Dr Władysława Jasińska

How to cite: Kłodziński, S. Dr Władysława Jasińska. Medical Review – Auschwitz. September 7, 2020. https://www.mp.pl/auschwitz. Originally published as “Dr Władysława Jasińska.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1969: 199–201.

Author

Stanisław Kłodzinski, MD, 1918–1990, lung specialist, Department of Pneumology, Academy of Medicine in Kraków. Co-editor of Medical Review – Auschwitz. Former prisoner of the Auschwitz‑Birkenau concentration camp, prisoner no. 20019. Wikipedia article in English

Dr Władysława Jasińska, a well-known Polish doctor, social activist and Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen survivor, died in Nowogard (Szczecin Voivodship) on 29 October 1967. Readers of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim may remember the biography of Dr Wanda Starkowska written by Jasińska.1 Other survivors who have published in this periodical have mentioned Dr Jasińska in their personal recollections of concentration camps.

Dr Jasińska was laid to rest in a cemetery in Poznań. Her funeral cortège was escorted to the boundary of Nowogard Powiat by members of the local health service who bade farewell to this prominent, popular and much respected doctor to the sound of ambulance sirens. Dr Jasińska deserves special mention and a detailed presentation to our readers.


Władysława Jasińska. Source: Ciesielska, M. Szpital obozowy dla kobiet w KL Auschwitz-Birkenau, Warsaw 2015.

Władysława Jasińska was born in Poznań on 2 June 1895. She completed her secondary education in her hometown in 1916. Next she studied philosophy and medicine in Berlin and Wrocław.2 She graduated in medicine from Poznań University on 1 September 1925, obtaining a Doctoris Medicinae Universae (Doctor of General Medicine) diploma. She started her professional career in the Odrodzenie Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Zakopane. She decided to work there since she was in poor health herself but felt well in the mountain climate. From mid-1932 until the outbreak of the war, she worked as head physician in the tuberculosis sanatorium run by ZUS (the Polish Social Insurance Institution) in Ludwików near Poznań.

When the war broke out, the sanatorium was taken over by the German army. Dr Jasińska had to move to the sanatorium for Poles in Obra near Wolsztyn, where the Gestapo arrested her on 4 March 1943 in connection with the Mosina Affair (Sache Moschin),3 described by Józef Witkowski in this issue of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. She was imprisoned for six months in the infamous Fort VII in Poznań, where she was reunited with her beloved sister Janina. From then on, the sisters shared the same wartime fate.

According to Janina Jasińska, Sache Moschin cost the lives of dozens of victims. The Mosina detainees included a physician, an apothecary, several butchers, grocery store staff and the mayor’s maid; they were accused of poisoning German soldiers. At this point, it should be added that Sache Moschin deserves an in-depth and comprehensive examination.4

Dr Władysława Jasińska and her sister arrived in Auschwitz in the second half of September 1943. As an experienced medical practitioner in the field of tuberculosis treatment, Dr Jasińska was sent to work as the chief physician in Block 29, which was a small ward at the time. Block 29 had already been part of the female prisoners’ hospital for two years. It stood out among the other hospital blocks in that it had a drainage and sewerage system, running water, a washroom and showers as well as a bath, which was actually rarely used, and there was also a flush toilet. On one side of Block 29 there was a small garden with some bushes. The block, designed to accumulate 250 patients, on average had to house 350 female prisoners. The number of patients doubled when an epidemic of typhus broke out. Initially, 40% of the patients suffered from infiltrative and lysis tuberculosis; another 40% had other, milder forms of tuberculosis (the glandular type, or pleural effusions), and the remaining 20% comprised inmates who were “hidden” in the hospital to avoid being sent to extremely hard labour, the penal commando, or external commandos. Some of those patients were members of the prisoners’ underground resistance movement with distinguished service records.

In her concentration camp recollections Dr Jasińska gives more details about her activities in Block 29:

Medicaments were smuggled in from the male prisoners’ camp. They were secretly brought in in an ambulance, as we knew some prisoner-doctors employed in the men’s camp. We informed them of what we needed. The selection of smuggled medicines was random; they were mainly heart medications (sometimes very valuable ones), some tonics and calcium. There were no TB drugs, and of course no antibiotics at that time. But we could use injections and naturally, give words of comfort to our patients. I had one or perhaps two thermometers. I also had needles to induce a pneumothorax, but actually I used them only a few times. I had to stop using this treatment, as we didn’t have an X-ray apparatus, and the extremely harsh winter conditions in the block (low temperatures) made my work very difficult.

