The 21st of March marked the 100th birth anniversary of Adina Blady-Szwajgier (Szwajger), for most of her life known as Irena (Inka) Świdowska – a doctor, a socialist and from 1943 a liaison of the Jewish Combat Organisation on the so-called Aryan side, and an insurgent in the Warsaw Uprising.

She was born on 21 March 1917 in Warsaw, in a flat at 30 Świętojerska St. She lived there, mostly with her mother, Stefania Szwajgier, and her maternal grandmother. She came from a mixed family, assimilated on the mother's side. Her father Icchak Szwajgier was a Russian Jew, a so-called stateless person, who for political reasons had to leave his family and Poland for good in 1927 and then settled down in Palestine, where he wrote children's books. Stefania would not leave the country together with her husband because she, similarly to Adina in later life, could not imagine living outside Poland, which she considered her only homeland. Adina met with her father only in 1970, in Israel.

Adina attended the Jehudija middle school for Jewish girls that was run by her mother. In 1934, after her secondary school final exams, she started a course at the University of Warsaw's Physician Faculty. When the war broke out, she was a 16th trimester student. She was scheduled to complete the course in the 1939/1940 academic year.

In July 1939, Rabbi Posner celebrated her religious wedding with Stefan Szpigielman. When the war broke out in September 1939, the couple ran away to the east, first to Białystok and then to Lvov. However, they returned to Białystok, and at the end of December 1939 Adina came to Warsaw, a decision criticised by her mother.

From March 11, 1940 she worked in the Bersohns and Baumans children hospital in Sienna St that was run by Dr Anna Braude-Heller. In the autumn of 1941 she was moved to a newly-created branch in Leszno St. She took care of children suffering from tuberculosis, typhus and starvation. In the summer of 1942, the hospital was moved to Stawki St, just next to Umschlagplatz. On 29 July 1942, Adina lost her mother, whom the Germans took away from her home to Umschlagplatz, and then probably to the Treblinka II death camp. Adina and other doctors gave a lethal dose of morphine to their young patients. In this way she wanted to protect them from being shot dead or gassed.

On 25 January 1943, Adina left the ghetto, as instructed by Marek Edelman: "Marek told me that I had 'good' looks – I was a natural blonde with blue eyes – and that I had no accent when speaking Polish so I could freely move around the city and would be of more use 'there' than here, but I still thought that it would be some sort of an escape and that they would die here, and I would probably survive there, that I couldn't...". From that time on, she introduced herself as Irena Meremińska. She worked as a liaison for the Jewish Combat Organisation – she travelled out of the city, delivered false identity cards and birth certificates and acquired money. Soon before the outbreak of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, she also smuggled weapons and ammunition. Years later, Marek Edelman wrote about her: "She was a true friend. You could have put your own head into her basket, and she would have carried it safely through the guards."

She lived in Maria Sawicka's home in Dzielna St, and then at 24 Miodowa St and also for some time in Międzylesie. In July 1943, she saw her husband Stefan Szpigielman off to Hotel Polski. He probably died in Auschwitz afterwards. She never forgave herself. In the 1980s, she wrote in her memoirs: "I knew that I arranged it for him. With my own hands – he wanted it, but if it had not been for me, he wouldn't have known that this way one could escape from life."

In late 1943 and early 1944 she got a job as a dayroom carer in an orphanage run by the Central Welfare Council at the Salesians of Don Bosco monastery in the Powiśle district. In the spring of 1944 she started a relationship with Bernard Goldstein and got pregnant. Without consulting him, she decided not to have the baby because she thought the times were not suitable for having children and condemning them to certain death.

After the Warsaw Uprising broke out, she worked at a hospital in Miodowa St, and then in Mokotowska St. At that time she met her future husband and father of her two daughters – Władysław Świdowski (nom-de-guerre "Wik", "Sławski", member of the underground Home Army, 1913-1981). In October 1944, she left Warsaw together with a group of injured people. She lived in Grodzisk until the end of the German occupation. 

In late January 1945, she got a job at the Central Committee of Jews in Poland as a clerk for children's affairs and a paediatrician. She graduated from the Medical University of Łódź on 17 April 1951. Until retirement, she worked as a doctor in various medical centres in Łódź, Łagiewniki and Szczecin, first as a doctor specialising in pulmunology and after 1968 as a school doctor.

"After the war, I was a doctor for 40 years. I believe, I truly believe, that you become a doctor to save lives, always and everywhere. I never abandoned this principle in those 40 years. But somewhere below I always thought that I had no right. I had no right to practise the profession! Because you do not start the doctor's career by leading people to death instead of life. And I have been left with this until today." She considered Poland as her country, therefore she never thought of leaving, even after 1968. In an interview carried out by Anka Grupińska in the winter of 1990, she said: "Poland is my country. I speak Polish, feel in Polish and think in Polish, regardless of the fact that I am not an assimilated Jew, but a Polish Jew."

She wrote down her memories, mainly from the times of WW2, in 1988, when she was Marek Edelman's patient at a cardiology ward in a Łódź hospital. They were first published by an underground publishing house in the "Zeszyty Niezależnej Myśli Lekarskiej" (Notebooks of Independent Medical Thought) series. She died of cancer in Łódź on 19 February 1993. He was buried in the "Bund quarter" of the Jewish Cemetery in Okopowa St in Warsaw.

Aleksandra Król, Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat

Bibliography:

  • 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, Krakow, 2002.
  • "Tak naprawdę – w 1942 roku wyszłam z domu i nigdy do niego nie powróciłam. Rozmowa z Adiną Blady Szwajgier" (In fact I went out of home in 1942 and never came back. A conversation with Adina Blady Szwajgier), [in:] A. Grupińska, Ciągle po kole. Rozmowy z żołnierzami getta warszawskiego, Warsaw, 2000.

Sources of quotations (in order of appearance)

  • 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, Krakow, 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 fact I went out of home in 1942 and never came back. A conversation with Adina Blady Szwajgier), [in:] A. Grupińska, Ciągle po kole. Rozmowy z żołnierzami getta warszawskiego, Warsaw, 2000, p. 187.
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