When people are surrounded by death, they become thick-skinned. I was terrified that I would become a thug after the war, simply because I used to break the law every single day
In September 1939, Poland was occupied by the two neighbouring countries – Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In the territory incorporated into the Third Reich and within the borders of the General Government created by the German occupying power, the German Nazis pursued the policy aiming at the total genocide of the Jewish people.
Initially, the German policy was to isolate the Jews from the Poles. The Jewish population was publically humiliated, forced to wear armbands or patches with the Star of David, drove to force labour and – since 1940 – resettled to the ghettos. Since autumn 1941, leaving the ghetto, hiding on the “Aryan side” or providing aid to Jews – be it arranging a hideout or an ad hoc support – was punishable by death.
On 20 January 1942, during the conference in Wannsee near Berlin, the “final solution” to the Jewish question was sealed and the total genocide of the Jewish people in death camps was formally approved. On 16 March 1942, the liquidation of the ghettos, i.e. mass deportations of Jews to extermination camps, began.
Some Jews resisted the order to move into ghettos. There were some who – having moved into a ghetto – took the risk of escaping to the “Aryan side.” It is estimated that in the Polish territory, 30,000-40,000 Jews survived in hiding or under a false identity. Some survived thanks to selfless help extended by Poles. It also happened that Jews managed to rescue themselves owing to their own resourcefulness, or – much more often – received support in exchange for an ample financial gratification.
You shall tell the truth, love thy neighbour as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Magdalena Grodzka-Gużkowska based her therapeutic method on these three principles. She worked with autistic children. She was not a professional, and yet she was successful. In the 1970s, she returned to Poland from emigration. Back then, this relatively unknown condition was considered as incurable. Grodzka-Gużkowska founded and for years managed a clinic dedicated to autistic children and their families at the Warsaw Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology.
“When people are surrounded by death, they become thick-skinned. I was terrified that I would become a thug after the war, simply because I used to break the law every single day.” A 14 year old declared a personal war on Hitler – she joined the underground. She was a liaison, a distributor, interpreter of English, guide for the refugees. She participated in executions on traitors sentenced to death by the court of the Polish Underground State. Simultaneously, she cooperated with the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.
She taught Jews how to behave on the ‘Aryan side’, she looked after the children who had been led out of the ghetto.
She was supposed to ‘tan’ a 6 year old Włodzio, so she took him to the beach on Vistula and they built sand castles together. “We were heading back, and there was a round-up,” she told the story later. “I knew all sorts of passages, I took him under my arm and we managed to slip into the house at the very last moment. Włodzio was terrified, all a-tremble – he sat on my lap and held me tight. I said to him: ‘Don’t worry, we’re home now.’ And he replied: ‘You didn’t leave me.’ ‘Didn’t I tell you I would not leave you?’ I answered. ‘But you do know what they’d do to you if they caught you with me?’ he asked. ‘They’d do to me what they’d do to you,’ I replied.”
In the winter of 1943, she escaped the transport to Majdanek, returned to Warsaw and continued her underground activity.
“I was standing guard,” she recalled one of the events during the Warsaw Uprising, during which she fought in the “Kiliński” battalion.
“We noticed a shadow of a man in the dust […]. […] he called ‘Komrad!’ to us, and we knew he was German. Leszek shot him in the leg. Boys started running towards him; they wanted to shoot him dead. I drew a gun and said: ‘We won’t act like them. We mustn’t kill the wounded.’ They understood. We didn’t shoot him.
Włodzio (Wiliam Donat) registered her at the Yad Vashem Institute for the Righteous Among the Nations medal. The Chief Rabbi of Poland stated that she was not aware of her Jewish roots during the war; in fact, she found out soon before the procedure at Yad Vashem was started. She was overjoyed with the discovery – she started studying the Torah and attending synagogue. Her autographical novel was aptly titled A Lucky Gal.