1940
 

They rented a room in a ground floor apartment at 12 Walecznych St. in the posh Warsaw neighborhood of Saska Kepa, on the right bank of the river Vistula.  Then as now it was and is a venue of numerous foreign representations and villas of the well-to-do residents of the Polish capital.

 

This quiet and green location had one major additional advantage: it was very close to a sandy beach on the bank of the river Vistula. And there, on her way to the beach, Krysia met a handsome young man who lived in a building next to hers, at 14 Walecznych St. 

 

In his memoirs published shortly before his death in 1999 Krzysztof wrote:

“In the summer of that year [1940] I met a pretty blond girl with blue eyes who lived in the house next to ours. I do not remember who approached whom but soon we started to date. In my eyes she was very mysterious. She told me that her first name is Krysia but would not disclose her family name, not even after we became friends and spent hours upon hours in my little room behind the kitchen. She told me that she lived with her mother whom I never met”. 

But then one day (must have been mid-October 1940) Krysia was not her cheerful self. He asked her what had happened and after some persuasion she disclosed that she was Jewish and came to Warsaw with her mother from Lodz. The reason for her depressed mood was the German proclamation ordering the Jews of Warsaw to move to the newly established Ghetto. Krysia was not sure what to do.

“I was a bit surprised – wrote Krzysztof – because she did not look Jewish. To the contrary, she looked as the type the Germans would consider a member of the Herrenvolk”.

 

Krzysztof consulted his stepfather, Adam Ostoja-Owsiany, who was in touch with the Polish underground, and after a few days, came back with an answer. “Do not go to the Ghetto – he told Krysia – because nobody knows what will happen to the Jews there". At first Zofia was fearful of disobeying the Nazi orders but Krysia took charge of things at the age of 16 as if she were an adult. "I truly admired her courage” - wrote Krzysztof to me.

 

Ostoja-Owsiany provided Krysia and Zofia with forged documents using the German spelling of their surname “Zimmer” instead of the Polish “Cymer” so that in case of need they can pose as Volksdeutsche. Krysia chose by herself her new first name, Elzbieta (Polish for  Elisabeth), maybe because it was a bit similar to the original Eugenia but anyhow everybody kept calling her Krysia. Ostoja also suggested that they move to some other location in Warsaw, in case somebody in the neighborhood knew their real names.

And thus on 2 November 1940 Krysia and Zofia moved to a rented room in Kolonia Staszica, small, green, posh neighborhood on the left side of the river and close to the city center.  At first, Zofia moved to the new location and Krzysztof and Krysia stayed behind to take care of their belongings. “It was the first time we were alone there” – wrote Krzysztof to me 55 years later and, after I sent him Krysia’s photo, he commented: “Your mother’s photograph has a special meaning for me as she was really my first sweetheart when we were both teenagers”.

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Walecznych St.

A section of the 1939 map of Warsaw showing the neighborhood of Saska Kepa and the house at 12 Walecznych St. on a recent photo (source: Google Street View).

On the Vistula beach. This is the first war-time photo in Krysia's album, most probably taken by Krzysztof soon after they met.

Krzysztof Starzynski (Warsaw, 1923-Auckland, New Zealand, 1999). In 1944 Krzysztof was sent by the Polish right-wing underground AK to infiltrate the pro-communist Polish Security Service. In 1949 while serving in London, he turned himself to the MI5, the British counter-intelligence service, which, for his own protection, sent him to Fiji, then a British colony, some 1,000 km to the north of New Zealand. In 1984 Krzysztof, his Fijian wife Lucy and their children moved to Auckland. 

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Adam Ostoja-Owsiany (Kiev, 1899-Lodz, 1963), Krzysztof's stepfather who provided the forged IDs for Zofia and Krysia. In his memoirs ("Waleczny domek", Lodz, 1966) Ostoja describes his life at 14  Walecznych St. in 1943-44, when he also provided refuge to "Younger Marysia", a young Jewish woman who had nowhere else to go. In spite of an enormous danger outside, Marysia, like Krysia, would often dress nicely and go out to have fun with other young people. Unfortunately one day she did not come back and nobody knew what had happened to her.

Adam Ostoja-Owsiany working at his garden at 14 Walecznych St. On the left the house at 12 Walecznych St. where Krysia and Zosia lived in 1940.

Krysia and Krzysztof on the Nowy Swiat street, one of the most fashionable streets in Warsaw.