, the woman moved to another house on Kopernika, and the apartment was taken over by her co-worker Janina Kamionkowska. She knew about the Jewish hiding place, but she had no desire the remove it.

For the first time after the War, the Jolsons travelled to Warsaw in 1978. They visited Leon’s mother’s grave in the Catholic Bródnowski Cemetery. On it stood a cross engraved with her false name. They decided to change it to a Jewish headstone (matzevah). The cemetery’s management refused to agree to this. Jolson then hired a stonemason and, in secret, replaced the old headstone with a matzevah on which he had written, “Blima Joselzon, 1889-1943, a victim of Nazi terror, who was buried under the false name of Stefania Rudnicka, when she could not be buried in accordance with Jewish ritual”.

He then turned his attention to the hiding place on Kopernika. The remaining three hiding places, designed by Ambroziewicz, no longer existed. In 1989, the Jolsons paid for a memorial plaque to be hung on the tenement wall. It read “A camouflaged, especially built hiding place can be found in this building. During the occupation, being tracked down by Nazis, Polish Jews were hiding here – a mother, her son and her daughter-in-law. The survivors commemorate this place for posterity”.

“It was only then that we found out that there was something like that upstairs. Before that, no one had ever said anything, no one had come to look at it”, Anna Briesemeister, a tenement resident.

It was important to Leon Jolson to preserve that one remaining hiding place and to show it to visitors from around the world. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, he wrote letters on that subject. He went to the authorities, proposing that the apartment be converted into a small museum.

In 1995, he told the Super Express journalist, “I want that this hiding place be preserved and be accessible to visitors. We’re on friendly terms with Janina. However, I’m afraid that when she is no longer around, her descendants will want to convert the hiding place into a bathroom or will want to extend the entrance hall”.

Three years later, in a letter to Prof. Feliks Tych, Director at the time of the Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH), he wrote, “I’m turning to your Institute with the request that you look after the apartment in the building at 4 Kopernika Street (…). I wish that this one preserved site in Warsaw serve as a place of remembrance and help future generations of young people to understand the history of the Holocaust period. I commit myself to providing sufficient fund to purchase it and to compensate those who are legally registered there. I will also cover any costs ŻIH may incur while carrying out this task, provided that it is finalised by June 1999”. Through his efforts, in 1999, the tenement was entered into the register of heritage sites. However, the apartment was never purchased nor was a museum established there. That idea was only significant to Jolson and to no one else.

As Jan Jagielski explains, “It was a difficult matter. Had it been on the ground floor, then for 5 or 15 zł a caretaker could have admitted visitors, just like they do in small towns where they open a cemetery or the crypt of a Tzadik. But here we have a tenement full of people who don’t want to have crowds of people in their staircase”.

The publicising, by Jolson, of the story of the hiding place drew groups of Jewish youth from Israel and the USA to Kopernika.

“The day or the time didn’t matter to them”, recalls Anna Briesemeister. “We had no elevator, so groups of visitors would climb the stairs, yelling, laughing and banging on all the doors. If there were 200 people, then the queue would stretch down two floors from the hiding place. Residents complained that they had had enough and the lady who lived in that apartment complained that her life was no longer her own. She was elderly. Her legs were bandaged and she no longer went out. Sometimes, I would do her shopping for her. Visitors would appear at her door without warning, dragging her out of bed”.

Following her death, her cousin Elżbieta P., with her husband Dariusz P., moved into the apartment. In 2002, they registered themselves at that address. They stopped admitting Jewish tour groups. Two or three years later, they threw out the cupboard and converted the hiding place into a kitchen annex. They did this without the consent of the administration or the conservation authority. Neighbours paid no attention to the heritage furniture being thrown onto the scrap heap. It was only in December 2012 that the destruction of the Jewish hiding place came to light.

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The entire article can be access of the Virtual Shtetl.

 

Tomasz Urzykowski is a journalist for “Gazeta Wyborcza”. In his writings, he often touches on the on the history and legacy of Polish Jews. During World War II, Tomasz Urzykowski’s grandparents and father - Feliks, Emilia and Janusz Tadeusz Urzykowski – hid Noemi Makower (nee Wigdorowicz) and Henryk Makower in their home. In 1991, the Urzykowski family were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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