Parting Once Again
Józef & Natalia Roztropowicz, and their daughters, Janina and Stanislawa
Only when she was 57 years old, did Sabina Heller discover her true identity. Until that time she believed she was born in Lodz in 1941, the daughter of Zofia and Zygmund Goszczewski. Unbeknown to her, all the information about her birth and her fate during the Holocaust, together with letters of her rescuers who had tried to find her afterwards, had been kept in a file in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Emunah Rachmany Gafny, an Israeli researcher, eventually found the file and informed Rachel Rabin Yaacov (Sabina’s relative) of its content. After the woman who had raised Sabina and whom she believed to be her mother passed away, Sabina embarked on the painful journey to discover her past.
In the spring of 1943, in the town of Radziwiłów (today Radiviliv in Volhynia District, Ukraine), 16-year-old Zofia Stramska discovered a baby girl, hungry and frightened. The child, who was about two years old, had been abandoned by the neighbors who had taken the Jewish child in but left her alone in a dark cellar. Zofia took pity on the child and brought her to Józef & Natalia Roztropowicz. Zofia was a friend of the Roztropowicz daughters, Janina and Stanisława, and a frequent visitor to the family. Despite their difficult economic situation, the Roztropowicz family was not indifferent to the fate of the afflicted child, and decided to rescue her. "With God's help we will take care of her," said Jozef Roztropowicz. Little Sabina quickly became the pampered child of her new family and went through all the terrors of the war with them. When the war was over and nobody came to claim her, the couple decided to adopt her legally. They took her with them when the Poles were repatriated from the areas that were to become Ukraine and moved with her to western Poland. In July 1945, the child was formally adopted and baptized. From now on she was called Irena Roztropowicz, nicknamed Inka.
In 1948, emissaries of the Zionist Coordinating Committee for Returning Jewish Children – engaged in retrieving Jewish children who had remained in the care of Christian families and institutions – discovered the whereabouts of now seven-year-old Irena. Brokenhearted, but also considering the child's future welfare in the prevailing circumstances, the Roztropowicz family returned her to her people. Irena was brought to a Jewish orphanage in Lodz, and was eventually adopted by Dr. Zofia Goszczewski and her husband Zygmund. Wanting to put the past behind them and probably believing it would be best for their adoptive child if she did not know the truth, they told her she was their own child, from whom they had been separated in the war and with whom they were now reunited. The newly created family immigrated to Israel, where Inka, now called Sabina, grew up.
Meanwhile, the Roztropowicz daughters tried to find Inka, but since her name had changed again to Sabina Goszczewski, they were unsuccessful. In the mid 1990s they deposited all the documents in the Jewish Historical Institute, where they were found by Gafny. After discovering the truth, Sabina travelled to Poland to meet with the surviving members of her rescuers. She was able to close some of the gaps in her past, and turned to Yad Vashem in 2000 to request that her rescuers be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Today she knows that her real parents were called Kagan, but their first names remain unknown.
From Natalia Roztropowicz’s Memoirs:
The Lord God placed her in our hands, so I believe that we will be able to see to it that her life is good. This is how the story of Inuska ends, then, and I write this for her. And when I think about how I will have to give her up, it is very hard for me, for I am so afraid that her future life could be too hard in our surroundings – of course, not in our family, but other than our hearts and hugs, we have nothing to offer.
22 April 1948 – The decisive moment has come! So we must say farewell! Inus, Inus, I love you. Please don’t hold it against us that we are giving you away. We are not doing this for profit – rather, good sense tells us to behave this way!
…If it becomes too hard for you, come back to us.
Dear child: Perhaps someday you will appreciate and understand how many battles, how many struggles I fought with you, and now, in these final days, I don’t know how I will make it though! To think that I will be forced personally to take you away and leave you behind. Inus – Understand that this is only for your own good! Don’t forget us – I don’t know how many bad things will be said about us for letting you go. This is yet another great sacrifice and why and for whom it is necessary I don’t know! Your people could pay us back for what we spent on your upbringing, but they don’t want to! – Yet, other than our hearts, you would have nothing were you to stay with us! Perhaps someday we will see each other again. Remember, child, as the mother given to you by God, I will tell you this: Keep God in your heart and don’t forget that you are baptized. Pray – and God will grant you a good life. And please forgive me for any pain I am causing you.
Letter from Natalia Roztropowicz to the Coordinating Committee, 8 September 1949:
Although my letters continue to go unanswered, I turn to the Committee once more with the following question: Please let me know about the child that I returned to the Jewish community one year ago, namely Inka Kagan (Roztropowicz). From our side, we’ve lived up to our agreement, i.e. we have gradually withdrawn from her life, but you, Committee Members, you have not kept your side of the bargain. I was promised regular updates; however, despite repeated requests, I haven’t heard a single word. Inuska’s fate lies upon my heart as if she were my very own child and I therefore turn to you again with a question and a request: Where is she now? Is she in the children’s home or a private home? ….Does she look well? How’s her health and did she have that operation on her nose? Any details are very important to me. Please don’t think that I would try to come and see her – I won’t. I care about her peace of mind and would not want to disrupt that. Just one more question: Does she know the truth about her origins yet? If so, how did she take the news and has she adjusted to it? Does she remember the past and us? From my side I pray to God that she should adjust to her new situation as quickly as possible and that it should be as good as possible for her among her own people. I would also ask that you send me a photo of her….
Letter from Stafania Halkow in Lodz to Natalia Roztropowicz, 17 August 1950:
It will surely surprise you that I am answering your letter after such a long time. I have so little time that it is hard to tear myself away from work even for a moment. So here’s what’s happening with Ineczka: For the last several months already she has been in the Land of Israel. When she was still here, she felt wonderful with this couple. They did everything in their power for her…. They told Inka that they were her parents and it was very easy to persuade such a child. I must tell you, too, Madam, that she really had no inclination to write letters home. I was with the doctor – that is with the woman who has Inka – and she said that she didn’t want me to release any information about the child as she had already adjusted completely to her new situation….You can put your mind completely at rest, Madam, that Inka has her happiness ensured. And you, Madam, have truly carried out you sacred obligation. God will yet reward you appropriately for your dedication to this child…..
Letter from Stanislawa (Roztropowicz) Szkupel to the Israel's Ambassador in Warsaw, 10 April 1994:
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
During these days of the “March of the Living,” I would like the wartime child of our family (now a 52-year-old woman) living somewhere on earth to take part, at least symbolically, in these marches. Yanked away from death, she was a trusting child and a living proof of the advantage of good over evil.
For these reasons, I herewith pass on to you a short history of her existence as a final, yet heartfelt gesture dedicated to having had her in our family.
Amidst misfortune, she was a child of good fortune and I believe that her adult life is a happy one.
On January 1, 2000, Yad Vashem recognized Józef & Natalia Roztropowicz, and their daughters, Janina and Stanislawa, as Righteous Among the Nations.