The Guzek Family

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Story of Rescue - The Guzek Family

Zuzanna and Józef Guzek lived in Warsaw. They had two children: Jadwiga and Eugeniusz. In 1934 Józef, an employee of the Municipal  Institute of Hygiene (MIH- Miejski Instytut Higieny), was acknowledged a company apartment by the Institute –  a small apartment in the institute’s building at 82 Nowogrodzka Street – and he moved there with his family.

When Józef died in  1941 Zuzanna found employment in the Institute of Hygiene, keeping the right to occupy the apartment.

Eugeniusz attended the junior high school at 8 Śniadeckich  Street. He recalls: „There were four of us who walked to school together: the future doctor Wieczorkiewicz, me, my friend Halmert, who was a Protestant and Zdzisio Baruch, a Jew. We were friends. We always met at the corner of  Nowogrodzka and Lindleya streets and we walked together along Lindleya Street to Koszykowa and then through Polna Street to Śniadeckich Street”.

When asked about Polish- Jewish relations before the war, Eugeniusz answers: „There were three Jewish students in our class, two of them were my friends (...) Zdzisio Baruch and Henio Herzlich. The division into  Aryan and non-Aryan students did not exist in our school (…) They were friends, we studied together, cheated in tests, took walks, went to the cinema… The relations between us were very correct. There were no differences, no differences could be felt. They lived among us, they were with us”.

The War

Eugeniusz  belonged to the scout organization and was an active member. In summer 1939 he took part in a training for assistant scoutmasters. At the end of August the instructors organizing the course were called to arms so the camp was called off  earlier than planned. Eugeniusz returned home just before the outbreak of World War II.

After Warsaw had been seized by the Germans  Eugeniusz got engaged into underground activity – he joined the battalion organized by the scout organization, which subsequently, as the “Baszta” Regiment became a unit of the  Home Army (AK).

During the occupation period Eugeniusz graduated from the construction high school [in 1940 the Germans allowed Polish elementary and vocational schools  to work, the educational program was to be limited to the level of German technical schools – editor’s note] then he began his studies in the underground technical university, at the faculty of architecture. Because of the difficult financial situation of his family he had to discontinue his studies and go to work- in August 1943 he was employed as a construction worker in a repair company. Simultaneously he studied in a military school organized by “Baszta” and he graduated in May 1943.

Help

The Mackiewicz family 1943

In 1943 Ludwik Kifer, known to Eugeniusz from scout camps, asked him for help in hiding Jews: „[Kifer] was a host of scout camps in different groups. Mostly groups of junior high school students. Everybody liked him and trusted him. I came across him during the occupation period and he asked me if I could hide a Jewish family from Brześć [on the Bug River], an  engineer called Mackiewicz with his wife and son (…) They had been robbed somewhere or their money finished and they were in a critical situation. It was then that  Ludwik Kifer talked to me and after I got the consent of my mother I brought them to the Hygiene Institute.”  

Mackiewicz, a slim man with a moustache, who, according to Eugeniusz, looked like a representative of Polish gentry, was an engineer. His wife, Diana, who had a more Semitic appearance, did not work but she was also an educated person:  Guzek recalls that she spoke French fluently. Their son, Waldek, was one year younger than Eugeniusz. All three of them had false documents issued to their names fabricated by a unit of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa- AK).

The apartment of the Guzek family was small- one room with a kitchen, no bathroom. But it was a good hiding place because the Germans did not like showing up there as they treated the institute as a potential  source of plague.

The Szor family 1943

By the end of 1943 the Guzeks gave shelter to another Jewish family, the Szors. He was a doctor, who graduated in medicine in Prague. He was about 30. Eugeniusz does not recall his real name – during the occupation he was called Stefan. Hala, the doctor’s wife, was several years younger than him. They both had false documents, also supplied by the AK.

The Leszcz family 1943/44

At the turn of 1943 and 1944 the next refugees came to the Guzeks –  the Leszcz family from Radom. Similar to the  Mackiewicz family, Chaim, Chana and their two kids, Genia and Ignacy, were sent to Nowogrodzka Street by Kifer. „[Leszcz] was a small industrialist from Radom”, recalls Eugeniusz. „And she was a housewife. The kids did not go to school, they learnt at home…”. In the false “kennkarte” the Leszcz had the name of Leszczyński.

Chana and Chaim did not go out of the house. Eugeniusz and his girl-friend, Janina, sometimes took the kids, Genia and Ignacy for a walk: „we went (...) to her  [Janina’s ] parents, as they lived in Pyry, outside Pyry, actually.  And we could walk in the woods there, as it was a rather deserted place . So we took them there so they could breathe some fresh air. And in the train we kept them by our side. Especially Genia, because Ignacy did not look Jewish, he had the so called good looks.”

