Story of a house in Saska Kępa in Warsaw

The house, which still stands, at 29a Berezyńska Street in Saska Kępa in Warsaw served as an important place of underground activity during the war. Built in 1938, it belonged to Jan Dąbrowski’s grandfather. Jan, a young boy at that time, relates the history of the house at Berezyńska Street based on his own memories and the stories of his family members. Almost all of the house’s tenants were strongly committed to underground activity and provided help to the Jews.

There were six medium-size 2-room apartments in this two-floor house.

Colonel Karol Strusiewicz was the main initiator of conspiratorial endeavors, and helping the Jews, in particular. His family had lived during the war under the name Komiński. At the beginning of 1940, the colonel, together with his wife and two children, Janina and Lech, had settled in the house on Berezyńska, on the second floor, in apartment 6. Before their arrival in Warsaw, the colonel and Lech had fought on the war front, while the wife and Janina had lived in Lwów and Stanisławów, respectively.

Soon after their move, the Komińskis took Jews, escapees from the ghetto, under their care. They gave shelter to two families: Mrs. Goldberg and her children and Mrs. Kempińska, her children, and her partner, putting them up in their garden plot located in the area of current-day National Stadium. The families hid in a summer house under the floor. Janina and Josia, Jan Dąbrowski’s nanny, brought them food and clothes. In the winter, the Jews slept in the attic of the house on Berezyńska Street. Help on this scale, in such a small house, did not go unnoticed by some neighbors. Thus, the Komińskis initiated a few tenants into their activities.

The Komińskis also supported the underground activity of the “ladies” – tenants from apartment 2. Since 1939, Janina Malinowska-Ślązakowa and her sister Stenia had served as couriers of the Union of Armed Struggle of the Home Army. They allocated one of their rooms for secret meetings. At the turn of 1941 and 1942, many of the conspirators who used to visit them, had been arrested, and, as a result, the women had to vacate the apartment. They returned after some time, and persuaded by Komiński, they resumed their underground activities. Their apartment was a point of transferring false documents, dying blond the hair of Jewish women, providing shelter to airmen, and escapees from prisoner of war camps (mainly to soldiers of Allied armies). Among those hidden was the Scottish soldier Tom Muir, who later married Stenia. Her previous husband, a Polish officer, was murdered in 1941. Also, Ron Jeffery, a soldier of the British intelligence and author of the book Vistula Red as Blood, had also stayed at the “ladies’” apartment. During the Warsaw Uprising, Janina and Stenia served as nurses in the hospital on Katowicka Street.

 The most important form of their activity consisted of running a library, which they opened together with their neighbor Zofia Dąbrowska, Jan’s mother. Zofia was a single mother; her husband died in 1939. The library was located in Dąbrowska’a apartment (#4). This was one of the few forms of private activity accepted by the German administration. The underground endeavors of its owners led the library to quickly become an underground meeting and activity place. Conscious of the role of the place, the Komińskis had often visited the library.

Zofia Dąbrowska was also engaged in helping Jews. In various periods, she kept three Jewish children in her house, who were most likely delivered by a Żegota (Council for Aid to Jews) activist, the writer Maria Kann. Zofia’s son, Jan, also remembers the rescue of a small girl met during vacation in Świder in 1942 or 1943. Thanks to Zofia’s and his nanny Josia’s quick reactions, the child had avoided being herded into the Otwock ghetto. The women took the girl to a local priest, who gave her shelter. Zofia’s help also involved teaching English; she gave lessons to her friend and two Jews she had known. They studied the language so that it would be easier for them to reach to Palestine. 

Very good neighborly relations ruled in the house on Berezyńska Street. Those families that were not engaged in help or conspiracy, most likely were not even aware of their neighbors’ activities. Even if they surmised something, no one hampered anything.

Only residents of apartment 1 had experienced denunciation. The family F. had lived there with their son Piotr. Mr. F. was active in the underground; he hid the Lauterbach family. Jan Lauterbach was an art history professor, a prewar director of the National Art Collection, and an author of numerous publications. In November 1943, someone denounced Mr. F., and, as a result, he was taken to Szucha Avenue, where he was tortured and killed. Some time later, the Gestapo took away the Lauterbach family; whose members were most likely immediately shot to death (according to Tom Muir this took place the next day). Till this day it remains unknown who had informed on the tenants from apartment 1.  

The Komińskis had also experienced a tragedy. In November 1941, their son Lech was arrested by the Gestapo and shot to death in Auschwitz. After his death, a young man, Józio, lived with the Komińskis. When the Warsaw Uprising broke out, the colonel and Józio rushed to the struggle. Komiński became the quartermaster of the Rising. Following its fall, Komiński was taken prisoner of war and imprisoned in Woldenburg. He died there, killed by a Soviet bullet. In 1945, the colonel’s daughter, Janina, was also arrested and sent for forced labor to Germany. She escaped during a bombardment. After the war, she settled in Bydgoszcz, and in 1950, together with her mother, she went to Gdynia. Józio emigrated to Australia.

The Kempiński family, who had previously hidden in the garden plot, had moved in to Komińskis’ former apartment. The Goldbergs lived nearby, in a house on Francuska Street. In 1948, both families emigrated to Israel. The last letter from the Kempińskis to the Dąbrowskis, sent from Frankfurt, arrived around 1970.

Jan Dąbrowski still lives in the house on Berezyńska Street in apartment 4. He spends part of his time in New York, where he had lived for most of his adult life. He is a relative of Krystyna Konwerska, a Righteous, who in her house in the Gołąbki village had provided shelter to a few Jewish families.

Translation: Joanna Sliwa