The Grzelak family

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Story of Rescue - The Grzelak family

In the first years of the German occupation of Warsaw, Stanisław and Cecylia Grzelak and their children, Czesława, Rajmund and Władysław, lived at 43 Gostyńska St. After the outbreak of the war, Stanisław lost his job at the State Engineering Plant in Modlin but found employment shortly afterward at the Warsaw Tram Company. His wife practiced embroidery and sold her works in the neighborhood. Their daughter Czesława worked at the Main Post Office near Napoleon Square.

When Stanisław’s brother became ill with tuberculosis in 1941, the family devoted all their savings to his treatment. They sold their property on Gostyńska St. and moved to the suburb of Międzylesie into an unfurnished wooden house on Malinowa St. 3 (now Włodzicka St.).

“My siblings met up with peers very frequently in Międzylesie. My sister, especially, formed a lot of new friendhips,” recalls Rajmund Grzelak, the youngest in the family. Among the new acquaintances there were also Jews, who were invited to the house.

One of the family’s friends was Janina Czajkowska. She fled the Warsaw Ghetto and was hiding under a false name with her grandson Andrzej (real name: Robert Krauthammer). The boy’s mother stayed in the ghetto in an apartment on Przejazd St. In 1942, Janina asked the Grzelak family to take care of her 7-year old grandson.

They took the boy in, and Janina rented an apartment by the nearby train station to remain close.

“Andrzej looked like a Jew. He had dark, curly hair. They even tried to conceal the traces of circumcision, but the child only suffered from it,” recalls Rajmund, “He was a charming boy. My mother was a darling aunt for him. She cared for him so much, I was jealous!”.

Andrzej moved into the family’s pantry. If danger arose, he could hide in the basement.

“He couldn’t run around, sing, or sit around in the yard with us, because he was recognizable. That upset him, but what else could one do? We couldn’t have behaved otherwise, because his life and ours would have been shorter” adds Rajmund. “He played at home. He was extremely intelligent, read fluently. He came up with a Bengali language and wrote down new words on the margins of a Doctor Doolittle book, because we didn’t even have paper. Our house became his kingdom.”

For 2 years the Grzelak family also helped shelter another Jewish family. Every few weeks Henryk (a doctor), his wife Stanisława, and his son Jurek spent a few days with them as a safety measure, usually when Andrzej was staying somewhere else.

One day, the Nazis organized a round-up in Międzylesie. Rajmund remembers it well. “Ms. Stasia was at home with Jurek; evening was approaching. My parents told me to take Jurek by the hand and go to my friend’s house to wait for the danger to pass. Now I know that I put my friend in danger as well. Fortunately I never had to explain myself to him.”

During the occupation Rajmund Grzelak attended secret classes at a school in Międzylesie. From the beginning he became involved in the activity of Szare Szeregi under the nickname Piast. He also helped his parents deliver false baptism certificates to Jews.

“My parents received from 20 to 50 złoty for this. They would give me a ticket and send me on a train past Warka, to Dobieszyn near Radom, as well as to Mogielnica. I visited family by the way, so I had my fill of bread with lard and butter. I remember once bringing a certificate of a baby from my father’s family that died during childbirth. These names can probably be found somewhere, these people have a new identity, perhaps Grzelak…That was not important. The point was to save lives.”

Jews were in hiding with the Grzelak family until the summer of 1944, when the area became much more dangerous. The Red Army launched aerial attacks on Warsaw, and many bombs fell on the houses near the Otwock railway. The inhabitants of the nearby villages began to run away. The Grzelak family also left their home and moved to Józefów. They lived there until the end of the war with their son Władysław and his wife Irena.

As a result of the war, the house in Międzylesie was completely destroyed. The family also lost the plot of land after it was taken over by the previous owner. In 1945, Rajmund enrolled in the State Chemical-Ceramic High School at Hoza St. 88 in Warsaw. One day, while returning from school, he saw Henryk, Stanisława and Jurek near the Church of Saint Barbara. Although they recognized Rajmund, they did not want to talk to him.

Another meeting occurred in 1954. During summer vacation in Orłowo, Rajmund Grzelak unexpectedly ran into Janina Czajkowska. The woman greeted him happily and suggested that they meet the following day. Andrzej, who, as a young pianist was preparing for the 5th Chopin Competition, was also supposed to come, but he refused to in the end.

Czajkowski soon drew praise from music critics, and after his emigration from Poland in 1956 achieved fame abroad. He died prematurely in 1982. A few years later he became the hero of Hanna Krall’s short story Hamlet. The author described the trauma of a child saved from the Holocaust, who doesn’t want to remember the events from the past.

Many thanks to Adam Ciećwierz from the Association “Neighbors for Wesoła” for help in establishing the present-day address of the old Grzelak family home in Międzylesie. 

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Mateusz Szczepaniak, Interview with Rajmund Grzelak, 9.12.2016
  • Mateusz Szczepaniak, 9.02.2016
  • Krall Hanna, Dowody na istnienie, Poznań 1995