A Polish Academic Information Center Exhibit
Warsaw: Life and Death in the Ghetto which the Germans established there during WWII

Sheltering on the Aryan Side

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Krystyna Kielan was a young girl. She lived in Warsaw with her parents, Franciszek and Maria, and her sister Zofia. After the Germans had made Jews move to the area they would later designate as the Ghetto, but while it was still possible for Jews to visit the Aryan side, Krystyna met Nina at a friend's home. She tried, unsuccessfully to persuade Nina to stay, not to return to the Ghetto. Nina, however, spurned the offer, feeling she could not abandon her mother there. Sadly, Nina subsequently perished in the Holocaust.

Subsequently, she met Janka Prot while attending some of the clandestine learning circles that met in private homes. The Germans, as part of their program of eliminating Polish culture, had shut down Polish schools. The secret classes had been, therefore, set up to continue the children's education and Krystyna and her sister Zofia were attending these. So did Janka Prot. Krystyna realized that she was Jewish but living outside the Ghetto. On visiting with her, she found Janka was living quite precariously quite alone in a single small room. On returning home, Krystyna asked her parents whether they would invite Janka to come to live with them as a member of the family. The request caused great consternation to her parents. It would put the whole family at grave risk. Subsequently, Krystyna's mother confided in her that she had spent a sleepless night considering the problem and possible dangers. The Germans routinely shot all members of families found to shelter Jews. In fact that happened to Janka's cousin and the family that tried to shelter her. Given away by an informant, they were all shot, including the family's small children. Yet, after the sleepless night of agonizing, her parents agreed and Janka moved in. She called Krystyna's parents "Mama" and "Tatulek," the Polish equivalents of "Mommy" and "Daddy" and was treated as a third daughter. In making the decision to shelter her, Krystyna's father, who worked in an organization managing farming cooperatives, said "What will be, shall be, but we must not allow ourselves to become cowards, we must do the right thing."

In the Summer of 1942 Krystyna's parents sent her, her sister and Janka to a cooperative farm in the countryside where her father knew the manager. This was the summer during which the Germans started deporting hundreds of thousands of Jews from the ghetto to the gas chambers of Treblinka. At Summer's end Krystyna and her sister returned to Warsaw. Krystyna's parents, judging the situation in Warsaw to be particularly dangerous, arranged for Janka to remain on the farm, where she was given work looking after the cows,

In the Fall of that year, however, Krystyna's father received an urgent call from the manager of the farm on which Janka was living to come quickly. When he got there, the manager told him a German soldier in the neighboring town had confided to him that the other German soldiers there had started asking questions about the darkly complexioned cow-girl who looked so different from the other children on the farm. Clearly, discovery was imminent and Mr. Kielan smuggled Janka back to Warsaw. She remained with the Kielans till after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which she took part. She survived and lived to see the defeat of Nazi Germany.

After the war, Janka went on to study medicine, became a physician, married, had a son and a daughter, emigrated to the United States and lives in Boston, proud of her daughter also having became a physician.

Another Jewish girl whom the Kielans sheltered for a time was Roma Laks. Roma and her mother managed to leave the Ghetto in the Summer of 1942. Upon exiting the Ghetto, they and were given shelter in the home of a Polish doctor. That first night, during the curfew, a German officer, accompanied by a man who spoke both Polish and Yiddish (a language spoken exclusively by Jews) came to the doctor's apartment and asked for Roma's and her mother's documents. Since the Laks had been already provided by the Polish underground with false identities and documents of excellent quality, these passed the German's muster. Having inspected the documents. the German and his companion left, though not before robbing the Lack and not before the accomplice woke the child and spoke to her in Yiddish. Had she responded to him, they would have been lost. Fortunately, Roma had enough presence of mind to pretend she did not understand.

Though the immediate danger had passed, it was clear that the apartment had been compromised as a safe house. It was, therefore, essential to move the Lakses immediately. Krystyna's aunt, who knew the Lakses, asked Mrs. Kielan whether she could house a Jewish child for a while and brought Roma over to her home. Roma was gravely ill, and Krystyna's family nursed her through the illness. Her looks, however, were so clearly Semitic that everyone who visited the Kielan recognized her immediately as being Jewish. This made the probability of discovery by the Germans terribly high and the Kielans arranged for Roma, once she had recovered from her illness, to be smuggled to a convent outside of Warsaw where she survived the war. Eventually, Roma also came to the United States, married, had two children and now lives in Washington, D.C.

In February 1991, Krystyna and her parents, by then deceased, were honored by their names being inscribed on a plaque in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. Krystyna was accorded The Righteous Among the Nations medal of recognition from the Jewish People and was presented with an official Certificate of Honour by the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous. Other honors she recevied included a medal from the Israeli Martyrs and Heros Remembrance Authority and one from the Mayor of Tel Aviv. A tree has been planted in honor of her parents in the hills around the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center and a resolution honoring her was adopted by the Illinois State Senate on April 12, 1991 with a concurrence by the Illinois House of Representative on April 16, 1991.


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