Zegarlińska Rozalia

enlarge map

Story of Rescue - Zegarlińska Rozalia

For several years during the inter-war period, Rozalia Zegarlińska worked as a housekeeper in Cracow for the Stramers, a Jewish family. After WWII broke out, the Stramers left the city and, together with other refugees, went east. The head of the family slipped across the border to the USSR while his wife and daughter Danuta remained with his parents in Tarnów. “We were close to the breadline, the grandparents were old and my mother had no profession to live by, she tried teaching classes,” Danuta recalled after the war.

After her host family left, Rozalia, who was then a widow, remained in Cracow and occupied herself with petty trading. She remained in contact with Mrs Stramer and her daughter and brought them food to Tarnów from time to time.

Close to the middle of 1942, the Germans created a ghetto in Tarnów. Mrs Stramer, her daughter, and her parents-in-law moved there. After several months, rumour started spreading that the Jewish district was to be liquidated and Mrs Stramer asked Rozalia for help.

Zegarlińska came to Tarnów and took Mrs Stramer’s daughter with her to Cracow. Danuta recalled after the war: “As we were leaving the ghetto, we were accompanied by cries of ‘she’s taking a child from the ghetto!’ on the Aryan side but we managed to get to the railway station and reach Cracow.” Zegarlińska had made several attempts at leading Danuta’s mother out from the ghetto and taking her to Cracow as well. On one such occasion, when they had almost reached the railway station, the Germans organised a manhunt. Fearing for her life, the woman returned to the ghetto. Mrs Stramer refused further escape attempts. Neither she, nor her parents-in-law survived the war.

Danuta stayed with Zegarlińska from September 1943 until January 1945. In order to stay safe, they also hid with the family and friends of Rozalia. Danuta recalled later on: “The way those people behaved towards me and my carer, obviously, varied: some of them were nice enough at first but quickly got rid of us in the face of any danger but there were also ones who remained kind and helpful to us at all times.” Apart from Rozalia herself, the most helpful people were her sister Stefania Przebinda and her niece Stefania Pępkowska. The hiding women had to move from place to place many times. At first, they stayed with relatives in the Krowodrza district of Cracow to whom Danuta was introduced as Zegarlińska’s granddaughter. However, their neighbours quickly realised who Danuta really was. They started gossiping about it so Rozalia and Danuta had to leave in order to stay safe. In spite of the many precautions they took, the truth about them was often discovered. The girl had to remain in hiding all the time in subsequent hideouts. “My carer had to stay outside of the house all day long, working hard to earn money for our upkeep. She would buy various products at villages outside of Cracow and bring them to shops in the city,” Danuta recounted after the war. When they had nowhere else to go, Rozalia would take the girl outside of the house and make it look for her neighbours like the child was about to leave for good.

According to Danuta, Zegarlińska had also been helping the Jews working at the Płaszów camp. After the Warsaw Uprising, Helena Stroczan, Danuta’s father sister, and her husband Jarosław stayed at Rozalia’s apartment in Warsaw in the Azory district. The fugitives spent several weeks there in safety and then left for the countryside. They survived the war and went to the FRG in 1968.

After the war, Danuta and Rozalia moved to Łódź to live with Danuta’s distant relatives. When Danuta’s father came back from the USSR, Zegarlińska moved out but returned to live with Danuta after several years. Danuta looked after Rozalia right until the latter’s death. According to what Danuta said many times: “Rozalia Zegarlińska saved me during the war, risking her life selflessly on a daily basis” so she tried to return the favour after the war.

Bibliography

  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział odznaczeń Yad Vashem. Dokumentacja sprawy Rozalii Zegarlińskiej., 349/24/1901