Doctor Jan Klonowski’s memorabilia in the collections of the State Museum at Majdanek
In September 2018 a collection of archives related to Doctor Jan Klonowski was added to the Museum's collections. The remembrances were donated by Antoni Klonowski, his son. They included: birth certificate, report cards, maturity certificate, graduate degree, employment certificates, medical and military identity cards, as well as letters sent to family from various concentration camps. The collection is complemented by photographs of Dr Klonowski at various stages of his life.
Jan Klonowski was born on November 13, 1912, in Kuligi, Brodnica district, to the family of Anna and Alojzy Klonowski. He attended the State Male Middle School in Brodnica. There are 17 semester certificates from this period that have been preserved, proving that he was a diligent and talented student. In 1932, he passed his matura exam. After graduating from the middle school, he started studying at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Poznań, which he successfully completed in 1938, obtaining a medical degree. He completed his medical practice at the National Institute of Psychiatry in Kocborów.
Before the outbreak of World War II he worked as a doctor in the 63rd Infantry Regiment in Toruń. He was a soldier of the September Campaign; he also participated in the defense of Warsaw. He fell into captivity. After the capitulation of Warsaw, he managed to escape from the transport to the prison camp. After the beginning of German occupation he started working in the hospital of John of God in Lublin. He was accidentally arrested during a round-up, and he was sent to prison in the Lublin Castle, where he stayed from June 24 to July 1, 1940. Then he was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, from where he was transported to KL Lublin. He was imprisoned in the Majdanek concentration camp from November 27, 1941, until its liquidation in July 1944. He was a participant in the last evacuation transport from KL Lublin to KL Auschwitz. At the end of October 1944, he was evacuated from Auschwitz to the Leitmeritz concentration camp, from which he was officially released on May 8, 1945.
In the Majdanek concentration camp, doctor Klonowski was marked with the number 25. His task was to organize a camp pharmacy, which he also directed. In addition to that, he cared for the health and mental condition of his fellow prisoners, letting them know himself as a devoted medic. In the camp he made friends with Witold Kiedrowski-Kołodko who recalls him as follows:
‘When it comes to Majdanek, a decisive role was played by my friends form the underground (firstly, they reached the section clerk of my case, and secondly: medicines...) and Janek Klonowski. It is impossible to describe his merits, which bore unexpected fruits. First, he saved my life by leading me as a patient with pneumonia when I was suffering from typhus. So I avoided a gas chamber. He did not regret the trouble of making me a ‘pharmacist’. This bore fruits not only at Majdanek, but also in Birkenau, and especially in Ohrdruf – Dora’s branch. There wouldn't have been those fruits without the effort and sacrifice of Janek Klonowski to make me a pharmacist... I'll never emphasise this enough.’
Zacheusz Pawlak, a doctor imprisoned at Majdanek, writes about Jan Klonowski:
‘The pharmacy was initially located in block 1 and then in block 3 of field no. I. Doctor Jan Klonowski, one of the first Polish doctors who came to Majdanek, took care of it; he was also giving out medicines for the camp hospital blocks. In January 1943, during the transport of those who came from Pawiak, he met his middle school friend, Father Witold Kiedrowski, a former chaplain of the Polish Army, and after a few weeks, when the opportunity appeared, he engaged him to work in the same pharmacy. Father Kiedrowski at the Pawiak and concentration camps performed under the name Witold Kołodko.
At the same time, there was epidemic of typhus in the camp. Doctor Jan Klonowski and Witold Kołodko wanted to provide anti-typhus vaccines and other medications for hundreds of seriously ill prisoners, so they undertook a great action, known only to a few initiated under the code name of ‘medicaments.’
Doctor Klonowski, as an experienced prisoner of Majdanek, had better knowledge and contacts within the camp, while Witold Kołodko had numerous connections with the underground, as he belonged to the Labour Party. The priest contacted with friends living in Warsaw with the help of civil workers (...) As a result, in early spring of 1943, Witold Kołodko received the first batch of anti-typhus vaccines for Majdanek prisoners. At the same time, Kołodko and Klonowski made efforts to obtain other medicaments.’
As the above quotations show, the role of Doctor Jan Klonowski, which he played in KL Lublin, was significant. The sacrificial work of acquiring medicaments and dressings for the camp pharmacy brought measurable results. The camp hospital was no longer a vestibule to the gas chambers for seriously ill prisoners. It became a place where they actually recovered and returned to a better physical and mental condition. Doctor Klonowski was absolutely aware of his medical mission and did it as well as he could under such difficult conditions. He was just a good and honest man, and at the same time a real patriot. That kind of attitude is particularly difficult to maintain when a man finds himself in a very difficult life situation, such as imprisonment in a place where the law of jungle prevails. However, this is not in case if you come from a family with a rich patriotic tradition inculcated from the child. That was the family home of Jan Klonowski and it seems his relatives as well. It is confirmed by the entries of his friends and relatives in the diary of Jan Klonowski, which was donated to the Museum collections, as well as his personal notes. On one of the sheets of paper we find a quotation from Eliza Orzeszkowa dedicated to Jan by a friend who died less than a year after making this entry.
“It is not enough to act according to the might and capabilities of oneself...,
We need to teach others to do the same.” (E. Orzeszkowa)
As a token of the affection, wrote J. Husakowski
This event must have shaken the young Klonowski, because he noted it in his diary as follows:
"You passed away, my friend, to the dead of the world, and the visible sign of your stay here is this piece of paper which mocks us mercilessly from our lives....
...I am born, I live and die J.K.
By the name of his late friend J. Klonowski wrote: ‘he died on 10/6/1931’
We read on another page:
(Z. Krasiński): ‘In a constant cycle in the form of sacrifice, share your own self
With the brethren of yours
Let the deeds of the living make you grow
And you will end up thousand times larger.’
Brodnica, January 1931
The entry made by Jan Klonowski’s sister – Stanisława – from January 10, 1937, is also extremely moving:
‘Be the masterpiece of the unbreakable will
Be the patience itself, the lady of thrall
Be the tranquility among the storms and restlessness
Be the eternal beauty in the battlefield of life.’
For beloved and good Janek, Stasia.
Thanks to such a personal remembrance we can get to know the environment in which Jan Klonowski grew up. As we can see, he shared the same values and adhered to the same principles that he remained faithful to.
Directly after the war, doctor Klonowski was conscripted into the army, where he was the leader of the medical service. After the war, in 1973, he began working as a radiologist. He died in 2013. His closest relatives remember him as a great Father and Protector of the family.
The documents, photographs and memorabilia related to Jan Klonowski, which have been donated to the Museum, perfectly complement our knowledge about his life and activities, and help us to understand how he gained the potency for action. This is an extremely valuable gift, for which we would like to thank the Donators once again with all our hearts.
Anna Wójcik - head of the Archives of the State Museum at Majdanek