Hanna Mesz, born in 1927
The righteous and the blackmailers
I was born in Warsaw. My mother, Klara Ratner-Mesz, was a medical doctor, a gynecologist. My father, Henryk Mesz, worked in an office. In 1939, I finished the first year of the gymnasium Współpraca (Collaborative). This private girls high school was located in Warsaw on Miodowa Street. We lived at that time in Warsaw at 18 Leszno Street. Our apartment was located within the area which later became the ghetto. In 1939, when we were already under German occupation, I began studies in secret private classes. They were conducted by Mrs. Sara Łaska, who, during the liquidation of the ghetto, was murdered in her own apartment. Her husband and daughter survived the German occupation (_). In June 1942, I completed the so-called small matriculation within the framework of the described secret classes.
Her husband and daughter survived – compare with account of Wiktoria Śliwowska. (Author’s Note)
In the ghetto, we were supported by the work of my mother. Our close friend, Hersz Garfinkiel, who was living with us still from before the war, moved out in the spring of 1942. After the ghetto was closed off, my father’s older brother, Dr. Natan Mesz (head of the Department of Radiology at the Jewish Hospital) joined us with his wife, Ida. Their daughter, Stefania, also a physician, moved into this same house in another apartment. My aunt and uncle also had two other children. Their daughter, Janina, and her husband were killed during a Sonderaktion (special deportation action) near Wilno, where they were then located. Their son, Stanisław, died in the Soviet Union of tuberculosis. My aunt and uncle escaped from the ghetto with Stefa, but my uncle died of a heart attack when he was leaving Warsaw after the Warsaw Uprising.
The Jewish Hospital in Czyste (Wola district). It is now a hospital on present day Kasprzak Street. (Author’s note)
Wilno, then a part of Poland, is now Vilnius, Lithuania.
Staying also in the ghetto were my father’s sister, Anna, and his other brother, Daniel, with their families. Aunt Anna Rozenthal, née Mesz, had two daughters, Maria and Irena, as well as a son, Stanisław. Stanisław, a neurologist, died in the ghetto of typhus; which he contracted from a sick person he had examined. Aunt Anna perished at Umschlagplatz. Maria and her husband escaped from the ghetto but perished outside its walls. I don’t know the details of their deaths. My cousin, Irena, survived the war. Poles helped her.
After the liquidation action started in the ghetto, my uncle, Daniel Mesz, a dentist, escaped with his wife, Dorota, and daughter, Urszula, to Kraków to join their son, Nikodem, who was never in the ghetto and lived moderately freely in Kraków. All four perished, probably in the camp in Majdanek. A woman who knew Nikodem denounced them to the Gestapo. Other than various bits of gossip, I know nothing about this woman. In addition, from the family of my father, three daughters of his oldest brother, Adolf, survived the war, thanks to assistance from Poles with whom they were friendly.
From Mama’s family, her aunt, Barbara Blat, lived with her son, Jan, a gynecologist, in the Warsaw Ghetto. This aunt was shot in the ghetto. Jan Blat, to the last days of his life, worked as a physician, principally in various institutions of social assistance. According to accounts of friends, he and his wife participated in the defense of the ghetto in January 1943, and they both perished at that time.
Two cousins of my mother, Grzegorz and Michał Gołowczyner, with Michał’s wife and daughter, also lived in the Warsaw Ghetto. They all perished during the liquidation of the ghetto. I do not know the details of their deaths. After the outbreak of the war, their sister, Czesława Gołowczyner-Grajewska with her husband and daughters, Eugenia and Nina, were staying in a small town (I do not remember its name) near Lwów. Only Eugenia survived the war. In 1947, she and her husband left Poland for Israel, where she is a retired professor of chemistry. I maintain steady contact with her.
