The Story of Janina Kania

We publish, here, a story sent to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews by Maciej Kostecki, about the help given, during the Holocaust in Warsaw, by his grandmother Janina Kania (nee Baranowska), to the Jewish Lewin family.

My grandmother, Janina Kania, was born on 24th April 1895. She lived her entire life in Warsaw. She had three children - Janina, Stefan and Hanna (my mother - married surname Kostecka). For many years, I never knew a single detail of our family's life during World War II. It was only at the end of my grandmother's life that her older daughter Janina and my mother Hanna told me about it - that grandma had saved the Jewish Lewin family from death. 

Unfortunately, I don't know much more about them. They probably lived in Warsaw, in the Pelcowizna district. Grandma also lived there, with her husband Lucjus and their children. The families were friends. During the occupation, when the Germans began exterminating the Jews, grandma took in the Lewin couple and their daughters (at that time, she lived in Żerańi, at ulica Tarchomińska 52, now Myśliborska) and gave them shelter. During times of danger, the Lewin family would hide in a cell behind a double wall or in the basement under the floor.

Hiding the Lewin Family

My aunt and mother told me that Mr Lewin came to my grandma twice and said, "I've found a person who will help us to leave Poland”. My grandma then realised that someone had informed the Germans about their presence - that's why she told them to hide. Indeed, the Lewin couple were twice sought by the German military police - but were not found. In the following weeks, however, one of their daughters, Eryka, went out into the street, and there she was shot, as grandma said, by a "navy blue policeman". I don't know the date of that event. 

After six months of hiding, Mr Lewin again told my grandma that he had found "a guide", as my aunt said, who was to help them to leave occupied Poland. Grandma advised against it, but the Lewins decided to take the chance. They said goodbye and disappeared from Warsaw. Over the following years, our family was convinced that they had been found by the Germans and had been sent to one of the extermination camps. Fortunately, we were wrong.

Meeting Years Later

It was probably at the end of the 1980's that the Lewins' daughters knocked on the door of my grandma's apartment on ul. Kasprowicza in Warsaw. They were Stanisława and her sister whose name I don't know. It turned out that their family had successfully managed to leave for Brazil. After the War, they searched, for more than fifty years. After that meeting, our family maintained contact with Stanisława by letter and telephone. When my grandma passed away, on 12th February 1995, both my mother and I were contacted. I didn't receive any reply to my last letter written in 2003.