Who was Mikołaj Lubaczewski?
Through almost all the eighty years of my life, the story of this man has intrigued me. Together with his brother, he escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto and, as “Mikołaj Lubaczewski”, he was connected to my family’s wartime fate.
In May 1943, together with my mother, I came to Warsaw from Wołyń where, a month earlier, Ukrainian nationalists had murdered my grandparents, Michał and Zofia Makowski. Mama was a native of Warsaw. Jadwiga, her mother, lived here, together with her younger sister Wisia and her two children – Jagoda, who was my age, and her brother Wiesiek who was four years older. After a short stay with my aunt at 19 Żytnia Street, we left for grandma’s holiday home in Izabelin, on the edge of the Kampinos Forest. The house contained seven apartments for rent in the summer and amongst the tenants was Wilhelm Wajs, a widower. Wilhelm and my grandmother quickly found an emotional connection. On Christmas 1943, they were married.
By trade, Wilhelm was a leather-worker and resided at 26 Bednarska Street in Warsaw. He had a daughter, Zofia, who at that time was a twenty-something unmarried lady and was a close friend of my aunt’s. One day, Zosia met an old friend who had escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto. He presented himself as Mikołaj Lubaczewski, a Russian – a member of the White Guard, a supporter of fascism and a Germanophile. He was around forty years of age, educated and spoke both Russian and German extremely well. His entire family, apart from his brother Józef, had been murdered by the Germans.
The young woman decided to save Mikołaj. In order to camouflage his identity, she agreed to marry him. I clearly remember the ceremony in St. Jan’s Cathedral on the morning of 1st January 1944, and then the wedding reception which took place in my aunt’s apartment. “The young couple” lived in a rented apartment. Mikołaj earned a living from illegal trading in, among other things, gold rubles.
The help for Mikołaj Lubaczewski in Izabelin
Years later, my mother, aunt and grandmother recalled Mikołaj. He was very much loved by our family. From what they said, I remember one of the many tragic adverntures. One day, when Mikołaj was alone in the apartment having a bath, he heard a sudden thud at the door. Several SS-men forced their way into the apartment. They had received information from a neighbour. In German, Mikołaj told them that he was not a Jew, but a Russian, a supporter of fascism and that, for many years, he had lived and studied in Berlin. This puzzled the Germans. That short conversation was enough for the Germans to believe his words. After that event, Mikołaj rapidly left the apartment and again went into hiding.
In the spring of 1944, we all lived together in our summer house in Izabelin. There, I got to know Mikołaj better. I remember that he often visited his brother in the Kampinos Forest hiding place. He maintained contact with units of the Home Army (AK) and often stayed at the Home for the Blind in Laski, where a unit of Hungarian soldiers was stationed.
During the Warsaw Uprising, Wilhelm was shot at St. Stanisław’s church in Wola. We spent that time at the summer house.
At the end of August 1944, a unit of RONA (comprised of Russians and Ukrainians) was stationed in Izabelin. They were known for their cruelty during the pacification of the Uprising. Almost daily, they searched through houses looking for gold, jewellery or watches. They took anything that was of any value. Every time they appeared, it created fear and terror amongst the local population. In those days, Aunt Wisia hid in the forest with the goats. Apart from Wiesława, Jagoda and me, grandma and my mother remained at home. There was also grandma’s sister and some infirm residents.
The search by the SS
One day, SS-men surrounded our house, cutting off any escape route into the forest. Mikołaj and Zosia were with us, as was Józef. In a flash, all three jumped into the dugout under the floor of the verandah, which once served as storage for potatoes. We covered it with boards, onto which we placed a rug and our toys. Again, these marauding soldiers searched the entire house. Amongst our primitive toys, they noticed Wiesiek’s rather small, wooden plane. The red and white chequerboard on its wings annoyed them. They began to yell that Poland no longer existed and never would exist. They completely destroyed that small plane. It is unknown what more would have happened if they had not noticed a man walking along the street, unaware of its layout. They immediately leaped out of the house and began shooting in his direction. They had no idea that two Jews and a young girl were hiding under the floor upon which they stood.
We survived the War. Soon after liberation, Mikołaj and Zosia divorced. In gratitude for the help he had received, Mikołaj found a job for Aunt Wisia and an apartment in Łódź at 154 Piotrkowska Street. He married a young Jewish woman who, during the Holocaust, had been in hiding just as he was. Together with her and his brother, he left for Paris. My family never did find out what his real name was, nor anything about his ultimate fate.
To this day, I ask myself the question – who was Mikołaj Lubaczewski?
25 November 2018, Edward Darell wrote to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews:
Mikołaj Lubaczewski was cousin of my father, Moishe Lejb Katz. He was born on 3 October 1914 in Poland (probably Łódź) as Leon Weinberg. During World War II he changed his name to “Mikołaj Lubaczewski”.
In 1943, he arranged my paternal grandmother’s escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, Helena Chaja Katz (then Katz-Dąbrowska). My father as “Konstanty Dąbrowski” survived the war by hiding in the “Aryan side” too. He was married shortly before the war to Jadwiga Gunther, an ethnic German. They lived in Warsaw through almost the entire war.
After the war Mikołaj married a woman named Zosia and they moved to Paris. In 1950, when I was 4 years old, my family and I settled in London. Around 1953 we visited the Lubaczewski family. They had a son named Jacques who was about 2 years old at the time. In turn, Mikołaj visited us in London at least twice.
The Lubaczewski family emigrated to the USA around 1954 and settled in New York. Mikołaj changed his name to Michael Luben and became a successful salesman of dental goods. In 1958, my family also emigrated to the USA, settling in New York. My father changed his name to “K. Constant Darell”. We socialized with the Lubens quite frequently until around 1962 but less so after that.
Mikołaj Lubaczewski vel. Michael Luben died on 9 September 2004.