The Szymański Family

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Story of Rescue - The Szymański Family

Janina Szymańska (mother of Barbara, Halina and Hanna)

The Jacuńskis were exiled from Lithuania (a part of the Russian Empire) as a punishment for taking part in the January Insurrection – a Polish uprising of 1863. Their estate was confiscated. They moved to Warsaw. At the age of seventeen Janina Szymańska nee Jacuńska became a seamstress.

During the World War I, Janina lived in Russia. After Poland regained independence, she returned to her homeland with her husband Franciszek and daughter Barbara born in 1917.

A few years later another daughter – Halina – was born, and soon after that – Hanna. It was hard to make the ends meet. The Szymańskis decided to put Halina into the care of Janina’s brother Tadeusz Jacuński and his wife, who had no children of their own.

In Ellen Land-Weber’s book, “To Save a Life: Stories of Jewish Rescue”, Barbara Szymańska-Makuch talks about her mother Janina: “My mother was very special. She didn’t have formal education, but she was exceptionally intelligent. She had an open mind and read a lot. She was ready to help everyone, not only Jews. Whenever she saw someone in need, she simply helped. That’s the kind of atmosphere I grew up in.”

Halina Ogrodzińska nee Jacuńska

Halina’s foster parents, whose name, Jacuńska, she had adopted, died when she was about 11 years old. She moved to the dormitory at the Krzemieniec High School, famous for the quality of education and outstanding teachers. “It was the School that brought me up” – says Halina Ogrodzińska. The student body included a considerable number of Jews.

“There were 5 people (of Jewish origin) in our class. Two girls and three boys. (…) two girls [were] named Berenstein – Frydka and Chajka. Chajka was great friends with us. She came to the dormitory to study, because she had poor conditions at home. (...) I don’t know what happened to all of them.”

In August 1939 Halina was sent to a summer camp for girl scout leaders. The outbreak of the Second World War a month later, separated her from her family who lived in Sandomierz.

Barbara Szymańska - Makuch

Barbara finished the State Horticultural College in Vilna. She got her first job – as a teacher in an agricultural school – in Mokoszyn, not far from Sandomierz, where she was living with her mother, Janina Szymańska. In September 1939 the Sandomierz region was occupied by the Germany Army.

The Second World War

After return from summer camp in the fall of 1939 Halina Ogrodzińska started her final school year in Krzemieniec, which fell under the Soviet occupation. In the spring of 1940 she had to leave school, due to her involvement in the anticommunist underground. Together with a school friend, Olga Stande, they headed for Lvov.
“Olga had some relatives in Lvov. (...) They had to flee, but they left us the apartment. (...) Olga’s family were... it’s hard for me to differentiate between a Pole/a Jew (...) they were assimilated. (...) [They belonged to] the Polish intelligentsia”.

In Lvov Halina wanted to study medicine but her knowledge of Ukrainian (by that time Polish language was banned) was not good enough for that.

Weigel’s Institute

When the German occupation of Lvov started in July 1941, Halina had already been working for the Typhoid Institute, called Weigel’s Institute, after the director and creator of the vaccine against typhoid. Halina fed lice used in the production of the vaccine.

“The Institute was home for Polish underground” – recalls Halina Ogrodzińska. “There were about a thousand employees. We had identity cards issued by German military and that was of utmost importance. With such a card you could travel to Warsaw. (...)

The director was a German colonel [Aier], a decent man. My boss in the State Hygiene Unit was Dr Meisel [a Jew]. His wife was also a bacteriologist. They both worked there. And that German [Aier] took care of them and for a long time managed to forestall their transportation to [concentration] camp. It’s owing to him that they survived Auschwitz”.

Halina got involved in the underground movement organized by the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). “PPS met my political requirements, because their priority was Poland’s independence. (...) It was there that I first encountered Bund [Jewish Socialist Party] (...) One of the female doctors at Weigel’s I felt very close to, Dr Lifszyc, who emigrated from Cracov, or rather escaped from the Germans, was a member of Bund.”

Through the Lifszyc family Halina met her future husband, Przemysław (Przemek) Ogrodziński. “Żegota had its headquarters in Warsaw, under the auspices of the underground government which represented several political groupings. In Lvov there was a parallel union of political parties. Przemek acted on behalf of PPS. PPS played an important role because, among other things, it had a lot of Jewish members. (...) we sent as many people as possible away from Lvov. We needed documents [fake identity cards, called ‘Aryan papers’] for this”.

“[Helping] Every person meant really intricate work” – Halina describes the organization of hiding places. “Where? Whom to approach? (...) It was obvious that people who were well known, e.g. doctors, couldn’t stay in Lvov. They had to be sent somewhere else, e.g. to Warsaw. They needed to be made look as non-semitic as possible, and they needed photos for the [fake] papers. (...) In Warsaw there were shelters (hiding places) ready for them. For example, in the Żoliborz district we had a lot of friends. It was a left-wing part of town.”

Olga Lilien

Halina arranged for Dr Olga Lilien to be placed with her sister Barbara (Baśka) Szymańska in Mokoszyn near Sandomierz. Olga had been born to a family of doctors. In 1927 she gained her Ph. D. in medical science at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov.