Nutrition: In addition to the “normal” soup, daily ration of bread, margarine, and sometimes marmalade or a piece of black pudding, there were dietary foods: semolina soup or kibbled cereal soup and a ration of white bread. Initially, the hospital received one hundred, and later fifty 500 gram loaves of bread. In the summer of 1944, there was also a glass of milk every two or three days; sometimes patients were given an extra portion of bread and black pudding. During this period, a provisional X-ray machine was made available to us, so I managed to X-ray most of the inmates of Block 29 and also from other blocks. There were two or three female prisoner-doctors working in the block, depending on the circumstances. Dr Kordylewska, a Polish doctor from Toruń, joined our staff. She survived the camp.

At the start, the mortality rate was not so high, about the same as what it would have been for the given disease in normal circumstances. But it escalated when an epidemic of typhus broke out, the aftereffects of which gave rise to various psychoses, also fatal ones. Subsequently, the camp’s executive introduced draconian delousing procedures that only increased the death toll. During my confinement at Auschwitz, only Jewish women who were accommodated in separate barracks were selected for the gas chambers. But we were all gripped by fear. There was no more phenol jabbing at the time, but we had heard of it.

From time to time, patients who had partly recovered were transferred from one block to another to conceal the fact that they had been in the hospital for a long time. We had to give regular reports on the number of patients with active TB. We could use a primitive laboratory located in a block next to the hospital secretariat. As a rule, we reported a very small number of active TB patients, and took care to bring the figures down every time there was a death. But when we got down to nil, the Polish inmates working in the secretariat warned us to report a few cases again, because not all the patients could be considered latent. We were afraid that seriously ill inmates would be selected for the gas chambers.

Relations between prisoner-doctors, especially Polish ones, were excellent. Also, our relations with the Yugoslavian prisoner-doctors were good. For a certain period SS Obersturmführer Hans Wilhelm König5 was the Lagerarzt (camp doctor), and later there was an Austrian doctor. At that point they did not interfere in our work a lot, because the Eastern front was approaching. The sanitary staff in the blocks were usually recruited from non-professionals, who, like the prisoner-clerks, tried to avoid being sent to hard labour in the camp. But their numbers were reduced frequently when they were summoned out of the blue to special roll calls: the ones selected were sent to labour commandos. Such incidents alarmed all the staff of Block 29 and made us very anxious. I was worried for my sister, who had typhus with severe complications.

. . . In mid-September 1944, Dr Jasielska and I were assigned as doctors, and my sister as a nurse, to accompany a transport to Bergen-Belsen of people deported from Warsaw in the wake of the Uprising. We arrived in what was called a Jewish transit camp, from which detainees were sent to forced labour. We were the only non-Jewish transport and were treated better. At first, we were accommodated in tents, and later in a barrack built of bricks. These circumstances helped my sister and me to survive. In December 1944, the authorities of Auschwitz, which was being closed down, arrived in Bergen-Belsen. So . . . we were put up with the Jewish female prisoners, and contracted epidemic typhus, which was raging in the Jewish camp. The situation looked dramatic and hopeless. When the British army entered the camp in late April, they found about 10 thousand unburied corpses, and the whole camp full of emaciated prisoners infected with typhus wandering around.

Within the next three days we were all taken in military ambulances to a residential estate which had been used by German soldiers and was now turned into a hospital. Straightaway all the doctors who had survived volunteered for work; also some German military doctors (not from the Gestapo) joined our staff. Although the British army organised food for the hospital immediately, assigning us rations from their supplies, about 12 thousand female inmates died of typhus or from exhaustion. The British help came at the last minute, otherwise all the prisoners would have died.

I worked in this hospital until its closure, i.e. the end of June 1945. Afterwards my sister and I took a train to Poznań.

