The Sawicki Family

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Story of Rescue - The Sawicki Family

Zymra Kamiński, née Rawicka, was born in Włocławek in 1930. She was the only daughter of Etka (née Kon) and Fajbisz Rawicki. Fajbisz worked as a department director in a factory and was an active member of the local community. Etka was a housewife. Their big extended family also lived in Włocławek.

Etka and Fajbisz Rawicki used Yiddish when talking to each other, but spoke to their daughter in Polish. Before the outbreak of the war, Zymra attended a 13-year Hebrew school.

In December 1939, the Rawicki family decided to move to Warsaw and settled in a small apartment at Leszno Street, on the corner of Żelazna Street. When the ghetto was established in Warsaw, the tenement building which they inhabited ended up within its borders. Fajbisz worked inside the ghetto, in the office of Zakłady Aprowizacyjne, and his wife was a shop attendant. Zymra received education during secret gatherings and was a member of the “Dror” youth organisation.

During the so-called Grossaktion in the ghetto, initiated in July 1942, Etka was sent to Umschlagplatz. She was most probably killed in an extermination camp. Zymra fell seriously ill. Her lonely father took care of her and organised hideouts which they used to avoid being caught in successive waves of the Grossaktion.

In February 1943, Fajbisz decided to take his daughter to the so-called Aryan side. Together with Icchak Cukierman, a.k.a  Antek, with whom he had collaborated in the underground, he devised an escape plan. Even though she had the so-called good physical appearance, Zymra did not want to leave the ghetto and be separated from her father. Fajbisz promised that he would later join her outside the ghetto. He also gave her the addresses of family members living in Palestine and America.

Zymra left the ghetto with a group of workers. Her first hideout was provided by Icchak Cukierman. She was then taken in by Anna Wąchalska, who lived with her sister Maria Sawicka at 44 Krzyżanowskiego Street. They were both members of the People’s Army and cooperated with the leadership of the Jewish Combat Organisation. Their tiny apartment was used by the organisation to hold meetings, store arms and underground press, and served as an “emergency medical service” for people leaving the ghetto. Among their collaborators were their nephew Stefan Siewierski and niece Halina Siewierska (later Wójcik). They were all given the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Institute.

It was planned for Zymra to hide in the apartment temporarily, but she ended up staying at her “aunts’” place much longer. She kept in touch with her father until the outbreak of the Ghetto Uprising, which is when they lost contact. Zymra never found out how and when her father died.

One day, somebody knocked on the door of the apartment when Zymra was home alone. She opened it. Two Gestapo officers entered the flat and brought in Stefan, beaten up and handcuffed. They started an inspection.

Zymra played dumb and surprisingly, she was not asked to show any identification. Having found nothing of interest, the Gestapo officers left, but took Stefan with them. Later on, Anna and Maria found out that while being tortured, Stefan had attempted to escape, fearing that he would break and denounce someone. Germans shot him on the spot.

Sometime later, fake documents were issued for Zymra under the name Zofia Rybak. Thanks to her “good” physical appearance, she could leave the house and carry out instructions of the underground organisation. The neighbours were told she was a relative who had arrived to Warsaw from the countryside. This may have sounded suspicious, but being aware of the high position of sisters Wąchalska and Sawicka in the underground, nobody was bold enough to denounce them. The care given to Zymra by Anna and Maria, however, was not limited to giving her shelter. In the apartment, the women created an atmosphere of warmth and domestic geniality.

During the Warsaw Uprising, Zymra, Anna, and Halina Siewierska were deported to a transit camp in Pruszków and later sent to a labour camp in Germany. The camp was located by a munitions factory in Trebin, ca. 35 km away from Berlin. After the end of the war, they experienced various vicissitudes but eventually managed to come back to Warsaw, where they met Maria. They soon moved to Łódź.

Zymra did not find any members of her family. She wanted to stay with her “aunts.” Anna, however, confessed that she had given a promise to Zymra’s father – in case he doesn’t survive, the sisters should do anything necessary for Zymra to return to the Jewish community. With the help of the “Dror” Zionist organisation, she was included in a group of youth set to leave for Palestine. Separation with her beloved “aunts” proved to be a painful experience for Zymra.

She left Poland illegally, in a group of children and adolescents – orphans rescued from the Holocaust. Via Bratislava and Vienna, she reached a refugee camp in Bavaria. In the camp, there was a kibbutz run by “Dror,” which is where Zymra continued to prepare for emigration.

In the camp, she met her future husband, Josef Kamiński, born in the locality of Jesionówka near Białystok. Josef had fled to the USSR, served in the Polish Army, and left Poland after the end of the war. Thanks to an organised transport to Italy they reached Modena, where they married in a synagogue on 20 May 1947. They went to Milan and then Permo, where they worked with Jewish children – Josef was a school teacher and Zymra was a kindergarten teacher. This is where they heard the news of the creation of the State of Israel. They boarded a ship called “Dolores” and reached Haifa on 28 August 1948.  

At first, they were supported by the kibbutz where Zymra’s aunt lived. After a couple of difficult, “pioneer” years, they settled in Kfar Saba with their two daughters. Josef worked in a bank; Zymra was a host in a youth boarding house and later worked as an archivist until her retirement in 1998.

As soon as it was possible, Zymra got back in touch with Anna, Maria, and their niece Halina. They frequently exchanged letters. Zymra paid several visits to her “aunts” in Poland, travelling either alone or with family. Anna died in 1966. Maria was invited to visit Israel several times.

After Maria’s death in 1996, Zymra received the letters she had written during the times of separation. On the basis of the correspondence, her own memories, and the recollections of Anna and Maria, Zymra described her story. Otoczona serdecznością is Zymra Kamiński’s memoir published in Hebrew in 2003; she dedicated the book to Anna and Maria, who, as she herself underlines, she treated as her close family.

Genial, close ties between the families living in Poland and Israel are preserved by the second and third generation. Zymra Kamiński has two daughters, six grandchildren, and six grand-grandchildren.

Written by Janina Goldhar on the basis of her own translation of the memoir of Zymra Kamiński, Israel, June 2016

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