“She had eastern [semitic] looks, so we sent her to Baśka [Barbara], who lived near Sandomierz” – recalls Halina.
Barbara found a job for Olga. “She was a cook in the agricultural school where Baśka worked as a teacher. (...) for a while she washed dishes in the dormitory, in the kitchen and in the canteen. It’s hard for me to say where she lived.”

“During an execution in Mokoszyn the Germans herded in all the inhabitants (…). A German pointed at Olga and said ‘Jude’. Then all the people... the mayor of the village said: ‘That’s not true!’ (...) Poles are often accused of being informers... I think that was a perfect occasion, but nobody betrayed Olga”.

After the war Olga Lilien organized pediatric care in Tarnobrzeg near Sandomierz. For many years she was the only pediatrician in the area. “People had great respect for her. (...) She was such an idealistic doctor, she treated so many people...”. Today one of the streets in Tarnobrzeg is named after Dr Olga Lilien.

Maria Glass - Małka

Janina and Barbara saved an eight-year-old Jewish girl Maria Glass called Marysia. “Sara Glass, who owned a haberdashery shop [in Sandomierz], came to them with her small daughter. She knocked on the window at night and asked: ‘Will you take in Marysia?’” – tells us Halina Ogrodzińska.
She also explains, why it was her sister Barbara Szymańska that Mrs. Glass asked for help: “My aunt, who was a teacher in Sandomierz, used to buy stuff in the shop [owned by Sara Glass]. Sara first went to the aunt. But then... everybody knew Sara there. (...) So the aunt said: ‘you might be better off at Baśka’s’. She gave her the address [of Szymanskis in Mokoszyn].”
 
Marysia had fair hair. Even though at home they spoke Yiddish, she could speak good Polish. She pretended to be Barbara’s niece. During the day Janina Szymańska took care of the girl. “Mother devoted a lot of time to Marysia. Baśka had to work. (...) Mum was a very warm person (…) They treated Marysia with affection”.
After some time both women decided that the situation was getting dangerous and decided that Barbara and Marysia would leave Mokoszyn. “Baśka took Marysia and brought her to Lvov. We put her in an orphanage run by nuns where she stayed till the end of the war” – recalls Halina.

After the war Sara Glass got reunited with her daughter. They both left for Canada.

Lvov

In Lvov Halina drew Barbara into the underground movement. The sisters lived together. “We had a secret hiding place beneath the floor, where we kept various papers, and Baśka... of course, there were specialists who faked them, but Baśka organized all this, took out those forms, distributed them”. Halina worked at a clandestine printing place.

In the fall of 1942 Barbara went to Warsaw for another batch of papers. On her way back she was caught by Nazis and arrested. She spent six weeks in the Lublin prison. “We soon got news in Lvov that Baśka held out well, that... on the first day she was badly beaten”.

” We had our people there [in prison]. They had some German contacts. Adam [Ostrowski – leader of Civil Struggle in Lvov and later the District Delegate of the Government in Lvov] even went to Warsaw, and I went with him, to obtain some money from the Polish authorities to buy her out. None of us had that kind of money. Finally we got it. And all we managed to gain with that money was that Baśka was sent to the concentration camp.”
Barbara was sent to Ravensbruck. She stayed there till the end of the war. She returned to Poland. “And then Marysia [Glass] invited her to come and visit for three months. She got a Canadian visa, went to visit Marysia and there she met an Anders man [soldier in general Anders’ army] Stanisław Makuch, and they got married. She stayed in Canada and kept in touch with Marysia. Hanka and me, we also visited Marysia in Canada”.

In Canada, Barbara and her husband ran a gardening supply store.

The Landaus

In the early spring of 1943 Halina Ogrodzińska and her friend Maryna Fiderer took in a couple named Landau. Leib Landau, a well known lawyer, was a Bund activist. During the occupation he organized a Lvov branch of the Jewish Mutual Aid Society and was a member of Judenrat.

“He was very honorable and believed that if other Jews are in the ghetto, he needs to be there too. (...) They brought him out just before liquidation”.

“At night somebody started banging on the door. It turned out later that a person who brought the couple to us, had had told someone about them. I think it wasn’t Gestapo, only some blackmailers but they must have been connected with the Germans.

(…) they must have had precise information because they went straight to the room where they [the Landaus] were. We heard that they were beaten because they screamed. Maryna had the presence of mind to say: ‘Halina, let’s take our coats and run’. (...) It was March, there was snow, it was cold. We sat in the field until morning. At dawn we went to Kurkowa street, to Maryna’s father. There was nothing we could do. The Landaus perished”.

Immediately Halina went into hiding. “I got fake documents. (...) with the same name, but fake place of work and address. I started working only for the resistance movement.”
After the war Halina traveled with her husband, Przemysław Ogrodziński, who became a diplomat. For a while she worked as a journalist.

Bibliography

  • Dzięciołowska Karolina, Interview with Halina Ogrodzińska, a daughter of Janina Szymańska, 24.11.2009