Exhibit highlights Jewish children saved in Poland during the Holocaust

Elzbieta Ficowska is one of 15 Jewish child survivors being featured in the ‘My Jewish Parents, My Polish Parents’

 A picture from the "My Jewish Parents, My Polish Parents" project showing that from the 15 children saved, there are now 106 relatives that have been born (photo credit: MY JEWISH PARENTS MY POLISH PARENTS)
A picture from the "My Jewish Parents, My Polish Parents" project showing that from the 15 children saved, there are now 106 relatives that have been born
“I don’t have an image in my mind, but I have a physical object: a silver spoon coined with my name and birth date on it.”
This is what Polish Holocaust survivor Elzbieta Ficowska recalled when asked about what image comes to mind when she thinks of the Holocaust.
Born in the Warsaw Ghetto, Ficowska was a baby when she was saved by a Polish family.
“It was hidden on my body with me when I was passed from the Ghetto to the Aryan side,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “Thanks to this I know my true birth date and name, which other people like me, from this exhibition, who share the same story, don’t know. This is the only true connector to this other world to which I was supposed to belong.”
Ficowska is one of 15 child survivors being featured in the “My Jewish Parents, My Polish Parents” project and exhibition that opened on Thursday at the Kiryat Motzkin Library near Haifa. It tells the story of 15 children born between 1939 and 1942 who were saved by Polish families “thanks to the boundless love of parents who entrusted their children,” and “the courage of the people” who took them in and “recognized them as their own sons and daughters,” the exhibition organizers explained.
Together with the Association of Children of the Holocaust in Poland, the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv is hosting the exhibition in Israel for the next two months. Plans call for the exhibition to move to other locations across the country.
Joanna Hofman, director of the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv, said that this story is about “the most important thing – life, morality and humanity.”
Hofman said it’s important to tell these stories to “preserve the memory of those who survived and were saved from the Holocaust, especially children,” she said. “They were adopted by Polish families, and all their life they tried to find a bridge or link between their Jewish and Polish parents,” and that the exhibition is about “the struggle to find their own identity, growing up in Polish families in a different culture, and only later realizing that they came from Jewish families.”
Hofman highlighted how exceptional the stories are of those who were taken from ghettos, sometimes even in suitcases to the Aryan side.
“It’s an amazing story of how many people were involved just to save the life of one child,” she said. “Those children... very often talk so warmly about their adoptive parents and still managed to get through the trauma of living with this double identity.”
The aim of the exhibition is to share these stories, especially for next generations, so that the tragedy of the Holocaust will be never forgotten.
“It’s also to show that accusing the whole nation of antisemitism is not reasonable, and in those dark and dramatic times, individuals, humans, behaved differently,” she said. “Some of them had huge heart and courage, while others showed the ugly side of humanity.”
Ficowska said that as a survivor, it’s very important that the exhibition has come to Israel, “because at the end this is a universal story. Many people in Israel think about Poland with sentimental feelings because they, including myself, lost their families there, [but] this is not the real picture of Poland. There are good and bad people everywhere, and this is a story about the good people. Some people say Poland is an antisemitic country, which is not true, and some people say that Poland is a country of only heroes, which is also not true.”
Ficowska emphasized that “there were indeed some heroes, and this exhibition is about them.”
Recalling her story, Ficowska said she was taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 by a man named Paweł Bussold, the stepson of her adoptive mother.
“He put me in a crate and hidden among bricks that he was taking out of the ghetto,” she said. “My real mother sometimes telephoned from the ghetto... She missed me, she wanted for a moment to hear the voice of her child. She could have saved herself – on the Aryan side there was a man who promised to hide and take care of her.”
Her mother declined because she didn’t want to be separated from her parents.
“Even though I was too small to remember her, I shall never forget my Jewish mother,” Ficowska said. “I would not recognize her face on a photograph, but I see her in my dreams.”
She said her adoptive mother, Stanisława Bussoldowa, who was a midwife, “offered me a childhood full of happiness and love.”
Bussoldowa worked closely in the ghetto with Irena Sendler, a well-known Righteous Among the Nations.
“She used to put on her band with the Star of David and went to the ghetto to deliver babies,” Ficowska said. “She did deliveries to Jewish mothers hiding on the Aryan side, she hid Jewish toddlers in her house, and she mediated in placing them with Polish families. I stayed with her for good,” she said, adding that her stepmother was nearly 60 years old at the time.
“I received a lot of full and conscious love from my foster mother,” and was “even spoiled as a child... All the people around me did their best to make my life happy.”
Despite her foster mother hiding her real identity, Ficowska was 17 “when I accidentally found out that everything I knew about myself was untrue. My parents and family died, and I am a Jewish child who was miraculously saved. I did not want to be disloyal toward my mother or cause her pain.”
At the time, she simply put this information out of her mind, and for many years did not talk about it.
But when “my own daughter was six months old, I understood what separation from her child must have meant to my mother. I suddenly grasped it... And I started searching for traces of my Jewish family. Both of my dead mothers are with me and shall stay with me to the end. Their presence reminds me that there is nothing more devastating than hatred, and nothing more precious than human kindness.”