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Testimony of Aleksandra Wróblewska


Aleksandra Wróblewska                                                                          
E 216

MEMORIES

     My brother, Bohdan Henryk Wróblewski, born on May 22, 1902 in Ukraine, married in 1933 to Jadwiga of the Szczawiński family, was a worker in the "K. Szpotański and Company Factory of Electric Appliances" in Warsaw ("Fabryka Aparatów Elektrycznych K. Szpotański i spółka" w Warszawie). Before the war he became the supervisor of a factory that belonged to this company, in Międzylesie, where he moved in the summer of 1938, along with his wife and two children - his son Bohdan Andrzej, born on February 22, 1936, and his daughter Anna Krystyna, born on March 27, 1938. 
     After the outbreak of the war, his wife and children lived in Międzylesie for some time, but for the purposes of safety she had to move to Warsaw so that the Germans would not become interested in the abrupt disappearance of her husband, who was interned in the prisoner of war camp in Switzerland. After the outbreak of the German-Soviet war in 1941, my sister-in-law died at age 33. The children remained under the care of grandma - Wanda Szczawińska.
     An elderly woman - grandma could not handle such a big responsibility, so Bohdan was taken care of by the Jaworski family, whose son was in the prisoner of war camp in Switzerland with my brother. Hania (nickname for Anna) was cared for by the Plewiński family, the owners of property near Radom. After an operation to take out his appendix, which took place in Warsaw, Bohdan was also sent to the Plewiński family, so that he could be with his sister. When in 1944 the war operations were approaching the Vistula River, the Plewiński family, not knowing what was awaiting them, sent the children away in good hands, with supplies of food and money, in the last boat to Warsaw, so that they could return to their family.
     After the outbreak of the uprising, on August 11, when the Germans occupied apartment buildings on "Aleja Niepodległości" ("Independence Avenue"), the children along with other inhabitants of Mokotów (a neighborhood of Warsaw), were driven out of Warsaw, and through Okęcie, they were led to Opacz, to the station called EKD, and then they were brought by train to Tworki station, from where the march, escorted by SS officers, set off for the transit camp in Pruszków (Dulag number 121). The guardians of the children, Mrs. Mossakowska and Mrs. Rabowska, managed - before they reached the transit camp - to help Bohdan and another boy escape the march. But Hania, who during the march was under the care of Mrs. Kolbergowa (who had a husband who was an engineer), was sent in the night to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with Mrs. Kolbergowa, her mother and her son.
     On August 12, Bohdan alone, without Hania, was brought to me. Mrs. Rabowska, as a citizen of Switzerland visited the camp, but she did not find Hania there. A search began through the RGO ("Rada Główna Opiekuńcza;" "Main Safety Advisory"), through announcements from the pulpit in both churches, through notices posted on poles, fences, and houses, but nothing worked.
     After a few weeks, Mrs. Rabowska left for Zakopane (a town in the Tatra Mountains), and there she incidentally met a colonel, with whom she was already acquainted, who had managed to escape, along with his wife, from the transport already in Auschwitz. And only then, Mrs. Rabowska found out from him that Hania was in the concentration camp. After learning this horrible news, Mrs. Rabowska promptly left for Cracow, in order to apply to General-Governor Frank for the girl's release from the concentration camp. The president of RGO himself submitted the application, but Frank denied that there were children in the camp. If indeed a child was staying in the camp, then he would order her release. But he did not do anything and unfortunately the six-year-old child stayed in that horrible hell from August 12 to January 19, 1945. Because the Soviet offensive was approaching Auschwitz, the Germans were liquidating the camp, whether by sending prisoners to the gas chambers or by transporting them to other camps or by forcing them to walk to other camps. The Auschwitz camp was to be annihilated by the holocaust, together with the prisoners who did not have the strength to leave the camp. First they finished off the men's section of the camp, and then they started on the women's and children's section. Hania's guardian - Mrs. Kolbergowa - died in the camp on January 10, 1945 because of typhoid, so then Hania was taken care of by other prisoners: Dr. Irena Białówna from Białystok, Janina Komendzina from Kielc who was married to a doctor, and Mrs. Maria Kaczorowska, a teacher from Katowice. These women decided that Hania could not stay in the camp because this would mean certain death, and on January 19, 1945, driven out from the camp, they took her with them on the horrible road of freezing temperatures and snowy blizzards. At the beginning they put her in a carriage, but the SS officer did not like this, so he tipped it over into a ditch. The child walked some and was carried by companions in the misery. The first rest-stop happened to be over 40 km from Birkenau in the village of Poręba. Hania got to the farm of a blacksmith named Pająk, where upon the request of the prisoners, she was cared for by Pająk's daughter - Małgorzata Gładka.
     My elderly mother and I did not know where Hania was. After the concentration camp came under the control of the Polish Red Cross (PCK, "Polski Czerwony Krzyż"), I wrote to Auschwitz, and after a short while, I received a response from Dr. Józef Bellerta with the addresses of people who might be able to provide some information, so I immediately wrote to these advised addresses. The grandmother of the children, Mrs. Szczawińska, following her intuition, wrote to the parish priest in Wiśła, who asked from the pulpit whether there was in the area a six-year-old girl - Hania Wróblewska, prisoner of Birkenau. After the church service, a woman came to the vestry with news that in the village of Poręba, near Pszczyna, there was this girl staying with the blacksmith Pająk. The priest promptly headed for Poręba, and on June 5 at 9pm, he sent notification that Hania Wróblewska is in Poręba, outside Pszczyna.
     Right after receiving the news, I asked a friend of my brother's, Mr. Mikołaj Mizgirow, to bring Hania to Pruszków, which happened on June 16, 1945 at 5am. During her stay in Poręba, Hania regained some strength, because after leaving the camp she was frightfully emaciated and skinny - a skeleton with a thin layer of skin. At that time she did not have strength to walk, other than on all fours, she was entirely bald, and on her bony face were tears. In this state, Mr. Pająk's daughter took her into their home, took the concentration camp clothes off of her, and put her into bed with her little son. Hania fell asleep right away and slept for three days, waking for only short breaks. When on January 20 an SS officer came into the house in order to check if there was a hidden prisoner there, Małgorzata exclaimed, "Just don't wake the children," and the SS officer left. Hania was saved.
     A detailed description of Hania's stay with the blacksmith, Pająk, was provided in an extensive letter from Dr. Leon Wolf - a notary in Bielsk (see below).
     On the way back from Poręba with Hania, Mr. Mizgirow stopped in Katowice to visit a doctor, who had to cut open and clean an abscess on Hania's leg which had resulted from a splinter that had not been taken out; besides this, the doctor also prescribed medication for scabies. After Hania's return to Pruszków, for a few weeks, I treated Hania's long-term scabies. Her kidneys and bladder were also unhealthy. Her time in Auschwitz left permanent marks on her health.
     In 1946, my brother brought the children to Switzerland. While there, Hania graduated from a three-year program in nursing, and Bohdan devoted himself to architecture. My brother died from lung cancer in 1955 at age 53 in Baden, where he is buried. My nephew died a sudden death in Stockholm in 1964 at age 28, two weeks before his own wedding. Hania, after completing nursing school, moved to France, to Marseilles, where she lived and worked until she married an American. After the wedding, she moved to Texas, where she currently lives with her husband and their 4-year old son.

