Chapter 4: Warsaw
During my first week in Warsaw I spent most of my time with Jozek in
his room, or reading when he was out. Lorenc came to see us a few
times, but usually they were both busy. At that time I did not
know anything about their involvement in the Resistance Movement.
Christmas was over. Staying with Jozek would soon arouse the suspicion
of his landlords. I had to move out, and very soon.
Finding a family that would agree to hide me for the duration
of the war was an exceedingly difficult task, as hiding a
Jew was punishable by death. Looking for a safe shelter required time.
Meanwhile, until such shelter would be found,
I moved to a boarding house
"Pensjonat Doktora Ogrodowczyka" at Nowogrodzka Street.
The boarding house was owned by a physician, Dr. Ogrodowczyk, and run
by his wife. It was quiet and clean. People kept moving in and
out. I was free to stay in my room or to spend time
on the streets, always with a ready cover story about visiting
relatives in Warsaw, etc. According to Lorenc's strict
instructions, I was supposed to appear
as inconspicuous as possible, and to avoid conversations with
strangers. Every day at noon I walked to a
nearby small restaurant for a cheap
lunch. By careful observation I soon learned to distinguish
between real gentiles, and Jews posing as Aryans.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one who learned that. A new
profitable occupation developed in Warsaw: professional blackmailers.
They were scanning the streets for Jews: observing faces and
demanding ransom for letting them go free. Those who did
not pay, were turned into the hands of the Gestapo or the SS. A common
ransom was 500 zlotys. The 500-zloty note carried the image of a
Polish mountaineer, Goral in Polish. The note was
therefore referred to as a goral. The
blackmailer would approach a Semitic-looking person on the
street and quietly say: it will cost you a goral. The
goral was promptly paid and the Jew considered himself
lucky. The sum of 500 zlotys, about the average
monthly wage, does not seem too much when your life is at stake.
The trouble was that another such demand could follow almost
immediately. The extortionists were often dispersed along a busy
street, and watched one another.
When one of them saw that a Jew was
stopped and blackmailed, he knew that easy
prey was in sight. On one occasion Jozek was robbed
three times in a row. When the third
blackmailer demanded a goral, Jozek answered
that all his gorals had already been
taken by his predecessors. The bum let
him go. After all, he was only interested in
the money, not in bringing a Jew to a police station.
The Ogrodowczyk boarding house was supposed to serve as my shelter
for only a week or two, until a safe permanent
place could be found. Lorenc was in a great hurry to
have me placed securely, so that he could concentrate
on bringing Stella and her family to Warsaw.
According to an old European custom, police patrols used to visit
hotels and boarding houses during the late evening hours. They
were called the "morality police", because in theory their visits were
intended to prevent unmarried couples from rooming together,
which was illegal at the time. Actually there was another,
more practical reason for those visits: they were a
good source of income. Many gorals passed hands when Jews were
not-so-incidentally discovered during those "morality" visits. I
had been at the Ogrodowczyk's for about
ten days, when two gentlemen in civilian clothes
entered the hotel one evening and introduced themselves as detectives.
A routine walk through the rooms with the owner of the establishment,
checking documents. A knock on the door, and they entered
my room. What they saw was apparently much more
attractive than an unmarried couple: a boy with a
strikingly semitic face (Fig. 27
), alone in a hotel. Politely, they
asked Dr. Ogrodowczyk to leave the room. When we were alone,
they started interrogating me. After
examining my documents thoroughly, they first
asked me a series of routine questions regarding the
purpose of my visit to Warsaw, the whereabouts of my
family, my father's occupation. Then, some less
conventional questions about Roman Catholic holidays
and Catholic dogma. On these subjects I was an ignoramus. I
had completely neglected to study the Catholic religion. Nobody had
told me how important it was to be prepared for this kind of
interrogation. My answers to their questions were all
wrong. Their final question was: "You are a Jew, aren't you?". I
replied, "of course not", which made them angry. They ordered me
to unbutton my pants. In Poland non-Jews are never
circumcised. Thus every male Jew in Poland carries in his pants an
unmistakable proof of his religious identity. The charade was over.
Fig. 27: My photograph taken shortly before escape to Warsaw
They asked for the names and addresses of my relatives in Warsaw. I
told them a fictitious name and address, the first one that
entered my mind. They asked me to dress - we were going to
face my relatives. Utterly terrified, I started crying, and
told them that my uncle would kill me
when he discovered that I had disclosed his
address. I begged them to leave me in my room,
while they went alone to confront
him. They looked at their watches. The curfew hour was fast
approaching. Taking me to the confrontation would take them too
long. It did not occur to them that the address I had given them
might be false. After all, I was a Jewish child,
psychologically broken, crying. They decided to go alone. I should stay
in the hotel and wait for them. They left.
Within seconds I had packed all my belongings. I forgot only a pair of
old fur gloves which I had found among the Soviet uniform rags in the
Textilia factory in Lwow, and had used ever since. I walked out
quietly. The curfew was minutes away. People seen on the
streets after eight o’clock were often shot
without warning. I looked around, making sure
that the two detectives were not in sight, and ran quickly in the
direction of Aleje Ujazdowskie, to Lorenc. I reached his home
breathless. It was a quarter after eight.
