The Topinski Family

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Story of Rescue - The Topinski Family

Zofia Bielicka was born on 15th January 1910 in Kraków, the daughter of Józef Bielicki and Stefania (nee Dunin). Her father came from Warsaw. For participating in the strike of 1905. He was sentenced to exile in Irkutsk, from where he managed to escape. He then settled in Kraków.

Jan Topiński was born on 13th December 1907 in Kraków to parents Karol and Maria. Jan’s father was a typesetter and a leader of the printers’ union.

In the late 1920’s, both Zofia and Jan were students at the Jagielloński University - Zofia studied psychology, while Jan studied law. Both had leftist viewpoints and were active in the ZNMS (Union of Independent Socialist Youth). They met there and, in 1933, they were married.

At the beginning of the 1930’s, Jan began work in the Kraków court as a civil law judge and, shortly after attaining his doctorate, he was promoted to the position of Appeals Judge in Warsaw, to where he and his wife moved in 1937 and settled in Żoliborz. They rapidly established contact with figures in the PPS (Polish Socialist Party) community of Żoliborz. These were people who cared for children and youth – doctors, teachers, tutors and writers. All were involved in issues involving children and were community activists. The central figure was Dr Aleksander Landy, a paediatrician, the founder of a new school of child care and development. Other people woirth mentioning here are Dr Maria Arnold, Dr Helena Budzielewicz, Jan Wesołowski, Maria Kownacka, Felicja Zelcer, Maria Wiemann.

Zofia became a carer in the Workers Society Friends of Children kindergarten and soon became an integral member of that group. Jan was a judge in the Appeals Court, where he worked until the outbreak of War. At that time, the Topiński couple were still in Żoliborz. Zofia continued to work in the kindergarten, however Jan gave up work in the court and devoted himself to the operations of the Warsaw Housing Co-operative as the public-receiver of the Public Building Enterprise, which was accountable to the Co-operative. He was also attorney for the Co-operative’s Board of Management.

He then came into contact with other branches of Żoliborz community workers – co-operative members, architects and contruction engineers. Among those were Stanisław Tołwiński, Marian Nowicki, Stanisław Szwalbe, Mieczysław Krajewski, Helena and Szymon Syrkus.

These were Zofia and Jan Topiński’s official jobs during the War. Both, however, were later involved with the underground. Jan worked in the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army (his younger friend was Władysław Bartoszewski). From the beginning of the time when Jews needed to conceal their identity, Zofia helped in the manufacture of false papers. The Topiński couple produced fake papers on the basis of birth certificates obtained from the local parish. They set up an office in their home just for this purpose, equipped with blank “kennkarty” and the required fake rubber stamps.

At that time, Zofia Topińska received help from the priest Zygmunt Trószyński, parish priest of the church on Gdańsk Street (Father Trószyński contributed to the rescue of many Jews. He was, however, never honoured for this). Today, little is known as to exactly which Jews were helped by the Topiński couple and specifically how they were helped. What is known is that they helped far more individuals than has been documented.

The story of the Hasler family is known from testimonies given to the Yad Vashem Institute.

Artur Haskler was an entrepreneur who built a telecommunications network in Radom. For the Germans, it was important that this project, started before the War, be completed. To achieve this, the involvement of its founder, Artur Haskler, was essential. So that, even after the ghetto was established, he was permitted to continue living outside its walls. Artur realised that, after the project was completed, he would cease to be needed by the Germans and would perish. For that reason, he stretched out the project for as long as he possibly could. Haskler came from Lwów and his family was still there. In the autumn of 1941, after the Germans had occupied Lwówm, Haskler convinced the authorities that he needed materials essential for the completion of the project and that these materials were only available in Lwów. He organised two convoys of trucks, under Wehrmacht escort, which not only brought materials for the project, but also members of the Haskler family, among whom was 13 year old Lidia Leiter, Artur Haskler’s niece, who hid in a barrel.

Six members of the family were taken to Warsaw where they were looked after by the Topiński couple. Right after the completion of the project in Radom, Artur Haskler and his wife joined them. All were accommodated by the Topiński’s in a villa in lower Żoliborz at 16 Święcickiego Street. One night, at the beginning of 1943, under the pretext of catching Jews, the villa was invaded by a group of szmalcowniks, among whom were members of the navy-blue police. They arrived in two cars into which they loaded goods which they ransacked, after it turned out that the people for whom they had come had already disappeared. They declared that they would return for the Jews in hiding. After the szmalcowniks had left, all eight in hiding immediately fled and hid with the Topiński couple who, after a few days, rented an apartment for them in Powiśle (at 24 Tamka Street). Through the underground, the Topiński’s managed to identify the leader of the invasion. A “hit squad” paid him a visit during which he was beaten up and appropriately “informed” as to what would happen to him should he again try to track down Jews.

Another testimony regarding how the Topiński couple had saved Jews was made to the Yad Vashem Institute by Jadwiga Barman, whom the Topiński’s had brought from Kraków, together with her mother, sister and uncle who was a friend of Jan’s while they were students. The Topiński couple prepared an apartment for them on 69 Grochowa Street. In the winter of 1943, when they were hunting for Jews, Jadwiga Barman gave the Germans the slip and, at night, reached a familiar address in Saska Kępa. From there, the Topiński’s took her and found her a new place in Bronisze near Warsaw, where she remained until liberation. However, during that time, her mother, sister and uncle, Ignacy Rose, (who had been arrested earlier in Żoliborz) were caught and perished.

Another person whom the Topiński couple helped was Wiktor Jassem, then a 19 year old boy. He came from Kraków after leaving his parents who also survived the war. He was placed onto an estate in the Wielkopolski Province, where he worked as a home tutor. He survived the War even though he need to change location numerous times to other estates.

It is also known that Zofia helped children brought to her from Lwów and paid no heed to the huge danger in transporting children/infants (during the long journey, it could easily be discovered that these were Jewish children). The Topiński couple supplied all the hidden Jews with documents which they, themselves, had manufactured.

The Topiński’s lived through the Warsaw Uprising, together with their eighteen month old son, in Żoliborz. Driven out of Warsaw, they reached Kraków via a camp in Pruszków. They returned to Warsaw in 1946. Zofia returned to working in the kindergarten teaching pre-schoolers. In the 1960’s, she completed her doctorate at the Jagielloński University. She published numerous specialist papers and books on kindergarten education. To the end of her life, she devoted herself to the care of pre-school age children. For many years, she was editor of the “Kindergarten Education” monthly. She died on 4thDecember 2000.

Jan became Vice-President of the Central Planning Authority and served in that role until the end of 1948. In the years 1949-71, he was President of the State Business Arbitration Authority. He was also the author of many books on business and civil law. He died on 15thDecember 1971.

Jan and Zofia Topiński had three sons. Piotr was born in the summer of 1943. He graduated in zoological technology at the SGGW, after which he completed his doctorate. He worked as a researcher for the PAN Institute in Dziekanów Leśny. He was interned during Poland’s post-War martial law period.

Andrzej was born in August 1945. As a fourth-year economics student, he was expelled from Warsaw University in 1968. After the reinstatement of students’ rights, he completed his studies. He held several high positions, among them being Vice-President of the National Bank of Poland under the government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

Wojciech was born in March 1948. As a second year student, he was also expelled from university in 1968 and put into the Rakowiecki prison. In the years 1989-91, he was President of the Social Security Agency.

In 2008, Zofia and Jan Topiński were honoured with the medal and title of “Righteous Among The Nations”.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Jadwiga Rytlowa, Interview with Wojciech and Andrzej Topinski, 1.07.2010