Letter by Jan Kostanski to the Ambassador of Israel to Australia, 1983
The ghetto was closed to all non-Jewish people and a high wall was erected around its perimeter. There were special German laws introduced, which stated that for illegal crossing either from or to the ghetto, the penalty was death. Many people paid this penalty of death. The walls of the ghetto were extremely frightening to look at.
Walter Cykiert was on the Aryan side, outside the ghetto, and he and I tried to find a way into the ghetto, in order for him to contact his family and for me to contact the Wierzbicki family. We succeeded in this endeavor, however we were extremely scared the first time. Since we managed this feat once, the wall did not appear to be as forbidden after that time and we made many hundreds of such crossings in the months and years to follow until the 19th April 1943.
For the entire time of the existence of the ghetto my mother smuggled food into the ghetto and I was her helper, aged then 15 years at the beginning. My mother did so much selflessly in order to supply food to the entire Wierzbicki family which at the time numbered 10 persons.
In 1941 I was arrested by the Gestapo in the ghetto and during the 6 days that I was in their headquarters I was badly beaten and at that time had my front teeth knocked out by some of the many punches I received. During this time of incarceration, my mother attempted and succeeded in bribing finally a Gestapo officer and obtained my release.
In the year 1942 started the first transportation of the Jewish people from the ghetto to the extermination camps. At this time the entire ghetto was surrounded by the fascist troops and other and I could not escape from the ghetto myself. At this time I could see the enormous tragedy of the Jewish people and after 3 days of endeavor I bribed a fascist soldier and jumped over the wall separating the ghetto from the Aryan side.
During three days it took to escape, I spoke with Antoni (Aizyk) Wierzbicki and we planned to smuggle three people – all Jews of the ghetto….
After a few initial problems these three people were evacuated to comparative safty. They stayed at my mother's brother residence (uncle) because by this time he himself was imprisoned. At this time we could not take them to our apartment because too many people knew us and where we lived and knew of our association with the Wierzbicki family. We were scared that someone would inform the Nazis.
After four weeks of living there, they were moved outside of Warsaw to a friend of my mother home where they stayed for a couple of weeks. They could not stay there indefinitely however and we took them to the smaller ghetto at Otwock outside Warsaw which was not as dangerous and left them while we pondered what next to do.
After a couple of weeks at Otwock, the Nazis in one day decide to close this ghetto and send all the inhabitants to the concentration camps. During their time in Otwock, one of my sisters, Jadzia or Danuta were always with the Wierzbickis. When the ghetto was closed, Danuta somehow escaped and returned to Warsaw to inform us. I and my mother and my other sister Jadzia immediately left for Otwock, but we arrived too late and everyone was already at the train station waiting to be sent to the camps. It was too dangerous for me to go near the station because I was a male, so my mother and Jadzia went and asked a guard if they could pass by the station on the Aryan side. After getting approval they walked by the train and the wagons on one side, where on the other side there were many Nazi guards loading people onto the wagon.
Jadzia Wierzbicka was already on the train with the others and she saw my mother and Jadzia. She called out "Mother, Water". It was 36 degrees centigrade. My sister's eyes met Jadzia's in the wagon, but my mother did not see her. Their fears were realized that the Wierzbickis were to be sent to the camps, but they had to keep walking. This group of wagons was destined for Treblinka camp of death.
When the train was going through Warsaw, the barbed wire on the window in this wagon was somehow worked free and the three managed to escape thru this opening while the train had momentarily stopped. Because of the heat in the wagon, all three were nearly naked as they escaped and by a miracle they found themselves close to my auntie's house and at night managed to get there. They could not stay long and for the time being there was a temporary cessation of transports from the Warsaw ghetto so we moved them back there.
After two-three months there was one transport of people from this ghetto to the camps, but luckily they were missed. In this same months my sister Jadzia was captured with many other on the Aryan side and was sent to Majdanek concentration cmap.
My mother and I managed to bribe a Gestapo officer after a lot of effort with a lot of money and obtained the release of my sister Jadzia who had by this time been in the camp for six weeks. It was then decided to buy a flat on the Aryan side where we could make a safe hiding place. We found such a place in Warsaw, Panska Street number 15. We took all three people then from the ghetto in March 1943 to this flat and we build a hiding place very ingeniously. Then my sisters Jadzia and Danuta stayed during the days with the Wierzbickis, while my mother and I worked in order to feed all of our now large family.
Then came the time of the final liquidation of the ghetto on the 19th of April 1943. I was in the ghetto at this time with Walter Cykiert where we had been ivited to a friend's place to celebrate Passover. Walter's whole family by this time had all been killed and he was the only one left from a rather large family. After many difficult barriers had been crossed, we finally escaped to the Aryan side and I took Walter with me to our flat, as he had nowhere else to go. We all lived there until 1944.
By 7 October, 1944 at 3 p.m., all people living in Warsaw had to leave Warsaw and whoever was found in Warsaw after that date and time would immediately be executed. We decided however to stay in Warsaw in almost all the burnt and burning buildings and live in the cellar of a disused building. Such a place was found at Panska 23. A supply of water was obtained and a small amount of food. The three Wierzbickis and Walter Cykiert and I stayed in this place while my mother and sisters obtained work from the Germans to remove clothing and other things from houses in Warsaw so that they could be close to our hiding place…. After one month my mother and sisters were taken from near Warsaw where they had been staying to Jelonka, some kilometers from Warsaw. Jadzia, my sister, dressed as a boy lined up for work in Warsaw and was transported there. Once there, she managed to get to us in our cellar and brought food and information. The penalty for this was death.
She then left and for the next two months we had no outside contact or news whatsoever. During these two months of complete isolation many things happened to us, but one night while all of Warsaw was burning and I was walking in the rubble, I heard muffled voices from under the rubble and these voices said that from today we will have half a cup of barley a day because we don't know how long this will last and we haven't much food left.
I stared to ask in Polish who was there and to tell them to come out. At which time the conversation stopped and despite louder please by me there was no answer. I then decided to go down and see who was there. When I went down to them I couldn't believe my eyes what I saw. People had nearly starved to death and also were dying from dehydration. I helped them in this terrible situation with both food and water and after this they came out with us at night and we helped them from this time until the liberation by the Russians. They numbered 15 persons – all Jewish, both men and women….
Our freedom from the cellar came on 17th January, when the Russians liberated us.