Warsaw, 21 April 1983
Jewish Hisorical Institute
Gen. K. Świerczewski Avenue 79
In connection with my account and request to your Institute which I sent in 1978, I am hereby sending additional data which I came across by accident.
Being the one of the last witnesses, I feel a moral obligation to testify the truth and honor a man who was brave enough to help the people from the ghetto and who paid with his life for it, having been hanged on the ghetto’s walls in Białystok.
I do not know the details concerning Kazimierz Popławski’s activities in the Warsaw ghetto and in the city during the occupation, and I do not know the exact nature of the process of extracting the Jews from the Białystok ghetto and transporting them in the direction of Warsaw. During the occupation, nobody asked about such things, nobody probed into these matters nor discussed them even in their inner circle. Everybody had their own conspiratorial secrets. Strict confidence was a matter of life and death – and death it was that one faced if they gave anything away. I do not even know what name he used crossing the border between the General Government and Western Prussia in Małkinia.
During the occupation, my parents, Stanisław and Sabina Zarzecki, lived in Starosielce (at that time located three kilometers from downtown Białystok). They knew Mr. Popławski through family connections and because of that there was a mutual trust between them. He would stop at their place to “take a breath” before taking the leap behind the walls of the Białystok ghetto. I barely need to tell you how difficult an enterprise this was because thick volumes have already been written about the occupation-period terror in Białystok, in the heavily guarded ghetto and in the Białystok area, during the reign of Koch and Machkell.
The great technical, physical, and psychological difficulty of the operation of extracting people of more or less Semitic appearance and getting them across the General Government border in Małkinia is illustrated by the fact that, after he came to our place, Popławski would rest for two or three days, lying on the bed in his clothes. He would barely talk for days… Apparently, he was waiting for my father’s signal. It was only during his final stay with us that he said that he was scared, that he did not want to go there but he had to because he had made a promise to somebody, and that if he pulled this one off, he would return to us… And it was on that occasion that he did not return. We only learned a few days later that Poles who had been helping the Jews were hanged on the walls of the ghetto – as a warning sign to others.
I believe that the Historical Commission should be in possession of some information and accounts pertaining to which of the Poles were hanged on the walls of the Białystok ghetto in 1943 and under what names.
Residing in the disability pensioners house on Świerkowa Street in Białystok is Stefania Włostowska, my 78-year-old first cousin, a person from the network of generous people, who also selflessly sheltered Kazimierz Popławski and those whom he had extracted from the ghetto. He would send them on a train to Szepietowo, to the Włostowscy’s place, and put them up in the house and the barn. They were anxious, sick, emaciated, and maltreated people. They had to be fed, there being literally a piece of bread and some potatoes to go round, and this was not a farm but a trainman’s house with a potato patch. The wait for a signal from other people in the network and for a proper train to Małkinia typically lasted a couple of days, at which point you would then run in a split second and get on a train operated by a trusted crew, from the manager to the engine driver.
I am categorically stating that neither my father, an engine driver, nor my cousin Stefania Włostowska received any financial remuneration, seeing what they did as basic human decency.
I do not know if Kazimierz Popławski received any money, nor do I know the reason why he did all this and who commissioned him, but I know that he died a tragic death for it. I also know that during the occupation getting people across the border and hiding them took not only a lot of money but also uncommon valor.
I came across Adolf Rudnicki’s book Żywe i martwe morze accidentally. In Złote okna (chapter 12, p. 13), I found a likely hint that ‚Staś Szklany’ is Kazimierz Popławski, “a man you felt you could trust”. The description of this man, the circumstances he was in, and family memories prove that it is him and his actions that Adolf Rudnicki writes about. What the author writes about him in Złote okna is a testimony to the uncommon generosity of this man, for whom not just money but common friendship and solidarity were important.
To conclude, I would like to add that the “feisty brunette” whom Rudnicki mentions, and who undoubtedly helped Popławski in getting people across the border, waited in vain for another month in the Szepietowo house of Włostowscy, fooling herself and struggling to come to terms with the fact that the “master smuggler” had been busted by the Gestapo and would not return. He did not get this batch across the border because he died himself.
I believe that this man’s deeds and his terrible death should be the subject of some historical study that would use his real name: Kazimierz Popławski, b. 1902 in Jabłonna near Warsaw, secondary education, a driver by trade.