The next day Lorenc concentrated all his efforts on finding a shelter
for me. He conducted many meetings, some with strangers, at great
risk to himself. Eventually, in the late afternoon, we both
met an attractively dressed young lady, "Mrs. Marysia". She led
us to the oldest section of Warsaw. On Nowe Miasto Street
we entered an apartment on the
ground floor of a centuries-old building.
This was my new shelter, hopefully supposed to
last until the end of the war.
The landlord was a gentleman in his forties, “engineer"
Stawowski. I never found out what his real occupation was, and am
not sure that he had a steady one. The title "engineer" was
probably an honorary one, bestowed upon him by his friends.
His wife was a schoolteacher. Both were friendly,
intelligent, and apparently well acquainted with the
hardships of life. Their apartment consisted of a kitchen
and a bedroom, in which we all slept. The financial arrangements
were made by Lorenc. I was not told anything.
During the following days I spent most of my time at home, leaving the
apartment once every few days, for a brief walk. The food was adequate,
there were some books which I had soon read, and two canaries
in a cage. Stawowski had frequent visitors whom he
entertained with vodka in the kitchen,
while I was in the bedroom with the canaries. After a
few days life became boring. Unfortunately, not for long.
Around January 20 Jozek came to see me. He asked to speak to me in
private. His news: Lorenc had been arrested by the Gestapo and was
imprisoned in the Pawiak jail. The infamous Pawiak was the most
dreadful Nazi prison ever. Political prisoners, particularly
those suspected of underground activity,
were investigated, routinely tortured, and killed. Few left
Pawiak alive. Lorenc was arrested as Stanislaw Nowak, and was not
suspected of being a Jew. It was the first time that
I heard anything about his involvement in the Armia Krajowa resistance
More news: By previous arrangement with Lorenc, Stella's elder son
Marek, 9 years old, had just arrived in Warsaw. For the time
being he was hidden in Jozek's room,
without his landlords knowing that an unwelcome
Jewish boy was hidden there. This sudden onslaught of problems was
overwhelming. Jozek had to do something about his brother's
imprisonment, had to try to get him out of the
Pawiak jail, a nearly impossible task. He
was responsible for me. And on top of it all he had
to look for a shelter for Marek, and very quickly. This alone was
a full-time job, extremely stressful and risky. Taking care of Marek
would leave him no time for Lorenc. Under such tremendous
pressure he might commit grave errors, with potentially
disastrous results. He decided to send Marek back to his parents in
* * *
Both my uncles were extremely loyal to the family, and ready without
hesitation to risk their own lives in order
to save their sisters' families. Both were very
intelligent. However, their personalities were different.
Lorenc was a master of contrivance, invention and
survival. He could convince anybody, overcome any
difficulty, obtain any kind of certificate or
document. He could pose as an extremely
aggressive person in order to scare an adversary.
While in jail he presented the oppressors with a
medical certificate, prepared well ahead of time, "proving"
that he had been circumcised for medical reasons, and thus was
not a Jew. With his exceptional ability to argue, he
managed to refute all of the accusations against him, and persuaded his
inquisitors that he was not and never had been a member of
the resistance movement. Eventually, he was released from jail.
But that came much later. On January 20, 1943 he had just been
imprisoned. I believe that if Jozek had been the jailed one and Lorenc
free, Lorenc could have overcome all the difficulties and managed
the situation (Figs. 3
Jozek was different. He was a gentleman-surgeon with a broad humanist
education. He was extremely pleasant, friendly
with everybody, with no trace of aggression, a romantic
dreamer, always willing to help. Never a master of maneuvering,
he could easily become helpless. In view of the complex
entanglement of events that had developed, his decision to send Marek
back to Zbaraz was probably the right one to
make. It must have been very difficult for him.
A Polish policeman was found to accompany Marek and to deliver him
safely to his parents in Zbaraz. The trip did not go smoothly. They
needed to change trains in Lwow for a connection to Zbaraz. The
"trustworthy" escort took advantage of the situation, abandoned
Marek in Lwow, and returned to
Warsaw, where he collected his fee and told Jozek that
Marek had been arrested by the Gestapo, and was probably dead by
now. However, the 9 year-old boy, left alone on the
street, managed to find his way to Textilia, where my
father took care of him, and within a week arranged for his safe
transfer to Zbaraz. Several days before Marek's return to
his parents, they received a message from Jozek,
informing them about their son's arrest by the Gestapo. I can only
imagine their feelings during those days.
* * *
At the end of our private conversation, Jozek warned me not to
say anything to Mr. Stawowski, and
left. According to his instructions, I said nothing, but
the expression on my face must have betrayed my
feelings, because Mr. Stawowski suspected
something. He asked many questions, and was not satisfied
with my evasive answers.
About 15 minutes after Jozek left, there was a knock on the door.
