Memories of Barbara Biran about her nanny Stasia

We publish the memories of Barbara Biran, Holocaust survivor, about Stanisław Klapa, her pre-war nanny, who helped her during the war.

Barbara Biran née Kryńska was born in Warsaw on 30 May 1935 into the family of wealthy and assimilated Jews. At home, the members of the family spoke Polish. Her mother, Maria née Disterbach, born in Warsaw, was not professionally active. (Information important for understanding further life of Barbara: her mother’s younger sister married a German named Szarf. He lived in Warsaw and during World War II became a Volksdeutscher [a term denoting people of German origin living outside Germany – translator’s note]. Their children did not know about the Jewish origin of their mother. During World War II Mrs. Szarf and her husband lived separately).

Barbara’s father, Łazarz Kryński, came from Vilnius. He ran the “Export Bureau of the Courland Oil Mill” in Vilnius – the factory whose co-owner was his father, i.e. Barbara’s grandfather.

Barbara lived with her parents at 26 (or perhaps 36) Wielka Street in Warsaw. There were two servants at their home: Barbara had a “tutor” named Stanisława Klapa. Stanisława was a Catholic and came from the countryside. She was an unmarried and a deeply religious woman.

World War II
At the beginning of September 1939 the family was visited by one of Łazarz’s brothers, Jasza, and his wife Maryla née Rozenberg. They both came from Częstochowa.

At the end of the month, the whole family decided to move to Vilnius, which had already been under the Soviet occupation. They moved there to join the father’s family.

Stanisława stayed in their apartment in Warsaw. Before his departure, Łazarz Kryński hid all “the family fortune” under the kitchen tiles, showed the hiding place to Stanisława and instructed her that if she were to leave the apartment, she had to take the money with her.

Vilnius
The family arrived in Vilnius. Kryński worked professionally until the city was captured by the German forces. In the meantime, the Soviets arrested one of his four brothers, who was then deported together with his wife and child.
A few days after Vilnius had been seized by the Germans, the Gestapo police paid a visit to the family’s apartment and arrested Barbara’s father. The detention took place when Barbara and her mother were out. The family never learned where and when senior Kryński died, but probably his life ended in Ponary.

The Ghetto
After the creation of the Vilnius ghetto, Barbara, her mother and the family of her father (one of his brothers with his wife and several cousins) were forced to move to that new place of living.
Barbara’s mother worked as a manual worker. She belonged to the group of women that each day had to leave the ghetto, come back at noon and again leave for work until the evening, of course always under guard. At that time Barbara stayed in the apartment together with an old aunt.

In hiding
The family managed to survive the first deportation action in the ghetto. Afterwards, one of the uncle’s co-worker, an engineer and a Catholic (his name remains unknown), offered to help the Jews. He let them stay in his apartment in Vilnius by the time he had procured the documents and prepared new lodgings for them in the countryside, where his family lived.

One day, Barbara’s mother took her daughter along with her when she was leaving for work (the guard did not notice anything). When they both got through to the “Aryan side” of the city, they slipped away from the group and reached a prearranged address (Barbara’s opinion is that her mother did not have any money for that purpose). Each day their guardian left for work and locked them up in the apartment, so that nobody knew about their existence. In the evening he came back and brought them some food. The man had the family living in the countryside, so at the weekends he would leave the Jewish survivors, locking them up in his house.

Stasia
One evening (probably at the end of October 1941) somebody knocked at the door of the hiding place. When the landlord opened the door, he saw a woman, obviously exhausted, standing on the doorstep. She said that she knew that Maria and Basia were inside the house. The landlord denied it, but the woman started crying and insisted that she had to see the women. Finally, the man acquiesced and called for Maria. The meeting was very dramatic. The mysterious visitor turned out to be Stanisława [diminutive name Stasia], who traveled from Warsaw to Vilnius on foot. To this day Barbara does not know where Stanisława learned about her whereabouts.

Stanisława convinced Barbara’s mother that it would be better for them all to return to Warsaw as they had more friends in that city and the Warsaw ghetto was in far better condition than the Vilnius one.

