Janusz Maria Tomaszewski (10 December 1931, Kraków, Poland)
Son of Wacław Bończa Tomaszewski (1900-1971), a railroad management official and Zofia (1900-1982) née Reyman, a teacher. The Rubachs, a Jewish family, were hiding in his family home between 1942 and 1944.
The peaceful childhood of an only child, surrounded by a large and loving family, was interrupted by the war. In September 1939 Waclaw Tomaszewski, a railroad worker, was ordered to evacuate to the East; his wife and son accompanied him as they fled and lived a life on the run. The Tomaszewski family travelled all the way to Minsk and it was only in spring 1940 that they returned to Kraków.
They settled in a tenement house in Jabłonowskich Street. The house had been built in 1893 by Janusz’s great-grandfather, Władysław Markiewicz. In 1932 the family sold the tenement house to the order of Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, keeping three out of six apartments.
When World War II broke out, Janusz Tomaszewski was almost 8 years old. Since his mother and three uncles were actively involved in the fight against the German invaders, his health and life were constantly in danger. He witnessed Gestapo searches at home, listened to war stories told by his uncles, but also bore witness to his mother being involved in saving a Jewish family.
Already in November 1939, Zofia Tomaszewska was helping her youngest brother in his underground activities in Związek Walki Zbrojnej ZWZ (the Union for Armed Struggle); Jan Reyman (1902-1984) held a PhD in chemistry and was a liaison officer of Major Jan Cichocki, code de guerre ‘Jaś’ (later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, chief of staff of the ZWZ Area 4 Krakow Headquarters).
His mother’s eldest brother, Henryk Reyman (1897-1963), Lieutenant Colonel of the Polish Army, Olympic athlete, Wisła Kraków soccer player (the Municipal Stadium in Kraków now bears his name), escaped from German captivity. As further hiding in Kraków became increasingly dangerous, in the summer of 1940 Zofia Tomaszewska, using her husband’s documents, took Henryk to the Tarnobrzeg estate of the Tarnowskis. Henryk Reyman was hiding there as a gamekeeper until the end of the war.
On 21 February 1941, another uncle of Janusz Tomaszewski, Stefan Reyman (1898-1941) was arrested in the U Literatów cafe. He was murdered in Auschwitz concentration camp on 1 August 1941.
On 27 May 1942, Jan Reyman was arrested in his family home. On 6 June 1942, he was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. He survived the camp and returned to Kraków after 1945.
In such a dramatic turn of events for the family, in the summer of 1942 a Turk named Nazmi Korchan showed up at the Tomaszewski family home with the intention of renting a room for his family. He was the owner of a pastry shop in Włocławek which he had established at the end of 1938. He had fallen in love with and married his customer, a Jewish woman named Dora Rubach.
When the town was incorporated into the Third Reich, the Rubach and Korchan family fled to Częstochowa in the General Government (GG). In April 1941, just before the ghetto was closed, Dora’s sister Genia with her two sons (her husband Józef had been killed during the defense war in 1939) escaped from the ghetto. They took refuge in an apartment above the Korchans’ confectionery store. Nazmi Korchan not only sought a new identity and fake documents at the Turkish embassy for Genia and her sons, but for security reasons he found a place at the Tomaszewski family’s home in Kraków for his sister-in-law, and officially for his wife and sons.
As Turkish citizens, they were relatively safe in the GG, because Turkey was a neutral state under the German-Turkish Treaty of Friendship and non-aggression pact signed in June 1941 with the Third Reich.
And so they lived in a room that stood vacant after Jan Reyman’s arrest, claiming to be Turks and under false names: Tamara Korchan (actually Genia Rubach) and her sons: 10-year-old Ahmed called Ula (actually Leon Rubach, 1932-2017) and 4-year-old Megid (actually Marek). The following year they were joined by Nazmi’s actual wife, Dora Korchan née Rubach and her daughter, Zaida.
Zofia Tomaszewska suspected right from the beginning that the young women and their children were Jews, but for over two years she turned a blind eye and did nothing to get rid of the dangerous tenants. She allowed her son to make friends with the older boy. They not only played together, but also worked together. Ula persuaded Janusz to work, the boys offered their assistance to the shoppers at the market on Szczepanski Square in delivering purchases, e.g. Christmas trees before Christmas.