        

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                                                                                                                     Bielsko, June 10, 1945

A letter from the notary, Dr. Leon Wolf, to his daughter, Aleksandra Szczawińska, the sister-in-law of Hania's mother - Jadwiga Wróblewska from the Szczawiński family.

My Dears,

     Yesterday, as I notified you via telephone, I was in Poręba, three kilometers west of Pszczyna, where Father Dobrowolski, from Great Vistula (Wisła Wielka), found dear Hania, daughter of Bohdan and Jadwiga Wróblewska, staying with the local blacksmith, Józef Pająk. He is also the owner of a well-run farm. Hania is being taken care of by Mr. Pająk's married daughter, Małgorzata Gładka, whose husband died in a German camp during the occupation. I did not find Hania in the house because she was at school, and upon my request they sent for her. Meanwhile, Mrs. Małgorzata told me the story of Hania's arrival to their house. In the second half of January 1945, as they were running away from Auschwitz, the Germans were leading a couple-thousand younger and older women on foot, westward through Poręba. In Poręba, incidentally, they had a break for the night and the sad march stopped there. As she described, it was a sad sight, even of the younger women, not to mention the older women, and there were some very elderly women there, scantily dressed, freezing, who were gathering their final strengths after having walked 40 kilometers, just to hang on, because the SS officers mercilessly shot those who fell down. The following day, somewhere between Pszczyna and Poręba, 24 bodies of women who had been shot were buried. The people of the village came running to help, bringing food and water, but the majority of SS officers did not allow the inhabitants of the village to approach the victims of Auschwitz, and requests, tears and curses did not help.  
     The unit that stopped near the house of Mr. Pająk had a guard-executioner who was a bit more lenient. The women who were led by him, to whom Gładka secretly brought food, told Gładka that they have a seven-year-old girl with them, Hania, an unknown girl because the woman with whom she came to Auschwitz died in the camp. That little girl is completely exhausted, can only walk on all fours, and the women were hanging around her in the march, trying to protect her from being shot. They managed to move her to Mrs. Gładka's home. Mrs. Gładka found out from the girl herself that her name was Hania Wróblewska and that she was from Warsaw. Mrs. Gładka quickly took off her clothes and put her to bed, in which her four- or five-year-old son was already sleeping. The girl was freezing, and on her small face were frozen balls of the tears that had fallen from her eyes, almost without hair, so sickly that you could see the thin bones of her arms, legs and chest covered with skin. Her legs were swollen; her feet were sore because her boots were too small, so small that her heals were stepping down on the lower part of the boot legs.
    
