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23.11.2018

A large collection of secret messages has been donated to Museum’s collection

Prisoners of stalags, oflags and the Majdanek camp and Lublin Castle referred to her as ‘Aunt Antonina’ or ‘Dear Mother,’ whereas for habitants of Lublin she was known as a patriotic and social activist, whose social activity was honoured by naming one of the streets of the city after her. Family of Antonina Grygowa, mentioned above, donated to our Museum almost 200 secret messages sent by Polish prisoners of the Majdanek concentration camp.

The collection of letters, donated by Andrzej Putz - Antonina Grygowa's grandson - and his daughter Joanna Putz-Leszczyńska, consists of the unprinted edges of newspapers, pages from a notebook, shreds of packaging paper or cigarette papers. The prisoners in KL Lublin were sending their correspondence to Antonina Grygowa on such materials. They were informing mainly about their health, describing their needs or the situation in the camp.

Why did Antonina Grygowa become their confidant? In memories of the family she is remembered as a woman ‘providing constant help and sacrifice to all those who needed this help in material and moral sense.’ As her daughter Zofia said: ‘she was helping not only those who asked for help but she also was looking for those who could need her heart and generosity at the time.’ A former prisoner of Majdanek concentration camp, Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk, recounted: ‘(...) people were sent to Orla. How did they know the address? Would you believe that Antonina was going out to the street and she was asking the weary comers if they would like to rest, eat, have a bath, and she often gave them money she just earned.’ The extent of her activity included not only Lublin, but also concentration and prisoner-of-war camps in the Reich. The prisoners received from her not only packages with food and medicine, but also letters with words of support and consolation.

The language of messages is usually quite frugal and it was used by the authors to formulate their most important matters. However, there are exceptions to this rule, which indicate the epistolary craftsmanship of the authors of correspondence. The messages written by Dr. Henryk Wieliczański, a prisoner of Majdanek concentration camp, can certainly serve as an example. In his letters, he was confiding in Antonina Grygowa about his concerns about his loved ones, he was describing his feelings towards beloved wife and daughter, and he was acknowledging for her care in the camp. In the letter from December 14, 1943, we can read: ‘Dear Mrs. Antonina! The day before yesterday more than 1000 sick people from Sachsenhausen (near to Berlin) came to us. These were mostly Germans, Russians, Croatans, etc. The number of Poles is minimal. These are almost all people suffered from tuberculosis. Yesterday a transport from Oświęcim came: 66 women and 100 men, Jews among them. (...) Yesterday I received a great package. I don't even thank you for your memory and commitment. Christmas is coming - sad and hard it will be, hearts full of anxiety, here - our hearts are concerned about you, and yours - we know - we know what happens in the hearts of our sisters and brothers. Everybody will be at the common Christmas table by his heart, ravens and crows will guard our separated bodies. But they will not separate us all. How sad it is to remember last year's holidays, let alone the coming ones.

The majority of messages were signed by their authors with pseudonyms. The idea was that, when the messages would be intercepted by camp staff, it would be not clear who the author was. Sending illegal letters had severe consequences for prisoners.

The collection given to the Museum is of great value as a source of knowledge about the Majdanek concentration camp, about the conditions in which the prisoners were detained, but also about the prisoners themselves. We learn about the addressee of the letters that she provided prisoners with sacrificial help, not only in material sense, but also lifted their spirits. Thanks to her they did not want to lose hope because they knew that someone was watching over them behind the wires. Antonina Grygowa, asked after years which of those messages gave her the greatest satisfaction, answered: ‘All of them. I am getting ill very often now, so I take those messages and while reading them I feel very happy that I could do what I did.’

So far, the collections of the State Museum at Majdanek have contained 24 secret messages written to ‘Aunt Antonina,’ handed over by both former prisoners and her daughter – Zofia Putz. The collection included also a personal notebook containing entries connected with sending packages to KL Lublin.

Being aware of the trust placed in us, as well as the uniqueness of those extraordinary remembrances, we would like to thank Andzrej Putz and Joanna Putz-Leszczyńska for giving us another 195 messages, which will enrich the archival resources of the State Museum at Majdanek.

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