Introduction

Like the vast majority of the Holocaust survivors my mother, known to all by her adopted first name "Krysia", never said a word to me about her life in Poland during WWII. But I had one enormous advantage above many others who try in vain to understand how their parents and other family members survived the war. When my mother died of cancer in 1965 I inherited a number of albums, the first one of which covered her life from the early childhood until just before the end of WWII.

 

At first I was totally perplexed by what I saw: a pretty, well-dressed young woman, evidently enjoying her life as a person of her age would do in, say, New York. Here she is walking arm-in-arm with a handsome young man on one of the most fashionable streets of Warsaw, and here with some friends laughing and smiling in front of a church, and here in a wide summer dress, beautiful and even a bit coquettish, somewhere on the outskirts of the city, where people would go on Sundays, and here in an office behind a typewriter or with co-workers. What am I to make of this?

In 1995, after many failed attempts to solve this riddle, I decided to make one additional try. First of all I removed some of the photos which originally were all glued to the album gray pages. I started with photos of a young handsome man at the very beginning of the WWII section of the album. And on the verso of one of them it was written  “Krzysztof Starzynski”.  I asked a friend in Warsaw to call all the Starzynskis listed in the telephone directory and soon an old lady, Halina Starzynski, answered the phone. Yes, she has a son named Krzysztof and yes, she vividly remembers the young Jewish woman whom her son befriended at the beginning of the war and yes, she has her son’s phone and fax number in New Zealand.

And thus, in September 1995, I sent a fax to Krzysztof, who answered immediately and we kept corresponding until his death in 1999. As it turned out, Krzysztof was a scion to a well-known Polish family. His father, Roman, was, until his death in 1938, the director of the Polish radio. Even more importantly, his paternal uncle, Stefan, was the last mayor of Warsaw before the German occupation and stayed in the city even after the Polish government left at the beginning of September 1939. Today Stefan Starzynski is one of the Polish national heroes and his statue adorns a major square in Warsaw.

Krzysztof patiently answered my questions and sent me his published memoires, one in Polish  (Uspiony agent, Warsaw, 1996) and its German adaptation (Doppel Agent, Berlin, 1997). These two books, our correspondence, Krysia’s album and some additional research enabled me to reconstruct to some extent her life in Warsaw during the German occupation.   

Krzysztof Starzynski in 1939.jpg

The photo that opened the gate to the past: Krzysztof Starzynski in the autumn of 1939, a few moths before he met Krysia. Krzysztof must have removed the photo from his high school ID whose partial stamp can be seen at the left bottom corner and then gave it to Krysia. In his memoirs he wrote: "Soon after the end of the hostilities [i.e. in the autumn of 1939] we started to attend the Stefan Batory High School. But after a month we were sent home at the order of the German authorities... Our school became nur fuer Deutsche"

Krzysztof Starzynski.jpg

Krzysztof Starzynski in 1996 (Source: "Doppel Agent")

Unless written otherwise, all the photos in this work come from Krysia's first album. It seems to be obvious that the photos were kept separately during the occupation and only incorporated in an album after the war. All the photos were, originally, black and white. Here some of them were enhanced and colorized using My Heritage Photo Enhancer and Colorizer.

My thanks go, first of all, to my son Avi, who encouraged me (well, in fact almost forced me) to embark on this project. My wife Nina contributed important insights as did other family members.