Story of rescue

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The Story of the Schiele Family

Aleksander Schiele, coming from a German family from Saxony which had settled in Warsaw at the end of the 18th century, was a graduate of the Architecture Department. Upon completing his studies in 1917, he worked at the Haberbusch and Schiele Breweries, at the time, one of the biggest producers of beer in Poland. A co-founder of the company was his grandfather, Konstanty Schiele. There, Aleksander assumed the position of Director of the Zjednoczone Browary Warszawskie (United Warsaw Breweries). He also had a passion for mountaineering, skiing and for promoting tourism. With success, he skied competitively and later acted as a judge. He belonged to the Polski Związek Narciarski (Polish Skiing Union). He was active in the Tourism and Skiing Section of the Polish Tatra Association and, later, in the Klub Wysokogórski i Tatrzański Ochotniczego Pogotowia Ratunkowego (Mountain and Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service). He was involved in the construction of the Murowaniec hostel on Hala Gąsienicowa. Together with his wife Zofia (nee Engemann) and children Jerzy and Julitta, he lived in Warsaw on Róż Avenue. The family owned the villa Ustronia in Konstancin-Jeziorna.

After the occupaton of Warsaw by the Germans in 1939, he refused to sign the so-called Volksliste. He was active in the Armia Krajowa (Home Army). He fictitiously employed members of the AK in his brewery and did what he could to help employees who were threatened with persecution. In 1943, as the result of being denounced, Aleksander Schiele and his son Jerzy were arrested. They were put into Pawiak Prison and brutally interrogated. Thanks to the efforts of Aleksander's family, he was freed. However, Jerzy was executed.

In October 1940, one of the buildings in the family company – the vodka and liqueurs factory on 4 Ceglana Street - found itself on the border with the Warsaw ghetto. Schiele helped ghetto residents in various ways. He provided them with food, medicines and clothing – at first through the gate, under cover of night, and later through a specially prepared air vent. He also organised the transfer of goods – one of those whom he helped was Alina Eiger who, on the "Aryan side", lived as "Janina Chmielewska".

Schiele sold shares in the company "in order to have further resources to bring help to the Jewish population which, more and more, came to benefit from it". He supported one of his employees, Herman Unger. In the summer of 1942, together, they helped a fugitive from the ghetto, who was hidden in the factory's warehouse. "The situation was dangerous when three Germans arrived, searching for her and, at the same time, issuing a threatening warning about the consequences of providing help to Jews. Schiele assured the Germans that she was nowhere in the factory. In the evening, a car arrived and took the poor woman to Wrona Street", according to Unger in 1950. In that same testimony, he described Schiele as a "real democrat and philosemite, a man who did not distinguish between rich and poor, worker or official, Jew or CHristian".

Several Jews, who were hiding on the "Aryan side", found shelter in Aleksander Schiele's home. In the years 1943-1944, Stefania Liliental and her son Witold spent the night there many times. Even before the outbreak of war, Stefania (a graduate in Classical Philology from Warsaw University) and her chemical engineer husband Antoni had converted to Catholicism. Their son was baptised in April 1939 at St. Michael's church in Mokotow. Antoni, as a reserve officer in the Polish Army, perished in Katyn. Stefania, as opposed to the rest of her family, did not move into the ghetto. Obtaining false papers thanks to a friend's help, she hid in Warsaw as "Adela Stasiewicz" and worked in clandestine education. After the War, she left, with her son, for South Africa. In 1959, they returned to Warsaw. Witold later lived in the USA and Canada, working in science and in support of the local Polish community. In 2000, he was awarded a high state honour.

Schiele also helped pre-War Warsaw cabaret actress Aniela Miszczyk (Aniela Roland-Dzwonkowska, nee Miszczyk, 1913-1983), especially following the death of her first husband Jerzy Roland (Jerzy Konopka). In a statement made in 1950, she describes how Schiele supported her (at the time, pregnant) and her second husband Józef Kloc, whose Jewish origins meant that the couple had to go into hiding in Warsaw.

A dentist, Dr Eugenia Konopacka (nee Festensztat), also found her way into Aleksander Schiele's villa. At first, she had been hiding at 131 Czerniakowska Street, at the home of Edward Kozikowski (1891-1980), a leftist poet and writer of prose. In the summer of 1944, as the result of blackmail, she was forced to leave the apartment. She remained in Schiele's home for many months, right up until the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. In 1945, he went to her sister, Irena Moretti, in Florence.

In April 1943, Schiele helped to extract Alfred Leisten from the ghetto and arranged for him to be moved to Lasy Kabackie.

After the War, the brewery was nationalised. The Schiele family also lost the land upon which stood their demolished family home on Róż Avenue. However, Schiele continued to work in the brewery as its Director of Administration and participated in the rebuilding of Warsaw. He was also active in the governance of the Polish Tourist and Sightseeing Society (PTTK). He was buried in the Evangelical-Augsburg cemetery in Warsaw.

In 2014, the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Aleksander andi Zofia Schiele the title of Righteous Among the Nations. 

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Witold Liliental, Kluczem do zagadki był strach, Gazeta Wyborcza
  • Andrzej Dworak, Warszawskie piwo. Jasne, że jasne. I mocne..., Dziennik Polska