Lesser Poland's pharmacists rendering great service to the Jewish people during the Nazi occupation
Knowledge about history and its plenteous stories may be acquired from various sources – most often it is form textbooks or memoirs, and nowadays, more and more, the Internet. It might seem implausible that working on a PhD dissertation on such a narrow subject as the history of pharmacies in southern Lesser Poland would broaden the general knowledge of history. However, for the undersigned, research work and its often surprising results, proved to be an indispensible source of information concerning the past! Including the history of the Polish Jews. This lesson was all the more interesting as individual human lives, lives of representatives of one profession, intermingled with the history of a region, becoming an exemplification of general facts. This is the reason why, despite my young age, and knowing the figures presented below only from others’ memoirs, I can share "My Story”, a story about pharmacists form Lesser Poland, some of whom fell victim to World War II and others risking their own lives when trying to help...
To begin with, however, one point needs clarification in this monograph. The status of the pharmacists’ profession in the 19thcentury and during the interwar period was an exceptional one. Small town pharmacists were people of great stature – they were mayors, chairmen of local governments and of cultural and social institutions. A pharmacist, beside a doctor, a parish priest, a postmaster and a railway stationmaster belonged to the very elite of a small town. He was a person emanating refinement, personal dignity, devotion, patriotism…
The first issue related to the Jewish people which I encountered while working on the subject of the history of pharmacies of Lesser Poland, concerned pharmacists of Jewish origin who fell victim to World War II. In the first place, I would like to mention a person simply loved by residents of Stary Sącz, master of pharmacy Izydor (Isser) Opoczyński (1891 - ?), owner of a pharmacy in Stary Sącz.
There were good reasons why Izydor Opoczyński enjoyed such recognition in Stary Sącz. He was a noble, magnanimous man, truly devoted to his patients, giving them medicines or free - when necessary. His shop was one of the best equipped in Lesser Poland. It included a “chemical and pharmaceutical” laboratory, where - according to an advertisement in a local paper Ilustrowany Informator Nowosądecki of 1936 – “they made special own recipe products: Ferrous liqueur, Nerwon, Anti-rheumatic balm, Stomach balm, Balsamic-pine syrup. Soaps and creams, powder for children” as well as “special headache pills.” Moreover, the shop offered “all kinds of medicines made in Poland and abroad, medicinal wines, mineral waters and dressings. Herbs. Veterinary goods and antiseptics. Toiletries, perfumes made in Poland and abroad.” The pharmacy in Stary Sącz also enabled patients to use a weighing scale.
Opoczyński took active part in the life of the community, sitting on the board of The Trade Union of Pharmacists in the Republic of Poland. He was also a member of Cracow Society for the Support of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He didn’t hesitate to boycott for years all medicines made in Germany, and in the summer of 1939 he made a generous contribution to the fund of the Anti-aircraft Loan. After the outbreak of World War II, together with the Polish Armed Forces he left for Lvov, and was never heard of again after that… Out of the whole large Opoczyński family only his daughter, Leontyna, survived the war. She went through the nightmare of ghettos in Stary Sącz, Nowy Sącz and Cracow. She survived slave labour in a Cracow factory and also a stay in a concentration camp in Auschwitz and Belsen. In Germany she met her future husband – David Davies, a British Army soldier, with whom she settled in London after the war. Opoczyński’s daughter would often telephone her friends from Stary Sącz and inquire about events in Poland and in her hometown. However, the first and vital question was always about her father’s pharmacy!
Another pharmacist of Jewish origin that I would like to draw the Readers’ attention to is master of pharmacy Aleksander (Lesław) Sandauer (1897-1940), who owned a pharmacy in Krynica. Apart form running his shop, he was also an active member of two Jewish cultural institutions: the Humanitas association, with its seat in Sandauer's hometown - Przemyśl and of B’nei B’rith Lodge from Krynica, which was engaged in community service and humanistic development of its members. Jewish patients from Krynica who wanted to participate the Lodge’s meetings contacted Sandauer. As a Polish Armed Forces second lieutenant, in September 1939 he was called up to the 10thDistrict Hospital in Przemyśl. Arrested by the Soviets, he was taken to a POW camp and put before a firing squad in Katyń in 1940.
