Story of Rescue - The Gersin Family | Polscy Sprawiedliwi

The Gersin Family

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Story of Rescue - The Gersin Family

Zygmunt Gersin was an engineer and prior to the war lived in Warsaw, Ossowska Street, Praga district. During the war he was involved in underground activities; for some time his apartment housed an underground printing press. In 1942 he took two Jewish children into his home: Pavel Kraus and Rutka (Ruth) Feldman.

Rutka was born in Brno, where she lived with her parents Armin (1900–1942?) and Herta (née Geldkop) (1909–1942?). Both died in Poland, but the exact circumstances are unknown to Ruth. Pavel was born in Trebivlice in Czechoslovakia, where he lived with his parents: Victor (1898–1942) and Olga Kraus née Stern (1910–1944). In 1941 the family was deported to the ghetto in Terezin (Ger. Theresienstadt), and then to the Warsaw ghetto. According to the testimony of Pavel's cousin Nina Weil, his parents died in Warsaw in April 1942.

Pavel, currently known under the name Paul Porgess, remembers little from that period. His only memories concern a “camp” in Warsaw, where he lived in wooden barracks. When he fell ill, he was separated from his parents and moved to a separate barrack. He remembers being hidden on a truck and brought to Gersin's apartment.

Pavel and Rutka stayed in hiding in Gersin's small two-room apartment until 1944. Gersin taught the children mathematics. Pavel passed the time reading books, with which the apartment was well supplied. Over time he forgot his native Czech language and by the end of the war spoke only Polish.

When Gersin was sent to forced labour in Germany in 1943 or 1944, the children were left in the care of his sister Wanda Chrzanowska, who lived in the same building. Rutka moved in with her, while Pavel, whose appearance could easily reveal his Jewish origin, remained in the empty apartment, where he was brought food.

In the summer of 1944, under Russian bombardment, they all hid in the basement. They returned to Wanda's apartment after the liberation of left-bank Warsaw in September 1944.

In 1945 Pavel was taken to a Jewish orphanage in Kraków. “Then I looked at this Polish family who rescued me in their kindness and cared for me at a great risk to themselves. They were not Jews, and I was not even Polish”, he wrote in his testimony in 1981.

In the spring of 1946 Pavel and Ruth went to Prague. Ruth made her way to her hometown of Brno, where she found out that none of her loved ones survived the war. She was adopted by a Jewish family and lived with them for three years. At the age of 14 she moved to Israel and settled in the Sde Nehemia kibbutz. She studied pedagogy and worked as a teacher, got married and had four children. She lost contact with the Gersin family. It was only in 1978 that she wrote to Gersin's wife saying she never forgot Zygmunt's heroic attitude.

Pavel was initially in the custody of his uncle, Dr. Karel Stern in Benešov, who survived the war with his sons Jiri and Petr thanks to his marriage to a non-Jewish woman. Pavel's cousin Nina Weil also survived the war, living in an orphanage in Prague.

In 1946 Pavel was sent with a group of Jewish children to England, where he remained, living in an orphanage and with various foster families. He was adopted by Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia: Leo (d. 1973), a metallurgist, and Trude Porgess (d. 1953), a lawyer, who had had ties with the Czechoslovak Government in exile during the war.

In England, under the name Paul, he earned his doctorate in chemistry at the University of London and lectured about metallurgy at the Technical University of Manchester. He started a family and has three children: Claire, Jane and Michael.

For several years he exchanged letters with Wanda Chrzanowska, from whom he found out that Gersin returned to Poland from forced labour.

Later on, Zygmunt went to Canada. There he married Maria, who after his death made efforts to find the children whom he helped during the war. At her request, the Red Cross reached Paul.

In 1981 the Yad Vashem Institute decided to award Zygmunt Gersin and his sister Wanda Chrzanowska the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Yad Vashem, 2050