The Czerniakowski Family

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Story of Rescue - The Czerniakowski Family

Natalia Skotnicka and her daughter Hanna ran a shop with accessories called “Młynek” on Królewska Street in Warsaw. On Radzymińska Street they also had a factory producing quilts, where, in 1938, countess Zofia Czerniakowska, a doctor, came to buy trousseau for her daughter Lechosława. And thus began a friendship between the two families, which lasted throughout the war. 

Natalia Skotnicka died of typhus in 1939 or 1940, but before she died she asked the Czerniakowskis to keep some valuable objects for her. Trade was taken over by Skotnickis’ pre-war servant and nanny Janka (Ewa Janina Wójcicka). She used the money she made to buy food which she then smuggled to the ghetto for Hanna and her siblings, Aleksander and teenage Renata. In addition to food she also delivered medicines provided by Zofia Czerniakowska.

In early 1942 Aleksander Skotnicki helped Renata escape from the ghetto. His friend Paweł Gołąbek, a navy-blue policeman, simulating an arrest, took the girl from “the Aryan side” where she worked. He kept her temporarily hidden in his apartment on 21 Kacza Street, and her former nanny started looking for some safer shelter to hide her.

After about six weeks Renata Skotnicka came to live in the house on 53A Łochowska Street which belonged to the Czerniakowski family. Thanks to his connections in the Home Army, count Czerniakowski got for the girl a false birth certificate on the name of late Irena Krystyna Podbielska. His daughter provided documents for Hanna Skotnicka who was then able, as “an Aryan”, to rent a room in the attic of a tenement on 10 Barska Street.

The Czerniakowskis never demanded any compensation for the help offered to the Jews. “They risked their life for friends” – Renata Skotnicka emphasis in a statement deposited in the Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute.

Unfortunately, their activity in the Home Army increased the risk of finding the hiding child. Moreover, a German moved in the tenement, and the nosy janitor threatened to inform on them. In December 1942 Ewa Janina Wójcicka took Renata to a village near Radzymin, and she herself returned to Warszawa to help Aleksander. She was killed when attempting to get him out of the ghetto.

Soon one of the peasants informed on her. She was detained. She managed to escape and hide at her sister’s on Barska Street. Unfortunately, she soon landed up again at the police station. Thanks to the money offered by the “Żegota” she was released, but, mentally exhausted, she returned to the ghetto.

Soon before the Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, after being persuaded by her brother, Renata, through a canal, got to the “Aryan side” where Paweł Gołąbek helped her again.

Before long, caught in a street round-up, she ended up in the Nazis’ hands. “We were trying to set her free, but the transport she was in had already left,” Lechosława Ostrowska writes. As a Pole, the girl was sent to a labor camp in Mulheim. Lechosława wrote letters to her in order to avert suspicion about her Jewish descent and to inform her about her siblings. The Nazis sent Hanna Skotnicka to the same camp and the sisters stayed there until the end of the war.

In 1948, Renata Skotnicka went to Canada. “After the war, I couldn’t spend even a single night here. Nightmares. I just wanted to run away and forget. But it didn’t worked this way. It is so deeply rooted in my memory that it is impossible to forget; I can only live with this pain,” she explains in the film “Dziewczyna i chłopak” (“A girl and a boy”)

The contact with the Czerniakowskis broke off after the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. Following the war, they moved to Żegań, in the southern part of Poland. It was not until 1995 that Renata Skotnicka managed to find them.

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