Two men in German military uniform walked in and started questioning
me. Their Polish was fluent, with no trace of a
German accent. I wondered: were they Germans? The two men were not
interested in taking me away with them. They wanted
to talk to the relative who took care of me. It was obvious
that they wanted money. They said they would return the
next evening. They made it clear that my relative must be present
when they returned and that Stawowski was to be responsible for
this. The entire event was strikingly reminiscent of the
recent episode at the Ogrodowczyk boarding house, and
made me think that the men were Poles
pretending to be Germans. Stawowski did not seem to be scared at all.
retrospect it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that Stawowski was an
accomplice, and that the ransom would later be shared by
all three. Is this an unjust suspicion of the man who
helped me to hide from the Nazis? Perhaps. The events
during the following month indebted me greatly to Mr.
Stawowski. He saved my life. Still, this event might have
been initiated by him.
The "officers" left. Stawowski immediately demanded that I tell
him Lorenc's address. It was
obvious that unlike at the Ogrodowczyk's,
I would not be allowed to disappear. I had no
choice. I told him the truth about
Lorenc, that he had been arrested and was imprisoned in Pawiak.
As for the address of "the other gentleman" (Jozek), even
considering all the trouble that I was now in, I felt that
I could not endanger Jozek and Marek who was hiding in his
room. I told Stawowski that I have never been to Jozek's home,
and did not know where he lived.
Stawowski and I were now on our own. He could have thrown me out,
but would this have saved him from the two blackmailers? Perhaps they
were not his accomplices, after all? Perhaps he felt that he
could earn more by taking care of me now,
and getting his reward later? But is it not also possible
that he just saw a boy in trouble and wanted to
help? In those hard times we became conditioned to suspect
everybody, believing that everybody wanted to harm us. There was
certainly enough reason for this belief.
But how often was this suspicion unjustified?
In an instant Stawowski decided to take care of me until one of my
uncles should contact him and free him of this unexpected burden. Most
likely, it would be Jozek. Lorenc's chances of getting out of
Pawiak alive were slim, and if he ever
did, it would probably be to one of the concentration camps, not
During the following five weeks Stawowski cared for me with a devotion
that normally can be expected only from a very close
relative. Jozek knew nothing and assumed
that I was safe. Stawowski had been paid a month or two in
advance, so there was no reason for Jozek to
visit me often. During his absence,
Stawowski maneuvered me through eight different shelters,
some of which were only for one night, and others for several days.
Events developed so quickly, and were concentrated in such a short
space of time, that I have forgotten many
of the details. My memory retains the
following highlights: immediately after making his
decision, Stawowski went to see Marysia, the lady who had brought
me to him. Together, they took me to a nearby
church, where I stayed overnight in
the minuscule living quarters of the church
organist. The single room was under the tin roof, with no
ceiling, and contained a kitchen stove, kitchen utensils, several
large containers with liquid, a broken old bed,
two straw mattresses spread on the floor,
and a very strange and complex machine in one corner, with
a fire burning in it. Throughout the night, several
men worked on the machine, conversing in subdued
voices and sipping vodka from time to time. In
the morning one of them explained to me that they were distilling
illicit vodka. Now I understood the meaning of the
containers. There seemed to be a mass production of
liquor in that little room.
The next night was spent in the apartment of a poor tailor in the Wola
section of Warsaw. Besides the tailor, there
was a very gentle and quiet girl, about my age, probably
his daughter. I slept on the floor in the kitchen.
Then, a basement room with a family of three: a young couple, he about
25, she a little younger, and his mother. The young woman
seemed to be scared of her
mother-in-law, and called her "Madam", to which the
mother-in-law did not object. Of the two beds in
the room, the mother occupied one
and the couple occupied the other, which
they shared with me. I slept the wrong way round,
with my head near their feet. That served for three nights.
After three days he came with good news: he had found a safe shelter,
in which I could stay for as long as necessary, certainly until
my uncle returned, and possibly beyond that, should
my uncle so wish. It was in an apartment of a widow
who used to rent rooms to occasional tenants. At that time, she had
only one tenant. After Stawowski left, the widow took me to
the kitchen, for supper. There she introduced me to the tenant as her
nephew, adding: "The last time I saw
him, he was a little baby.". "Really?", answered the
tenant with a snicker, "where did you see him: in the ghetto?". The
widow almost fainted. He continued: "It will cost a goral, and then the
boy can stay.". Next day, when Stawowski came and heard
the story, he paid the ransom promptly, and took me
For a few days I stayed at the home of a very poor family, of which
time I remember two details. One was the extreme cold. It
was February. There was a small iron stove in one of the
rooms, but it was used only for a couple of
hours at night. Most of the time I was cold,
shivering and hungry. More important: there were several
Roman Catholic books: the New Testament, a book on Catholic dogma, a
manual of catechism, and a book describing the lives of Catholic
saints. I discovered promptly how irrelevant were my
answers during the grilling at the Ogrodowczyk boarding
house, and understood the importance of this
knowledge for my survival. In spite of the cold and the
hunger, I studied those books voraciously. During the
following months, in other shelters, I always
looked for similar books, and read them thoroughly.
