Liberating Looted Jewish Texts
Our Whole Life
Mieczyslaw Wolski was a Polish gardener who lived with his mother Malgorzata, his sisters Halina and Wanda, and his nephew Janusz. The Wolski family lived in a two-building in Warsaw that had a garden and greenhouse. But during World War II, this property would not just house the Christian family that owned it, but would be the shelter for more than 30 Jews trying to escape the Nazis.
The Wolskis’ sheltering of Jews began in 1942 when Halina brought home a Jewish woman named Wiska. Soon, Wiska and Mieczyslaw hatched a plan to save other Jews.
A Hideout Called Krysia
The Christian gardener began by building a hideout beneath his greenhouse. The hideout measured 15″ x 20″ and contained bunk beds, tables, and benches. It also had a kitchen with a chimney, as well as running water, electricity, and a hidden entrance.
After the hideout was complete, the first group of Jews arrived. The Wolski family was kept busy, bringing food to what would soon be a group of 30 hidden Jews, and carrying all their waste from the hideout, which was nicknamed Krysia.
Krysia became home for those in hiding. Newspapers were read, prayers were said, food was cooked. “Krysia was our whole life,” Wanda would later remember.
One of the Jews in hiding was Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum. A historian and activist, Dr. Ringelblum had begun an underground Jewish archive in the Warsaw Ghetto called “Oneg Shabbath.” Hiding in Krysia with his wife and infant son, Dr. Ringelblum continued his important work and kept contact with the Jewish National Committee on the outside.
A Last Farewell
But the hidden Jews and their Christian protectors were soon betrayed. On March 4, 1944, Nazis arrived at the Wolski home. They grabbed Mieczyslaw and led him to the greenhouse. Wanda remembered what happened next:
“Through the window I saw the Germans next to Krysia and Jews coming out of it with their hands up. I then cried to my mother and Halina: ‘Hide yourselves where you can!’…The Germans loaded the Jews up on a truck, as well as my brother Mieczyslaw, my sister Maria, and my nephew Janusz and drove away…I saw my brother through the window in the staircase; he wore only a shirt and was horribly beaten up. He didn’t look like himself. He stood leaning against a wall; in a certain moment he raised his head and looked at the house, this was his last farewell…only fear and fright did not desert us.”
Mieczyslaw Wolski and his nephew Janusz were murdered by the Nazis. All 34 Jews who had been hiding beneath the greenhouse were murdered, as well, including Dr. Ringelblum and his family. But Dr. Ringelblum’s archive was discovered after the war, and continues to tell the story of this dark time in the Jewish people’s history. At last in 1989, the Wolski family was named Righteous Among the Nations for the courageous actions they took to save their Jewish neighbors — actions that cost Mieczyslaw and Janusz their lives.