On their way to Warsaw
When their documents were ready, their guardian took the women to the countryside, but the fugitives decided to set out for Warsaw. Stanisława, Barbara and her mother traveled on foot, from time to time hitchhiking. They spent the nights in the villages, asking their inhabitants for putting them up. The whole journey was organized by Stasia, as she had already known that route, traveling to Vilnius from Warsaw.

Barbara suspects that Stasia had taken the family valuables left by her father. The money greatly facilitated the whole journey, but the women never brought up the topic.

After a month of traveling, the survivors reached the border crossing point. Barbara remembers two lines of barbed wire and the empty lane of road stretching between them. It was nighttime when the two prearranged smugglers turned up. They helped the women to get through the first line of wire entanglement and threw their baggage over the barbed wire, but at the moment when the fugitives almost reached the other side of the border, they heard the shots. The fencing was pulled down, while the smugglers grabbed the baggage and ran away, leaving them alone on the border. The women heard German sentries coming their way. They did not know where to run, but finally hid in a ditch. Fortunately, the soldiers did not notice their presence. The fugitives made their way in the direction of dogs barking in the distance and in this way arrived at the first house of a nearby village. They knocked at the door asking for help, but the farmer refused to put them up. He explained that the Germans used to search his house each morning looking for runaways. The women decided to move further, finally reaching the place where they planned to catch the train departing for Warsaw at 2 pm.

Stasia did not intend to condone the theft of the baggage: “We made a deal with the smugglers after all!” Despite the protests of Barbara’s mother, she went back to find the smugglers and returned with the lost luggage. The women arrived in Warsaw by train.

The Warsaw Ghetto
Barbara and her mother settled in the ghetto, while Stasia stayed on the „Aryan side” of the city in order to prepare appropriate documents and a hiding place. She referred to Szarf, asking him for help. In the meantime, in anticipation for the documents, she sometimes took Barbara to her lodgings, but always saw her off to her mother in the ghetto. Barbara recollects the shock she felt when for the first time she walked along the ghetto streets, seeing throngs of people and dead bodies scattered along the streets.

Zalesie
One day Stasia came for Barbara and took her to the girl’s aunt called Mrs. Szarf, living in Zalesie. After about a week, Barbara’s mother joined her daughter. Stasia had already prepared the documents for the both of them.

They went on foot, covering a distance of five kilometers and trying to reach the end of Zalesie (they traveled from Zalesie Górne to Zalesie Dolne or the other way round). On their way to the destination, Stasia gave Barbara details about her new identity: her new name and the fact that she was now Stasia’s niece, while her mother was no longer her parent, but Stasia’s friend.

The three of them stayed in a room rented by “Mrs. Major”. The landlady probably knew that her guests were Jews and she made no secret of her anti-Semitic opinions, yet still she hated Nazis more, because they had murdered her husband.

It was Stasia who earned a living: she traded, selling various Jewish items which she managed to bring back from Warsaw and Vilnius. She also provided her Jewish friends with food. She was in touch with the aunt living in Zalesie, from whom she transported books. Thanks to them, Barbara’s mother could educate her daughter.

In this way all three of them weathered the storm of World War II until the time of the Soviet liberation.

After the Soviet liberation
After the liberation by the Soviet Army, Barbara’s mother realized that there was no one and nothing that would await her in Warsaw, so she decided to move to Łódź. She found a job as an office worker and a new apartment where she accommodated Stasia and Barbara.

In a new school year Barbara enrolled in the fifth form in a Catholic school (in accordance with her age) while Stasia took care of the whole household (she was then about 65).

At that time people deported to the Soviet Union started to return to Poland. Also Barbara’s uncle with his wife and child, who had been deported to Siberia, came back to the homeland. They were the only ones out of the whole Vilnius family of Barbara’s father who survived the war.

Before World War II, that same uncle (one of the brothers of Barbara’s father) had left for Palestine, but just before the outbreak of the war he had returned to Vilnius to take care of some family business. He had a special “certificate” issued by the British Mandate for Palestine, which authorized him to return to Palestine. In the Jewish society many people got ready for emigration. The uncle and his family departed for Paris, from where they were to travel to Palestine. Before his departure, the uncle tried to persuade Barbara’s mother to join him, but she would not even listen.