Pharmacists of Polish nationality almost immediately after the outbreak of World War II became very intensely involved in the underground activity, and among other things – in aiding the cruelly persecuted Jewish people. According to the persons recalling the figures presented in my dissertation, this was yet another duty which the pharmacists fulfilled impeccably, and which was characteristic for their profession and their unwavering attitude. It would be difficult to argue and award the palm to only one of the pharmacists from Little Poland when considering help for the Jewish people. Conditions for such activity were extremely hard and risky - thus attempts at any classification fail when confronted with the reality of that time. However, let me present a master of pharmacy Albin Burz (1897-1960), as first in this dissertation. He came to Nowy Sącz in 1933 and leased a pharmacy called Pod Opatrznością at Lwowska Street. He remained the leaseholder of this shop till the end of the interwar period, during World War II and until the nationalization of Polish pharmacies in 1951.
This is how the time of occupation spent in Pod Opatrznością was recalled by Albin Burz’s niece, a future pharmacist, Barbara Shauer: “Albin Burz spoke perfect German. He would buy flour, give it to baking and then take it to partisans and Jews. He also supported them financially. In the front the Germans were taking the medicines while in the back the partisans were given food, medicines, money, clothes and soap made at the pharmacy. Soldiers of Armia Krajowa came out from the woods at night to the pharmacy at Lwowska Street. On an agreed signal (three times three knocks) materials prepared earlier were thrown out of a tiny window at the back of the house.” Mrs Barbara Shauer recalls that Gestapo officers would come on horseback to the ghetto and set fire to clothes of the Jews living there. People with burns were treated by workers of the pharmacy, they bathed their burns, provided them with the right ointments. The Jews also received medicines, dressings and food “for storing.” Thanks to Burz’s help, an ENT specialist, Dr. Mieczysław Koerbel with his sister and an ophthalmologist, Dr. Jakub Mendler, as well as others, managed to escape from the ghetto. Workers of the pharmacy provided those doctors with bicycles which they used for escape. Barbara Shauer and Albin Burz’s wife Zofia carried medicines and dressings from Pod Opatrznością to certain contact points. The points were situated in Chruślica and in another pharmacy, Obwodowa, run by a master of pharmacy Zbigniew Nowakowski. Due to denouncing, the two women were arrested; however, thanks to Albin Burz’s efforts, they were released.
More information about the underground work of the pharmacist from Nowy Sącz can be found in Marian J. Nowak’s monograph on pharmacy in Nowy Sącz in 16th-20th, Z dziejów nowosądeckiego aptekarstwa w XVI-XX wieku, published in Rocznik Nowosądecki 1993: “[from Burz’s pharmacy] they would obtain not only medicines and dressings, but also chemical substances needed for the production of explosives. As his pharmacy’s back door adjoined the ghetto wall, Albin Burz made use of this favourable situation to bring help to the Jews. Many Jews left the ghetto through Burz’s pharmacy.” Nowak also writes that Burz actively participated in the works of Nowy Sącz’s Rada Główna Opiekuńcza, which brought help to “returned expatriates and prisoners.” Thanks to Burz’s support in 1941, within the Nowy Sącz’s ghetto, a Jewish pharmacy was opened and “supplied by the pharmacy” Pod Opatrznością.
The above memoirs must be completed by saying that Mr Burz enjoyed trust and respect on the side of the Germans and, speaking their language, he also supplied medicines to the occupants. Bribing a prison governor, Burz had information about arrests made, planned executions and transportations to camps.
In a town nearby Nowy Sącz, Piwniczna, a master of pharmacy Eugeniusz Brągiel (1899-1960) run another shop Pod Opatrznością. During the World War II he was involved in the resistance movement activity. The cellar of the pharmacy or his home both served as a shelter (sometimes for several days) to people who, with a courier’s help, intended to cross the border. Brągiel participated also in smuggling the Jews with the help of specialized couriers. All of those arrivals, as well as people displaced from territories incorporated to the Third Reich, the pharmacist from Piwniczna attended with disinterested, caring concern, providing them with medicines and food.
Famous for helping the Jewish people was also a master of pharmacy Józef Walter (1870-1947), owner of a pharmacy Pod Trzema Koronami in Krościenko nad Dunajcem, who gave away medicines and dressings. A master of pharmacy Zygmunt Maksay (1888-1948) owner of a pharmacy Zdrojowa in Rabka Zdrój acted the same. Also, the pharmacists’ families deserve recognition when discussing the Polish helping the Jewish people. Eugenia Dworzańska (1899-1972), wife of a prisoner of war and a master of pharmacy Władysław Dworzański (1891-1975), the owned a pharmacy Pod Kozicą in Nowy Targ, gave away medicines and food to Jews from Nowy Targ until they were transported to concentration camps.
associate PhD in pharmacy Maciej Bilek
translation Agnieszka Banach