The Wojtarek Family

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Story of Rescue - The Wojtarek Family

Edward Wojtarek was the owner of a transport company located at Barska 10 in Warsaw. Elżbieta Wojtarek was helping her husband run the company, but she spent most of her time tending their household. Their daughter Elżbieta was attending the local school on ul. Opaczewska, where a lot of stress was put on practice-oriented classes. Among the students were a number of Jewish children. Elżbieta remembers the atmosphere at the school as friendly and tolerant.

The Wojtareks had neighbors of Jewish descent, with whom they lived well - the families visited each other on both Catholic and Jewish holidays. After completed her primary school education, Elżbieta graduated from a teachers college and subsequently from the Teachers Institute for Technology and Home Economics (Instytut Robót Ręcznych dla Nauczycieli) in Warsaw, majoring in textile science. She owned a loom, and was a collector of fabrics.

During her time at the Institute she met a Jewish girl, Ruta (Ruth) Brzezińska, who came from Częstochowa to study in Warsaw. The two became friends. In June 1939, after the graduation ceremony, they exchanged addresses in order to remain in touch. Ruta returned to Częstochowa
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In the winter of 1942 Elżbieta Józefa got married and moved to Twarda Street; she continued to help her parents - she would visit them in the Barska apartment almost daily.

Helping children

Throughout the occupation Elżbieta Józefa was working with the Central Welfare Council. She had joined the organization before the war. At the time the CWC was arranging extracurricular activities, excursions, and summer trips for children.

Elżbieta recounts her work with the organization: “Especially during the occupation did the CWC take care of the Jewish children and youth. In the face of this growing threat of annihilation of the [Jewish] population, the help took on other forms: gathering, from various parts of Warsaw and its suburbs, children who wound up far from their homes; this was often caused by the murders of their parents by the Germans.

In these circumstances, my actions were focussed on participating in the recovery of the abandoned and orphaned children and placing them in various safer CWC locations. The situation grew worse after the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto. German municipal authorities learned of my activities and this caused searches and my arrest.”

Elżbieta Godlewska was detained at the police station on Skaryszewska Street. She was facing involuntary labor in Germany. Members of the CWC made contributions in order to allow her husband Ryszard to buy her out of jail; the plan was successful.

Jews Who Were Rescued

In early April 1943, at the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Elżbieta’s school friend, Ruta, having escaped the Częstochowa ghetto, knocked on the door of the Wojtarek family apartment.

“My parents understood her dire situation and took her in, despite the additional danger posed by the fact they were living in a multi-family row-house. It was especially difficult due to the closeness of ul. Barska to the student dormitory on pl. Narutowicza, since the latter served as the quarters for German military and police. In addition, the frequent searches in the row-house and round-ups in the streets of [the] Ochota [district] compounded the fear. Still, apart from Ruta we took in two other Jews, members of her family. We also battled difficulties with providing supplies, as well as the normal tribulations of of day-to-day upkeep of the people in hiding and of our own family.”

Elżbieta recounts: “Several days after the arrival of Ruth at our apartment, I obtained a kennkarte for her through the underground. I left the same last name, I only changed the first name to Irena.”
In her statement Ruth Brzezińska wrote: “The Wojtarek family fed me, sheltered me in general, and hid me from the [Germans].”

In the middle of April 1943, Ruta was joined by her sister Celina and her husband Marek. They fled the liquidation of Częstochowa’s “little ghetto.” The Wojtareks hid them in the transport company - with plenty of stables and carthouses. They were also hiding the Jewish couple at their apartment and sought out hideouts for them with their acquaintances.

It was only Elżbieta’s colleague from the Institute, Zofia Baniecka, who agreed to take Marek in. Elżbieta, “after a hard and dangerous search of a place to hide during the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto,” placed Celina with another colleague, Halina Michaj – Słowińska. She then found employment for the fugitive as a tutor in the Children Care Facility (Zakład Opiekuńczy dla Dzieci) in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, a unit of the CWC.

Her work in the CWC Headquarters allowed her not only to find the hideouts, but also to deliver messages between the two sisters, Ruta and Celina.

Ruta (Irena) Brzezińska remained under the care of Elżbieta Józefa Godlewska and her parents until the autumn of 1943. She subsequently “moved, not without some problems, to the home of acquaintances recommended by Elżbieta Wojtarek at ul. Węgierska 15 and on ul. Smolna.”

Some time later, during a stroll, she was arrested and taken to the Pawiak prison. Ruta was saved from certain death by her tailoring skills: she was making clothes for the female wardens and German soldiers and their wives.

Ruta’s brother-in-law, Marek, went out and was caught by the Germans and taken to Auschwitz, where he lost his life to an infection.

After the Uprising

After the Warsaw Uprising, the Wojtarek family were placed in the transit camp in Pruszków. Elżbieta Wojtarek (the mother) was subsequently taken to Auschwitz and later to Ravensbrück, while her husband Edward was transported to Birkenau. Elżbieta Wojtarek survived the internment. Edward died in the concentration camp, probably in 1944.

Elżbieta Józefa Godlewska and her six-month-old daughter, Elżbieta Aleksandra, were to be taken to Auschwitz. Their transport, however, did not reach its destination.

Elżbieta recounts: “By accident, after many traumatic experiences, I found myself near Nowe Miasto on the Pilica river. I then sought out my husband who found a job organizing industry investments in the ‘Recovered Territories,’ and we settled in Głuchołazy in the Opole region, losing any touch with Warsaw. Only after returning to the city in 1950 did I renew many of my old acquaintances through my friends from college. I also reconnected with the rescued Ruta Brzezińska.”

After the Warsaw Uprising Ruta found her sister and the two left for the United States, and, respectively, both found husbands there.

In the 1970s Ruta came to Warsaw and visited Elżbieta Józefa Godlewska. Their contacts faded after that visit.
In 1968, when, following the anti-semitic sentiments in Poland, Elżbieta Józefa’s colleague Zofia Wróblewska was being dismissed, simply for being Jewish, from the college they were working at, Elżbieta Józefa was the only one to voice her disapproval. As a result, Elżbieta was forced to find another job.

Wróblewska emigrated to Sweden. Years later it was her who initiated the process of awarding Elżbieta Józefa Godlewska the medal of Righteous Among the Nations, which was brought to fruition in 2003. Her parents were posthumously recognized with the title alongside her. The ceremony of decorating Elżbieta Józefa with the medal took place in 2006.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 349, 2498
  • Gąsiorowska Halina, Interview with Elżbieta Godlewska, 13.02.2009