After having lost her husband, alone with two daughters, Alicja and Barbara, in a tiny one-room apartment in Praga in Warsaw, Natalia Szczepaniak sheltered people.
Everyone in the building knew each other so well that they never locked their doors. When Natalia decided she would help Jews, she had to change that custom.
“At least one lock always had to be shut” - recalls Alicja Schnepf - so that there would be time to hide before the door was opened.”
When late in 1943 two Jews were brought to the Szczepaniak’s home: Anna Albert and the five-year-old Nina Zajdel, Natalia was not home. As it had already been decided for her, she let them stay.
They remained with her until the Soviet troops landed on the right banks of Warsaw.
From time to time the Oszmiańska Street apartment also sheltered Anna Albert’s two daughters – Krystyna and Maria. An old wooden closet had to serve as a hiding place, and sometimes only the bed had to suffice. Just how backbreaking it all was and just what a miracle the end result turned out to be is even more evident, when one realizes that immediately before the Warsaw Uprising, three more Jewish refugees moved into the Szczepaniak’s apartment: Wacław Nowicki or Nowacki with his wife Ewa and cousin Stasia.
Eventually, the Red Army came. Alicja remembers running into the street when she heard the Russians were coming. People were hugging the Soviet soldiers, they in their old workers’ coats. People were bringing them vodka.
“I started crying. Simply weeping. It was joy and happiness, they had finally arrived. I couldn’t stop. Every day we had been at the edge of death.”