The lab­o­ra­to­ry at the Bersohn and Bau­man Hos­pi­tal, Novem­ber 1930. The pho­to­graph comes from the Nation­al Dig­i­tal Archive (Code: 1‑C-683 – 5).”

Author Dr. Maria Ciesiel­s­ka and edi­tor Luc Albins­ki share their thoughts on their book The Doc­tors of the War­saw Ghet­to

From Dr. Maria Ciesielska:

Many years ago, I saw the first ques­tion­naires filled in by Jew­ish doc­tors in the War­saw Ghet­to. The ques­tion­naires includ­ed pho­tos of their faces. For the first time, I saw their faces and could­n’t for­get. Same as me, quite young but mature. They wrote that they had wives, hus­bands, and chil­dren. Just like me. They wrote that they earned lit­tle, but that they were still inter­est­ed in med­i­cine. Some men­tioned the titles of sci­en­tif­ic papers. I was already work­ing in research then, too. There were so many sim­i­lar­i­ties, but where was I sup­posed to look for these doc­tors? Where had they gone? Of course, I sub­con­scious­ly knew what had hap­pened but still could­n’t believe it. Today I know that over 90% of them were mur­dered. The Doc­tors of the War­saw Ghet­to book is a ceme­tery, maybe the only place where some names are com­mem­o­rat­ed. I don’t know if you can say Kad­dish over a book. If it is pos­si­ble, please do.

From Luc Albinski:

The phone rang one evening in Johan­nes­burg in 2016; when I answered, the excit­ed voice of my moth­er — an eighty-one-year-old Holo­caust sur­vivor — greet­ed me. I have just been con­tact­ed by a researcher who is writ­ing a book about the doc­tors in the War­saw Ghet­to,” She exclaimed. She wants to meet with us to hear our sto­ry.” It was at that moment that a rela­tion­ship formed between my fam­i­ly and Dr. Maria Ciesielska.

Soon after­wards my mom sent me Maria’s arti­cle which had recent­ly been pub­lished by the Eleono­ra Reich­er Insti­tute of the Med­ical Uni­ver­si­ty of War­saw. Its title was arrest­ing: To care for chil­dren on their way and beyond — his­to­ry of female doc­tors from the War­saw Ghet­to who stood with their patients until the very end.” My eyes dart­ed to the abstract where I found the name of my grand­moth­er, Dr. Hali­na Szenicer-Rot­stein. My heart missed a beat. Thanks to Maria’s painstak­ing research I was about to read for the first time an account of my grandmother’s life and of her trag­ic sac­ri­fice. I skipped to the two para­graphs on Hali­na and was soon over­come with emo­tion, tear­ing up as I read the sec­ond paragraph:

As recalled by Dr. Adolf Poli­siuk, Dr. Rot­stein received the so-called num­ber of life and could attempt to res­cue her­self. Instead, how­ev­er, she “(…) vol­un­tar­i­ly entered the wag­on with her patients con­sid­er­ing it her duty to do so.”

Dr. Makow­er described her actions in the fol­low­ing way: How calm was this woman, per­haps just a lit­tle younger than me (a moth­er of four whose hus­band was God knows where in the USSR), in the mid­dle of unpar­al­leled uproar and the gen­er­al anx­i­ety in the hos­pi­tal! When it became clear that the heads would leave the hos­pi­tal (…) Dr. Rot­stein did not hes­i­tate and took every­thing under her con­trol. (…) The chil­dren walked by them­selves, with only some of them being car­ried away in arms. Adult patients were usu­al­ly trans­port­ed on stretch­ers. This was hor­ri­ble, incom­pa­ra­bly more hor­ri­ble than a pro­ces­sion of healthy peo­ple walk­ing towards their demise.”

Dr. Ciesielska’s 2017 Pol­ish-lan­guage book, The Doc­tors of the War­saw Ghet­to was a god­send. It pro­vid­ed us with fas­ci­nat­ing detail about my grand­moth­er, Dr. Hali­na Rot­stein. We learnt about Halina’s work in the first aid shed on the Umschlag­platz, the depar­ture area at the rail­way sta­tion before Jews were led to exter­mi­na­tion camps. We learnt how every time the cat­tle wag­ons depart­ed, Hali­naand Nurse Fryd would col­lect twen­ty to thir­ty babies aban­doned by their ter­ri­fied par­ents on the rail­way plat­form. We learnt about Halina’s last-ditch attempts to keep the Staw­ki Street hos­pi­tal going; how she car­ried out oper­a­tions to treat vic­tims of gun-shot wounds, how she pro­tect­ed the hospital’s mea­ger inven­to­ries by post­ing a guard to ensure the food was not stolen. Most impor­tant­ly, we learnt how she remained at her post after many of her col­leagues escaped from the War­saw Ghet­toand was deport­ed on Sep­tem­ber 12th, 1942, to Tre­blin­ka with her patients. Rather than seek­ing to save her­self, she gave away her life tick­et’ know­ing that her four chil­dren had by then been smug­gled out of the Ghetto.

