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Antonina Grygowa - a protector of Majdanek prisoners

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.

She was a patriot and social activist, an owner of well-known bakery in Lublin, which was run by her, her husband – Franciszek – and her daughters – Zofia, Hanka and Wanda. Since the beginning of the Second World War, she had been selflessly helping prisoners in camps and prisons. Apart from supporting the prisoners, she also had been helping Jewish people: she managed to save and took care of Lusia Hufnagel and Czesia Mamet. She also managed to hide for half a year a baby which was born by prisoner of the Lublin Castle, Mrs. Dornatowa.

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 the 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. When she sent a package to the camp, she usually added surname of a prisoner to her name, so they didn't know her personally and they called her ‘Aunt Antonina’ or ‘Mother’. Those, who knew, who helped them, came back to Lublin after the war to thank for supportive letters, packages and for making them aware of the fact that someone was thinking about them when they were in the camp.

Antonina Grygowa was respected by prisoners. Letters to her were addressed in the following way: ‘Gracious Madam Antonina!’, ‘Upright Madam, my benefactor and a faithful intercessor!’, ‘Dear Carer!’, ‘My dear and loving Aunt!’, ‘Dear Aunt Antonina!’, ‘My dear Cousin!’ and ‘Venerable and kind Madam!’.

From secret letters send to ‘Aunt Antonina’

Dear Madam!

If I could collect all the shiny stars from the sky and send them with smiles, that wouldn't be enough to thank you for the care.

Madam Antonina! Did you know, what does the young girl in our circumstances feel when she has that cognisance of someone’s care in the back of her mind? And not only Mom thinks about me, but also someone unknown, close and caring. I think about you warmly and in my daily prayers I ask for many bright moments in your life. (…)

My salutations, Kuca’

‘Dear Madam Antonina!

I'm writing this on paper from Slawek's writing pad, because we ran short of paper. For today's letters I thank you on my and on my colleagues’ behalf. You’ve written a few words about yourself that you've been working for 5 years and continuously taking the risk. Nothing can harm a hair on your head, because if we believe in God, we can’t doubt that Providence have to care about such people as you, dear to all of us. (…) What you do for me – and for us all – gratitude is a weak word, this is what you do to tame hearts forever... (…) I send to Dear Ladies my warm greetings. Yours sincerely, Zygmunt.’

In the last days of occupation, she organised hospital and canteen for soldiers on the initiative of her with cooperation of her daughters and people from Lublin. After Nazi Germans' escape, she organised canteen for refugees and former prisoners from camps.

Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk recalled:

‘Memorable, wonderful Gryga's family are people for whom I started to arrive in Lublin. I thought that Majdanek will remain a dark spot in my past and by 1965 I hadn't arrived here.’

For her selfless help, which she brought with risking her life for prisoners of KL Lublin, she was honoured on survivors' recommendation by naming one of the streets near Majdanek by her name.