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The story of Tadeusz Gebethner

A publisher, footballer, sports activist, Home Army soldier, Warsaw Uprising participant, friend of Władysław Reymont and a Righteous Among the Nations, Tadeusz Gebethner is remembered in many different circles. However, not all of them are fully aware of the extent of his activities. For the supporters of Warsaw's Polonia football club, he was its legendary first president and captain. But none of the 20th century publications regarding his career mention that, during the War, he aided Jews, for which he was honoured. Gebethner also appears in the histories of the Polish Booksellers' Union (Związek Księgarzy Polskich) and the Warsaw Skiing Club, but they, in turn, omit his football career.

He was born into the famous Gebethner family on 18th November 1897. They lived at 4 Trębacka Street in Warsaw. His father, Jan Robert, was a founding co-owner of the Gebethner & Wolff publishing house. His mother, Maria (née Herse), was a co-owner of the famous Warsaw fashion house Bogusław Herse at 150 Marszałkowska Street.

In 1916, he graduated from the all-boys Konopczyński Real High School. He played in the Stella school football team, organised as part of the Warsaw Sports Club. The first known Polonia squad was drawn from the Stella team. Under the leadership of Tadeusz's brother, Jan Gebethner, they were already playing matches by 1911.

Despite the fact that World War I had disrupted the playing of football matches, on 8th October 1915, the Gebethner home at 12 Zgoda Street was where the Polonia players decided to officially register Warsaw's first sports club. Tadek Gebethner, at not quite eighteen-years-old, was elected as team captain. After three years in office, he interrupted his football carrer, as well as his studies at the Higher School of Economics, to enlist in the 5th Regiment of the Zasławski Uhlans. In 1920, he fought with the 2nd Army in the Lwów region. Not long after, prior to returning permanently to Warsaw and together with the entire Polonia team, he travelled to Górny Śląsk, in order to promote Polish sport in the Plebiscite area. 

Following his period in the military, Tadeusz Gebethner returned to his studies and to playing football. Wearing the “black shirt”, he played at least 137 games, helping Polonia to be runners-up in the Polish championship in 1921 and to third place two years later. The composition of the team was, then, a reflection of the cross-section of the capital – players of various religious denominations and nationalities – Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Russians and Czechs.

Gebethner's sporting career ended in 1925, when he was twenty-eight-years-old. At that time, he worked in his family's publishing house – as a board member and as head of the wholesale department. In 1929-1934, he served as a member of the Union of Polish Booksellers Board. Being a well-known publisher, he remained associated with Polonia and played as an “oldboy”. In his private life, as well as sports and publishing, he was also active in artistic circles. Amongst his friends were Władysław Reymont (a neighbour in the Gebethner tenement and for whom he imported wine from France), Zofia Nałkowska, Juliusz Żuławski, Kornel Makuszyński, Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska and Jan Lechoń, a classmate from the Konopczyński high school.

Juliusz Żuławski wrote: “Working on my first novel in 1934 and 1935, I consider it to be a natural way of life that, from early afternoon, I look to have iced vodka and herring in oil with older friends in Bar Europejski. After that, I eat a richly, boozy dinner with Janusz Domaniewski in the Cristal on the corner of Bracka or in the Warszawianka on Nowy Świat, or with Tadeusz Gebethner and his beautiful wife Ala at the Yacht-Club. Then, I look into the Adria and, finally, with Józef Hieronim Retinger, I visit the Kakadu on Dąbrowskiego Square”.

In September 1939, with the rank of lieutenant in the cavalry reserve, forty-two-year-old Gebethner joined the 102nd Uhłan Regiment as an orderly officer. His regiment fought against the Red Army, supporting the defenders of Grodno. On 22nd October, his group retreated to the north and was interned in Lithuania. Tadeusz then escaped and made his way to Vilna, where he organised the escapes of other officers. (In 1940, internees in Rakiszk were sent to the camp in Kozielsk, from where they were later sent to Katyn).

In Vilna, in 1940, joined the Związek Walki Zbrojnej (ZWZ; Armed Struggle Union). Under the pseudonym of “Jerzy”, he managed the Vilna Base, In 1941, he returned to Warsaw kwhere he continued to serve in the ranks of the ZWZ and the Armia Krajowa (AK; Home Army).

