The story of the Lauer Family

We are publishing the story of Guiora Joseph Lauer about his family – the owners of a factory and hat shops in prewar Warsaw. Guiora Joseph was mere 40 days old when he was hidden on the so-called Aryan side. Aside from the child, the family left a golden cigarette case in the village of Lipki, where the boy spent part of the war. The cigarette case was supposed to enable the parents to recognize him after the war.

The Lauer family came from Warsaw. At the end of 19th century my great-grandfather Herman Hirsh Lauer married my great-grandmother Rebecca Goldberg. Their son, my grandfather Józef Lauer was born in 1890. Józef married Paulina Zofia Julia Keilin and they had a son, Jerzy Jan Julian – my father. After graduating from the Bolesław Prus High School in Warsaw in 1935, Jerzy went to study physics or chemistry at the University of Nancy in France. He returned to Warsaw in 1939 and in May of the next year he married my mother Freda Blumenstock.

My family owned a hat factory and several well-stocked and conveniently located shops in Warsaw – at 114 Marszałkowska Street,37 Senatorska Street and 11 Wierzbowa Street.They were not religious, but cultivated Jewish traditions.

I was born on April 17, 1941. I was only 40 days old when my parents left me with my grandmother at 122 Chmielna Street in Warsaw and went to run some errands. They got arrested, were deported and killed in July 1942.

Before the German occupation of Poland, my grandmother Paulina divorced my grandfather Józef and married Leon Eitel, a friend of the family who lived near my grandparents’ factory. He was 37 years old and my grandmother was 52. They both stayed at Chmielna. I was told that before the war the building had been owned by Paulina’s brother Mordoch and sold to my grandfather Józef in 1939.

See also: Tenement building at 122 Chmielna Street in our online exhibition "The Right Address. Hiding Jews in Occupied Warsaw"

My grandmother took care of me until 1942. After her death, Leon Eitel buried her at the non-Jewish cemetery. Before his death, he asked to be buried in the same grave as my grandmother.

Leon Eitel was had a big heart, he was fair, honest and very attached to my grandmother, whom he loved very much, and to the whole family as well. He was a theater actor and a renowned singer. He risked his life to save my grandmother. When she died, he confided the care of me to his sister-in-law, Jadwiga Eitel. Soon, I was taken to the Lipki village, to Jadwiga’s house. It was not far from the Treblinka death camp. The life there was not pleasant for a child – I was living constantly under bombing raids and had to abide by many domestic restrictions.

When Eitel left me in Lipki, he also gave Jadwiga a cigarette-box. “If someone comes to take the boy, show them this cigarette-box”. It had belonged to my father. The gold keepsake is engraved with the inscription “Jerzyk, 24 V 1927”. This was to serve as proof that I was a son of Jerzy Lauer. I still have it.

Leon Eitel was trying to save other people’s lives as well. Together with his friends Maria Głębicka, Antonina Gacz, Julianna Nowak and Natalia Młynarczyk, he helped the four-person Wolman family, which he probably knew through my family (my father’s cousin Roman Kejlin), and the theater.

Halina Wolman, her husband, brother-in-law and Helena’s mother escaped from the ghetto at the beginning of 1943. Until the Warsaw Uprising, they lived with Mrs Głębicka, after which they separated. Helena and Maria reached Milanówek, where the older woman pretended to be Mrs Głębicka’s aunt. Halina hid with Antonina, her husband (who perished during the Uprising) hid with Natalia and her brother-in-law, who was seriously ill with tuberculosis, remained under the care of Julianna until his death. Leon Eitel kept in touch with all members of the Wolman family by visiting their hiding places. He deserved to be recognized as a Righteous.

I suppose it was Leon Eitel who in 1945 brought the sad news about the fate of the Lauer family to sister of my grandmother Paulina, Anna Nioucha Bernfeld nee Kejlin, who lived in Paris. As a result, my great aunt and her husband Marcel moved heaven and earth to make me come to Paris. They raised me there. Having no official papers, my great uncle arranged a notarial act for me and that was my only identification in France. My aunt died when I was 13. I lived with the uncle until the age of 18, when I left to Israel. 

Recently I have learnt that during the war my grandparents asked Leon Eitel to declare the date of my birth in their name and to certify that I am the only son of Jerzy and Freda Lauer and the only grandson of Józef and Paulina. The documents including this information come from the Jewish Community in Warsaw and are the only ones I have. I have managed to track down the stories of my aunts Irena Mitelman (she left Poland in 1935 and settled in Palestine) and Nioucha Bernfeld, but surprisingly I have not discovered anything about my mother.

Thanks to the JewishCommunity Center and Genealogy & Family Heritage Center in Warsaw, I obtained the birth certificate of my grandfather Józef Lauer, information on the location of the family vault of my great-uncle Roman Lauer at the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, as well as the location of the grave of my grandmother and Leon Eitel. I also got the photos of the family hat factory and stores in Warsaw, run by my great-grandfather Herman, grandfather Józef and great-uncles Roman and Marek and Alina Lauer.

I also made a trip to the Lipki village and found the house where I had been hiding during the war. I went to the building at 122 Chmielna Street in Warsaw as well. I hope that the Polish authorities will help me to reclaim my property for my children and grandchildren.