Byszewscy Family

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Story of Rescue - Byszewscy Family

Three sisters – Helena, Jadwiga, and Maria – ran an umbrella store in Kredytowa St. in Warsaw.

“Before the war it was impossible not to have trade relations with Jews. Most trade sectors were almost completely dominated by Jews," says Anna Choynowska née Byszewska, a daughter of Helena. The women's contacts with Jews were thus mainly trade-related.

The three store owners' brother, Władysław, was a member of the National Radical Camp, while their parents supported the National Democracy. The father, who was a teacher at the Warsaw School of Economics, died suddenly in 1931.

In September 1939, the umbrella store was partly destroyed in a bombing.

A ghetto was established in Warsaw in 1940. For a short time, before it was closed, Helena did all sorts of trade business there, for example she used tailor services. At the same time she helped the Jews she knew. Anna recalls: "My mom was very brave. She had contacts and business there, and in general she had more relations with them. She always [entered] through the Courts. Whether she brought them something, arranged, whether food or money, anyway, she helped there.”

At the beginning of the war, Lipfeld, a doctor and Home Army officer of Jewish descent whom Helena knew, came to her asking for help. On that day, on his way back home, he came across Gestapo officers who were looking for him. The man was kept hidden in Helena's and her family's apartment at 97a Marszałkowska St. for three years.

Anna, Helena's daughter who was over twenty at that time, recalls one particularly dangerous situation: "He was in the underground movement and used to bring political news. Some day someone rang the doorbell at about midnight, we all knew they were the Germans. We stood in the hallway with hands up. One of them kept an eye on us and two others went around the apartment to conduct a search. The doctor looked into a pocket to check if there were any notes there, but the German saw it in a mirror and beat him up." Luckily, it turned out that the Germans had a wrong address and so they left the apartment.

Lipfeld did not live to see the end of the war. He died shortly before the Warsaw Uprising. "Somebody probably recognized him in the street and reported him to the blue police," Anna said. Helena came with money in the morning, but when she entered the police station it turned out that the doctor had hanged himself with a belt at night. "So we bought out the body and secretly buried it in the Powązki cemetery." 

Byszewska, her husband and children also got involved in helping the Eisenberg family whom they knew from before the war. Mr. Eisenberg, his wife and her sister with a ten-year-old daughter Frania and a two-year-old son got out of the Warsaw ghetto.

The decision to help the Jewish family was extremely risky, but Helena did not hesitate. "We were afraid, but what else could we do, we obviously couldn't send them away. There is no »Why?«, it was completely natural. The family came, so how could we throw them out on the street, so that they were shot?" Anna explained.

The Byszewskis concluded that all five of them could not stay in Marszałkowska Street. "The home was unsafe, my brother was hiding, the Gestapo were intensively searching for him, we held underground meetings, meetings of an underground university. For the time being we decided that the girl would stay alone with us." So only Frania stayed.

The escapees managed to arrange false ID cards partly on their own and partly with Władysław's help. The women went away to the Sandomierz region. In order to avoid being recognized, they often changed their place of stay. One day a very dramatic event occurred in Sandomierz. The Germans killed Mr. Eisenberg in a street in unclear circumstances. "He was traveling to his wife and they shot him. And his wife knew he was shot, but she could not admit she was his wife, she couldn't even cry."

The Eisenbergs' daughter was very scared, which increased the risk involved in hiding her. Every morning Helena took Frania to a store she worked in, although her behavior could be noticed by the Germans or a blackmailer: "They wouldn't leave her at home as she behaved very strangely, as my mom said: 'She became stiff when she saw any uniform'. She was getting livid and her behavior was unpredictable," Paweł Choynowski, Helena's son, explained. In the store, the child hid in one of the storage rooms, away from customers.

Maria Szulińska, one of Helena's two sisters, took the girl to her home in the Mokotów district. After some time Ms. Eisenberg decided to take Frania to Rabka, to an orphanage run by nuns. Ultimately, she took her daughter and hid her in the country.

Frania's brother was placed under the care of a poor village family who probably did not know that the boy was Jewish, despite the fact that he was circumcised. They treated him as their own son. He survived until the end of the war there. 

When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, Anna and her mother went away to Podkowa Leśna, while Jadwiga and Maria hid in Warsaw. The house in Marszałkowska St. and the umbrella store were destroyed again, but rebuilt after the war. The Eisenbergs went to Israel in the early 1950s.

After the war Helena Byszewska and her sisters for many years ran the umbrella store which was later moved to Chmielna Street. For some time Helena also worked as a teacher and was an educator at children's summer camps. She lived with her family in Komorów.

In 1987, the Byszewski family were decorated with the Righteous Among the Nations title.

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