On the other hand, Barbara felt extremely alienated. She bore a grudge against her mother for limiting her daughter’s integration with the Jewish environment. As a protest, Barbara demanded that she be transferred to a Jewish school. Still, she did not feel well in a new school, but her mother ignored her problems.

Then suddenly, without mentioning earlier about her decision or preparations, Barbara’s mother informed her daughter that they were departing for Paris, where they would meet the uncle and his family.

Separation
Stasia despaired. Her separation with the Jewish family was very dramatic, but Barbara felt contented – she hoped that having left Poland she would finally find her place in the Jewish society.

After a short stay in Paris, Barbara and her mother departed for Marseille, from where Barbara’s uncle were to travel to Palestine.

Palestine
In Marseille, Barbara learned that her uncle procured a document for her, according to which she was now his daughter and had permission to join him in his journey to Palestine. Everything was quickly arranged and Barbara and her uncle embarked on the ship sailing for Palestine. The journey was long and full of tension: the passengers were not sure whether Barbara would not run into trouble in Haifa as she did not possess an appropriate certificate. Fortunately, the family and friends living in Palestine helped the Jews to overcome any formal difficulties: Barbara and her uncle arrived in Tel Aviv on 23 September 1946.

The following year Barbara’s mother (Maria Kryńska) joined her daughter in Tel Aviv. The first years of her new life in Israel were very difficult, as she did not speak the Hebrew language. She worked as a waitress. In 1950 she married a widower with a son nine years younger than Barbara. The whole family took up small residence in Ramat Gan.

Since her departure from Poland Maria was in touch with Stasia, who stayed in Łódź in a deserted apartment.

Stasia had difficulty in finding a job and her material situation was not enviable. Barbara did not know the exact reasons why Stasia had almost lost contact with her family living in the countryside. The woman missed Maria and Barbara very much.

When it was only possible, Barbara’s mother began sending Stasia P.K.O. notes [bony PKO – substitute legal tender for buying imported goods in use in communist Poland]. On the basis of these notes, Stasia could obtain certain rare products in Poland, which she would later sell and earn a living. When Barbara’s mother sorted her personal life out, she began to make efforts to bring Stasia to Israel.

Stasia goes to Israel
Accomplishing all the formalities between appropriate institutions in Poland and Israel dragged on. According to a document issued in 1955 by the Israeli authorities, the Israeli Embassy in Poland was instructed to draw up an entry visa to Israel for Stanisława Klapa. But the case dragged on for over the next five years until at last, in May 1961, Stasia came to Israel. She was already 80 years old at that time. Her journey was financed by the “Sochnut” (the Jewish agency in charge of immigration to Israel).

Stanisława stayed with Barbara’s mother, her husband and his son. Barbara had already got married, had a child and did not live with her mother.

Maria did everything to ensure that Stanisława lived comfortably, but the frictions between the newcomer and the members of the family were inevitable. It was difficult for Stanisława to find her place in this new situation and she did not seem to get along with Maria’s husband.

Stanisława came into contact with Polish Catholics gathering in the church in Jaffa, and after about a year, on her own initiative, she moved to the so called Polish House run by Polish nuns in Jerusalem. The sisters helped her find an occupation – looking after children. From time to time Stanisława visited Maria and her family.

Barbara did not remember exactly when Stanisława’s health began to deteriorate. She also lacks knowledge about the date of her death. She knows that Stanisława Klapa has been buried in the Polish cemetery in Jerusalem. Barbara’s mother, Maria Kryńska, passed away in Tel Aviv in 1981.
Barbara Biran married Dov Bielogorowski in 1956. In 1962 they both changed their surnames into Biran.

She worked as a clerk in a bank and retired in 1990. She has two children and five grandchildren, all of them living in Israel.

Barbara highlights that her relationships with her mother began to deteriorate as early as in Łódź. Her mother did not use to discuss with her daughter any life issues and very quickly Barbara began to live on her own. That is why she is not very knowledgeable about anything relating to Stanisława’s arrival in Israel or her stay in that country. When Stanisława came to Israel, Barbara had already started a family. She also does not know whether her mother filed any declaration about Stanisława to the Yad Vashem Institute, but their story has been published by one of Israeli newspapers.

Compiled by Janina Goldhar on the basis of the interview with Barbara Biran, conducted on 15 June 2010 in Ganei Tikva in Israel