Following this, I spent a week in the Shelter for the Blind (Dom
Slepcow) in the oldest section of Warsaw, not far from where the
Stawowskis lived. The blind man who was entitled to live there
had died a long time ago, but his widow was permitted to keep the
apartment, and stayed in it together with her nephew
Franciszek. She was a palm-and-card reader.
When clients came, she received
them in the kitchen, with the door to our
room closed. Her business was flourishing.
Franciszek, permanently drunk, was a professional
smuggler. Once every few days, he would
load his bags with illicit liquor, meat and
other merchandise worth smuggling to the Reich
(Germany proper), and return to the
Generalgouvernement (occupied Poland) with cigarettes and
some other goods, and with plenty of money. When he returned, he told
stories about his adventures. His audience was quite
sizeable. Besides myself, there were Mrs. Maliniak and her son Bruno
(my age), Mrs. Lew and her daughter Marysia
(also my age), and another couple (husband and wife). They
all arrived a day after me straight from the Warsaw ghetto. Mr.
Maliniak and Mr. Lew were supposed to join their families within a few
days. With so many people in one bedroom there were some
logistical problems, but we were all experienced in the
hardships of life, and everybody found a place. I slept on three
wooden chairs put in a row and lined with a blanket to make them a
little softer. Our landlady slept in the kitchen, and so did
Franciszek, when he was not away on an “assignment”. The
toilet was in the corridor, outside the
apartment, and was shared by the many families living on
the same floor. This created safety problems: The
sudden appearance of seven new faces, most with
semitic features, was probably very suspicious. But the company was
Bruno, Marysia and I had a great time. We played card games, read
books and shared stories from the ghetto and from my earlier
experiences in Warsaw. Above all, we made fun of the occupations
and customs of our hosts and of their awful slang. Spirits
were high. Marysia and Bruno eagerly expected the arrival of
their fathers from the ghetto. I never met
them. Before they arrived, Mr. Stawowski took me to my next hiding
place. Because of the company, I did not
want to go, but Stawowski had his reasons, and
he was the boss. At the time I did not realize how
lucky I was to get out of there. Years later,
after the war, I met Bruno Maliniak in the
Zatrzebie Children's Home (subject of a later chapter), and he told me
the following: A few days after I left, both fathers
arrived from the ghetto. A couple of weeks later
somebody informed on them to the Gestapo. That night they were
all arrested and they were sent to concentration camps. Bruno's
parents, the Lew family and the other couple perished.
Of the entire group Bruno was the sole survivor.
There was one more short-lasting hideaway, and then Stawowski brought
me to the family of a railroad worker. The family
lived near one of the suburban railway stations, which
could be seen from a window. The parents and
their two teenage daughters hated Jews
with all their hearts, and did not
hide their feelings. They kept me because they needed the
money, but they blamed the Jews for every
economic, political and social trouble that had ever
descended upon Poland. They were convinced that the Jews'
present misfortunes were a well-deserved punishment. I did not argue. I
was constantly hungry, nearly starving. They had a few books
which I was permitted to read, and from time to time a newspaper.
The news was quite interesting. It was the end of
February, 1943. The German Sixth Army
had been defeated at Stalingrad, with
70,000 German casualties and over 90,000
prisoners of war taken by the Russians. It was the major turning point
of the war.
One day Stawowski and Lorenc, free at last, walked in together. Parting
from Mr. Stawowski was almost as emotional as greeting Lorenc. He
had taken care of me as if he were my father. We had become
friends, and I retain great respect for him. I regret
not having been able to locate him after the war.
However, the Old City with Nowe Miasto Street was
completely destroyed during and after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Besides, I never learned his first name, nor his wife's, or
whether they had any children. So our contact has been lost
Lorenc had some news for me: My father was still in the Lwow ghetto,
planning to escape and arrive in Warsaw with Marian, but only
after Stella and her family would have left
Zbaraz. This was the first time I heard that Marek was back in
I spent one night at Lorenc's home, and the next day there was a new
shelter for me: a temporary one, but seemingly safer than his home. In
fact, it wasn't. It was a small simple room with a stove in the corner,
serving as a kitchen. There was a sink and a small basin serving
as a "bath". A Jewish girl from Lwow, about 18 or 20 years old
lived there, posing as an Aryan. She was called Lydia, which was
probably not her real name. She worked, but needed more money, and
therefore agreed to keep me in her room until Lorenc could find a
better hideaway for me. I spent about two weeks with her in
March. She led a rather dangerous life. She had numerous
visitors, discussing undisclosed subjects and often arguing. Sometimes,
during those discussions, I was asked to go for a walk for an hour or
two. On one occasion a Jewish couple from Lwow came, and stayed
overnight. In one brief moment I noticed that the man had a
handgun. All this suggested the Resistance Movement.