In the summer of 1944, as a result of a denunciation, the Gestapo came to the Tomaszewskis’ apartment. The tenants had gone to town, but Ula was playing with Janusz in the yard, practically right under Tomaszewski’s kitchen window.
The Gestapo decided to wait. They sat in the room of the alleged Turks and through the open door watched Zofia, bustling around in the kitchen. Knowing that the return of the tenants could mean death to both families, Zofia warned Ula while moving the washed dishes to the table next to the window.
Janusz Tomaszewski recalls: “Ula ran to the Planty Park and waited there for his mother and brother. The Gestapo officers never saw the tenants return and ordered [Zofia Tomaszewska] to report the next day to Pomorska Street to the Gestapo headquarters. Mom and the rest of us were saved by the fact that the Gestapo men had watched her closely all the time and yet did not notice her warn Ula. After the interrogation, Mom returned home in the evening.”
Zofia found shelter for the Rubachs at her friend, Felicia Menhard’s place, who lived at Planty Dietlowskie. After a few days, Zofia brought them some of their belongings. Soon afterwards both friends organized for the family to be transported to Pionki and Garbatka near Radom.
They all happily lived to see the end of the war and together they returned to Częstochowa. In 1946 they left for Paris, and then for Belgium. However, Nazmi Korchan returned to Poland. The Rubach sisters and their children, upon receiving a visa to the USA in 1952, left Europe forever.
During the occupation Janusz Tomaszewski graduated from primary school, in 1948 from the gymnasium [middle high school], and in 1950 from the 4th Henryk Sienkiewicz High School. He went on to obtain a Master’s degree in engineering at Akademia Górniczo – Hutnicza [University of Mining and Metallurgy, nowadays the University of Science and Technology], at the Faculty of Mechanization of Mining and Metallurgy. After a few years of assistantship at Akademia Górniczo – hutnicza, he started working in the railroad vocational training, where he remained active until his retirement.
Janusz Tomaszewski enjoys travelling. In 1961 he visited Bulgaria on a WK-125 motorbike, then he travelled across Europe, the Balkans and Turkey in a Fiat 600. He also visited Israel and the United States. He tried to convey his interest in travels to young people by organizing domestic and foreign camps and trips for them. For his achievements in teaching and educational work he received several awards of the Minister of Education as well as the Gold Cross of Merit. In 2013, the General Assembly of the Wisła Sports Club granted him the title of Honorary Member for preserving the memory of the club’s outstanding sportsmen and making family memorabilia available for the exhibition dedicated to the memory of Henryk Reyman.
25 years after the death of Zofia Tomaszewska, on 15 May 2007 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded her with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. The ceremony took place in the High Synagogue in Kraków and the medal was accepted by her son, Janusz Tomaszewski.
In 2017 Zofia Tomaszewska was awarded the Jan Karski Courage to Care Award by the Anti-Defamation League in the USA for saving the Rubach family, which was received by Janusz’s son, Wojciech Tomaszewski.
Janusz Tomaszewski repeatedly asked himself why his mother had risked her own life and that of her loved ones. This question also came up during conversations with Leon (Ula) Rubach, the survivor. The answer has always been and still remains unambiguous: “I admire the courage of my mother, who helped strangers – Jews; she knew that by helping she was putting herself and her whole family at risk. That help was selfless. The reason behind it was the compulsion to help people in need, and above all to save their lives. We maintained contact with Ula [Leon Rubach] until the end, in person or by phone, when he came to Poland or when I visited my family in the United States.
In 1975 Genia Rubach sent Christmas wishes to the Tomaszewski family, which she concluded with the words:“I love you, Zosia”.
Can you express your gratitude for someone saving your life in any stronger manner? The Tomaszewski and Rubach families, living on two different continents, have stayed in touch to this very day.
Janusz Tomaszewski has three sons – Wojciech, Piotr and Michał – as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He continues to live in Kraków, in an apartment inhabited by the family for four generations.
Translation: Agnieszka Sababady/ tlumaczustny.eu