As soon as the liquidation of the ghetto began, my father started to work at the “brush makers”; I was placed in the Toebbens factory. At the beginning, my mother was protected by her profession as a doctor. When one day I was unable to return home after work, (on that occasion, I spent the night in a storage cupboard of some abandoned house), my parents searched for me for a long time at Umschlagplatz. Afterward, they took me from Toebbens, and all three of us were accepted, for a sum of money, at the “brush makers”. This saved us during the “Great Selection”.
“brush makers”, Toebbens factory – both were workshops where Jews worked as forced labor for the German war effort.
“Great Selection” – separation of those fit to work from those to be killed.
The first stage of this selection consisted of obtaining numbers with which one then “paraded” in front of SS men. Only the “brush makers” distributed numbers to all their workers. Thus, the SS men did not take any of us. After the “Great Selection,” the area of the ghetto was greatly reduced, and we were no longer permitted to move freely around it. We moved to Franciszkańska Street into one room together with another family.
In the middle of September 1942, Mama decided to escape with me from the ghetto. Father, who had a Semitic appearance, had to wait until we somehow arranged ourselves. Jerzy Kaputek helped us and also several other Jews, among them Hersz Garfinkiel and his wife, in the escape. We temporarily moved in with him. In 1990, as a result of my efforts, the medal “Righteous Among the Nations” was awarded to Jerzy Kaputek, who had unfortunately died in 1967. In 1991, a plaque was placed in his memory at Yad Vashem.
In November 1942, we finally received documents that were obtained for us by Włodzimierz Federowicz (Hersz Garfinkiel), and we moved to Grochów on the right bank of Warsaw. In March 1943, my father joined us, and thus, we started efforts to get papers for him.
In the middle of April 1943, a young boy accosted me in the streetcar (he got on at the same stop), saying that I was a Jew. I jumped from the moving streetcar and managed to get away from him. Two days later, I went out for bread, and I again ran into him. He was in the vicinity, lying in wait with a group of several men. They burst into our room, beat up my father, and demanded a payoff. My mother gave them half the sum they asked for, ten thousand złoty, if I remember correctly. That was our last money. They took our watches from us. We no longer had any other valuables. My parents promised to deliver to them the rest of the sum demanded in the course of a few days. On the eighteenth of April, my father returned to the ghetto. We did not see each other anymore. I do not know how he perished.
Everymorning,oneoftheblackmailerswouldcometotheapartment in order to keep an eye on us. I entertained him with conversation. Mama would go out under various pretexts and look for a new location for us. On the third of May, we managed to escape. We moved, without documents, to Podchorążych Street in the Czerniaków district. We were supported by Jerzy Kaputek, but we took up many different jobs. Among them, my mother stuffed cigarettes, I repaired runs in stockings, and both of us also worked on a loom at a neighbor’s. We did not have a watch. Thus, my mother used to find out from neighbors what time it was, and I used to count, believing that when I counted to sixty, one minute would have passed. Mornings, Mother sat closed up in a closet because people had been told that she had gone to work.
Soon, a piece of gossip circulated that Mama was harboring a Jewish child, and I had to escape. I was taken in by Jerzy Kaputek in whose place I hid from the end of December 1943 until June 1944. After that, I returned to Mama. The outbreak of the uprising found us in Warsaw. We succeeded in escaping from Warsaw at the beginning of September. In Korzeniówka, near Grójec, we were taken in by a woman from Russia, a refugee from the period of the Revolution. We supported ourselves by working and eating at the home of neighboring peasants. It was said that we were Jews, but we were too poor to make it worthwhile to blackmail us.
We returned to Warsaw on the second of February 1945. I began to work, and in the evening, I attended school. In the fall of 1945, we moved to Kraków. In Kraków, I passed my matriculation and completed my medical studies. In 1968, I earned my doctorate and a few months later, the second level of specialization. In 1954, I got married. In 1957, I gave birth to a son. In 1956, my mother lost her eyesight. Until then, she worked as a physician. She died in 1980. We lived together the entire time.