The little girl fell asleep at once, and she slept for three days, with small breaks. When the SS officers came to inspect the house, before leaving the village, Mrs. Gładka declared that her children are sleeping in the bed. In this way, she managed to keep dear Hania there and to protect her. Mrs. Gładka and some other women from the village managed to rescue 72 women from the Auschwitz march - either by taking them to the forest or by hiding them in stables, sheds and barns, covering them in straw and hay.  
     After getting decent rest, Hania gained strength and was happy. She declared that she will stay here and that she will not go anywhere else. She promptly starting calling Mrs. Małgorzata "Auntie" and became attached to her, as if she were her own child. When she arrived at Mrs. Gładka's, she had on winter clothes, which kept her rather warm, but they were used. Although it was difficult then, Mrs. Gładka tried to get her new dresses, shirts and even shoes, so that when she goes to church with her aunt on Sundays, her clothes and style draw the attention of people walking by. During the week, as is common in villages to run around barefoot, she goes with other children to the river to swim, and she is full of life. Mrs. Małgorzata is attached to Hania and would not eagerly separate from her.
     As this story was being told, Hania returned from school. I would not have recognized her had I met her somewhere else. Grown, she looks great, with delicate facial features, but by her eyes and by traits that are similar to her mother's - even below her eyes she has a few freckles - I could guess that it is her. I kissed her warmly. She did not recognize me instantly, only later she remembered that I am "Mr. Wolf." I gave her a couple pieces of candy, a cookie and a piece of sausage, which she promptly shared with her "brother." At first she did not trust me entirely, fearing that I would take her away with me. But when I told her that if "Auntie" agrees to it, she will stay with her, she gained confidence and said that she remembers only being at her grandma's and that she loves her, that she loves Bohdan too but that she does not want to go to them; instead, she wants Bohdan to come "to them," because here it is beautiful and good. She did not speak of other people, and she could not remember any other names. 
     Later I spoke with Mrs. Gładka about what I should now do with Hania; I described the relationships in Hania's family to Mrs. Gładka. I could take Hania into my home, but in my home she would not have the necessary care. I could also send her to one of my married sisters, because currently it would not - in my opinion - make any sense to take her to Warsaw. Since she is so attached to the Pająk family, I asked Mrs. Gładka to tell me honestly whether having Hania would cause Mrs. Gładka or her family any difficulties. Mrs. Gładka responded that there was no need to talk about this. It is true that they have less than they had before because of obvious events, but no one is hungry and everyone is well. Hania does not create any difficulties for them and they share everything with her. Who knows where she could regain her strength and health as well as with them, and who knows where she would have access to such healthy food as there with them. I especially would not recommend taking her to the city. Mrs. Gładka herself asks that Hania stay with her until Hania's father returns, and then she will not be able to create any obstacles.
     I responded: in that case, from what I see of Hania's attachment to "Auntie" and to the surroundings, I am also of the opinion that it would be best if Hania would stay here until Mr. Wróblewski returns. I myself will not take her to Bielsko. Earlier I was planning to do so because I feared that the Pająk family was having difficulties in caring for Hania, but now, seeing that Hania does not want to leave at all, and given Mrs. Gładka's reassurances that they do not want to get rid of Hania, for now she will have to stay. I will write about this to Warsaw; maybe my son-in-law and his mother will decide on something else. That is where we left it.
     I tried to talk a lot with Hania, but she was timid; she still thought that I might take her away. When I was leaving, I asked her to walk me through the village, but she did not want to, clearly because of the same concern. She only went when "Auntie" also came with us. Mrs. Gładka told me that when they are alone, Hania sometimes tells her a lot about what it was like in Auschwitz, while rarely speaking of her family.
     Now, the whole affair has become louder in the village because that same week Hania received visitors - once it was the parish priest of Great Vistula (Wielka Wisła), another time it was the priest from Brześć, and a few other people came from the towns to which the priest was sent. Father Dobrowolski clearly also received the letter from Andrzej's mom because he informed Mrs. Gładka of Hania's grandmother's address even before I did. I said goodbye to Mrs. Gładka and Hania with happy memories, calm and sure that Hania had landed in the hands of good Polish people and that she was in the best place she could be in. Hania ran to give her regards to her grandma and to Bohdan, saying that she does not want to go to them, that they should come here. She could not remember anything about Uncle Andrzej or Aunt Ola. I promised that I would visit her sometimes, once train travel improved, but I said that I do not know if anyone else will be able to come visit.  
     That is all about Hania. Decide for yourselves, and notify Mrs. Gładka and me too.
     Mrs. Gładka's address is: Małgorzata Gładka, c/o Mr. Józef Pająk in Poręba, Number 26. outside Pszczyna.

 

 

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