Rescuers of Jews

Dževecka (Drzewiecka) Aleksandra


Greg (Stan) Shershnevsky

Fromthe 4th book Hands Bringing Life and Bread

My rescuer was Aleksandra Drzewiecka. I don’t know her date of birth. To me and my wife it seemed that when the war was over she had to have been about 60. She died in Poland in 1968.
I don’t know if she had ever been married, I only know, that during the war she lived alone, and didn’t have her own children. She was poor her whole life. I believe that her only income after the war was a 60 rouble pension, which she received for saving a Soviet Army major (In July 1944, with the front approaching Vilnius, right in front of our house, where Aleksandra Drzewiecka was living, the Germans dug trenches and entrenched themselves. The battle continued for a few days in Aleksandra Drzewiecka’s courtyard at Užupis Street No. 5. The residents of surrounding buildings sat closed up, without water. When they tried to leave, the Germans would shoot at once. Aleksandra Drzewiecka, despite the shooting, tied a white band on her sleeve and walked into the courtyard, bandaged the injured, and dragged a severely injured Soviet soldier, lying in the courtyard, into her cellar, took care of him until everything calmed down, and then medics took the injured. Daily Krasnoarmeijskaja pravda, 30 July, 1944).When I was given to Aleksandra Drzewiecka – Mommy, as I would later call her –, I was just 7 month old; therefore I really can’t remember much. Most of what I know I learned from my father Ber Shershnevsky, stepmother Frida Matskevich, my uncle Daniel Katz and recollections of Aleksandra Drzewiecka. As Frida said, Sonia Madeisker lived on Užupio Street, not far from Aleksandra Drzewiecka. Sonia knew that Alexandra helped children, and told this to my parents and helped them to develop their first contacts. I guess I was given to Aleksandra Drzewiecka at the beginning of November 1941. I don’t think that my parents, Vilnius ghetto underground members Ber and Rose Shershnevsky, could have helped Alexandra out financially, however I have heard stories that the members of the underground, and later the partisans, helped her with food products.I lived until the end of the war in Aleksandra Drzewiecka’s cellar on Užupio Street. The image of the dark smoky cellar was burned so deeply into my memory that sometimes it seems that perhaps I dreamed it, maybe it wasn’t reality, but later Mommy confirmed that the flat looked exactly like that: one had to go down the stairs from the courtyard into the cellar, and having opened the door to the flat there were a few more steps, which you had to go down even further. The large room was divided in half by a vaulted arch. I remember that in the first half, to the right of the door, was the kitchen stove. I didn’t understand where Mommy was getting wood or the coal for the stove. I just remember that room was always filled with smoke. In the other part of the room, almost near the ceiling at ground level, there was a narrow window into the courtyard.I don’t have any doubts for the reasons behind the rescuing – deep religious beliefs (she was a Catholic), love for children, and compassion explain her self-sacrifice. She rescued and helped other children, regardless of their nationality. However by rescuing Jews, she was risking her life. That didn’t stop her, which is why not only me, but also Getelė Gitelman, who now lives in Israel, stayed alive. And only because of this are our children and grandchildren living now.
Registering me at the municipality, Mommy said she found me on the steps of the church and wanted to adopt me. She told this story to her neighbours, and her older adopted children. No one knew that I was a Jewish child; all the more that in my childhood (like now) I did not look like a typical Jew.After the war I visited my Mommy rarely, mostly during Christmas. Though she was very poor, she always would prepare, as was tradition, 12 dishes for Christmas Eve, among them fried potatoes, potato pancakes, a few kinds of herring...The last time I saw her in Vilnius was 1957, when she was getting ready to go to Poland. In 1967, one year before her death, I together with my wife Raja, and uncle Daniel Katz visited her in Poland. Like many other events, this meeting was described in my uncle’s book Concert played for alives. My uncle was also there.

/.../ A year passed. We went with Stasik (Grisha) Shershnevsky and his wife Raja to Poznan, to the Catholic care home at Reitan No. 6, which was where Aleksandra Drzewiecka lived. A cross hung on the wall in her clean, white room and that same holy picture from her Užupio Street Nr. 5 home – Christ Descending from the Mountain. A small old woman sat in a chair and looked surprised at the visitors. Stasik went to her, hugged her and asked “Do you know me?” Looking closely at him, she answered: “No, I do not know you, sir”. And Stasik said: “Mommy, look closer, you know me”. Almost having gotten angry she reacted a bit more hotly: “My eyesight is fine, I do not know you sir”. “Mommy, it’s me, Stasik...” If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes what happened, I wouldn’t have believed it. The old woman jumped up, as if she was 15 years old, hugged him on her tiptoes and cried and cried. She was talking like she was talking with a small child “Stasik, my dearest...” Everyone looked at him. Afterwards she glanced at Christ hanging on the wall, fell on her knees and talked with Him wordlessly... We didn’t disturb her, and we heard only Raja’s sobs, and my throat dried up. I looked at Stasik. That was another Stasik, not the one I had known. This Stasik was Aleksandra Drzewiecka’s son, and she was his Mommy... (Daniel Katz. Koncert grany Zywym. – Warszawa: Agencja Wydawnicza TU, 1998 / Translated from: Concert played for alives)
A few years later, while touring Israel, I visited the Yad Vashem National Remembrance Institute in Jerusalem. It was there I found out that Getelė Gitelman’s mother had applied for recognition of Aleksandra Drzewiecka as the Righteous Among the Nations. The name of Aleksandra Drzewiecka, among hundreds of other names of the Righteous is inscribed on the Yad Vashem Institute’s Wall of the Righteous in the Garden of the Righteous Among Nations. Thanks to a wonderful coincidence we can find her name in the Holocaust Museum in Washington – at the end of the exposition there are a few copies of a few monuments from the Yad Vashem‘s Garden of the Righteous Among Nations, with one of those monuments being a copy with Aleksandra Drzewiecka’s name.

The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, 2009
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