Stanisław Gombiński: Jewish policeman
At POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, we wish to remember those Jews who helped other Jews on the “Aryan side” in occupied Poland. The Yad Vashem Institute does not honour these people with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, as that title is only bestowed upon non-Jews. They, also, are Righteous, as understood in the broad and universal accepted sense of the word – they are people who opposed the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany. They also defended dignity and human rights. Read the story of Stanisław Gombiński from the Polish Righteous website section: Jews helping other Jews on the “Aryan side”.
Stanisław Gombiński used his position as an officer of the Jewish Police Service (Polish: Żydowska Służba Porządkowa, ŻSP) to help other Jews during and after the deportation action from the Warsaw Ghetto in the summer of 1942. He led many people out of the Umschlagplatz and made it possible for them to escape to the so-called “Aryan side” of Warsaw. One of the people he saved was Joanna Sobolewska-Pyz (Grynszpan), a three-year-old girl at the time.
”When you came to visit him, you often saw people in need of help or advice, and I know that no one ever left disappointed or was dismissed with nothing, as it often happened at the offices of other people in the District [of the Warsaw Ghetto – ed.],” testified Stanisław Gombiński’s friend Jadwiga Skrzydłowska at his post-war trial before the Verification Officer of the Warsaw District Bar Council.
Jewish Police Service in the Warsaw Ghetto
Stanisław Gombiński was born in the family of a Jewish merchant from Włocławek and worked as a lawyer before the war. He began his legal studies at the University of Warsaw and completed them in Montpellier in southern France. In 1930, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws by the Jagiellonian University, and eight years later he passed the bar exam in Warsaw. In September 1939, he fought as a volunteer near Garwolin.
During the first months of the German occupation, Gombiński did occasional work. After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in November 1940, he moved to 32 Elektoralna Street and took up an office job at the Jewish Police Service – a police unit established on the order of the Gestapo and subordinate to the Warsaw Judenrat. He was not on duty in the streets but held a managerial position in the secretariat of the ŻSP.
Although he was a member of the Jewish Police Service, an institution fiercely despised by the prisoners of the ghetto, we can find nothing but positive opinions about him in post-war witness accounts, all of which generally portray Gombiński as a self-sacrificing man. He did not take advantage of the opportunities offered by his position as a policeman and lived a very modest life in the ghetto. As a clerk he was characterised by diligence and honesty [see a satiric rythme about Stanisław Gombiński »].
In his life off-duty, Gombiński was active in the local discussion club, which brought together leading intellectuals who regularly debated the situation of the ghetto prisoners.
Deportation action. Stanisław Gombiński’s help to Jews
We know what Stanisław Gombiński did during the German deportation action in the summer of 1942 from the account of Jadwiga Skrzydłowska, who testified as a witness in Gombiński’s trial before the Verification Officer of the Warsaw District Bar Council. Gombiński, despite the fact that he himself was going through a mental breakdown, did his best to save the people selected for transport.
We know that he used his position of ŻSP officer to lead a number of people out of the Umschlagsplatz, including Ludwika Oliszewska with her husband and son as well as Irena Anders with her mother and children (he hid the youngest children in the Jewish hospital located near the Umschlagplatz). He also provided shelter to his mother and four other women, preventing them from being transported to the German death camp in Treblinka.
According to Jadwiga Skrzydłowska’s testimony:
“I was personally greatly aided by this man – he helped me send my daughter, eight years old at the time, to the ‘Aryan side,’ guiding her through the outposts of the [Polish] Blue Police and the German police. He also helped me get out of a house besieged by Ukrainians. He put his life on the line by being involved in such activities. […] I know that he rendered similar services to other people, both to the left-wing comrades and to members of other political groups. I have first-hand knowledge of more than a dozen cases in which Mr Gombiński saved adults and children at the risk of his life. Several of them are still alive today. For example the child of Dr Koniński, taken to the ‘Aryan’ side by Gombiński himself; the little daughter of comrade Grynszpan alias ‘Halina,’ for whom he arranged to be transported in a basket over the ghetto wall in November 1942 and placed with an ‘Aryan’ family; the Frejman family (father, mother and son), whom he led out of the Umschlagplatz in disguise; Dr Zylberbart, whom he also led out of the Umschlagplatz, literally carrying her on his back, as well as many others.”
According to other accounts, it was Gombiński who helped Janusz Korczak when he was being led to the Umschlagplatz (at the beginning of the deportation action, when he was caught alone, without the children from the orphanage). It is also known that after the action ended and the remaining inhabitants of the so-called “residual” ghetto lost their last hopes for survival, Gombiński was helping send Jewish children to the ‘Aryan side.’
Gombiński wrote a memoir detailing his life in the ghetto, but he made practically no mention of the help he extended to fellow Jews. Perhaps he saw his activity as a gesture of protest against the deeds of his colleagues, officers of the ŻSP, who were responsible for rounding up and escorting ghetto inhabitants to death trains. He was thus described by his friend Ludwika Oliszewska in her post-war testimony:
“He said he could not endure the fact that the Jewish police had become a tool in the German hands, used for the destruction of the Jewish population.”
His managerial position in the Jewish Police Service and his contacts with members of other bodies, including the Polish Blue Police, allowed Gombiński to effectively sneak Jewish children out to the “Aryan” side. It was thanks to these contacts that the little daughter of Halina Grynszpan mentioned in Skrzydłowska’s account – later known as Joanna Sobolewska (surname of her Polish parents) – was able to survive the war.
In January 1943, Gombiński left the ranks of the Jewish police. A few weeks later, he left the ghetto and hid in Warsaw on the “Aryan” side. At the time he began writing a diary, which he signed with his underground alias: “Jan Mawult.”
Two trials of the Jewish policeman. Gombiński’s fate after the war
As a former Jewish policeman in the Warsaw Ghetto, Gombiński was subjected to two verification trials after the war – one held before the Jewish Social Court and the other before the Bar Verification Commission. Positive verification was necessary for him to be allowed to return to practising law. Both bodies confirmed his irreproachable conduct during the war. In the course of collecting materials for the trials, the institutions gathered many testimonies attesting to Gombiński’s aid provided to other Jews, often at the risk of his own life.
After the war, Gombiński married Stanisława Hirszberg, widow of his friend Ludwik Hirschberg, a well-known social activist murdered during the war. He also adopted their two children. In 1949, the family emigrated to France and settled in Paris, where Gombiński worked as a lawyer until his death in 1983.
Dr. Marta Janczewska, ed. Joanna Król, Joanna Sobolewska-Pyz, Mateusz Szczepaniak, March 2021
- Jews helping other Jews on the so-called Aryan side | Read selected stories of rescue »
- Jews hiding on the so-called Aryan side | See the conditions of hiding in occupied Poland »
- Situation of Jews in occupied Poland | Learn more on the Holocaust »
- Stanisław Adler, Żadna blaga, żadne kłamstwo… Wspomnienia z warszawskiego getta, ed. Marta Janczewska, Warszawa 2018.
- Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute, Civic Court of the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, call no. 313/35, File of Stanisław Gombiński.
- Stanisław Gombiński (Jan Mawult), Wspomnienia policjanta z warszawskiego getta, ed. Marta Janczewska, Stowarzyszenie Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, Warszawa 2010.
- Katarzyna Person, Policjanci. Wizerunek Żydowskiej Służby Porządkowej w getcie warszawskim, Warszawa 2018.
- Regional Bar Council in Łódź [Okręgowa Rada Adwokacka w Łodzi], Personal file of Stanisław Gombiński.