Was the place really safe? A few days after I left, the same
couple again stayed overnight, and the Gestapo came to
arrest them. They defended themselves, and in the shootout that ensued,
Lydia and the couple were killed. When this event occurred,
I had already been settled at the Groncki's for several
days. It was the beginning of April.
About the same time, Lorenc told me some news which he just received
from Lwow: two weeks earlier my father and Marian had been
shot in the Janowska camp. It was a common practice that many young,
able-bodied Poles were sent to Germany for compulsory work
in factories and on farms. In particular, families with several sons
were a target. Although my brother Marian was not yet a "man", he
created the problem of a surplus of working hands for the Jarosz family
with whom he was staying. In order to avoid having one of their
sons taken to Germany, they decided to send Marian
back to my father. Marian returned to the Lwow ghetto on March 16.
At that time, my cousin Marek Weissberg lived with my father and
accompanied him everywhere. He was the only child of Uncle Izak who had
been arrested and killed on Professors' Night in July,
1941. His mother Mina was still alive, but she was in the
women's section of the "barracks", unable to take care of her
son. Thus for Marek, 11 years old, there
was only one close person available for
support: my father. On March 16 Marian joined them. On March 17 rumors
circulated in the ghetto, that a Jew, tormented by a German,
had lost his temper, and in
desperation injured his tormentor. In retaliation, the
Nazis entered the ghetto and took 200 children for
execution. Both Marian and Marek were in that
group. In order not to let them go alone to their
deaths, my father volunteered to join the
group. The 200 children and my father were shot in
the Janowska camp on the same day. It was less than three months
since my father and I had parted in Textilia. I had aged many years in
those three months.
The chances of anybody surviving in the ghetto for longer than a few
more weeks were nil. Lorenc decided not to waste any
more time, and to bring Stella and her family to
Warsaw as soon as possible, no matter the risks.
April, 1943. I was with the Groncki family, a couple in their sixties,
at 4 Muranowska Street. During the events that ensued very
shortly, there was great importance to this address (Fig. 28
former years, the population of this section of town had been mostly
Jewish. With the creation of the "New Order", Muranowska Street
remained inside the ghetto. As the Jews had been
gradually killed off and the ghetto population had
shrunk, the ghetto had been cut down in size,
just as in Lwow. In early 1943 Muranowska
Street marked the northern border of the
ghetto: The wall surrounding the ghetto
ran on the sidewalk of the southern, Jewish
side of the street (odd numbers), leaving the road
and northern sidewalk (even numbers) Aryan. Thus the
front of our house faced the ghetto, with a view of the ghetto wall.
Fig. 28: Muranowska Street and surroundings
The Gronckis, a friendly couple, lived in a two-bedroom
apartment, and occupied one of the
bedrooms. In the other bedroom there was a Jewish family of
three: a mother and her two daughters, posing as Aryans. The mother was
in her fifties, the daughters about 25-30, both unmarried,
nice and intelligent. I slept on a couch in the living
room, and spent most of the days with the three ladies in their
room, in order not to be seen by visitors. The place was
comfortable, with enough food and a good library.
The Gronckis had a married son. A handsome man in his thirties, he was
a high-ranking officer in the Polish police. Because the police
collaborated with the Germans, they were very unpopular
with the Polish population, and were usually
referred to as "navy-blue police" (Policja
granatowa), from the color of their uniforms. Because
of young Groncki's rank, his collaboration with the
Nazis was all but certain. This may have provided some protection
for his parents, and explains the plentiful food, but he had
probably contributed to the deaths of some Polish Resistance
fighters and was on their hit list. Shortly after my arrival, he
was assassinated by a Resistance
fighter. I remember the Gronckis' heavy mourning
after the loss of their only child. I sat with the three
ladies in their room, not daring to say a word. After the
mourning we all stayed with the Gronckis, hoping to survive the war at
April 19, 1943. From the early morning hours shots were heard from the
direction of the ghetto. Initially sporadic, they became more
frequent, and were followed by explosions. An Action
in the ghetto? Shooting Jews during Actions
was not uncommon: my paternal grandmother was a
chilling reminder. But these salvos were more than
usual, and the explosions were certainly not
routine. During the next two or three days the sounds of combat
increased, and fire and smoke could be seen through our windows. We
heard rumors about the Jewish uprising in the ghetto. Daily
routine life in Warsaw became disrupted. Power blackouts
were common and trams stopped running, at least in some sections of the
On one of the last days of April, rumors spread among our neighbors
that a group of Jewish fighters had managed to escape from the ghetto
through a breach in the wall and might be hiding in our block. A search
for the fugitives was expected at any moment. Our block was surrounded
by SS and other Nazi units. Mr. Groncki went to the neighbors to gather
intelligence. The news was not good. The search
started in another house on our block. Some Jews were found
and were dragged away. They were not necessarily the escapees,
but a Jew was a Jew. It was irrelevant whether they
had recently escaped from the ghetto or were in hiding before. Of
the four people hiding at the Gronckis' home, I faced the greatest
danger. The three women could claim that they had come for a
visit, but it was much less likely that a boy of 13 would come to
visit an elderly couple who were not his
relatives. My semitic face would immediately
arouse suspicion, and, most important, as a Jewish
male, I had been circumcised.