From 1942, in his apartment at 23 Śniadeckich Street, he hid the Jewish Abrahamer family for almost two years. The Abrahamer family (Salomon, his wife Ludwika nee Porańska and their twelve-year-old daughter Alina) had escaped during a deportation from Skawina. They had been directed to Tadeusz by a friend, an employee at the Gebethner & Wolf publishing house. Tadeusz obtained false documents for Salomon and organised, with the help of a surgeon, an operation by candlelight on Abrahamer's eye. In 1943, after being denounced anonymously, the Abrahamer family was arrested by the Polish police. However, Gebethner arranged for their release – paying a 20,000 złoty bribe. In the spring of 1944, utilising his Home Army contacts, he sent the whole family to Hungary, where they remained until the end of the War.

In April 1944, Tadeusz met his pre-War friend Józef Hieronim Retinger, who had previously been transferred to Poland as part of “Operation Salamander”. He had faced a death sentence, issued by the Polish Armed Forces Commander, General Kazimierz Sosnkowski (President of Polonia Warszawa in 1928-1938). Gebethner saved Retinger's life by persuading a member of the Home Army execution unit, Tomaszewski, to not carry out the sentence.

During the Warsaw Uprising, Gebethner fought under the pseudonym “Gustaw”, initially as a member of staff of the 3rd Armed Battalion “Golski” and then later as the commander of the “South” section. During “W Hour”, he unexpectedly commanded a unit which attacked Kraftfahrpark. On 1st September 1944, he was wounded for the first time. On 11th September, he was promoted to the Cavalry Captain. 

 As “Gałęzowski” of the 2nd Company recalled: “On 1st September, on the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the War, at 9:15am, our patrol (10 people) left the ruins of Lardelli  [a cake shop at 30 Polna Street in Warsaw – ed.], from where the Germans had settled in. I had just finished the night watch at the barricades. We receive an alert from 'Gustaw' [Tadeusz Gebethner – ed.], to rescue the wounded who were lying on Polna near the house on the corner of Mokotowska Street. I was ordered to jump out of the window. There were three wounded by the gate, outside of the barricade. During the extraordinary shootout (The Germans were shooting from the Lardelli ruins and from the Red Hospital), 'Gustaw'  passed me a rope, at which moment he was shot in the hand. The rescue operation was interrupted and we waited for about thirty minutes while the gate was cleared from falling earth. In the Lardelli ruins, 'Brzoza' was wounded at the beginning at the attack. Severely wounded, 'Sęp' died the following day. 'Gustaw's' shattered hand was treated at the field hospital in on Śniadeckich”.

Two days later, during the bombing of the villa on Śniadeckich Street, Gebethner was again wounded. By an order dated 15th September 1944, he was awarded the Cross of Valour. 

Janina Kurtz-Paszkowicz, pseudonym “Joasia”, recalled: “My direct superiors were Lieutenant Franciszewski and 'Gustaw' Gebethner, the famous Warsaw bookseller. […] He was lying on the ground floor of some apartment. There were a few wounded and they were operated on by the kitchen stove. […] They were dark times, but there were also moments when, for example, there was the huge concert in the Architecture building on 15th August. Mira Zimińska came. To this day, I remember she sang 'Odejdź Jasiu od okienka'. Fogg wa with her. Always, he was elegantly dressed in a green suit. He was shaken as he had just left a ruined house and, here, bullets were flying through the windows of the Architecture hall and Mira Zimińska was wandering around the stage. So they were with us. Anyway, Zimińska became friends with Gebethner”.

After the fall of the Uprising, together with hundreds of wounded, doctors and nurses from the resistance hospitals, Tadeusz Gebethner ended up inthe field hospital of the Stalag XI A Altengrabow prisoner-of-war camp (today, in Saxony-Anhalt in Germany). He died there due to his wounds. He was buried in the cemetery in grave No. 32. After the War, the area was taken over by the Red Army which liquidated the cemetery, building a forest barracks complex in its place. Today, it is the site of a Bundeswehr base and a NATO training ground.

Many years after the War, Ludwika Abrahamer said: “I will never forget Tadeusz Gebethner, this noble person who saved my life and the life of my husband. Who else showed so much heart, such deep humanity, so much good will and selflessness? Who, more than he, deserves eternal gratitude and a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous in Jerusalem?”.

On 21st October 1981, Tadeusz Gebethner was posthumously honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The honour was supported by Holocaust Survivor Alina Gross (née Abrahamer).

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