A STORY OF JEWISH WOMEN BASED ON FACTS IN OCCUPIED WARSAW
INSTITUTE OF BEAUTY
‘Hereby I state that life of Andrzej Kraut-hammer was saved thanks to help of, with exposing her life, Mada Walterowa. Mada Walterowa helped the Jews when constipating herself, which I saw myself and experienced a lot good’.
The statement given to a notary in Łódź in 1947 by Celina Sandler, during the war occupation, who was hiding under a taken on identity of Janina Czajkowska, is one of many statements with the number 1222/1987
Mada Walter was born in the beginning of the last decade of the 19th century. Her father, a prominent naturalist, a founder of the Natural-Ethnographic Museum in Lvov, induced science passion in his daughter, connected with, among the others, developing balneology. Whereas her mother, who ran a dietetic plant in Rymanów, taught her basics of entrepreneurship. Mada Walter graduated from medical studies in Zurich in Switzerland and the next years she spent on doing extra courses in treatment centres of Europe at that time: in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, in Hungary, in France. Having returned to her country, she gave lectures in: a School of Nursing of the Polish Red Cross, she wrote lots of scientific works and articles for popular magazines promoting a healthy style of life. Soon before the war she organized a League of Health Protection in Warsaw at Nowy Świat street and founded the first modern diet-cosmetic centre in Poland, connected with a diner and cafeteria of plant juices. She even cooperated with the Military Ministry, helping in elaborating a special diet for soldiers. Her great dream was to open a modern university in which the next generations could get educated in the area of treating with diet. The Health School was to be opened for the first time on 1 September 1939.
After capitulation nearly at once a cruel plan was implemented on the areas of occupied Poland, which was aimed at concentration of Jewish people, in big cities, including Warsaw, which was later supposed to make it easier to solve the Jewish issue – extermination. In April 1941 on the area of the Warsaw ghetto there were nearly half a million people. Existence conditions were terrible. Overpopulation, illnesses, famine. In the second half of the year 1941 the energetic value of food allocated by the Germans included 184 calories per an inhabitant of ghetto.
Mada was not indifferent to the terrible fate of Poles, inhabitants of Warsaw, in many cases her close acquaintances or colleagues. She had helped before that as much as she could, but when in July 1942 a great liquidation action was begun, during which the Germans were transporting ghetto inhabitants to death camps in mass, Mada Walter decided to use her knowledge and organizational talents to help the oppressed. An idea which she had was extremely brave.
At Marszałkowska street, in the very heart of Warsaw, she opened an Institute of Beauty. It seemed to be an ordinary cosmetic plant which could be visited at any time by: a German woman, a policeman or a Gestapo officer. However, also underground activity was pursued. When an appearance decided about life and death, women led out from ghetto to the in the Institute of Beauty were learning an art of survival on the Aryan side.
Władysław Smólski reminisces: ‘We are going along Marszałkowska street to her Institute of Beauty. I can see a dozen women less or more undressed. Some of them are sitting under various lamps, others have cream put on and are undergoing mysterious surgeries. When Mrs. Mada appears, all of them get concentrated on her, bringing chairs and sit down, and open some books. A lesson begins…. A lesson of….catechism! in the first moment I thought that I got mad when hearing that my acquaintance is just asking an attractive brunette woman with some cream on, about the main commandments of faith. (…) However, I begin to understand: appearance of the clients of the Institute suggests a lot’.
The idea to give help to refugees from ghetto, mainly women, although there were also men, was precisely elaborated. Firstly – Mada taught women principles of catholic faith. This stage consisted of not only teaching a prayer, but also a way of behaving in the church. Mada Walter taught her wards when to kneel, when to stand up, how to behave during a wedding and a funeral. Every detail mattered. Another important element was teaching an art of camouflage. Mada advised women to tie their hair at the back, revealing their forehead, as it adds ‘Aryan appearance’. She did not oxidize balck hair, but made it brighter. She said what clothes to wear, what make-up to put on, and even what gestures to avoid not to draw anyone’s attention. She taught women to walk straight up and look directly at the Germans’ eyes, explaining that it was fear which often betrayed refugees from ghetto. That is not all. She also ran – theoretically – because of the shortage in supplies – courses of making Easter dishes, roasting pork or making lard. That banal knowledge could often save life during hearing by Gestapo.
In the Institute of Beauty, with cooperation of Christian surgeons, Mada also organized surgeries of restoring foreskins to men and operations of making noses smaller.
She was a wife and a mother, well-educated woman, speaking German very well, having lots of relations with other all over the world. She could have ignored what was happening to her compatriots, saying that it was not her business, but she did not. Every day she risked everything to save those who had been sentenced to death.
When she was staying in Łódć after the war, Mada wrote in May 1946: ‘Assigning heroism to me due to constant exposing my life is a wrong judgment. I was simply acting subconsciously, somehow egoistically, feeling others’ suffering as my own’.
Andrzej Krauthammer-Czajkowski, a famous composer in the world later, is one of those who were saved by the Walter family, and who had been placed by the inhuman totalitarian system on the unsuitable side of the ghetto.
In Jerusalem on the Hill of Remembrance there is an Alley of the Righteous in which young trees have been planted. All of them have got an attached plate with a surname of a person who was saving the innocent at the times of the Nazis darkness. There are most of Polish surnames, although only in Poland there was a death penalty for saving Jewish people, and a death camp for not reporting on this kind of help given to the Jews. In order to help one person, it was necessary to engage, and what is implied here – risk at least a few others’ life.
The Yad Vash Institute grants awards of the Righteous among Nations of the World. On memorable medals there is an engraved quotation from Talmudu: ‘Who saves one life, saved the whole world’. So, how to name somebody who saved so many people completely selflessly? The words ‘hero or ‘righteous’ seem strangely insufficient…Maybe it would be necessary to use the word ‘human being’ in its fullest and most beautiful meaning. A human being as an image of very God.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 10/2019 (10 III 2019)