Janina Krawczyk: one dream, one faith, one will

Janina Krawczyk was born in 1919 in Vilnuis which was a part of Poland at that time. She had three younger brothers. Janina always wanted to become a teacher by profession, but when Germany invaded and occupied Poland, her dream became impossible. Nevertheless she decided to take a course with the Ursusline nuns who taught illegally.

In the summer of 1944 the situation in Poland got even worse and many Polish people were arrested, including Janina Krawczyk. In July, Janina was arrested in Warsaw and imprisoned in the Gestapo prison „Pawiak.“  But she was released shortly after her arrest.

On 1 August 1944 the Uprising began in Warsaw. At that time Janina was there and she described that time as extremely hard and dangerous. The Polish hoped that the Russian troops would help out but help did not come. In September Janina and her family had to hide in cellars and similar kinds of places in order to stay alive and free.

By September the Warsaw resistance was supressed and more than 6,000 Polish people were sent to different concentration camps. Janina and her mother were arrested and sent to Pruszkow, a transit camp, where they met her brother. The next day they were sent to Groß-Rosen which, previously, used to be one of the Sachsenhausen satellite concentration camps. Later that night her brother was murdered.

The next morning they were taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp which was located 90 km north of Berlin and was a concentration camp for women and children only. Ravensbruck was erected in May 1939 and by 1945 130,000 female prisoners had passed through the camp. Approximately 40,000 inmates were Polish. Janina and her mother stayed together with 900 other women in the barrack. Some women had to be sent to a brothel for the soldiers at the front, while other prisoners had to do mostly women’s work like sewing, weaving, knitting etc. Fortunately, Janina and her mother stayed in the camp. Janina’s prisoner number in Ravensbruck was 65266.

On October, 6, Janina Krawczyk, her mother and other 650 women were sent to Hennigsdorf to work as slave labourers for AEG (General Electricity Company). The satellite camp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp was 3 km away from the factory where they worked in 12-hour shifts. The barracks in which the women lived consisted of 3 rooms (24 inmates  in each room). Janina and her mother lived in Block 2, room 1. Janina´s personal number was 7434.

At the factory Janina worked in the mechanical department with other women who were watched by 2 supervisors and 2 guards, usually women. The inmates were kept strictly separate from German civilian employees. They were also forbidden to make contact with Polish „foreign workers“ during their working hours.

Compared to Ravensbruck, the conditions in Hennigsdorf were much better, according to Janina. They were able to „decorate“ the room they lived in with a small curtain, paper napkin and even an altar. Also, Janina made some jewellery out of the things she could find at the factory.

Once the guards saw the altar and ordered Janina to burn it. Janina started to cry and when the guard asked why she was crying, one of the women had to lie saying that Janina had a headache.

Janina didn’t speak any German and as she puts it, „at least I didn’t have a clue what the curses meant, so they couldn’t really humiliate me“. Their block senior was a Russian woman. One of her duties was to ensure that rules were followed in the barrack. She was also responsible for the prisoners. And their interpreter was Ukranian.

For breakfast they had one slice of bread, a square of about 10 cm, and it had to last for the rest of the day. Later they would have a dirty soup-broth with one potato.

The women were given old clothes marked with a cross X – and not the striped prisoners clothes. They also had a pair of wooden shoes which were uncomfortable and impractical, especially in the winter.

Many women in the camp were religious and Janina’s faith helped her in those circumstances as well. One of the inmates had a  prayer book. It contained the litanies, which Janina copied on some scrap paper from the factory so they could pray even when that woman was away.

The air raids were usual during the week but after the factory was  bombed they were taken on a death march to the Baltic sea. After 3 days of walking Janina and her mother as well as some other inmates were liberated by Polish soldiers.

After the liberation Janina Krawczyk returned to Poland where she started working as a teacher. She lived in Chojnice (Chojna). Then she moved to Debno, and worked for 2 years. In 1952 she returned to Warsaw and worked as a teacher. When Janina no longer wanted to teach history, because he didn’t like the communists‘ version of History, she became a bookkeeper.

She retired in 1977. Died in 1999.

The timeline of Janina Krawczyk

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