Teresa Jawic, Tirza Potter – a Survivor

Teresa Jawic was born on 11th February 1934 in Warsaw. Her father Zygmunt (Zusman, born in 1893 in Kolno near Grajewo) was a doctor. Before the War, he worked at the Infant Jesus Hospital in Warsaw as an internal medicine specialist. In addition, he conducted a medical practice at ul. Muranowska 26. Gustawa, her mother (Gitla, nee Rakower, born in 1902) was a graduate from the Department of French Studies at the Sorbonne and did not work. Teresa had a younger brother Jerzy, who was born in 1936.

The home in which the Jawic family lived in Warsaw (ul. Nowolipki 6) was bombed in September 1939. The four-member family moved to the surgery and then into the tannery owned by grandfather Jakow-Ber Rakower. Gustawa was one of eight daughters. Three of her sisters were unmarried and lived with their father, a widower.

The tannery, which the Germans soon commandeered and turned in a blanket laundry, was located at ul. Dzielna 57. When the ghetto was established in the city, the laundry found itself situated within it, opposite Pawiak prison.

In the ghetto, Teresa’s father worked as a doctor. Initially, Teresa went to kindergarten. However, soon after, together with her mother and brother, she went into hiding within the laundry, which began operating as a Toebens factory.

Whilst in hiding, they would often see Jews being executed – prisoners led into the courtyard, ordered to sit on the ground and then shot. The bodies of the dead would not be removed for a few days.

They then became infested with lice and Teresa contracted typhus. She became seriously ill but her father managed to restore his daughter to health.

In the spring or summer of 1942, with the help of Teresa’s pre-War nanny, her father arranged for the family to escape from the ghetto. Using a ladder leaning against the ghetto wall, Teresa was led into the Aryan side, where her nanny was waiting for her. A few days later, her mother and brother also emerged from the ghetto. Teresa, however, does not know how they escaped. Her mother’s sister, Ziuta, also escaped. Only Teresa’s father and two of Gitel’s sisters, who refused to leave their father, remained behind the wall.

From that period, Teresa especially remembers the loss of her beloved toys and the small suitcase containing her childhood treasures, including family photographs. Her father had firmly not permitted her to take them with her from the ghetto.

At first, but only briefly, Teresa, her mother and brother, lived with the nanny. Soon, it turned out that the friend of the nanny’s would not agree to Jews living in their home and, after extracting a great deal of money from them, the nanny found Teresa a new place. From that period, Teresa, due to successive blackmailing, moved from place to place twenty two times – most often, alone. In the meantime, her brother was cared for by her mother. As Teresa claims, later it turned out to be the nanny who was the instigator of the blackmail, exploiting the fact that the Jawic family was relatively wealthy.

Teresa does not recall the order nor all the locations nor how each hiding place looked. She only remembers some. For example, the large shed, somewhere on Sadyba, where she was together with her mother and brother. The three of them were hidden under rabbit hutches. When the shed burned down, the owner would not allow the Jawic family to remain. While escaping, her mother left behind documents in the hiding place. She had to return to retrieve them, leaving the children alone, in an open field, for a few hours.

Teresa recalls a glow over Warsaw. That was most probably the glow from the burning ghetto in the spring of 1943.

When the War ended, her mother had no way to support her children, So she placed Teresa and her brother into an orphanage in Otwock, which took in Jewish children and young people. Teresa found herself in group of children older than herself..

The children encountered unpleasantness because some of the residents of Otwock were quite hostile towards the Jewish centre. According to Teresa, there were even incidents where stones were thrown at children walking, in pairs, to school.

The Zionist organisation Hashomer Hatzair began arranging for young people to leave for Palestine.

Teresa, together with her group, was sent to Czechoslovakia and, from there, to France. On 18th March 1948, the liner Teti sailed from Marseilles heading for Palestine. She was then sent to Kibbutz Amir, where each day was spent working and studying. In 1950, young people from her group were conscripted into the army. Because she was only sixteen, she was too young to be taken. But she fought to be accepted and she completed her military service at the age of  eighteen.

She then returned to her Kibbutz. She was offered different types of work (in the kitchen, in the barns), however she refused them all. In 1953, she moved in with her mother who, together with her brother, had settled in Israel three years earlier

She wanted to study medicine, but without matriculating, this was not possible. She sat for examinations and was accepted into a three-year nursing course at Asaf Harofe Hospital, from where she graduated as a nurse. For the first three months, she worked in a maternity ward and  then as a sister in a medical ward

In 1957, she married Chaim Puter (he later changed his surname to Potter), a Jew from Hrubieszów who, together with his family, had been deported to Siberia where he had survived the War. In Israel, he worked as a technician in the munitions industry. In 1959, Teresa gave birth to a daughter Raviva and, three years later, to a son Noam. Shortly afterwards, she returned to work. Until her retirement in 1992, she managed the “Drop of Milk” medical practice.

Teresa’s husband died in 2002. She and her children still live in Israel.

By Jadwiga Rytlowa and Janina Goldhar, based on an interview conducted with Tirza Potter  in Israel in march 2016.