When Holocaust survivor Ewa Kracowska was married 67 years ago, she decided to
keep her maiden name – an unusual step at the time. Her motives were pragmatic
rather than feminist. She reasoned that if she did so, childhood friends who
survived the war could find her.
She held no hope of finding relatives,
since she was sure she was the only one in the family to have survived the Nazi
carnage in the Bialystok ghetto.
Over the years, friends did locate her,
but the big payoff came almost two months ago.
That was when Kracowska,
87, discovered she had an entire family in Poland on her paternal side that she
hadn’t known existed.
Kracowska, who is active in the Organization of
Former Jewish Residents of Bialystok and its Surroundings in Israel, was invited
five years ago to speak at a ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the
Bialystok Ghetto Uprising. The Bialystok revolt took place on August 16, 1943,
approximately four months after the famous Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The German
army had entered Bialystok two years earlier, and one of their first acts was to
herd 2,000 Jews into the city’s synagogue and set it on fire. Ewa’s father, Dr.
Samuel Kracowska, was among them.
Ewa, 17 at the time of the uprising,
participated in it and is among its few survivors. She had managed to escape to
the forests 25 kilometers away, where she joined a military partisan
During her visit to Bialystok for the memorial, several Polish
newspapers interviewed her. She happened to mention her prewar address in
Bialystok, 7 Lipowa Street.
Earlier this summer, she received a call from
a friend who works in the Bialystok municipality. A certain individual, the city
employee said, had come across one of the interviews and began making inquiries
“The friend in Bialystok had gotten an email from a Polish- Catholic
man who was looking for me, saying he is my family. I told her not to bother to
send the mail and to erase it, since I don’t have any family in Poland and
certainly not Catholic,” said Kracowska in an interview at her Ramat Gan
That night she awoke with a start and was unable to get back to
sleep. She realized the message could be from a descendant of her Aunt Ida, her
father’s younger sister. She began to worry that her friend might have already
erased the email and she paced impatiently, waiting for an appropriate hour to
call. She lasted only until 6 a.m., Polish time.
“Please don’t erase the
email,” she urged her friend.
Kracowska got an immediate
Almost 100 years ago her father’s sister Ida met and fell in
love with a Polish-Catholic man of aristocratic German descent while studying
dentistry abroad. She converted, changed her name from Ida to Yadwiga and
married Stanislaw Hagemejer in church.
Some family members, including her
own mother, cut all ties with her, but Ewa’s father kept in touch with his
beloved younger sister, who had since moved to Krakow with her husband and
eventually had three children.
“I remember, when I was a child, I always
saw a photo of two pretty girls on my father’s desk, and he explained to me that
those are my two cousins, Wanda and Helena. I knew they also had an older
brother but I hadn’t seen a photo of him,” recalls Kracowska.
imagine how we have been longing over the years to locate someone from our
grandmother’s family,” wrote Krzystof Hagemejer, Ida’s grandson. He knew his
grandmother’s maiden name was Kracowska, and he had found among his father’s
papers a letter sent from the same address Kracowska had provided in the
“I knew she had to be a relative,” Hagemejer
It was shortly before the 70- year anniversary of the Bialystok
Ghetto Uprising that the new family connection was made, and Kracowska had again
been invited to participate in the ceremony, which took place this past
When she arrived in Warsaw with her grandson, Dan Saguy, members
of her newly discovered family were eagerly waiting to meet her.
very happy to have family which is Jewish and lives in Israel,” Hagemejer said
in a telephone interview from Switzerland, where he works as an economist for a
United Nations organization. “I read a lot about the Holocaust, but now I see it
from a different perspective when I realize that it happened to members of my
He and his wife plan to visit Israel next April to meet the rest
of the family.
“I felt like I had known them all my life,” Kracowska
said. “It was something extraordinary. We talked nonstop. There is a change in
my life. I’m less pessimistic, and now, all of a sudden, there is family.”