10 July 1948, Warsaw. Judge Halina Wereńko, a member of the District Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes in Warsaw, interviewed the person named below without administering an oath. Having been advised of the criminal liability for making false declarations and of the obligation to tell the truth, the witness testified as follows:
|Name and surname||Felicja Czerniaków, née Zwayer|
|Parents’ names||Edward and Salomea, née Gościnny|
|Date of birth||1 June 1883, Warsaw|
|State affiliation and nationality||Polish|
|Education||PhD in philosophy|
|Occupation||office worker at the Cooperative Publishing House|
|Place of residence||Warsaw, Grochów, Grenadierów Street 46a, flat 7|
At the beginning of the war, the chairman of the Jewish community in Warsaw, [Maurycy] Mayzel, went east. Then the Mayor of Warsaw, [Stefan] Starzyński, asked my husband Adam Czerniaków (presently deceased) to fill in as the chairman of the Jewish Council. My husband’s appointment to this position, which took place on 9 September 1939, was signed by Mayor Starzyński.
My husband served as the chairman of the Jewish Council until the end of his life, that is, including after the taking of the city by the Germans. I stayed in the Warsaw Ghetto along with my husband. I was involved in taking care of children, working closely with Centos [Central Organization for Orphan Care].
At the beginning of 1941 (I don’t remember the exact date) the Ghetto was visited by a team of filmmakers in German uniforms. They filmed a variety of scenes which were prearranged in such a way as to disparage the Jews. At that time a Gestapo man appeared in our flat and ordered my husband to go to the apartment at Chłodna Street where he was going to be filmed participating in a feast to be held there. My husband refused. After a while two Gestapo men arrived and threatened my husband with a gun in an effort to make him go with them. My husband phoned Auerswald and informed him that he was required to go somewhere with two Gestapo men to perform some antics and that he wouldn’t go with them. Auerswald told my husband not to go and it was only after his intervention that the Gestapo men backed off.
In June 1942 the news of the extermination of the Jews in the Lublin region began to illegally infiltrate into the Warsaw ghetto. Following the outrage sparked by the news among the Ghetto inhabitants, my late husband went to Brandt, the Gestapo’s Commissioner for Jewish Matters, and asked him whether these horrible rumors were justified. Brandt responded that these rumors were absurd and had no foundation in fact. This conversation took place a few days before the first expulsion of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, that is, before 22 July 1942. That day a group of high ranking German officers appeared in the Jewish Council.
I don’t know the names of these Germans because at that time I was attending the Centos meeting devoted to the opening of the orphanage. I was later told that the Germans demanded that my husband sign the order regarding the deportation of the Jews to the east. My husband refused. Then the Germans arrested 16 people – members of the Jewish Council and representatives of the Jewish community and shot four or five residents of the house at Chłodna Street 24 (on the corner of Żelazna Street), including a sick man and an Aryan doctor who was operating on the sick man. That day in the afternoon the Council of the Elders issued a notice stating that following the German order the Jews were going to be deported east, starting on 22 July 1942. The notice was signed by the Council of the Elders. That day the deportation began. On 22 July 1942 I didn’t speak to my husband about the course of events. The following day my husband told me that if the Germans tried to force him to sign death sentences for children, he would put an end to his life. That day in the morning (23 July) he went to the Jewish community. There he spoke to some Germans (I don’t know exactly to whom he spoke) who agreed to exempt the craft schools students and the wives of the prisoners of war from deportation. He called a meeting of the Council of the Elders at 2.00 p.m. When the meeting was coming to an end, he presented those in attendance with a vial containing a sufficient amount of cyanide for every one of them to die with honor. After that the meeting was brought to a close and he came back home at 5.00 p.m. At 6.00 p.m. he was notified over the phone that the Germans wanted him to contact them at the Jewish community office. Then he left and never returned. At the office he became involved in a stormy conversation with the Germans (I don’t know exactly to whom he was speaking) following which, once the Germans were gone, he took cyanide and died. He left two letters on his desk; one, a farewell letter, was for me, and the other was for the Jewish Council. The farewell letter was taken away from me along with my purse by the Blue Police at the lock-up at the corner of Ujazdowska and Koszykowa streets in May 1943.
I have also read the letter intended for the Jewish Council. My husband, in giving an account of the conversation he had had with the Germans, wrote “they ordered us to bring 10,000 Jews to the freight handling point on the following day”.
After his death I worked for Gepner at the Supply Department. After ten days, a Jewish policeman, who was entrusted with the task of guarding my apartment, came to the office and told me that the Germans had demolished the apartment and sealed its door. He asked if I had a place to stay for the night, pointing out that the Germans had inquired about me. Then I went to the hospital at Leszno Street 1, where I stayed for three days with Dr. Sztajn. Then I got to the Aryan side along with a group of laborers.
A friend from University, Dr. Grabowska, put me up. I stayed ten months at her place. Then I was given away. I was remanded in custody at the criminal police station at the corner of Ujazdowskie Avenue and Koszykowa Street. I spent forty eight hours in custody. My husband’s photograph was found during the search carried out in our apartment. Thanks to this photograph I was released instead of being turned over to Gestapo, as usually happened in such cases. During the search, the criminal police agents took all my things, including jewelry and my husband’s diary. The head of the department of the criminal police who dealt with my case and who had the final say with regard to the things which the police had impounded in my apartment and which included my husband’s diary was a Pole, but I don’t remember his name. He has a villa in Józefów near Warsaw. Romana Piwczyńska-Ginzberg may know his name. She works at the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
At this point the report was concluded and read out.
On 23 July 1948 in Warsaw, in order to supplement the testimony submitted on 10 July 1948, Felicja Czerniaków the following information over the telephone:
In 1942, after leaving the Warsaw Ghetto, I moved in with my friend, a doctor of philosophy, Grabowska, at Bukowińska Street 28, in Chłopik’s house.
In May 1943 two police agents wearing civilian clothes came and arrested me. One of them was called Piegot and lived in the Praga district. The agents were brought by the son of the owner of the house at Bukowińska Street 28, a boy whose name I don’t know; he studied at the technical university. They came specifically to arrest me.
I was taken to the Criminal Police Station at the corner of Ujazdowskie Avenue and Koszykowa Street. I spent forty eight hours in custody. During that time, my apartment was searched (Piegot was one of those who carried out the search). My things (jewelry) and my husband’s diary were taken by the police. During the search, my husband’s photo was found, which made it possible to determine my real name (Czerniaków).
I don’t know the name of the chief of the department of the Criminal Police who dealt with my case. A dark-haired man of medium height, he had an energetic face and a wide smile. What drew my attention was the fact that as he smiled he revealed perfectly even teeth – it looked as if he had false teeth. He was lively and vigorous. Having learned my name he decided to release me.
I heard that still before he dealt with my case he had been sentenced to death by the Polish Underground. However, because he began to help the Jews and the Poles, the sentence wasn’t carried out.
After the Uprising, when I was at the Jewish Committee at Targowa Street 42, I was approached by a man whose name I don’t know and who told me that he too had been released by the same chief of the Criminal Police as I had. The man also told me that he had been in the police chief’s villa in Józefów and that the chief had shown him my foreign passport (used) which must have been taken by the police during the search of my apartment. When I was interviewed at the police station I saw that the chief had my passport.
From this fact I infer that the chief of the department of the Criminal Police by whom I was released may have my husband’s diary or at least may know something about what happened to it.