The Bartczak Family

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Story of Rescue - The Bartczak Family

At the time that the Nazis established the Warsaw ghetto, Jan Bartczak lived in Warsaw at ul. Nowolipki 38 with his mother Maria, sister Zofia, her husband Paweł Gołąbek and their son Andrzej. In an interview for the Survivors of the Shoah: Visual History Foundation, Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman, whom he helped survive the War, describes him and his relatives as a simple, poor, working-class family which had numerous contacts amongst their Jewish neighbours.   

Following the establishment of the ghetto which encompassed, among others, ul. Nowolipki, the Bartczak family, together with Gołąbek’s family (he worked for the Polish police), found accommodation at ul. Kaczej 21. Jan Bartczak arranged false worker’s papers for himself. In order to earn enough to support his family, he would enter the ghetto to smuggle food. Soon he met a young Jewish girl, Ada Kołodziańską and he fell in love. He would visit her almost every day. Ultimately, the girl moved to the ”Aryan side”.

The whole Bartczak and Gołąbek families selflessly helped Jews. As Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman writes in her unpublished memoirs, ”Paweł, his wife Zofia and her brother Janek Bartczak were the most honest, decent people who helped many Jews to escape. Around the 12th August 1942, Paweł managed to lead me out of the ghetto under the pretence that I was under arrest. He took me to their home on ul. Kaczej where his wife bathed me…”.

She recall that day of the air-raids while she was still concealed. ”It was 1st September 1942, my mother’s birthday. I was still in the Gołąbeks’ home when the Russians began bombing Warsaw. The Gołąbek family went into the basement bunker. I remained above ground. Had I gone with them, the neighbours could have denounced me. I hid in the bathroom in a terrible shock. I held a pocket-knife in my hand. Janek Bartczak came. He led me out of the bathroom, covered me with a towel and stroked my head. He was happy that I was safe. He talked about survival, peace and about an end to the persecution and violence. He sang Polish lullabies to me until I fell asleep against his shoulder. Thanks to him, I developed a new feeling of hope during my life full of terror on the ‘Aryan’ side.”

When the Nazis began their major liquidation operation on 22nd July 1942, Bartczak and Gołąbek  managed to lead many people out of the ghetto, people whose names they did not even know. ”Mankind [note by MHŻP - humanity] demanded that you help your fellow man. At that time, one didn’t think about what one could gain from it or of the death penalty or concentration camp”, stressed Jan Bartczak in an interview with the Survivors of the Shoah: Visual History Foundation.

A few Jews found shelter in the Bartczaks’ home from time to time. Among them was 10 year old Izabela Levi, as well as the little Rysia Trokenheim. Both were daughters of women for whom Zofia Gołąbek had sewed clothes before the War. At the request of her mother, Paweł Gołąbek had extracted Rysia from the Umschlagplatz in 1942 and had smuggled her out under his coat.

Due to numerous denunciations, Renata ultimately returned to the ghetto from which she escaped via the sewers during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Caught in the street during a round-up, she worked under false papers in a factory in Mannheim, Germany, until the end of the War.

Rysia lived in the house on ul. Kaczej until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. Jan and Paweł, both members of the Polish underground, were armed and fought. Maria, Zofia, her son Andrzej and Rysia were accused of hiding Jews by their neighbours and were sent to the camp at Auschwitz. In January 1945, while on a death-march, they managed to escape.

Jan Bartczak ended up in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. In the spring of 1945, he got to Italy where, for two years, he served with the Allies. In 1948, he emigrated to Argentina where he married Amaria Garces. In the 1960’s, the couple settled in the United States.

In 1946, Rysia Trokenheim was cared for by the Komitet Żydowski (Jewish Committee) which enabled her to travel to England. There she was reunited with her father who had also survived. Izabela and Ada had survived the War as well and had settled in New York.

In 1948, Renata Skotnicka–Zajdman emigrated to Canada. By accident, in 1996, she found Jan Bartczak who, for many years, she had assumed had perished at the barricades of the Uprising.

In her memoirs, she wrote this about him, ”The obvious truth needs to be stressed – that war brought out the best in certain people and the worst in others.  To find such a beautiful soul in such a sea of ugliness and hunger soothed by tired spirit.  Janek Bartczak was precisely such a wonderful person”.

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