Vale Małgorzata Palester (1929–2011)
Małgosia and Janina met in school before the war. Małgosia used to defend Janina, whose schoolmates teased her for being Jewish. For Małgosia, one’s origin did not matter. She was raised in a home, in which all forms of discrimination were combated.
Małgorzata Palester (Małgosia) was born on 25 January 1929 in Warsaw. Her father, Henryk Palester, was a physician and a prewar director of the Department for Combating Epidemicsin the Ministry of Health. Her mother (nee Szulisławska), a homemaker, had studied Romance Philology in Lviv. Małgosia had a step-brother, Roman, a known composer, and a brother five years her senior, Krzysztof. The children were raised in a liberal atmosphere, condemning all forms of discrimination.
Our friendship, which has survived our entire lives despite the distance that fate has sentenced us to since 1968, had started in first class of elementary state school, when schoolmates teased me – a Jewish child, and Małgosia defended me. Our parents met each other and became friends through us. From the moment when a few days prior to the outbreak of the war my father had been drafted into the army (he later died in Katyń), the Palestra family has become a source of support and help for my mother and me.
Help for Jews
Maria Palester, who had worked with Irena Sendler from the beginning of the war, became involved in helping Jews; friends and strangers alike. When Irena was arrested in October 1943 and sentenced to death, Maria Palester, acting on behalf of “Żegota” Council for Aid to Jews, managed to make arrangements for her ransom. Fourteen-year-old Małgosia, led by her mother, carried the package with money meant for Sendler’s ransom from the Gestapo in her backpack. Together with her mother, Małgosia was fulfilling a series of tasks connected with saving Jews.
During the entire period of the German occupation, Jews had hidden in the Palestras’ apartment despite specific danger caused by Henryk Palester’s Jewish origin. Maria Szulisławska-Palester was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Institute.
Małgosia’s brother, 20-year-old Krzysztof Palester, who was a Home Army soldier, died in the Warsaw Uprising. Towards the end of the Warsaw Uprising, Małgosia, together with her parents and a group of exiles, reached Okęcie. In January 1945, Maria Palester co-organized the Hospital for Children and Chronically Ill, which was transformed into Warsaw Children’s Home in the 1950s. In December 1944, Dr. Palester died as a result of being run over by a German truck.
Having had received her high school diploma in 1947, Małgosia began medical studies at the Warsaw University. She completed her studies in Kraków, where she specialized in hematology under Prof. Aleksandrowicz, and received her medical degree there.
After a few years she returned to Warsaw. She worked in the Grochów hospital, and then at the Institute of Tuberculosis and Pulmonary Illnesses on Płocka Street, where Prof. Leon Manteuffel was conducting pioneering open chest surgeries in extracorporeal circulation. The issue of blood coagulation, which was Małgosia’s specialization and a subject of her academic research, was vital for those surgeries.
Her work and family
In 1973–1974, she directed the Blood Coagulation Disorders Lab at the General and Vascular Surgery Clinic at the Clinical Hospital of the Medical Academy in Warsaw, located on Banacha Street. Apart from providing services; treating patients with blood coagulation disorders; offering numerous consultations in clinics and other hospitals; she had an intensive research agenda; published articles related to her specialization; gave lectures for students, doctors, and nurses; and mentored doctoral students. In 1986, she received her habilitation, and was then appointed professor. She retired at age 70, but continued to keep in touch with the hospital for some two more years fulfilling commissioned assignments until the developing sickness forced her to stop working.
She distinguished herself by outstanding intelligence and meticulousness at work, but foremost – with her readiness to help anyone who needed it. She cared for students and patients, devoting a lot of time and attention to them.
Małgosia married Alojzy Chlebowczyk, a docent of economics. They were a happy marriage; unfortunately her husband died in 1974. Widowed, Małgosia lived with her mother and cared for her until her mother’s death in 1991.
A born social worker, she was always bravely engaged in the fight against injustices. She was active in “Solidarność” (the Solidarity movement). She co-operated with, among other people, Dr. Zofia Kuratowska. Present at the meeting of the signatories of the letter of 20 August 1980, she demanded redress for injustices caused to people in 1968, and called for the prevention of devastation of sites of Jewish cultural heritage in Poland.
During her mountain trips, she became friends with Celina Radziszewska, who was younger from her by one generation. She helped her family during different periods when they suffered from serious life and health problems. When Małgosia fell ill, Celina took her to her house in Bieszczady. Thanks to Celina’s care, love, and warmth, Małgosia was not alone until her last moments; she felt the closeness of a person who loved her.
Małgosia died on 22 July 2011.
In the memories of her older and younger friends, from her work and those outside of it, she will remain as a person sensitive to every human injustice and poverty and boundlessly devoted to people, who needed her help.