Memories of My Grandmother, Jadwiga Waszczuk

My grandmother, Jadwiga Waszczuk, daughter of Franciszek and Stefania (nee Leszczyński) Buczyński, and her husband Czesław Waszczuk came from Zalesie near Kosow Lacki.  In the 1930's, together with their five children - Kazimiera (known as Danutą), Stefan, Eugeniusz, Jan and Alinka, they moved to Węgrów where, with great success, they ran a textile shop. There was no shrtage of customers, The Waszczuk family quickly earned a reputation of solidity and honesty. They were doing well. Grandfather Czesław began building a large, elegant tenement in Warsaw on ul. Grochowa.

Already, by then, Grandma Jadwiga was known as never refusing to help anybody in need. This was also the case in September 1942. It was night when the Węgrów ghetto was being liquidated. Two Jewish neighbours then turned to her help - the wife and daughter of the photographer Alter Szpilman. The younger, Edzia, was a schoolmate of Jadwiga's daughter, namely my mother, Danuta. Grandma gave them clothes, allowed them to spend the night and arranged false papers for them, thanks to which they could pass as Poles and survive the War.

Jadwiga Waszczuk also took food to and cared for Alter Szpilman's mother who, after the family's escape, hid in the attic of their previous home and died there of natural causes.

Following the War, after the Waszczuk family moved to Warsaw, Edzia lived with Grandma. She remained close friends with my mother and lived there for free. She studied medicine and, upon graduation, left Poland and took the name "Bina Hacohen". Mum tried to make contact with her, but to no avail.

From stories told by my family, Jadwiga Waszczuk also saved a few strangers - Jews who were being pursued on the streets of Węgrów. She took them into her home, quickly gave them a change of clothes so that they would appear like members of her own household and then sat them down at the table together with her own children. When their pursuers entered the house, she would point them in a different direction. The escapees would then spend the night there and, in the morning, they would head for the forest. Their fate after that remains unknown..

In the 1990's, several people told me that, in a particular newspaper, there was an interview with a Węgrów Jew from Canada who recalled that, during the War, Czesław Waszczuk, my grandfather, had saved his life. As of now, I've been unable to locate that text.

Grandma Jadwiga also helped people after the War. She helped Kazimierz Karlsbad, known as a partisan leader in the Podlasie region and Danuta's schoolmate from Węgrów. There was also Stefan from the Home Army. He recalls in his autobiography published in Canada that, immediately after the War, he was being pursued by the UB (Security Service). He had nowhere to go. The Waszczuk family took him into their home on ul. Grochowa. He also acknowledges their financial support of his decision to escape the country illegally.

Czesław Waszczuk died straight after the War.  Grandma, on her own, took on the task of completing the building of the house in Warsaw which her husband had commenced. Shortly after renting out the finished apartments, real estate was nationalised. In post-War Poland, Jadwiga had no opportunity to find proper work. She took in piece-work to supplement her meagre disability pension. Whatever she earned she shared with those in need - often strangers. It would be called "a loan", but only a small amount of the "loans" was ever paid back.

Jadwiga Waszczuk died on 5th October 1988. At the request of Bina Hacohen (formerly Edzia Szpilman), on 10th July 2011, Jadwiga was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.