Adina Blady-Szwajger (21st March 1917, Warsaw – 19th of February 1993, Łódź) - paediatrician, doctor in the children’s hospital in the Warsaw Ghetto, liaison officer with the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB).
She was born on 21st March 1917 in Warsaw, in an apartment at 30, Świętojerska Street. She lived there mainly with her mother, Stefania Szwajgier, and her maternal grandmother. She came from a mixed family, her mother’s side being assimilated. However, her father, Icchak Szwajgier, was a Russian Jew, “stateless” in that in 1927, for political reasons, he had to permanently leave his family and Poland. He then settled in Palestine, where he wrote children’s books. Stefania did not want to leave the country with her husband because, like Adina later, she could not imagine living outside Poland, her only homeland. Adina did not meet her father until 1970, in Israel.
Adina attended the Jehudija High School for Jewish Girls, run by her mother. In 1934, following her matriculation, she began studying in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Warsaw. When the War broke out, she was in the 16th trimester of her studies. She graduated in the 1939/1940 academic year.
In July 1939, Rabbi Posner officiated at her marriage to Stefan Szpigielman. When the War broke out in September 1939, the couple escaped to the east, initially to Białystok and then to Lwów. However, from there, they returned to Białystok and, at the end of December 1939, Adina returned to Warsaw, much to her mother’s dissatisfaction.
On 11th March 1940, she began work at the Bersohn and Bauman Children’s Hospital on Sienna Street, which was headed by Dr Anna Braude-Heller. From the autumn of 1941, she moved to the newly-established branch on Leszno Street, where she cared for children suffering from tuberculosis, typhus and starvation. In the summer of 1942, the hospital was moved to Stawki Street, right next to the Umschlagplatz. On 29th July 1942, Adina lost her mother, whom the Germans took from her home to the Umschlagplatz and, from there, probably to the Treblinka II extermination camp. Adina, together with other doctors, gave lethal morphine injections to the children’s hospital patients. In this way, she wished to protect them from being shot or killed in the gas chambers.
On 25th January 1943, at the urging of Marek Edelman, Adina left the ghetto:
Marek explained to me that I have a “good” appearance - I was a natural blonde with blue eyes – that I had no accent when I spoke Polish, so that I could easily move around the city and that “there” I would be more useful than here. But it still seemed to me that it would be some kind of escape and they might perish here while I survived there – that I couldn’t do ….
From that time, she became “ Irena Meremińska”. She worked as a liaison officer for the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB) – travelling to the provinces, delivering false identity cards and certificates, and collecting funds. Just prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, she also smuggled weapons and ammunition. Years later, about her, Marek Edelman wrote:
“She was a real friend. You could have put your own head in a basket and she would have carried it safely past the guards”.
She lived with Maria Sawicka, on Dzielna Street, and then at 24 Miodowa Street – also, sometimes in Międzylesie. In July 1943, she escorted her own husband, Stefan Szpigielman, to the Hotel Polski. Later, he probably perished in Auschwitz. She never forgave herself for that. In the 1980’s, in her memoirs, she wrote:
I knew that I had arranged that for him with my own hands. That is what he wanted but, if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t have even known that this was a way to escape with your life.
At the end of 1943, she was employed as a day-room worker in the Central Welfare Council’s orphanage at the Silesian cloisters in Powiśle. In the spring of 1944, she formed a relationship with Bernard Goldstein and became pregnant. Without consulting him, she decided not to give birth to the child, as she thought that this was not the right time and the child would be condemned to certain death.
Following the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, she worked in a hospital on Miodowa Street and then on Mokotowska Street. At that time, she met her future husband and the father of her two daughters - Władysław Świdowski (pseud. “Wik”, “Sławski”, a member of the Home Army, 1913-1981). In October 1944, she left Warsaw with a group of wounded. Until the end of the German occupation, she lived in Grodzisk.
At the end of January 1945, she worked for the Central Committee of Jews in Poland as a children’s affairs officer and paediatrician. On 17th April 1945, she received her graduation certificate from Łódź Medical Academy. Until her retirement, she worked as a doctor if various medical centres in Łódź, Łagiewniki and Szczecin, initially as a physiotherapy specialist and, after 1968, as a school doctor.
Over forty years after the War, I worked as a doctor. I believe, I truly believe, that a doctor is meant to save lives, anytime and anywhere. Over those forty years, I never departed from that view. But, somewhere deep-down, I always thought that I did not have the right, that I did not have the right to practise this profession! After all, a doctor’s work begins with escorting people to life – not death. And that has stayed with me until now.
She considered Poland as her country, which is why she never thought of leaving – even after 1968. In an interview with Anka Grupińska in the winter of 1990, she said:
Poland is my country. I speak Polish, I feel Polish, I think in Polish, regardless of the fact that I am not an assimilated Jew, but a Polish Jew.
In 1988, she wrote her memoirs, mainly about the period of World War II, at a time when she was a patient of Marek Edelman in the cardiology ward of a hospital in Łódź. They appeared for the first time in the “second circulation” of the “Notebooks of Independent Medical Thought”. She died in Łódź on 19th February 1993. She was buried in the “Bund section” of the Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw.
Aleksandra Król, Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat
- Blady-Szwajger A., I więcej nic nie pamiętam, Warsaw 2010.
- Blady-Szwajger A., Szpital w getcie, Warsaw 1987.
- Grupińska A., Odczytanie listy. Opowieści o powstańcach żydowskich, Kraków 2002.
- Tak naprawdę – w 1942 roku wyszłam z domu i nigdy do niego nie powróciłam. Rozmowa z Adiną Blady Szwajgier, [in:] A. Grupińska, Ciągle po kole. Rozmowy z żołnierzami getta warszawskiego, Warsaw 2000.
Citation sources (in sequence):
- Blady-Szwajger A., I więcej nic nie pamiętam, Warsaw 2010, p. 128.
- Edelman M., Kilka refleksji, [in:] R. Assuntino, W. Goldkorn, Strażnik. Marek Edelman opowiada, Kraków 2006, p. 139.
- Blady-Szwajger A., I więcej nic nie pamiętam, Warsaw 2010, p. 222.
- Blady-Szwajger A., I więcej nic nie pamiętam, Warsaw 2010, p. 287.
- Tak naprawdę – w 1942 roku wyszłam z domu i nigdy do niego nie powróciłam. Rozmowa z Adiną Blady Szwajgier, [in:] Grupińska A., Ciągle po kole. Rozmowy z żołnierzami getta warszawskiego, Warsaw 2000, p. 187