The Najko Family

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Story of Rescue - The Najko Family

Before the war, the Najko family lived at 21 Puławska Street in Warsaw. Bronisław Najko and his wife owned coal, vegetable and shoe shops in which they also employed their closest family members.

In the autumn of 1940, the Najkos’ flat was included in the area of the newly-created German housing district. Jan Najko refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste (German People’s List) and moved with his family to 31 Twarda Street. This way the Najkos settled down just 10 metres from the ghetto.

In her account of 1993, Jan’s and Bronisława’s daughter Janina stressed that her closest family members could not remain indifferent to the persecution and extermination of Jews. “In no way could my family come to terms with the occupation-time reality so they offered selfless help, within their limited means, providing financial, food and housing aid to hiding Jews and those struggling to survive.”

Jewish children sneaking out of the ghetto in search of food stayed at the Najkos’ flat. Janina recalls: “Me and my mum and my brother prepared food for them every day, such as meat, fat, cakes, etc. But all they wanted was bread, garlic, onions and other food items that at that time seemed completely unimportant to me.”

According to the account, the Najkos offered a hiding place to three boys. They also promised to place the boys with their relatives who lived the country. However, the children felt responsible for the fate of their families in the ghetto and went back to take care of their close ones. The Najkos then gave the boys German marks to help their families survive.

In the early 1943, Sabina Popper, a daughter of Abraham Jehuda and Mina, rented a room at 2 Dobra Street. Sabina came to Warsaw due to the help of Felica Tewel, equipped with a birth certificate of her former school friend Janina Kołosiwska. Felicja’s sister Irena Bawół, whose married name was Mielecka, took care of her in Warsaw. Sabina got a job in a German field hospital in Solec Street and then in Litewska Street.

In February 1943 she found out that her house was being searched by the Gestapo so she could not return there. Together with Maria Korzennik, the wife of a lawyer from Dębica, she went to a shoemaking shop where a friend of Korzennik’s was also hiding. Sabina had offered her room to Maria, who had just lost her husband and daughter. There they met Jan Najko who agreed to hide Sabina in his flat.

Sabina’s fiancé Tadeusz, who escaped from a POW camp in Lipowa Street in Lublin, came to Warsaw soon after. The Najkos invited him to stay at their place. Janina Figura wrote: “he could not show himself to anyone due to his distinct features characteristic of his nationality.” The Najkos fitted a lock in the door, hang heavy lace curtains and built a hideout where Tadeusz could find shelter in case of an unexpected visit.

They managed to survive German searching. Tadeusz, with a bandage around his head for security reasons, was moved to Puławska Street, where Sabina had her official residence. A hideout in a tile stove was built for Tadeusz in the flat. Later Najko transported Tadeusz several times as a coal distributor to Iwińska and Górnośląska streets “because every place that initially seemed to be ‘secure’ after a few days turned out to be dangerous for various reasons,” Sabina wrote.

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Najko tried in vain to help the inhabitants of a burning building that was located just behind the ghetto’s walls. His daughter remembered her father’s words said at night on the roof of their house: “Look what the murderers are doing to defenceless families, so that one day you can take revenge and bear witness to the truth – history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Najko also hid ghetto escapees in his shops (in Górnośląska and Iwicka streets) – in hideouts arranged in nearby rooms.  He also sent some people to his relatives living in the country. The Najkos’ nephew Heniek was also involved in the activity, helping Jan build ingenious hideouts for Jews.

Soon before the Warsaw Uprising broke out, Najko took his daughter to his family living in Kawęczyn close to Piaseczno near Warsaw. He died during the uprising together with Tadeusz, executed with a group of other men by the Germans. “They stayed together both in life and death,” Sabina wrote of their fate. Bronisława and Marian survived and after the suppression of the uprising they were taken away to Germany. They came back to Warsaw in 1946 and settled down in a devastated flat in Twarda Street. Meanwhile, Sabina found Janina in Kawęczyn. Having lost her immediate family, she went to Łódź and then to Israel.

Sabina wrote to Janina from Łódź informing her of her father’s and Tadeusz’s deaths and assuring that she could expect the return of her mother and brother. In the 1950s Sabina found the Najkos again, wrote letters and offered support by sending them parcels. She also hoped to invite Bronisława to Israel. Unfortunately, they never met as Bronislawa was killed in a car accident.

Sabina remained present in the lives of Bronisława’s children – particularly her daughter Janina, who wrote of her: “Mrs Sabina, like a good spirit, always offered advice and lifted my spirits through her practical wisdom, like the closest friend, through letters we wrote to each other.”

In 1994, Sabina applied for granting the Righteous Among the Nations title to the Najko family “in the name of fundamental justice.” He also described the Najkos in a moving way: “Never before or never after have I met in my life people who would regard it so natural to risk their own lives to save others.”

For Janina, the symbolic aspect of the title and the memory of her parents’ heroism were important. In 1993 she wrote: “I believe that I will be able to pass the historical truth about the martyrdom of our nations to my children and grandchildren and in this way honour my parents, if only partially.”

In 1994, the Yad Vashem Institute decided to grant Jan, Bronisława and Marian Najko as well as Janina Figura (nee Najko) the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 349/24, 2091