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“They were waiting for me” – the Story of the Help Given to Alina Margolis-Edelman by Wincenty and Zofia Tomaszewicz

During the war, a married couple, both doctors surgeon, Professor Wincenty Tomaszewicz and Zofia née Partnoj, helped the daughter of Aleksander and Anna Margolis, their friends from the Łódź medical community. After the great deportation operation from the Warsaw ghetto (July to September 1942), in small room rented by the Tomaszewicz couple, on ul. Twarda in Warsaw, Alina Margolis appeared. Her mother had sent her out of the ghetto into the Aryan side. The Tomaszewicz family had moved to Warsaw after fleeing from Łódź, where the Gestapo were threatening to arrest Wincenty. They took risks again for Alina. (After the war, Alina became a doctor, a social worker and the wife of Marek Edelman.)


“I don't even remember how it happened that, one day in the morning, it was still completely dark, I found myself amongst men whom a gendarme was taking to work outside the ghetto. They had special passes – checking them took a long time. If the policeman and the gendarme were paid off, sometimes you could successfully use this as a way to leave the ghetto. It was called ‘leaving the service’. On the ‘Aryan side’, one needed to skillfully separate from the group, avoid the szmalcownicy [ed: blackmailers] and disappear into the Polish crowd. Of course, it was only possible when you had somewhere to go. They were the neighbours and friends of my parents”, wrote Alina Margolis-Edelman in her book Elementarz.

The doctors' environment – Wincenty and Zofia Tomaszewicz before and during the occupation

Wincenty Tomaszewicz graduated in medicine from the University of Moscow. He first worked as a district doctor in the Tambowski Governate. During World War I, he took the position of chief physician in the provincial hospital in Yekaterynoslavia. A year later, he was amongst the organisers of the university in the city (today, Dniepr in Ukraine). It was there that he met his future wife, Zofia Partnoja, also a doctor.

At the end of July 1942, the Tomaszewicz couple decided to leave for Poland. Wincenty began work as a surgeon in Grudziądz. He then accepted the position of Deputy Chief Surgeon at the Łódź Health Fund [Kasa Chorych], becoming one of the co-organisers of social treatment in Łódź. He worked at the operating table in clinics and hospitals, and also became involved in teaching. In 1938, he joined the Organising Committee of the Medical University in łódź. He was also a member of the Municipal Administration.

“Our buildings should not only be comforatable for the patient and the doctor, but should also be nice and cozy. They should also raise the worker. Beautiful, neat and comfortable rooms will force the patient to behave appropriately in peace and cleanliness”, wrote Tomaszewicz about his vision of social treatment.

At that time, his wife, Zofia, worked in many health care facilities, including in a clinic for adolescents, in schools as a hygienist and in an outpatient clinic.

On 9th November 1939, along with fifty other Łódź residents, Wincenty was arrested, as part of a Gestapo repression operation called “Intelligenzaktion Litzmannstadt”, directed against the Polish intelligentsia. The Germans placed those arrested into a temporary camp in Radogoszcz.

Also there was Dr Aleksander Margolis, an internist and Wincenty's friend and neighbour. Margolis was Director of the hospital in Radogoszcz, a social worker and active in the  Jewish Workers' Union (commonly known as the Bund).

For some unknown reason, Tomaszewicz was separated from the group of prisoners, who were soon shot in the Lućmierz forests. He returned home in January 1940. Fearing further repressions, with his family, he left for Warsaw where, under a false name, he worked in a hardware store.

A hiding place and “Aryan papers” – the help provided to Alina Margolis, during the Holocaust, by the Tomaszewicz couple

“When I went inside, straight away I saw the cream. By the window, there was a glass of cream covered with a small carton. Next to it, a flower bloomed in a flower-pot. They were waiting for me. There was a flower-patterned tablecloth on the table. On the tablecloth was a plate with bread and butter. I felt a knot in my throat”, wrote Alina Margolis-Edelman about being accepted by the Tomaszewicz family.

