The Flisiuk Family

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Story of Rescue - The Flisiuk Family

Zofia Jadwiszczok, née Flisiuk, was born and raised in Warsaw. The Flisiuk family lived in a tenement house at Świętojerska 16 until 1938. Zofia was the second of Maria and Adam’s four daughters. The oldest one died of meningitis in 1936. The other two, Krystyna and Jadwiga, were two and six years younger than Zofia, respectively. In 1938 the Flisiuks moved to Legionowo where they built a house on a large, wooded piece of land, at Krucza 27.

Adam Flisiuk was a railman, he worked as the train’s supervisor. His leg was severely injured during the warfare in 1939 and he died in hospital several months later due to complications. Maria Flisiuk was now alone with three teenage daughters.

After that, Zofia continued for some time to go to Warsaw, where she attended the Gagatnicka junior high school [an 8-grade humanities junior high school for girls located in Warsaw at Senatorska 30 — editorial note]. She passed her high school final exam as a student of underground education. She decided to help her family by working as a cashier at the railway station: ‘… we had no money to get by. My mom only had my father’s small railway pension. I though that maybe I could work at a ticket counter. That protected me from the Nazis, from an exportation… and I had an ID card, and ration stamps for workers.’

Maria and Zofia strived together to get the family going. ‘My mom could sew so she made some alterations… We were quite well off before the war so we had some resources, but it was still very hard. It improved a bit in the final period of the occupation. My mom started trading, and I worked as well. My salary went up after my eighteenth birthday.’

Zofia talks about her relations with Jews: ‘I grew up in a Jewish district. (…) I went to primary school in Nowe Miasto. (…) So I knew Jews quite well. [The Jews thought] that I was lucky so on Mondays I had to go to meet a few Jews and talk to them or bargain, and then they had a good take. (…) One met Jews quite often on a daily basis.’

Zofia remembers a Jewish boy from the times when the ghetto was not closed yet. She noticed him when she was going to school. Later, she gave her breakfast to that thin and hungry child every day, until the Nazis blocked the passage at which they met.

She also remembers how her cousin living at Franciszkańska sold food to the ghetto. Zofia and her sister fetched the food from Legionowo.

The story of helping

The first Jews came to Zofia’s house at Krucza 27 in Legionowo in the autumn of 1941 [there is a discrepancy as to the beginning of hiding. The Righteous says that the Ziółkowski family and Winograd appeared at Krucza in the end of 1941; on the basis of the data obtained from the rescued people by Yad Vashem it follows that it was 1942]. Zofia Jadwiszczok tells the researcher from the Museum of the History of Polish Jews: ‘One day [in November] a woman with a boy and her brother, Zbyszek, knocked on our door. The boy was about five or six, she called him Januszek. She said that her name was Helena Ziółkowska and she showed a letter which said that they were displaced from the Poznański voivodship. I was surprised that they were displaced from there, but she had a letter from an uncle who asked to put them up for the night. It was already hard, and now this. We gave them the children’s room. After two weeks we received a letter from the uncle in which he said that they were Jewish and that maybe we could hide them for some time.’

The Ziółkowski family stayed at Krucza until the liberation. Helena’s husband joined them in the beginning of 1942. Before that, he was — according to Zofia — kept and tortured in Warsaw. Officially, they had been displaced from the Poznański voivodship, which was easy to say, as Helena and her brother did not look Jewish.

They had their own money and they paid for the room. Zofia says that the Ziółkowski family were rich before the war. They promised that they would repay for their help after the war: ‘… she always said: “I will repay you after the war… You will be rich, you will see”.’

Zofia describes Helena Ziółkowska as a quarrelsome and unlikeable person. She did not try to become close with the owners of the house or with Krysia Winograd, another Jew hidden in the house: ‘She was not likeable, she was cunning and mean. She even had conflicts with Krysia. And she [Ziółkowska] would always say: “You should go… It is hard for them… You should go to the Nazis, to work, instead of sitting here”. So then we said: “What are you saying, what work, everyone is trying to avoid it as much as possible”.’ Helena’s brother, Zbyszek, ‘spent time with us talking, and later he and Krysia fell in love’.

Krysia Winograd came to their house on Christmas Eve in 1941. It was Januszek Ziółkowski, Helena’s son, who noticed a girl walking near the house.