Finding a Jewish boy hiding at their home could cost the Gronckis
their lives, and possibly endanger
their three "visitors". In a desperate move, Mr.
Groncki decided to put me in a cupboard built into the wall
under the kitchen window. I was small, very thin and
extremely flexible. With my legs bent and arms twisted
acrobatically, I managed to squeeze into the lower shelf,
with some utensils placed in front of me. The upper shelf was
filled with plates and glasses. All the
remaining space was stuffed with rags.
How long could I tolerate this extremely
uncomfortable position? For how long would there be
enough air, with all the rags stuffed in,
and the cupboard closed tightly? And what if a Nazi
opened the cupboard, removed some of the rags and found a Jew hiding
While I was barely breathing in the cupboard, Mr.
Groncki went to gather some more information. He returned
depressed. The Nazis were not searching all the apartments
systematically, they just entered homes at random. But once in the
apartment, they conducted a thorough search, opening closets and other
potential hiding places. Should they select our apartment for a
search, they would surely find me. There was no
doubt that a sophisticated attempt at cheating was
much more incriminating than simply finding me in the
living room. A disclosure would mean certain death not only
for me, but also for both Gronckis and
everybody else in their home. After some hesitation and
deliberation, Groncki decided that I had to leave immediately.
4 Muranowska Street was a 4-story building, and was adjacent to a
3-story house with an entrance from Przebieg Street (Fig. 28
with a strong rope several meters long, Groncki and I went
upstairs to the garret. There, we both
slid through a hole in the roof, and were 3 meters
(10 feet) above the roof of the adjacent building.
Groncki wrapped the line around my waist and
chest, got hold of a beam supporting the roof, and
slowly lowered me, until my feet reached the roof of the
lower house. I undid the rope from around my
body, waved Groncki goodbye, and then found a hole in the
roof, and descended to the garret of the
lower building. From there getting
to the staircase was easy. In a good mood, I ran
downstairs, to reach the ground floor and the gate to freedom.
Stop! Between the second and first
floors, two Ukrainian policemen blocked my way. No
one was permitted to leave the building.
There was no time for hesitation. In a fraction of a second I
decided not to let the policemen start
interrogating me and put me on the defensive.
Quickly and without hesitation I approached them and asked in Ukrainian
how I could get out of the building. "I got lost, entered the block by
mistake, there is no one in this building who can help me and I want
out.” They did not suspect me of being a Jew, and were surprised
to hear me speak Ukrainian. In Warsaw this was most unusual. They
asked me about it, not by way of investigation, just out of
curiosity. They were also from Lwow. Our conversation was friendly.
Nevertheless, their orders were clear: no one gets out.
More and more uniformed Germans and Ukrainians arrived. All the
apartments in the block were opened, and the people were ordered to get
out, to the street. From a distance I saw the Gronckis. It was early
Sunday morning and it took a long time, perhaps hours, before
the hundreds of people were gathered in the street.
Then the apartments were searched for anybody remaining behind. Close
to noon everyone was ordered to stand backed against the ghetto
wall. A group of experts in SS uniforms arrived, and
observed our faces. The inspection was slow and
thorough. Several people suspected of being Jews were taken for
investigation. Some, obviously Jewish, were immediately beaten and
shoved into waiting trucks. As the officers approached me, I felt very
shaky. With my semitic face, there could be no doubt. Several of
the SS "experts" looked straight into my eyes and I looked boldly
back. Boldly? I was scared to death, feeling that my time had
come. Next, they would drag me out of the crowd, for execution.
They moved on to the next person. I was covered with cold
sweat. Did the four months spent among
Aryans make me appear less Jewish? I had never believed in
miracles, but one had just happened.
When the search for Jews ended, one of the officers stepped onto an
elevated platform and spoke in Polish, loudly, for everybody to hear.
He pressured people to be alert, to watch out for Jews hiding
among them, and to inform on
any suspects to the German authorities without delay.
He also reminded us, in a polite voice, that being
apprehended helping a Jew, carried the death
sentence. After the speech, people were allowed to disperse.
Going back to the Gronckis was out of question. Another escape from the
ghetto could occur at any time, which would be followed by
another search. As I had just learned the hard way,
Muranowska Street was dangerous because of its proximity to the ghetto.
I had to be far away from it. I walked quickly
through Przebieg Street toward Zoliborska, to catch a tram
to the city center. As it happened, the trams were not running
because of power problems, but horse-drawn
wagons provided the same service along the
established routes, at a slightly higher price. Soon I was at Lorenc's
The next day Lorenc took me to the Ujazdowski Hospital, where we met
Dr. Michalek-Grodzki, at that time Poland's foremost plastic surgeon.
