Before the War, the Najko family lived at ul.Puławska 21 in Warsaw. Bronisław Najko and his wife owned coal, vegetable and shoe shops in which they employed family members.
In the autumn of 1940, the Najkos’ apartment was included within the terrain of the newly-created German housing district. Jan Najko refused to sign the Deutsche Volksliste (Volksdeutsche List) and moved with his family to ul.Twarda 31. As it turned out, this was located just 10 metres from the ghetto.
In her 1993 account of events, 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 reality of the occupation period. So, within their limited means, they offered selfless help, providing financial, food and housing aid to the Jews in hiding and to those struggling to survive.
Jewish children, sneaking out of the ghetto in search of food, stayed in the Najkos’ flat. Janina recalls:
Every day, my mum, my brother and I prepared food for them, such as meat, fat, cakes, etc. But all they wanted was bread, garlic, onions and other food items which, at that time, seemed completely unimportant to me as food for survival.
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 families. 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 ul.Dobra Street2. 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 ul.Solec and then in ul.Litewska.
When, in February 1943, she found out that her home was being searched by the Gestapo, she realised that 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 apartment.
Soon after, Sabina’s fiancé, Tadeusz, came to Warsaw. He had escaped from a POW camp on ul.Lipowa in Lublinr. The Najkos invited him to stay in their home. Janina Figura wrote:
He couldn't show himself to anyone because of the distinct features characteristic of his nationality.
The Najkos fitted a lock in the door, hang heavy lace curtains over the window and built a hideout where Tadeusz could find shelter in case of an unexpected visit.
They managed to survive German searches. Tadeusz, with a bandage around his head for safety reasons, was moved to ul.Puławska, where Sabina had her lived, officially. A hideout for Tadeusz was created in the tiled stove of the apartment. Later, on several occasions, Najko transported Tadeusz, as a coal delivery man, to ul.Iwińska and ul.Górnośląska, because, as Sabina wrote,
Every place that initially seemed to be ‘secure’, after a few days, for various reasons, turned out to be dangerous.
During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Najko tried, in vain, to aid the residents of a burning building which was located just behind the ghetto’s walls. His daughter remembered her father’s words said thatt night on the roof of their house:
Look at what those murderers are doing to defenceless families so that, one day, you can take revenge and bear witness to the truth – so history won’t repeat itself.
Najko also hid ghetto escapees in his shops (on ul.Górnośląska and ul.Iwicka) – in hideouts arranged in adjacent rooms. He also sent several to relatives living in the country. The Najkos’ nephew, Heniek, was also involved, helping Jan to build clever hideouts for Jews.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, Najko took his daughter to his family living in Kawęczyn close to Piaseczno near Warsaw. Together with Tadeusz, e died during the Uprising. Together with a group of other men, they were executed by the Germans. Sabina wrote, “They remained together both in life and death”. Bronisława and Marian survived and, following the suppression of the Uprising, they were taken away to Germany. They came back to Warsaw in 1946 and settled in a devastated flat in ul.Twarda. 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.