Ilana Geva is the only survivor of a family which came from Warsaw and nearby Błonie. Today she lives in Israel and is trying to find out more about her ancestors from Poland.
Ilana Geva was born in 1939 as Ilona Jankielewicz. Her father, Leon Jankielewicz, was born in Błonie and studied at the University of Warsaw. Her mother, Fella Bonk, was born in Warsaw. In 1936, they were married in the Nożyk Synagogue. In 1940, the family was confined inside the Warsaw ghetto. In 1942, when Ilona was two and a half years old, her father managed to sneak her out of the ghetto, by throwing her over the ghetto wall into the caring hands of his Polish friend Wacław Bebak from Podkowa Leśna.
The Nożyk Synagogue in Warsaw. The only one active pre-war synagogue that survived World War II.
Leon Jankielewicz tried to hide on the “Aryan side”, on Próżna Street, until he was arrested and turned over to the Gestapo headquarters on Szucha Street. In a letter, smuggled out from his arrest, Leon asked Wacław Bebak to help him with the money needed for his release.
He wrote, “Free me and the woman who is with me”. The woman was probably his wife, who had succeeded in escaping from the ghetto. Unfortunately, when Wacław Bebak arrived at the Gestapo, Leon was no longer there. That letter is the last trace of Leon. Nobody knows how and when Leon and Fella died.
Leon Jankielewicz in the uniform of a Polish Army soldier in Grodno before 1939
Ilona Jankielewicz survived the war as the only member of the family. In 1948, she joined her relatives in Israel. Later, she married and changed her name onto Ilana Geva. She studied at the Bar-Ilan University, and her Master’s degree research concerned the Warsaw ghetto.
Ilana Geva visited POLIN Museum in June 2018. After viewing the Museum’s Core Exhibition, she came to the Resource Centre. While there, on a map of the ghetto, the staff showed the exact spot where she was thrown over the wall, not far from a market square and railway tracks. Moreover, they presented Ilana with old photographs showing the house where her family used to live.
Ilana stayed in touch with the POLIN Museum. Krzysztof Bielawski, from the Resource Centre, found more data about her ancestors. Her grandfather, Ruben Jankielewicz, owned a bakery in Błonie. He was also head of the Błonie branch of The Society for Supporting Jewish Students in Poland “Auxilium Acadamicum Judaicum”. The Society established the Jewish Academic House in Warsaw. It provided accommodation for about 300 Jewish students, including Menachem Begin.
A few months later, Ilana returned to Poland. This time, her daughter accompanied her, bringing with her the letter Ilana’s father had smuggled out of the Gestapo headquarters.
Ilana Geva with Bebak family after the war.
The Resource Centre’s staff helped Ilana to find a few addresses which are significant to her family. After a few hours spent at the Resource Centre, Ilana and her daughter visited those places, including the University of Warsaw, where Leon Jankielewicz had studied, and the Mirowska market hall, where Ilana’s maternal grandfather had three clothing shops.
In 2019, for her 80th birthday, Ilana Geva came to Poland, accompanied by her sons, daughter and grandchildren – fourteen people in all. They wanted to reconnect with their family’s roots. Their visit to the Resource Centre was a moving experience for them all. To this day, Ilana keeps in touch with the Museum team.
After her return to Israel, Ilana wrote to the POLIN Museum,
"It is now a month since we were in Warsaw. Every day, I think about how much you helped us. I want to thank you again for all your persistent and devoted hard work, opening my eyes to completely new paths. You made a big difference for me and for my family."