Irena Ejsmond

Street scene in the Warsaw ghetto, early 1940s

This story was submitted by Christopher Ejsmond, an  intern at The Wiener Library who’s special interests are Polish-Jewish relations and Holocaust Studies.

Before the war, Irena Ejsmond, a Warsaw resident, and Jozef Tondowski, had been colleagues at work. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, Tondowski was imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto with his wife, Edwarda. In 1942, Jozef escaped from the ghetto and one day he met Irena on the Aryan side of the city and told her that he had to return to the ghetto to collect some valuable paintings that belonged to his family. Jozef asked Irena to house the paintings in her home. After this, Edwarda arrived at Irena’s home with two more paintings and asked Irena if she could be sheltered at Irena’s home, as her safety in her current hiding place could no longer be guaranteed. Irena immediately agreed and in 1943, Edwarda was joined by her husband, Jozef, where the couple stayed for several months. The Tondowski’s possessed forged papers which allowed them to move freely around occupied Poland and after leaving Irena’s home, where they were sheltered from the Nazis, they settled in Zakopane, not far from Cracow where they remained in safety until the liberation in 1945. When the civilian population was driven out of Warsaw after the Uprising of 1944, the Tondowski’s returned their hospitality and sheltered Irena in their apartment until the end of the war.

In 1989, Yad Vashem recognized Irena Ejsmond as Righteous Among the Nations.

The Ejsmond’s are members of an old Polish-Lithuanian family, itself possibly of Jewish origin, though assimilated into Polish culture since the sixteenth century. They were active in politics, the arts and the military and lived in a number of locations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1947, my branch of the family arrived in the UK, after having been deported into the Soviet Union and spending the war years in Soviet internment camps until the Anders Amnesty when they were allowed to join the Polish armies fighting alongside the allies in some of the major theatres of war. My grandparents and father were based in Palestine until 1947, after which they entered the UK from Port Said in Egypt, docking at Southampton in 1947 to begin a new chapter in their lives.

Previously, Christopher worked on a project with Prof. Rainer Schulze of Essex University at the Polish Underground Movement Study Trust in west London where he was responsible for translating primary sources on the Bergen-Belsen camp and the Polish resistance movement. At The Wiener Library, Christopher is accessioning the predominantly Polish-language Polonsky collection which will make available a vast resource of hitherto unchartered sources relevant to the Library’s outstanding collection.