Barchanowska Helena

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Story of Rescue - Barchanowska Helena

Helena Barchanowska birthplace was Brzeziny near Łódź. She graduated from the department of mathematics of the University of Warsaw. She taught mathematics in high schools in Gostynin, Warsaw, Sandomierz, Sosnowiec, Dąbrowa Górnicza, and Gorlice while at the same time rearing two daughters Zofia (Inka) (1926–2012) and Janina (1928–2009?).

Many of her closest friends were Jewish, including Oskar Gleicher and Ludwika Łabendzianka – a friend with whom she studied and whom she would visit in the Warsaw ghetto. Even before the war broke out, she took active part in a committee in Gorlice created for aiding Jewish refugees from the Third Reich.

In the spring of 1940, Barchanowska was arrested by the Germans as part of their persecution of Polish intelligentsia. Set free from a convoy of prisoners, she returned to Gorlice, then to move house with her daughters to Gołąbki near Warsaw where, at ul. Piłsudskiego 14, she owned a small wooden house with a garden. Her situation was difficult. She worked at a farm called Mory, made some money thanks to her garden, and taught as part of secret classes in Warsaw. She actively helped Jews by means of finding hiding places for them, moving them to different houses, and transferring forged documents to them. According to what her daughters recall, she tried to convince Ludwika Łabendzianka to hide at her house but failed.

While involved in underground activity, she met Michał Kryński who, after his daughters and wife were transported away from the Warsaw ghetto and died, found himself on the “Aryan side of the fence”. Before the war, he had been the headmaster of a Jewish secondary school (where Polish was the official language of teaching) located in Warsaw at ul. Miodowa 5. The school was founded by his father, Magnus (Manus, Jakub Meir) Kryński (1863–1916), and at the time of its finding its official language was Russian. Michał Kryński was a chemist by profession – he graduated from the Technological Institute in Petersburg. He had a wide range of interests and was particularly interested in learning more about education. During the German occupation, Kryński and his wife Maria and his two daughters – Karolina and Monika – found themselves inside the Warsaw ghetto. He took part in organising secret classes for Jewish secondary school students there.

Helena Barchanowska hid Kryński at her house from October 1943 until January 1945. He stayed with her under an assumed name of Jan Majewski. In spite of the risk, he tried to teach secret classes in Warsaw and taught physics, chemistry, and English to the daughters of Barchanowska. He also manufactured calcium carbide and soap for personal use. “We knew all the time that we were constantly in danger”, the daughters of Helena Barchanowska wrote in their letter to Yad Vashem. “There were days when the Germans would sweep through house after house”. Because an inspection was possible at any time, a hiding place for Kryński was prepared in the basement under the kitchen.

Barchanowska found herself in a particularly difficult spot during the Warsaw Uprising and after its failure: German troops were stationed in Gołąbki and there was a veritable flood of refugees, Jews and otherwise, fleeing from the city moving through her house.

After the liberation, Kryński married Stefania Spindel (née Bogusławska) whose husband, Ryszard Spindel, died in Gołąbki in 1943. Kryński also adopted her daughter, Ewa Rayzacher, born in Lviv in 1928.

He dreamed of restoring his school and worked as an educator after the war. He spent the rest of his life in Sopot, maintaining friendly relations with Helena Barchanowska and her daughters.

“Maybe this would be of some use to you”, he wrote to Barchanowska in addition to his statement regarding the help he received from her. She, indignant, said to her daughters: “I hope he is not thinking that I did what I did because I thought it would be of some use to me”.

Asking that their mother be awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title, Helena’s daughters admitted that they were acting against her rules: “She always said that you need to help the suffering and the weak without expecting any recognition or reward. If she were alive, she would probably say that announcing the services she had rendered to Jews was embarrassing and unacceptable”. Ewa Rayzacher described Barchanowska as “one of the unsung heroes of the Nazi occupation in Poland who helped save Jews from extermination”.

In 1993 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Helena Barchanowska with the Righteous Among the Nations title.

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