Hiding

At the beginning of 1944 the one room apartment in  Nowogrodzka had already 12 inhabitants: 9 hiding Jews and three members of the Guzek family. Although the apartment was very crowded their relations were good. Eugeniusz recalls:

„We shared the Christmas wafer with them and they respected our religious holiday (...) we often played bridge (…) As there was curfew we had the whole evening free for playing. Mackiewicz, doctor Szor, (...) Mr. Mackiewicz’s wife and me. And Waldek. (…) So we player bridge, we sat, we talked, they had some recollections , I had had mine… so we got to know one another really well in those days. The atmosphere was optimistic, I brought them underground newspapers (..), so they knew what was going on in the front”.

It was difficult to provide for such a numerous group. Eugeniusz got money for living from different sources. It often came from a collection done among the Warsaw engineers, Mackiewicz’s acquaintances. Some money was supplied by organizations aiding Jews, a friend of Eugeniusz got in touch with them. Some money was given by the hiding Jews themselves.

You needed to be extremely careful to get food for such a large group. Eugeniusz and Jadwiga bought little food in different shops, not to arise suspicions. Among others they went to the shop at the corner of Waliców and Ceglana streets. Already during the  Warsaw Uprising Eugeniusz found out that the owners wereVolksdeutche. He still wonders how his shopping- three loaves of bread every third  day, when  half a loaf was bought on the average, did not look suspect…

The Rajbenbach Family 1944

In April 1944 Eugeniusz married Janina Król. The engineer, Mackiewicz, who had  the „right look” was present at the ceremony. The newlywed couple went to live at Janina’s place, in a three room apartment with bathroom at 14 Waliców Street. They occupied the smallest room and they gave the remaining two to the refugees. One was taken by the Leszcz family, Eugeniusz took them away from the hygiene institute. And the other room was given to the Rajbenbach family, the newest protégés of the Guzek’s: those were the parents of Hala Szor and her sister Marysia.

The Mackiewicz family and the Szor family remained in Nowogrodzka Street. Now Eugeniusz’s mother Zuzanna and his sister Jadwiga took care of them.

The Warsaw Uprising

The outbreak of the uprising brought to an end the history of hiding Jews by the Guzeks which lasted for more than a year. Eugeniusz,  a soldier of the Baszta Regiment of AK, was fighting in the district of Mokotów. He was there when the information about capitulation came, then he was sent to the transit camp in Pruszków, and subsequently to the  stalag XB in Sandbostel.

Janina Guzek managed to get through to her cousin who was living in Hoża Street and she survived the uprising there (after its downfall, as a result of repressions towards the people of Warsaw, she was sent to a labor camp in Gliwice). The refugees from the apartment in Waliców street had to cope with the situation on their own.

Germans marched into the Town Hygiene Institute in the first days of the uprising. They shot all the men they found there, also engineer Mackiewicz and his son Waldek. They let some women go, those unfit to work, and they took the others to Zieleniak. Eugeniusz’s mother Zuzanna and Diana Mackiewicz were among the released.

The women managed to escape from town, they reached Raszyn and found a hiding place on a farm. All three of them, because Jadwiga, Eugeniusz’s sister joined them, stayed there till the end of the war.

Szor also avoided execution as during the raid of the Germans he hid in the bathroom. He was arrested by the Germans several months later. He was not killed immediately as he was useful as an interpreter. Then he was sent to a concentration camp.

Hala Szor, along with other people escaping Warsaw, reached Żyrardów. While there,  a stranger, a teacher from a junior high school took care of her. She was aware that Hala was Jewish and she hid her in her house and kept her there till the   end of the war.

Further fates

For Janina the war ended in January 1945 when the Red Army marched into Gliwice, Eugeniusz was set free only in April, when the British Army liberated the prisoners of stalag XB. They both returned to Warsaw.

Doctor Szor survived the concentration camp. Hala was found in Łódź; the Szors went to live there. Diana Mackiewicz also moved to Łódź,. At the end of the 1940s they all migrated to Israel. Diana remarried. They formed a strong, friendly relationship with the Guzeks which was not broken by emigration.

The fate of the old Mr. and Mrs. Rajbenbach is unknown. Their daughter Marysia survived the war, she also migrated to Israel.

The Leszcz  family moved to Austria right after the war, then to South America, and they finally settled down in Israel. They do not keep in touch with Eugeniusz.

Thanks to the efforts of Szor, in 1989 Eugeniusz, Zuzanna and  Józef were granted the title of Righteous among the Nations. Eugeniusz explained that Józef was dead at the time of hiding refugees, so he got the title by mistake. His wife Janina and his sister Jadwiga were not granted the title, although their role in helping Jewish refugees was undeniable.

Eugeniusz graduated in architecture, he completed the studies which he had began during the occupation. He and his wife were both involved in rebuilding and expanding the town.

They did not boast of their  story.  What they did was for them fulfilling their duty. Even their daughter found out about it pretty late and by chance, when Eugeniusz was interviewed. For the Guzeks something else was important- to bring up their daughter without racial or religious prejudices:

„She only knew that we helped some people. We did not share with her the details but we wanted her not to see any difference between people. She was brought up in that spirit, she even had a friend of Jewish origin. And I did not tell her about it. (…) For her it was a friend. As simple as that”.

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Bibliography

  • Strączek Ignacy, Interview with Eugeniusz Guzek, 16.04.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009