Zofia and Krysia met each other for the first time a few months before, in Piszczac, close to Brześć Litewski. Zofia was a maid at her cousin Jaworski’s wedding. The Jaworskis were renting an apartment to the Winograds, who were Jews and who had a wood tar factory in the forest. The two families were friends and the Winograds were invited to the wedding. ‘And I met Krysia at that wedding’, says Zofia. ‘She called [herself] “Krysia”. In fact, her name was Rachel Winograd. We talked and laughed. She was two years older than me. She asked: “Where do you live?”, and I said: “I live in Legionowo, at Krucza”. She remembered that. And now… a ghetto. They were all taken to the ghetto [to Biała Podlaska — editorial note]. It was a family: four children and parents. The mother and one daughter stayed in the ghetto, they were afraid to run away, and the father with two sons and Krysia ran away, each of them in a different direction.

(…) The father escaped to the forest with his sons. The mother and her daughter were taken to Treblinka. Father and the two sons were killed in the forest by the Nazis, one of them at a time. Krysia was hidden by some people, she pretended to sew (…). She took an ID card which belonged to the girl who lived in that house. The card said “Mikołajczyk”’.

In the end, Krysia decided to find her acquaintance from Legionowo. Zofia remembers: ‘… she spent a whole day walking and looking for me. She looked for me in Legionowo, she remembered the name of the street, but Legionowo is quite big. Then she reached the cemetery and she thought that she would sleep there, as at least it was quiet, but there was a woman who said: “It is dark, aren’t you afraid to be here all by yourself?”. “No”, Krysia replied, “do you know where Krucza is?” and the woman said: “Yes, it is nearby”. So she came, with no possessions, she found us and (…) she stayed with us. She was with us until the end of 1944.’

Krysia started to live with the Flisiuks as their cousin and became part of the family. She bleached her hair to hide her Jewish looks. She was like a sister to Zofia — ‘she sometimes earned some money by sewing and bought some clothes or something else, but usually we gave her clothes and everything’.

‘Krysia sometimes had a breakdown (…), she was depressed. She did not eat for a week or for three days, and she cried a lot. But we understood that… We gave her some sedatives and did not make her talk, but it was still hard for her. She lost her whole family, two brothers, a sister and parents.’

On the piece of land next to the Flisiaks’, there was a summer house. It turned out that a group of Jewish children was hiding there. ‘Once they came to our place’, recalls Zofia, ‘a whole group of Jewish children. They came in the evening and asked for some food. Krysia noticed that they had terrible wounds and lice. So we took out a bathtub, there were no bathrooms at the time, and we warmed up water in the tub and then we washed the children one by one. There were seven or eight of them. The oldest boy seemed to be their leader. My sister and Krysia washed the children one by one and later their clothes were washed and dried. They spent the night in our kitchen. In the evening they went back and spent a few months in the summer house. (…) In the end, the oldest boy went missing and the whole group dispersed. Krysia met one of the children in Israel — it survived.’

The person who was especially dangerous for the people in hiding, was one of the neighbors, a policeman’s wife who: ‘… pried everywhere. She asked about Krysia: “Who is she?”. I replied: “My cousin”. “I have a lot of children, maybe she could sew something for me?”. So I told Krysia to go. And she went. She sang carols, religious hymns, all of them… So she [the neighbor] was sure that she was not Jewish, although she looked like one.’ Krysia knew all the songs because when she lived in Piszczac, she went to school with Catholics and she often attended religious education classes. ‘They really incriminated Jews’, Zofia continues talking about the neighbors. ‘We were afraid that she would endanger the children.’

Afraid about the inhabitants of the house, Zofia’s fiancé, Rudolf Jadwiszczok, and Zbyszek Ziółkowski, Helena’s brother, decided to build a hiding place. They dug up a dungeon under the room occupied by the Ziółkowski family. The dungeon could be accessed through the oven for baking cakes. ‘When you pressed the spring, the oven moved out and there was an opening. They started to dig under the chimney, they drilled the floor (…) under the kitchen. (…) They dug the dungeon and there (…) they made an opening to let the air out. It was horrible… Everyone tried how it worked so that we could escape there in case of danger. It was really unpleasant, just like going down to the cellar. At first I thought that it would be better to be killed than to go down there under the oven. The dungeon was quite big. They put some mattresses there and told us to go down in case of any swoop.’ The Jews hiding in the house escaped there during Nazi searches.