To cite Paul Auster, the truth of the sto­ry lies in the details” and in the hun­dreds of pages of metic­u­lous research that Dr. Ciesiel­s­ka, a prac­it­ing fam­i­ly physi­cian, con­duct­ed in her spare time; this book suc­ceeds in con­vey­ing the truth about the extra­or­di­nary courage and resilience of the men and women con­sti­tut­ing the War­saw Ghetto’s med­ical corps who faced dai­ly hor­rors of mur­der and depri­va­tion with, in many cas­es, an almost super­hu­man resolve. They formed part of a group of more than 830 doc­tors in the Ghet­to who ran the Judenrat’s Med­ical Coun­cil, the Ghetto’s three hos­pi­tals, eigh­teen phar­ma­cies, med­ical lab­o­ra­to­ries, and emer­gency health­care ser­vices. They staffed char­i­ta­ble orga­ni­za­tions such as TOZ (Towarzyst­wo Ochrony Zdrowia Lud­noś­ci Żydowskiej, or Soci­ety for Safe­guard­ing the Health of the Jew­ish Pop­u­la­tion) but also in a few cas­es pro­vid­ed med­ical ser­vices to the Jew­ish Police. They orga­nized a suc­cess­ful under­ground med­ical uni­ver­si­ty and nurs­ing school. Amid the agony of the Ghet­to, Dr. Ciesiel­s­ka explains how this remark­able cohort of ded­i­cat­ed doc­tors found the where­with­al to con­duct med­ical research on hunger, dis­ease, and typhus for the ben­e­fit of future generations.

Dr. Ciesielska’s book has been impor­tant for dozens of fam­i­lies who sur­vived the Shoah and who are attempt­ing, many decades lat­er, to under­stand — imper­fect­ly — the tragedy expe­ri­enced by their grand­par­ents and great grand­par­ents. To illus­trate this point, Dr. Ciesiel­s­ka told me of an unfor­get­table encounter with one sec­ond gen­er­a­tion sur­vivor who expe­ri­enced a tremen­dous sense of clo­sure when he learnt, through read­ing her book, about the awful fate of his grand­fa­ther, hith­er­to unknown, one of the few doc­tors in the Ghet­to to have starved to death.

Dr. Ciesiel­s­ka lists sev­en­ty-four Catholic doc­tors who risked their lives and those of their fam­i­lies and often even their pro­fes­sion­al peers, to help Jews escape the Ghet­to and hide on the Aryan side. Some of these Catholic doc­tors belonged to Żego­ta, an under­ground resis­tance orga­ni­za­tion which was tasked with assist­ing Jews. Amongst these were Dr Tro­janows­ki and Dr Radlińs­ka, who helped to save Halina’s four chil­dren, one of which is my moth­er, Wan­da. With­out them, I would not be here today writ­ing these words.

Dr. Maria Ciesiel­s­ka has reached across the wall of for­get­ting to bring alive for future gen­er­a­tions the sac­ri­fice and incred­i­ble empath­ic spir­it that ani­mat­ed the doc­tors in the War­saw Ghet­to. May they nev­er be forgotten.

Dr. Maria Ciesiel­s­ka is a spe­cial­ist in Fam­i­ly Med­i­cine and a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er with a doc­tor­ate in med­ical his­to­ry. A keen per­son­al inter­est in learn­ing more about the fate of her Jew­ish peers in War­saw dur­ing the Holo­caust moti­vat­ed Maria to pub­lish an award-win­ning book on this top­ic in 2017 after years of research.

Luc Albins­ki is a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion holo­caust sur­vivor whose moth­er escaped the War­saw Ghet­to in 1942 and was hid­den in an orphan­age out­side War­saw for the remain­der of the war. She mar­ried a Catholic and Luc was brought up as a Catholic, only learn­ing about his Jew­ish ori­gins in his ear­ly twen­ties. Since then, he has spent much time research­ing the fate of his Pol­ish-Jew­ish grand­moth­er, Hali­na Rot­stein, a doc­tor in the War­saw Ghet­to, who decid­ed to accom­pa­ny her patients to the Tre­blin­ka death camp. Human rights and devel­op­ment issues have been key issues of inter­est for Luc who spent time in Bosnia dur­ing and after the war and has, since 2006, led an invest­ment com­pa­ny, Van­tage Cap­i­tal, focused on invest­ing in mid-sized busi­ness­es in a dozen coun­tries in Africa as well as on pro­mot­ing the use of renew­able ener­gy in South Africa. More recent­ly, Van­tage Cap­i­tal has start­ed an edu­ca­tion busi­ness focused on Cen­tral Europe includ­ing, until recent­ly, Ukraine. Luc lives in Johan­nes­burg and is an active mem­ber of the Johan­nes­burg Holo­caust and Geno­cide Centre.