Something had to be done about my semitic features. The surgeon
thoroughly examined my prominent nose and protruding
ears. Then I was asked to wait in the waiting room. Lorenc
and Dr. Michalek-Grodzki apparently talked
about the cost and feasibility of the plastic
operation. It must have been too expensive, because
we never returned. In the evening Lorenc took me to my new
It was early May, 1943. We entered a building at 41 Marszalkowska
Street, at the corner of Savior's Square (Plac Zbawiciela). In a second
floor apartment we met Mr. and Mrs. Bajer who gave us a warm reception
and led us to a room where we met two people. Both were Jews from Lwow,
hiding in the Bajer’s home. Tosia was in her thirties, Leszek in
his mid-forties. They were not related. I was given a folding bed
in the same room.
I had been in Warsaw just over 4 months and this was already my
18th hiding place. This too was supposed to last
"until the end of the war". From the recent frequent
changing of shelters, I had learned that such predictions were pure
fantasy. It seemed quite obvious that a shelter lasted until the next
blackmail attempt, discovery by the Nazis or their informers, or some
other mishap. With luck, a shelter could last a few
weeks, but certainly not till the end of the
war, which might be years away. Would anybody
have imagined on that May evening, that I would not leave this
apartment, not even as far as the staircase, for the next 17 months,
until October, 1944?
Aunt Stella, like her sister (my mother), was a great believer in
omens, lucky and unlucky numbers, lucky days and other
similar "signs from heaven". 18 was her lucky number.
For the next 50 years, until her death, she insisted that this
place, being my 18th hideaway, made all the difference. Number 18
saved my life. Who knows?
The rooms at the front of the apartment faced the Savior's Square, with
the Savior's Church (Kosciol Zbawiciela) just in front of
us. The balcony off the living room was extremely tempting,
but entering it was forbidden. Being spotted by
somebody on the street could cost us our lives. We were virtual
prisoners in our small room at the back. We
could leave the room from time to time for meals in the kitchen
or for the toilet, but most of the time a movable cabinet blocked the
door, hiding it. Our window faced the backyard and other
apartments. It was decorated with a white tulle curtain,
through which we could see our neighbors without showing ourselves. A
pretty girl of about my age lived in an apartment opposite us. Whenever
I heard her voice, I ran to the window, and, protected by the tulle
curtain, tried to catch a glimpse of that young beauty. At night,
the problem of being seen from outside did not exist, because all
windows in Warsaw, as in Poland everywhere, had
to be blacked out, as an air-raid precaution.
A little girl lived with our hosts. Hania Swiatopelek, Mrs. Bajer's
niece, was 5 or 6 years old. Her parents were too poor to support her,
and the Bajers, a childless couple, were happy to have her.
Hania was very thin and pale, almost transparent, just like
myself a few years earlier. She would have been a perfect
candidate for Dr. Cybulski's sanatorium, if her family
could have afforded it. Hania never finished her meals. When she
left part of a slice of bread, Mrs. Bajer refused to throw it in
the garbage. "Bread is God's gift, and must not be thrown away",
she used to say, and put the leftovers in a brown paper
bag. There was quite a sizeable collection of paper bags at
home, all filled with "gifts of God", moldy and covered with
dust, which Mrs. Bajer probably intended to keep forever.
Mr. Bajer was a great consumer of vodka and his drinking problem was
most likely their reason for keeping us. Every zloty earned, he
immediately converted to liquor, returning home drunk. Thus we were the
main, if not the only, source of their available income. On
many occasions he returned home supported by friends on
both sides. They put him down outside the front door, rang
the bell, and quickly departed, to avoid Mrs. Bajer's rage.
Not being able to vent her anger on them, she beat her husband.
After her anger was appeased, she undressed him, and placed him
gently in bed. Next morning his amnesia was complete. From
her stern expression he deduced the events of the previous night, and
was truly sorry, promising her, and himself, never to drink again. But
he was never able to keep this promise. Did his drinking not create a
security problem for us? Of course it did. But we had no choice.
While we were waiting for the end of the war, a tragic event
occurred. Tosia had a younger brother who
lived in Warsaw, posing as an Aryan. He visited his sister from
time to time, so we all came to know him
well. He was a member of one of the resistance movements,
of which there were several in Poland. The movements differed
widely in their political orientation, and argued
among themselves, often violently. One day
in the summer of 1943 Tosia's brother was
killed. His body, stabbed many times, was found in
the toilet at his home. The event was reminiscent of
the recent experience at the Gronckis', when their
son was assassinated.
Washing was a problem. The building was old and there were no baths
or showers. We washed in the kitchen
sink. For a more thorough wash, there was a small
basin, which we also used for laundering, each one taking care of
his own personal laundry.
I had only been at the Bajers' for a few days, when Stella's family
arrived from Zbaraz. They had a set of
documents identifying them as Antoni, Janina, Janusz and Jerzy
Rogozinski. For Stella (now Janina) and the two boys, Lorenc
sublet a room not far from where he lived. Stella could pass as an
Aryan, and they went to live openly as Polish
Catholics. Uncle Gabriel (now Antoni) looked Jewish.