In summer of 1943, the last tenants moved in with the Flisiuks: a neighbor’s brother — a Home Army (AK) soldier in hiding — and a lawyer with his family, who officially was in Legionowo to recuperate. Zofia does not remember this family’s name. As it turned out later, the lawyer was a Polish Jew. During the search for two Home Army soldiers, he did not manage to hide in the shelter and was caught: ‘He admitted at once that he was Jewish. Even we did not know that he was a Jew, and he was shot dead next to the fence immediately. He was a convert (…). They had a Catholic wedding but he was circumcised and he confessed at once.’

The Nazis also took Helena’s money and they asked Januszek if he went to church. They told him to say the prayer. He answered correctly because he learned everything from Zofia’s sister and Krysia. However, Zofia was still afraid: ‘If they had checked him and noticed that he had been circumcised… But he was just a little child. He could say the prayer and in the end everything was well.’

In June 1944 the Nazis started a massive deportation of people from Legionowo and the neighborhood — Wehrmacht was preparing to fight with the approaching Red Army and they were clearing the area. The deportation reached its peak in August, during the rising in Warsaw. People were placed in transit camps or moved to Germany.

At that time, the Nazis were stationed in the Flisiuks’ house for one month. All its inhabitants were hiding in the dungeon under the floor and survived, without attracting attention of the Nazi tenants: ‘Mom was allowed to stay, and we spent whole days in the dungeon, sitting next to each other. (…) We only went out to eat dinner at night… The Nazis were surprised that my mom cooked so late but, fortunately, my fiancé’s mother came — she was from Silesia and spoke good German, and somehow everything was under control… (…). We only left our hiding place to eat and then we came back. So we were there under the floor almost whole nights and days.’

That year, during the gunfire in Legionowo, Zbyszek Ziółkowski was killed. The Flisiuks and the hiding Jews were in another shelter at the time, in the forest. That day, Zofia, her fiancé and Zbyszek ran to the house at Krucza. Zofia recalls:

 ‘So we were running together to the apartment. I washed a bit. But then they started to shoot and I asked: “Are they ours, the Russians, or the Nazis?”. And they said: “Probably the Russians”. And I said: “So now what? Shall we go to the shelter out there or hide here?”. (…) We went into the room, first Zbyszek, then me and my husband. And then an anti-tank bullet passed between me and Zbyszek, a long and sharp one. I and my husband fell on the floor and Zbyszek was still standing. So I asked: “Zbyszek, what are you doing?” (…) And he said: “I am dead”. (…) But he was still standing. We were looking at him and then he started to bleed terribly. So there was twenty, thirty centimeters between me and him, and this bullet went there. I just fell and he was shot and all his internal organs were damaged. So my husband ran to the sister, although they were still shooting. Zbyszek fell down and his blood was everywhere. He died next to me. It was terrible… We could not bury him for three days. Eventually, we buried him in accordance with the Jewish ceremony, with the sheets. We buried him in the garden next to the shelter. He was twenty four or twenty five years old. He was a good, nice boy.’

After the war

 ‘When the Russians came, Helena Ziółkowska went to Warsaw with her husband and their son. She came in March 1945 to take his [Zbyszek’s] body.’ He was buried later at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. Soon after that, Helena crossed the boundary and went to Paris.

Eventually, the Ziółkowski family set up in Brazil. They wrote to the Flisiuks twice and then the correspondence stopped. They never ‘repaid’ for the help they received.

Krysia Winograd stayed in the Flisiuks’ house until 1945. Later she met a soldier, captain Staszek Blatter. She married him and  moved to Wałbrzych. Soon after that, the Blatters moved, first to Austria and then to Paris, where Krysia’s husband’s sister lived. In 1985 they moved to Israel and set up in Netanya, where Krystyna has been living since. She was widowed one year ago. She lives with her son and her grandchildren.

Krysia and Zofia are still in touch, they visit each other and participate in important family gatherings, like their children’s weddings. ‘I have been to Paris twice’, says Zofia, ‘and once to Israel. We call each other to talk. There is a strong bond between us, so when she thinks about me, I dream about her, or the other way round, and we phone each other.’

After the war, in the end of March 1945, Zofia left Warsaw and moved to Gdańsk, where she has been living since. One year later she married he fiancé from the war times, Rudolf Jadwiszczok. She worked in the social care and she liked her work a lot. Now she is passionate about pot flowers, which she grows in her apartment.

Maria Flisiuk and her two younger daughters stayed in Legionowo.

 

Krystyna Blatter, née Winograd, applied for granting Zofia and her mother, Maria Flisiuk, the titles of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography

  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu
  • Kempa-Kurkiewicz Marta, Interview with Zofia Jadwiszczok, 27.03.2009