On April 22, 2023, installations symbolically marking the place where civilians hid during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising stood in six locations in Muranów. In this way, the POLIN Museum, together with the SENNA collective, wants to restore the memory of these places to urban reality. By doing so, we are also reminding the civilians - the most numerous group participating in the 1943 uprising. We have selected 6 figures who are at the same time heroes and heroines of the temporary exhibition "Around us a sea of fire".
“I was beyond reality, as if I was being lethargic, I wasn’t even afraid. I survived because there was always someone standing by me and guiding me.”2 During the Uprising, Krystyna Budnicka was 11 years old; her birth name was Hena Kuczer. She spent long months in a bunker with her parents and siblings.
Hena was the youngest child of Cyrla and Józef Lejzor. Before the war her father and brothers ran a carpentry and building workshop at Muranowski Sq in Warsaw. In the ghetto, they specialised in building lockers where Jews hid valuables to protect them from being confiscated. From 1942, the Kuczers constructed hiding places for people.
Hena’s brothers Boruch and Szaja perished together with their families in the summer of 1942 in Treblinka. Third brother, Rafał, had also been deported, but he escaped from the transport and returned to the ghetto where he supervised the construction of a shelter for the Kuczer family. The construction work was financed by other families who were offered a place to hide in the shelter in return.
The shelter was located in the basement of the house at 54 Zamenhofa/44 Muranowska Streets. Its rooms were constructed under two basements. The shelter had access to water and electricity, there was a working kitchen and a radio. A tunnel was dug to connect the bunker with the city sewers.
When the Uprising broke out, there were approximately forty people in the bunker. Rafał, Chaim and Isaak Kuczer had contacts in the Jewish Combat Organisation and they participated in armed combat. On 26 April, the Germans set the building at 56 Zamenhofa St on fire. The people who hid inside moved to the sewers to escape the heat. When the Germans pumped gas into the sewers they had to return to the bunker. The bunker’s section used as food supplies’ storage collapsed.
The bunker’s residents were thus deprived of food and suffered from famine and illnesses for many weeks. Rafał was gravely ill so his companions from the underground carried him to the “Aryan” side. Izaak and Chaim were killed by Poles who were looking for loot in the ghetto area.
On 23 September 1943, Hena, her parents, sister Perla, the youngest brother Yehuda and Anka, Isaac’s wife, entered the sewers in order to get to the “Aryan” side. Hena’s parents had no energy to go any further. Perla would not leave them alone, so they stayed in the sewers together. Hena, Yehuda and Anka were pulled out of the sewers and installed in a hideout on the “Aryan” side.
Yehuda died shortly afterwards due to the infection he had contracted having drunk water from the sewers. Rafał was turned in by an informer and murdered by the Gestapo. Hena and her sister-in-law Anka were looked after by the Jewish National Committee which helped them find new shelters and offered them an allowance.
After the Warsaw Uprising the two women ended up in Pruszków. Anka left Hena at the orphanage run by nuns. Hena-Krysia stayed there until the end of the war and longer, till her matura exam. She graduated from the university and worked as a teacher in Warsaw. Since 1991, she has been a member of the Children of the Holocaust Association in Poland.