Father Boduen Children's Home. A gateway to life

Irena Schultz, one of the people who rescued Jewish children during the war by bringing them to the Father Boduen Children’s Home in Warsaw, wrote many years later, “for many endangered small children, the Home became, without exaggeration, a gateway to life.”

The tradition of the Father Boduen Home, the oldest care institution for abandoned children, reaches the 18th century. The French missionary priest Gabriel Baudouin established it in 1736. Initially, the Home had functioned as the “Child Jesus hospital for foundlings” located in a two-floor townhouse on Krakowskie Przedmieście in Warsaw across from the Holy Cross Church. Thirty years later, it was relocated to Warecki square and transformed into the Warsaw General Hospital. The children’s facility comprised one of the hospital’s departments. An opening with a conduit, in which a child could be placed anonymously, was located at the building’s gate. Missionary priests led the institution. Secular authorities took it over in the 1830s. In 1917, the institution once again became an independent facility, subject to municipal administration. Till this day it functions as a care institution for children (Children’s Home #15), located on 75 Nowogrodzka Street.

Father Boduen Home has played an important role during World War II, providing shelter to many abandoned children of Warsaw. Dr. Maria Prokopowicz-Wierzbowska served as the director of the Home.

As one of the institutions belonging to Warsaw’s Department of Welfare and Health, the Boduen Home was subject to strict rules and control of the occupier. Each child was accepted based on documents, such as social inquiry, birth certificate and health certificate that were collected by the Department’s employees. During the war, Jan Dobraczyński  directed the Section of Closed Help, to which all care institutions were subordinated.

During the occupation, the number of children accepted into Father Boduen Home doubled. These children came mainly from families whose members had been killed, resettled, or arrested. Not all orphans, however, stayed in the institution. Within a few days or even hours, many charges were transferred to other institutions, hospitals, or foster families.

During the war, many children of Jewish origin had also found shelter at the Boduen Home. With the knowledge and full approval of the Home director, and the Section director – Dobraczyński, the children were illegally accepted into the institution and received illegal help. The rescue was organized by the facility’s personnel, mainly by one of the institution’s caretakers, Władysława Marynowska.

Marynowska entered into cooperation with employees of the Welfare Department – Irena Schultz (a close co-worker of Irena Sendler) and the nurse Helena Szeszko, both of whom possessed passes to the ghetto and who were secretly taking out children from the ghetto. Every month, they brought some eight orphans to the Home. The information about a planned drop off of a child was usually given by telephone, in a code including data about a child’s appearance and the time of its arrival.

Definitely more Jewish children, however, ended up in the Father Boduen Home. Some of them were brought there by their own parents before the ghetto had been sealed. Many others were brought by their Polish caretakers who, fearing the death penalty imposed for helping Jews, handed over children that had been previously entrusted to them by the parents. Other children were simply dropped off, and still other were brought by underground activists or employees of the Department of Welfare, who knew that those children would find shelter at the Home.

Newly arrived Jewish children were hidden amidst the rest of the charges, fed, cared for, and treated. Many of them were in severe health condition. A child’s appearance decided whether or not he or she could remain in the institution for longer.  Another refuge had to be found as soon as possible for children with a so-called “bad appearance” – they were placed with foster families or transferred to peripheral care institutions, mainly those run by convents. It was often the case that employees of the House or Department of Welfare took a child to their own house until an appropriate place was found for the child.

Some Jewish children were registered under the last names of children who have recently died. The remaining charges, as well as those children who stayed in the Home only for a short time, were not registered at all. Always, however, the newly arrived children’s information was diligently written down, and items or notes found with them were recorded, with the thought that they would keep their real identity, and their families could find them later. Despite that, it is hard to establish the exact number of Jewish children accepted into the institution; they are estimated at about 200.

The history of Father Boduen Home intersects with the story of Janusz Korczak and his Children’s Home. In the initial stages of the occupation, Prokopowicz-Wierzbowska met with Korczak and offered care for the youngest children from his institution. Korczak refused – at that time he did not yet believe that Germans would murder children.

Translation: Joanna Sliwa.