In 1940, Aleksander Margolis was no longer alive. His wife Anna and children, Alina and Olek, ended up in the Warsaw ghetto. In the “closed district”, Anna worked in the Berson andi Bauman Children's Hospital. She placed Alina in the Jewish School of Nursing and eight-year-old Olek she sent to the “Aryan side”, where, among others places, he was hidden in the “Nasz Dom” [“Our Home”] orphanage, established by Maryna Falska and Janusz Korczak. Later, he was in Zakopane.

Alina remained in the ghetto until 18th January 1943. After the great deportation operation (July-September 1942), for the first time, Alina went into the “Aryan side”. Following her mother's instructions, she went to Wincenty and Zofia Tomaszewicz, who lived in a room on ul. Twarda. They helped her:

“I sat down at the table. They asked me some questions, I didn't answer. I continued looking at the glass of cream on the window-sill and the tightening in my throat was becoming stronger and stronger.”

Until fałse identity papers could be arranged, Alina was not to leave the apartment. After three days, missing her mother, she returned to the ghetto:

“They were good to me. During those three days, I didn't speak. They understood. [...] On the third day, I ran away. The men from the unit, probably the same, showed no surprise. They made room for me, in the middle. I returned to the ghetto. I rushed to the fouth floor on ul. Gęsia. Mama turned pale and cried”.

For the second time, after the “January operation” in the ghetto, Alina went into the “Aryan side”. “I'm ashamed to say, because I don't know, how my brave mother arranged it”, she recalled. This time, she went to Janina Kapuścińska, wife of Prof. Stanisław Kapuścińsk, who lived at ul. Wilcza 10. She hid there for about three weeks.

“The professor's wife opened the door and hugged me. I immediately found myself in her warm embrace. Straight away, we both began crying. She had the gentlest face that I ever saw and the gentlest, delicate smile”, recalled Alina.

The professor's wife arranged “Aryan papers” for Alina, under the name of “Alicja Zacharczyk” and organised another hiding place. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Alina took part in the fighting as a messenger of the Jewish Combat Organisation (1943). She also took part in the Warsaw Uprising (1944). She entered the sewers in the city centre and then went to Grodzisk, where she awaited the war's end. After returning to Łódź, she reunited with her survivor mother. Her brother, Olek, also survived the war.

The Post-War Fate of the Tomaszewicz and Margolis Families – Honouring with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” and the Order of the Smile

After the war, Wincenty Tomaszewicz was one of the founders of the University of Łódź and Dean of that university's Faculty of Medicine. He then organised the Łódź Medical Academy, as well as a research centre for peripheral vascular diseases in Lądek-Zdrój. He was active in the Democratic Party, serving as a member of the Executive of the Łódź National Municipal Council.

After the war, Alina Margolis became a paediatrician. She married Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Following the antisemitic campaign, sparked by the events of March 1968, with her children, she left for France.

While in exile, she became involved in the activities of the Doctors Without Borders organisation. She worked helping refugees from Vietnam and well as in hospitals in El Salvador, Chaad, Afghanistan and in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She co-founded the French-Polish SOS Help for the Sick in Poland (fr. Aide aux Malades Polonais), the Social Initiative Aid Office and Nobody's Children (now known as the Empowering Children Foundation). On 6th April 1998, at the request of her children, she became a Knight of the Order of the Smile.

“An outstanding doctor and social worker, who devoted her entire life to helping people”, is what the Empowering Children Foundation wrote about her when, since 2011, they have been presenting the Alina Margolis-Edelman Award.

On 23rd October 2017, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem posthumously honoured Wincenty and Zofia Tomaszewicz with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Other Stories of Rescue in the Area

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Ambasady Izraela w Polsce, Materiały z ceremonii uhonorowania Sprawiedliwych w Łodzi, 29.08.2019
  • Margolis-Edelman A., Ala z „Elementarza”, Warszawa 2011
  • Ala z Elementarza, Wróblewska E., 2010, 28 min.