A Collection of Prof. Romuald Sztaba Memorabilia at Majdanek Museum
The daughter of former prisoner of KL Lublin Prof. Romuald Sztaba, Ewa Sztaba-Chmielarz, has donated valuable documents and memorabilia belonging to her father to the State Museum at Majdanek. They include notebooks with professor’s hand-written notes, his arrest warrant or his wristwatch that had never parted with. The donation took place on 12 September 2018 during one of the meetings in the series, Majdanek in Family Memory.
1 Nov 1979 Today is All Saints’ Day.
Romuald Sztaba about death: “There is a line of continuity between us, the living, and the dead. They are just not around; they have left for a moment. We'll be together again shortly. And this reunion is absolutely certain, and we should not be afraid to think about it, we should not deny it and believe that we will live forever. We should be firm in keeping this link with those who have passed away recently and those who long have gone and belong to the past, their remains being unearthed by accident as well as recovered from ordinary, church, royal, and archaeological tombs. They all live with us. You should remain calm thinking about death and expecting it. Death is just walking through a threshold into another world.”
This quote comes from one of the four notebooks filled with notes of the former Majdanek prisoner and dated 1956-1982. They have just been handed over to the State Museum at Majdanek as valuable exhibits. The memoirs expose the figure of Romuald Sztaba as a man and father. The author ponders upon the condition of the world as well as commenting on cultural events and other people’s actions. One of the passages reads as follows,
“And you could say about me that in this book I only made a bouquet of flowers of other people, and my contribution is only the string that keeps them together.”
Michel de Montaigne [author’s remark: “the same happens to my notes”]
The greatest complaint that the readers of these memoirs may register against me is that all that is written there is not my own thoughts or not own reflections.
Being so engrossed in my profession, which is anything but a literary one, you cannot devote too much time to your own profound ideas and write them down. Can you possibly encompass such a diversity of topics that are found in these notebooks?
All the effort of collection, selection, and copying of press and other cuttings: doesn’t it define my interests and myself as a person? And the manner of reporting and commenting on facts: isn’t it all about me?
It was my perception, my feeling or understanding. It was my affinity to a topic that was later transferred to my senses. All that is me.
Most of all, it was all recorded for myself, well, perhaps for the eyes of my nearest and dearest, but certainly, not for print, for money, or for sale.”
The note ends with a couplet from Zbigniew Herbert’s “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito,”
“You were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony”
In addition to the notebooks, the Archives of the State Museum at Majdanek are now in possession of Prof. Sztaba’s private documents devoted to his medical profession, e.g. diplomas, physician’s oath, licence to practice the medical profession, and his original arrest warrant. Ewa Sztaba-Chmielarz has also donated her father’s wristwatch that the professor left at home shortly before detention and which returned to his owner after the war and remained with him until the end of his days.
Romuald Sztaba was born on 26 May 1913 in Dąbrowa Górnicza. He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Warsaw and the Reserve Medical Officer Cadet School. He fought in the September 1939 Campaign and later joined the resistance. In January 1941 he was arrested as member of the resistance movement in Dąbrowa Górnicza and imprisoned in Mysłowice. From there, he was transferred to KL Auschwitz. In February 1942, he was moved to Majdanek. Initially, he worked as a warehouseman; in the spring of 1942, he assumed the position of a physician in the surgery block of Field I. He also worked in the block intended for patients with typhus and scabies. He was active in the in-camp resistance movement and cooperated with the Polish Red Cross. In April 1944 he was transferred to KL Gross-Rosen and later to KL Leitmeritz. That is how he described what he was facing as a camp physician in Lublin;
“There was no lab at all. Even simple urine tests were out of question. We had no instruments to test blood pressure. Any blood analysis, examination of the cerebrospinal fluid, pleural puncture, or pleural effusion were absolutely non-existent. There was no laboratory, no test tubes, glasses, smears, preparations. We had nothing. And this is not the way to provide diagnosis. Looking at people and reading their face; judging by appearance and percussion is not medicine. We had no diagnostic possibilities. If there is no diagnosis, how can you tell the best treatment. Treatment...what kind of treatment... What treatment? There was no treatment at all!”
After the war, Romuald Sztaba was a professor at the Medical Academy in Gdańsk and the head of the Paediatric Surgery Clinic; he was a well-known specialist in paediatrics, paediatric surgery and urology; he was a lecturer and author of over 70 research articles; he joined and founder many medical societies; he was officially decorated and honoured for his achievements many times. He passed away on 24 July 2002.
An account of Ewa Sztaba-Chmielarz from a meeting within the series, Majdanek in Family Memory, held on 12 September 2018 in the H. Łopaciński Regional Public Library in Lublin
12 September 2018 was a hot day in Lublin. For me, it was also filled with overwhelming emotions. After a cordial welcome by the hosts of the venue, the spacious, green and air-conditioned hall of the H. Łopaciński Regional Public Library in Lublin witnessed, “A Story about Romuald Sztaba,” my Dad. To my delight, the audience was packed, and two former female prisoners of the Majdanek camp also joined us.
The presentation had two parts. The historical and museum segment, along with the presentation of audio-visual material, was delivered by Marta Grudzińska. I covered the family and personal part. Relying on Dad’s memoirs in four volumes, I decided to cast some light upon his personality, his attitude and way of thinking by using his own words and statements; sometimes making a comment as a reader and daughter in one. This was how, I believed, I would be able to offer the listeners the true picture of this man and his post-camp life. I hope that this form of presentation was received as subtle and interesting.
The questions asked after my presentation, that I was, of course, happy to answer, showed a vivid interest of the audience in my personal reminiscences of my Dad and my family home.
These reminiscences are beautiful. They are beautiful because I for one believe that my Daddy was a happy person. My Dad was glowing with happiness although he had gone through WW2 camps where he had helped others to survive. After the war, he lived with dignity and a peaceful heart; he co-created and promoted the Polish surgery and paediatric urology. Our family was also happy thanks to the enormous contribution of our Mammy, and the genuine warmth that both my parents radiated.
I am so happy that I can share it with everyone.