He joined me at the Bajers'. Another folding bed was brought into
the room, and life became a little more social. There was incessant
political discussion between Gabriel and Leszek. Gabriel, a
veteran of World War I, liked to analyze military
moves. Leszek's interpretations and analyses were quite different
from Gabriel's. Confident that I also knew solutions to
all political and military problems, I did not
hesitate to join in their arguments, although they did not like
it. Tosia was not politically inclined,
concentrating more on cooking and mending Leszek's socks.
Late at night on May 12, 1943, there was an American air-raid on
Warsaw. The Bajers went to the basement shelter. The four of us
stayed in the apartment. We were in a good mood and celebrated the
"welcome raid" for Gabriel, who had arrived in Warsaw just 2 or 3
days earlier, and was unfamiliar with air-raids in Zbaraz.
Staying in jail for a year and a half can be very boring, and I know
that it is. Political and military discussions could
hardly fill all our intellectual needs. Darning my socks
and doing laundry was not particularly interesting, and consumed very
little time. Stella visited us frequently, and from time to time
brought books. The Bajers had a small library. I read all
their books many times and eventually knew many of them
nearly by heart. Still, this was not enough.
During the entire German occupation, Poles were not permitted to own
radio receivers. Illegal possession was a serious security
crime, incurring severe punishment. So of course, we did not have a
radio. However, on the Savior's Square radio speakers were
attached to trees or street
lanterns, blasting Nazi propaganda and
official German radio newscasts in
Polish. Listening to it, we could follow the progress of the war. Every
change in the front line in Russia and in Africa was
carefully followed on our map, and marked lightly with pencil.
Besides these limited geography lessons there was nothing else. Since
June, 1941 I had not been to school. I started worrying that by the end
of war, I would be illiterate. Education had been my parents'
most cherished value. They never doubted that
their children would have a higher education, most likely in the field
of medicine. Due to this early indoctrination, I had assumed that I was
going to be a doctor. In 1943-44 this dream
seemed to be evaporating. In order not to degenerate into a total
illiterate, I made a multiplication table which I then memorized.
I knew of nothing else that I could teach
myself without textbooks or other written resources. This
resulted in an insatiable hunger for knowledge that has lasted all my
life. At that time it was mixed with a deepening worry that my
hunger would never be satisfied.
A tragic event was Lorenc's second arrest. While free, he was
incessantly busy forging documents for the Home Army (Armia
Krajowa, the main Polish resistance movement), and for Jews
hiding as Aryans. His associate in this illegal work
was Kazik, the one who had brought me from Lwow to Warsaw. The
work was usually done at Kazik's home. Somehow, information about this
activity got to the Germans. One day the Gestapo entered
Kazik's home and caught him
red-handed. While they were conducting their
search, Kazik's phone rang. Kazik was ordered to
answer. It was Lorenc, asking whether he could come
to work. With a handgun aimed at his head, Kazik was told to answer
yes. Within minutes Lorenc entered the trap. He was again imprisoned in
the Pawiak jail, which he had left several months
earlier. His investigation and torture went on
for many months. Lorenc was in possession
of many secrets. He knew hundreds
of names, addresses, telephone numbers and hidden
identities. Disclosure of that information could cause an
avalanche of arrests, further investigations, and
deaths. He shut his mouth tightly and
endured every torture without disclosing anything.
Bringing food parcels for prisoners was permitted by the jail
authorities, and Stella did this for many months, as often
as the regulations permitted. In June,
1944 her parcels were rejected and she was informed
that "Stanislaw Nowak" was no longer on the list of the living. His
body was never released. More than anybody else, it
was he who saved my life, and the lives of Stella and
her family, paying for it with his own.
While we were imprisoned in the Bajers' back room trying to pass the
time, world history was being made. News filtered to us via the
Nazi propaganda broadcasts, but, as Gabriel often used to
say, "one had to read between the lines". Thus "Kiev
was evacuated according to plan" meant
that Kiev had been taken by the Soviets.
"German troops evacuated Africa for more
favorable positions in Italy" was similarly translated. We
knew that the Germans had been defeated in Africa and that
the war had shifted to Italy. The Italian government changed its
allegiance and joined the Allies. In July, 1943, Mussolini
was arrested by the new Italian government of Badoglio,
then freed by German paratroopers and abducted to Germany. Since
the defeat of Stalingrad, the Eastern front had moved steadily, albeit
very slowly, closer to us. In spring and summer 1944, the war was
again being fought on Polish soil. A communist Polish government
was established, competing with the government in exile.
Behind the front lines, the Polish underground
movement carried out successful guerilla warfare,
meeting increasingly cruel German reprisals. In June,
Normandy was invaded.
In addition to "reading between the lines", we received news from
illegal sources. Jozek had extensive contacts with people in the Home
Army. They had contraband radio receivers and listened to news
broadcasts from England. On rare occasions a bulletin of
Armia Krajowa was brought to us to read. It kept our spirits up.
Time was passing and I was getting older, approaching 15.
In July, 1944, the Soviet Army reached the outskirts of Warsaw.