The Zelwerowicz Family

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Story of Rescue - The Zelwerowicz Family

Alexander Zelwerowicz was one of the most significant artists working in Polish theatre during the first half of the 20th century. He was an actor, director, founder of the National Theatrical Arts Institute and a social worker. He appeared in theatres in Krakow, Lodz and Vilnius. He was connected for many years with the Polish Theatre in Warsaw, where he appeared in some of his greatest roles: Moliere's Argan, Porfiry in "Crime and Punishment” and also in such acclaimed performances as Stanisław Wyspiański’s "Liberation”.

During the Nazi occupation, the Warsaw apartment of Aleksander Zelwerowicz and his daughter Helena (Lena) at No. 9 Szczygla Street became a shelter for Jews. It was Helena’s permanent address. This flat was also the officially registered address of Helena’s life companion, the actor Józef Orchoń, who had to go into hiding due to his Jewish origin. Alexander Zelwerowicz was persecuted by the occupying powers and so at the beginning of 1940 he left the capital.  From February 1941, he worked in a Disabled Soldiers Home, run by the Polish Red Cross in Oryszew, near Sochaczew, where he settled. But he visited Warsaw quite often. He also sent food packages and money, helping in this way towards maintenance of the apartment.

From August 1942, a pre-war friend of Lena’s, Helena Caspari and her 11-year old daughter Hania, lived in hiding on Szczygla Street. It also served as a temporary hiding place for Dawid Epstein and Leon Feiner ("Joseph”), a well-known Bund activist. Maria Nudel and a barrister whose surname is unknown also hid in this flat. In September 1942, the latter was approached by a blackmailer on the stairs of this house. As Helena Caspari relates in her statement for the Yad Vashem Institute, he managed to buy the blackmailer off, but from that time on, the address on Szczygla was unsafe. Lena found him a different flat, and she temporarily placed Helena Caspari with one of her friends in the Żoliborz district. She then contacted her priest and confessor with the aim of finding a permanent refuge for Helena Caspari and her daughter. The two were directed to the Mary’s Sisterhood Convent on Hoża Street, then to a convent in Izabelin, where they remained till the end of the war.

During the war Aleksander Zelwerowicz fulfilled the function of Sochaczew delegate of the charitable organisation RGO. Following the surrender of Warsaw in October 1944, Maria Nudel came to this same town. Knowing that this woman could have problems due to her Semitic features, Zelwerowicz found her a hideout first at a farmer’s in the village of Szczytno, and then at the manor house of Lucjan and Zofia Bojasiński. He looked after her until the end of the war.

During the ceremony honouring Aleksander Zelwerowicz with the posthumous title "Righteous among the Nations” in May 1979, which took place in New York, his daughter Helena had this to say of her father: "He defined himself as [...] a friend of man. He always had an open heart and practical assistance for those oppressed and in need of help, and during […] the occupation, Jews needed that help the most”.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Barbara Osterloff, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Warszawa 2011