A Drop of Blood - the Story of Zygmunt Dambek

We publish, here, a story sent to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews by Małgorzata.Dambek. It is the story of how her grandfather, Zygmunt Dambek, helped Jews during the Holocaust. The text of the story has been supplemented with fragments of accounts, by Jewish survivors, which have been sourced from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Archives. To date, Zygmunt Dambek has not been honoured with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations", which is awarded by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.

My grandfather, Zygmunt Edmund Dambek, was born in Stary Targ (at the time, called Altmark, Pomorskie Province) on 16th November 1913. He was the second youngest of the thirteen children of  farm-owrners Julian Dambeka and Anastazja (nee Gliniecka). In 1920, following the unsuccessful plebiscite in Warmia and Mazury, the Dambek family settled in Stargard Gdański.

In the early 1930's, Zygmunt Dambek began attending an ordinary high school, from which he graduated in 1934. He then began studies at the Stargard comprehensive high school, after which he joined the military, during which he graduated from the Infantry Reserve Officers School in Zambrów. In 1935, he began studying medicine at the  University of Poznań. However, these studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he participated in the September campaign on the Radom–Dęblin–Lublin–Kowel–Równe route.

His Wartime Activity 

On 18th September 1939, at the decision of its commander, Zygmunt's unit was dissolved and everyone endeavoured to get back to their homes as best they could. At the time, he stopped in the village of Nowiny near Lublin, at the farm of the Pałek family. In October, Zygmunt went to Stargard for three months. There, he helped his mother on the farm, after which he returned to the Pałek farm in Nowiny, where he hid from the German invaders.

There, he worked as a farmhand, while also continuing his medical practice - helping people who were sick, especially wounded partisans. He extended great care to the persecuted Jews - selflessly providing them with medical assistance. In April 1943, he married Marianna Kowalczyk, who at the time was living in the village of Majdan Krężnicki. This relationship produced three children - Jan, Elżbieta and Maria. 

From that time, he lived permanently with his wife's parents. He stayed there until the end of July 1944, namely until the area was liberated by the Red Army. On 14th December, he reported to the Department of Military Medicine in Lublin, where he continued his medical studies and, at the same time, worked in the military hospital. On 3rd October 1945, he was discharged from the military and, two months later, on 18th December, he received his discharge and his medical diploma.

He remained unemployed until May 1946. Only later, did he begin work at the St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Lublin as a doctor-analyst and as Head of the Social Insurance Department in Lublin. From May 1949, he also worked as a doctor-analyst at the Infant Jesus Hospital in Lublin. He worked in these places until the day of his arrest. 

A Drop of Blood - the Investigation and Arrest of  Zygmunt Dambek

From 1936, Zygmunt Dambek belonged to the "Sodality of Our Lady”. He joined this organisation while studying at the University of Poznań although, from 1939 until liberation, he was not active in the life of the organisation. In the autumn of 1947, when visiting the Jesuit monastery in Lublin where he was called to attend to the sick, he met Father Nawrocki who suggested that he join the Sodality. Zygmunt agreed and, from then on, he regularly took part in the organisation's meetings, delivering lectures with religious content. 

In Lublin, Zygmunt established contacts with people from the Catholic University of Lublin. Among those whom he knew personally were Bishop Ordinary of Lublin Piotr Kałwa and Bishop Goliński. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that he took part in the events which occurred in the Lublin Cathedral on 3rd July 1949. At that time, on the painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa, a drop of burgundy colour was noticed under Mary's right eye. Following this, word spread of a miracle, not just in the city, but throughout t he country. Crowds of the faithful began flocking into the church. 

