Helena Bohle-Szacki

Helena Bohle-Szacki
Helena Bohle-Szacki

Helena Bohle-Szacka was born on 27 February 1928 in Białystok as the daughter of a Polish Jewess and a German. Marriage connections of this kind were nothing unusual at that time - Białystok in the interwar period is a melting pot of cultures where Jews, Poles, Germans, Russians, Belarusians and Tatars live side by side. Helena Bohle-Szacka will later call her hometown a "multicultural Polish house" due to its atmosphere and its many different identities and traditions."Contrary to what was later recounted, there was a certain symbiosis in this mixture of numerous nationalities. It created a certain atmosphere, it was like a fragrance in the air that permeated people."[1]

Helen grows up in a spirit of tolerance. Although evangelically baptized, she often celebrates Catholic festivals. The family of her mother Maria Fanny, née Tobolska, is completely assimilated and does not cultivate Jewish traditions. The fact that Helena's mother and her first husband are married in a Protestant church also underlines this. However, the marriage breaks up quickly and Maria Fanny, who is pregnant with Helena's older sister, Irena, gets to know Alexander Bohle, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin who works as a representative for foreign textile companies in his native city, Białystok. Helena inherits the artistic skills of both her parents - her mother is a graduate of the piano class of the Moscow Conservatory.

The first eleven years of Lilka's life (as Helena is called by her friends and acquaintances) pass without a care. The family lives in a wooden house on Jurowiecka Street. The family is quite well off - they employ a nanny and a domestic help. Behind the house is a large garden - this is where little Helen loves to spend her time. The children go on excursions to Supraśl, and in summer the family relaxes by the sea. Polish is spoken at home, unless the parents don't want the children to overhear their conversation, in which case they switch to Russian. Helena's mother speaks no Yiddish at all. Her father, on the other hand, who has numerous business contacts with Jews, speaks the language reasonably well.

Her idyllic childhood is abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. Following the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Białystok is annexed to the Soviet occupation zone. However, the horror period only begins when the National Socialists invade the city in 1941. In July a ghetto is set up, into which Helena's mother and sister Irena are committed. A short time later they manage to get through to the "Aryan" side of the city and hide. During an attempt to change their hiding places, Irena is murdered by the Gestapo in 1941 or 1942.

As a half-Jewish woman, who was also baptized as a Protestant, Helena belongs to the so-called "mixed-breed of the first degree" group, a fact which initially offers her some protection. Her father Alexander signs the 'people's list' and is as committed as he can to helping Jews, as later testified by survivors.


[1] The complete interview with Helena Bohle-Szacki was conducted by Ewa Czerwiakowska in 2005 and published in the magazine “Słowo”/The Word" a few years later. (No. 82, 2009).