'My grandfather helped ghetto
World News BBC
24 January 2003
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
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
He was kept on by the Nazis because he was fluent in
His role was to stop diseases spreading among the Polish
and Jewish workforce.
My grandmother, Maria Zurowska, would make food for
This position allowed him to move freely around the
city. He could even walk into the ghetto whenever he
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
My grandmother, Maria Zurowska, would spend her nights
melting fats and sugars into medicine bottles so my
grandfather could give them to the Jews.
Apart from helping Jews in the ghetto, he was responsible
for the health of workers in a major ammunition factory
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
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
The factory director, fearing he would be shot if production
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.
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.
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.
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
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
He only used to say: "It's my duty."