Chaja Estera Stein (Teresa Tucholska-Körner). “The first child of Irena Sendler”

Estera’s parents, Aron (born in 1900) and Fajge (born in 1905) Stein, had two daughters: Chaja Estera and Jochewet, who was 3-4 years younger than her older sister. In Cegłów, the family ran a shop selling “ell goods” [items sold by ell: a unit of measurement approximating the length of a man’s arm] and soda-water works.

Estera’s father, a wealthy citizen of Cegłów, was friends with Julian Grobelny, the owner of a grange lying near the town, and with a local parish priest (“it was pleasant to watch my father, wearing his gaberdine and a long bear, strolling along with the priest in a cassock at his side”).

Those two friends of the family later saved Estera’s life.

In fall 1940 in Mrozy, located a few kilometers away from Cegłów, the Nazis created a ghetto. All Jews living in Cegłów had to move to that new place of living. The Steins had to comply with the orders too, but they did not break contact with the friends outside the ghetto. In 1942 (“I do not remember the exact date”), when the ghetto was to be liquidated, Grobelny procured for Estera a birth certificate. The girl and her parents luckily left the ghetto – her father hid the daughter and her mother in a shed and returned to the ghetto for Jochewet, never to come back...

Somehow, Grobelny managed to find Estera and organized for her a transport by train. Although the train station was being occupied by the Germans, they let the little girl in. A prearranged person in one of the carriages began to wave to her, indicating a coach to get on. The man led her to the priest. Estera was never to see her parents or sister again. The priest (“or maybe Grobelny”) transported Estera (now called Teresa) to Warsaw to Irena Sendler, where she stayed for a few days. Irena then left the girl in her friends’ care: Zofia Wędrychowska and Stanisław Papuziński. In the apartment where she lived, there were already four children of Stanisław Papuziński and additional three Jewish children in hiding. Teresa was an eighth child in the room. In February 1944 one of Gestapo agents burst into the apartment located in Ochota (at 3 Mątwicka Street). Seeing that older boys of Papuziński and their friends were practicing shooting, the Gestapo officer shot a few times in their direction, wounding one of the boys, and retreated for back-up.

Zofia Wędrychowska, fearing a hasty return of the Gestapo police, stayed with the wounded boy and sent the rest of the children away. Teresa, being the eldest child in the group, led the kids to the friends on Krucza Street to the address she had received from Zofia. Soon the Gestapo returned to the apartment in Ochota, taking the wounded boy and the woman along with them. The boy died on the way, while Zofia was transported to the prison on Szucha Alley for interrogation. On 26 April 1944 she was executed in Pawiak.

Irena Sendler put Teresa and other children in the holiday camp near Garwolin, where the girl stayed until winter 1945. After the Warsaw Uprising, Irena came back to Warsaw and took Teresa to her apartment. Teresa lived there for a few years together with her Rescuerand her husband Stefan Zgrzembski. She remembers that both Irena and the man were very affectionate and protective towards her.

Stefan Zgrzembski devoted a lot of time to the girl, helping her do her homework. In spite of this, Teresa was very brusque and rebellious not only towards her protectors. When she was sent to the youth camp in Zatrzebie, she ran away. Years after, she explained the reasons of her behavior: the protectiveness of Irena and Stefan irritated and annoyed her. In her opinion nobody could replace her parents, and the couple did not have any right to do it. You can have real parents only once in your life, and Teresa could not reconcile herself to the fact that she had lost them. When Irena Sendler gave birth to her own children, the little apartment became too small for all of them. Teresa moved to the Jewish youth dormitory on Jagiellońska Street. She passed her high school examinations and graduated in dentistry. She got married and together with her husband departed for Israel in 1957. She gave birth to two sons in 1960 and 1962 and worked as a dentist until she retired. Teresa Körner died in Israel on 14 July 2010.

An account compiled by Jadwiga Rytlowa on the basis of the interview with the Rescued conducted in Israel in March 2010.