Żmijewska Jadwiga

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Story of Rescue - Żmijewska Jadwiga

During WWII, Jadwiga Żmijewska lived with her four little children at the village of Smołu in Mazowieckie Voivodeship. Her husband Hieronim had been called up to the army in 1939 and died during the fighting in September that year. His final resting place has never been exactly determined. Jadwiga’s house was leased by her and she earned money to maintain her family by working the land. She would be helped from time to time by her parents. In spite of this, the financial standing of her family was very bad. Both before the war and after it broke out, Jadwiga and her closest relatives had had little personal contact with Jews.

“In the summer of 1943, there was a boy wandering about in the forest at the outskirts of the village. He was around 9 years old, his clothes were in tatters, and he had lice. He was looking for a family which would take him in because he was an orphan and had run away from Warsaw. He said that his name was Józef Małecki and that he had lived in the Muranów district,” Jadwiga recalled after the war. He had been hiding with a Polish family in the village of Piecoługi. Fearing for their lives, members of that family stopped helping him after some time.

In spite of her difficult situation, Jadwiga agreed to help the boy and took him in. He was of an age with Żmijewska’s own children so he spent time with them and was reared together with them. “I treated him the same way I treated my own children and he had the same duties. For example, he helped me with domestic chores and with fieldwork. He was eager to work and did not misbehave or cause any trouble. He attended clandestine classes together with my children, Polish schools having been closed down. He also went to religious instruction lessons together with my daughter and other children,” Jadwiga recounted. Józef made his First Communion together with Żmijewska’s daughter Wiesława in 1944.

Żmijewska learned that the boy was Jewish only after some time. The fact that Józef became particularly anxious and would run away when Germans came to the village arose her suspicion. Eventually, he confessed that his real name was Josek Alterwein, that he was born in 1933, and that his parents and brother were killed in the Warsaw ghetto. He himself was convinced to leave the ghetto by his aunt who told him to find a hidng place somewhere.

The truth did not change Żmijewska’s attitude towards the boy. He remained at her house, continued to help her with household work and fieldwork, and kept spending time with her children. They themselves were not aware of his background. Jadwiga’s parents learned the truth about the boy but they still supported their daughter. No one came looking for Josek during the war.

After the occupation was over, Josek continued living with Żmijewska. He attended school together with her children. It was only in the summer of 1946 that three men came there to take the boy away, one of them claiming to be his uncle. Josek would not leave Jadwiga’s household at first. However, when he was reassured that he would be able to return at any time, he agreed to go with the men. Jadwiga tried to pay a visit to him in Warsaw but he was not to be found at the address she was provided with. She received a letter from him from Łódź, saying that he was there at a boarding school and learning Hebrew. That letter was the last message from Josek who most likely went to Israel.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Ignacy Strączek, Interview with Wiesławą Żmijewską, 19.05.2015
  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział odznaczeń Yad Vashem. Dokumentacja sprawy Jadwigi, Wandy i Wiesława Żmijewskich, 349/24/1613