On March 7, 1944, Nazi Germans entered the “Krysia” bunker in Warsaw which was a shelter for 40 Jews, hidden by a heroic Polish family for almost 2 years.
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A commemorative ceremony marking the shelter’s liquidation took place in front of a plaque indicating its former location in the presence of deputy culture minister Jarosław Sellin, head of the Jewish History Institute Paweł Śpiewak, mayor of the Warsaw district where the shelter was located, Katarzyna Łęgiewicz, and others.
They explained that following the Nazi German discovery of the “Krysia” bunker, it was not only the residents who were shot. “The Germans also murdered the person who was in charge of the hiding operation. His name was Mieczysław Wolski and we ought to remember that name,” Mr Śpiewak said.
Ms Łęgiewicz said that during the war, the district witnessed many acts of sacrifice and bravery but also the tragedy of the Holocaust and the inconceivable suffering of the civilian population.”
She indicated that the fate of the shelter residents shows the bitter spectrum of Polish attitudes to the Holocaust. “On the one hand, there was a heroic readiness to help the refugees fleeing the ghetto, on the other hand – a despicable denunciation of a snitch. This is a sad truth about these times,” she emphasised.
The “Krysia” bunker operation
The operation of hiding Jews in the “Krysia” bunker was the largest operation of its kind in Warsaw. The refuge was provided to the Jews by the Polish Wolski family and was located in their garden. Under the leadership of Mieczysław Wolski, they provided the shelter to those who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto to the “Aryan side” during the mass deportation of Jews in the summer of 1942.
The bunker was discovered by the Nazi Germans in March 1944. All the residents of the bunker were shot, as well as Mieczysław Wolski and his cousin.
One of the most famous residents of the shelter was historian Emanuel Ringelblum. He continued his work in spite of the conditions, writing an over 200-page-long essay on the Polish-Jewish relations there. The essay was very critical of many aspects of Polish attitudes towards the extermination of Jews, including passiveness, denunciation for material reasons, and the incorporation of the property of the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
However, the work emphasised that Polish society did not constitute a monolith and that such behaviours were often contrasted with heroism, selflessness, and determination to help the oppressed. It also reminded readers that any act of help towards the Jews was punished by death and that fear of the Nazi’s revenge was one of the main causes of hampering rescue operations. The Ringelblum archives documenting life in occupied Poland were stored underground from 1942 until the end of the war. They survived the war and the German destruction of Warsaw and are now in the possession of the Jewish History Institute.