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 Friday, 24 January, 2003, 10:16 GMT
'My grandfather helped ghetto Jews'
Dr Ludwik Zurowski
Ludwik Zurowski saw saving Jews as his "duty"
Roman Polanski's film The Pianist, which has just been released in the UK, recounts the plight of a Polish-Jewish pianist in Nazi-occupied Poland and his survival in a Warsaw ghetto.

Here, BBC News Online's Ania Lichtarowicz tells the story of her grandfather who saved Jews in the ghetto in Krakow during World War II.

A five-year-old girl looks out of her parents' apartment window and sees a young Jewish woman walking along the street carrying her baby.

Suddenly a Nazi soldier grabs the baby by its legs and starts hitting the baby's head against the wall enclosing the Krakow ghetto.

He does not stop until the baby's brains and blood are splattered over the wall.

This is one of my mother's earliest childhood memories, and the screams of the child's own mother haunt her to this day.

But other memories of that time, and how my grandfather helped the Jews during some of the worst days of their history, she tells with pride.

Freedom of movement

My grandfather, Dr Ludwik Zurowski, was Krakow's medical officer.

He was kept on by the Nazis because he was fluent in German.

His role was to stop diseases spreading among the Polish and Jewish workforce.

Maria Zurowska
My grandmother, Maria Zurowska, would make food for the Jews
This position allowed him to move freely around the city. He could even walk into the ghetto whenever he wanted.

And it was this privilege that he exploited to smuggle in hair dye, made by Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz, to help "rejuvenate" the Jews.

Once their hair started turning grey, the Nazis no longer considered them useful and so would transport them to concentration camps.

My grandmother, Maria Zurowska, would spend her nights melting fats and sugars into medicine bottles so my grandfather could give them to the Jews.

Fictitious disease

Apart from helping Jews in the ghetto, he was responsible for the health of workers in a major ammunition factory in Krakow.

He concocted a story, telling the German factory director he was seriously concerned about the spread of a fictitious disease amongst the workforce which he was unfamiliar with.

Alleging it was unique to the Jewish population, he specified that the help of a Jewish doctor was essential otherwise he would not take responsibility for any disease outbreaks.

The factory director, fearing he would be shot if production stopped, agreed.

My grandfather picked Dr Biberstein from the factory workforce - his former boss - and together they held regular surgeries in the factory, feeding and treating the Jewish workforce.

Suspicions

My grandfather also acted as a courier between Jews - helping families to stay in touch - and although often questioned by the Nazis, he was never caught.

But they had their suspicions.

After he helped a young Jewish woman, who was dying of breast cancer, escape under false papers, some of his prescriptions were found in her baggage when she fled from a train that was being boarded by Germans.

The morphine he prescribed to ease her pain and "let her die with dignity", as he later told, was to cost him dearly.

Whilst being interrogated by the Gestapo he had each of his teeth pulled out - one by one - but he continued to insist that he did not know she was Jewish.

'Duty'

In 1984, in recognition for his actions, my grandfather was posthumously awarded the medal of the Righteous of Yad Vashem, by the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority in Israel.
Yad Yashem medal
The Yad Vashem Medal my grandfather received

In his memory, a tree was planted in the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles in Jerusalem.

In Poland, under the Third Reich any kind of help to a person of Jewish faith or origin was punishable by death.

This penalty was often extended to the rescuer's family.

My grandfather died at the age of 71 - a long time before I was born - but my mother and uncles have told me that he never thought of saving Jewish lives as anything special.

He only used to say: "It's my duty."

See also:

23 Mar 00 | Middle East
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