On 4th July 1949, Bishop Goliński appointed a commission in order to determine the types of changes in Mary's image and also to determine their cause. The commission comprised Dr Zygmunt Dambek, Stanisław Kalinowski (lawyer), conservator Jan Powidzki, painter Łucja Bałzukiewiczówna, chemist Alojzy Paciorek, Chancellor Father Wojciech Olech and Bishop Zdzisław Goliński. After taking down the picture, Zygmunt Dambek, during his usual work as head of the analytical laboratory of the clinic at the Academy of Medicine, took a sample of the  "drop" with a lancet and analysed it using two methods. It turned out that this liquid did not react with any chemical reagent and further research could not determine its components. Dr Dambek said: 

[...] I can state that this was not blood. Under the microscope, I saw a transparent liquid in which there were microscopic paint particles, collected while sampling with a lancet. By the second day, the liquid had dried up. The entire phenomenon appeared as if the liquid, flowing downwards, dissolved the paint on the surface of the image and extracted the light base. from

The clergy called for calm and for the cessation of pilgrimages. But people still flocked to the cathedral square, which worried the local authorities. Soon, the Civil Militia and Security Office had detained around 220 people. Zygmunt was arrested on 26th August 1949.

Statements from Jewish Holocaust Survivors

His wife, Maria, sent letters to the authorities asking for authorisation for her to collect her husband's salary, to speed up the investigation or to finally release her husband from prison. Almost every letter was accompanied by statements from supporters of Dr Dambek confirming his innocence, as well as affirming his selfless help given to the Polish and Jewish population, especially during German occupation. One of those statements was from Brandla Gutman, who wrote: 

[Zygmunta Dambek] provided selfless help and protection to Jews, who were persecuted at that time, giving them various forms of refuge and shelter. During 1943-1944, i.e. in the worst period of persecution of the Jews, with Zygmunt Dambek I found shelter and protection, provided to me my him, completely selflessly. In the first half of 1944, when I had a bullet in my leg and infection threatened, he treated me without payment, thus saving me from disability or even death. I know that, apart from me, Zygmunt Dambek gave shelter and protection in his home to other Jews also, among them being Lejb Akierman, who is currently abroad and a Jewish woman named Klig and her child, who currently live in Pruszków. As a man and a good Pole, he deserves to be fully trusted. He is a man of flawless character and disposition […]1.

The authenticity of one of the letters has been also confirmed by the Provincial Committee of Jews in Lublin

We, the undersigned residents of the city of Lublin: 1. Chaim Dorfsman […], 2. Lejb Grinberg […], 3. Berek Rotsztajn […], hereby declare […], that Zygmunt Dambek is personally known to us from the period of German occupation. […] We know that, in the years 1943–1944, in his home, he hid and cared for many local Jews, as well as those who had been displaced, providing them with selfless material and moral support, thereby protecting them from inevitable destruction and death. […] Zygmunt Dambek has always been known to us as a person with sincere democratic views and with a positive attitude towards the Reborn People's Poland.

At that time, Zygmunt was sending letters to his family from prison. In a letter to his wife, he wrote:

I'm proud of you because your sacrifice is that of faithful wife and of a brave and heroic mother. Today, in isolation, I can better appreciate your true value.

After ten months, on 20th July 1950, without any court hearing, Zygmunt Dambek was released from prison in Lublin and the investigation was discontinued.

Further Events After the War 

At the end of 1950, Zygmunt, his wife and children left Lublin. Thank to help from his brother Józef and also from Dr Ewald Kupczyk, he found a job in the town of Odolanów in the south of the Wielkopolskie Province.

There, as a doctor, he worked in the local health centre and in the hospital in Ostrów Wielkopolski. For a certain period, he also ran a private medical practice. On 30th July 1952, during the delivery of their fourth child, Marianna died. In May 1953, Zygmunt married again. His new wife was Krystyna Grzegorek. Two children were born from this marriage - Anna and Witold. He was active in the Odolanów Sports Club as president of the  Ludowy Zespoł Sportowy

Zygmunt Dambek died on 27th February 1992.

1Quotes: Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance, Lu 012/124/32 (III/6350). Spelling and punctuation have been corrected, square brackets mark omissions and additions to the text.