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
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 movement.
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 Zbaraz.
*     *     *
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 and 4).
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.
In 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 to freedom.

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. Stawowski paid.
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 away.
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 interesting.
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 forever.

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 Zbaraz.
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). In 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
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 their home.

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 city.
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 inside?
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). Equipped 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 home.

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 shelter.

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.