Auschwitz survivor Dr Władysława Jasińska (camp number 6333), contracted epidemic typhus right at the beginning of her work in Block 29, so she could not treat patients for a few weeks. She was very popular with the hospital staff and patients. One of the Auschwitz survivors, Dr Alina Przerwa-Tetmajer, recollects:

I remember Dr Jasińska from the most difficult time of my confinement in Auschwitz, when I was taking my first steps after a severe typhus infection. I walked to Block 29, where I met some of my friends in this ward, including Władysława. I remember her petite figure, grey hair and the earpieces of her stethoscope hanging around her neck. [I heard her] quiet, gentle voice giving patients words of courage, and telling them to endure, “It’s not so bad, I can observe some improvement.” I can see patients’ eyes confidently looking at her. I remember the joy of the patient hearing Dr Jasińska’s firm words, “No, your case is not a specific infection.” The patient breathed a sigh of relief, as if her death sentence had been suspended. Straightaway we would take a patient with such a diagnosis to our Block (No. 17), where we could successfully treat and save her.

I also remember those difficult times when Dr Jasińska handed me her earpieces, glancing meaningfully at me; when she diagnosed a rapid progression of the disease, which meant inevitable death. But even in such cases, too, she used to say, “I can see some improvement,” and the patient’s face brightened up with a smile, even if it were just for a moment. This was also the case of our Haneczka Pioterczyk, alias Kasia, a member of the prisoners’ underground resistance movement, who worked as an Pfleger (orderly) in the children’s block. Although her condition was hopeless, we tried to reassure her for many weeks that she was getting better. We decided she had to spend her last Christmas with us, and indeed, she had just enough vital strength in her tormented, adolescent body to live on for a few days longer. . . . She seemed to believe to the very end that she would recover. The last memory of my friend Władysława is of her crying and grieving over Haneczka’s death.

Another Auschwitz survivor, Dr Janina Kościuszkowa, recollects Dr Jasińska’s self-sacrificing attitude towards the sick as well as her cheerfulness and professional skills:

Block 29 was constantly overcrowded; most of the patients had symptoms of extensive decomposition, and their treatment required not only profound medical knowledge but also compassion and a caring attitude. Jasińska worked from dawn to dusk and saved many inmates’ lives. She used a pneumothorax and did her best to obtain the necessary medicaments; thanks to her numerous skills and instructions to the hospital staff, who were not medical professionals but very dedicated to the job, she managed to save a significant number of her patients. Despite her heavy workload, she never refused to consult patients in other blocks. Due to poor access to X-ray treatment, we often had to rely simply on Dr Jasińska’s experience.

Survivors’ accounts of Dr Jasińska’s activities give important information on the realities of the female prisoners’ hospital, so I shall continue citing them. For instance, Izabela Jarnicka, an Auschwitz survivor (No. 32214), a nurse from Zakopane, gives the following description of Dr Jasińska:

I had been a patient in Auschwitz hospital before I began working there in Block 29, when I met Dr Jasińska. Although she looked weak, her courage and dedication made her strong. Her moral values were an important factor that had a beneficial effect on the people around her. She had very few medications to treat patients, but a lot of kindness for them, which was a priceless gift in the camp. The value of this kind of help could not be measured by criteria applied in normal life. Risking her own life, she saved inmates from being selected for the crematorium. She moved them to other hospital blocks to keep them safe. She took the risk to save prisoners from being sent to the penal commando. In the evening she admitted inmates from the penal block to her ward. Those prisoners were so emaciated that they would not have survived long in the penal commando.

. . . In January 1945, I again met Dr Jasińska in Bergen-Belsen. She told me that her medical activities had been reduced to disposing of corpses. She asked me and other female medics who had been brought over from Auschwitz to volunteer for work in the hospital. So Dr Jasińska’s attitude gave me a psychological stimulus encouraging me to help other miserable inmates. In turn, these motives stopped my depression. I also had a chance to speak to Dr Jasińska after the war. She still remembered the lyrics of the song I wrote during my confinement in the camp:

Though the Gestapo and dogs keep us out of the world,
For us no sunshine, but the crematoria light’s in store,
Yet we’ll stubbornly go on, no matter how much blood we shed,
Until we see Poland free once more.

Every Birkenau survivor remembers different episodes from the camp; sometimes they are brief but still memorable, characterising a situation or an inmate’s character. Janina Głąbkowska, an Auschwitz survivor (No. 32188), and also a Ravensbrück survivor, who worked as a nurse in Block 29, relates the following episode:

. . . one of the nurses, known for being rude and tactless to patients, was standing in front of the bunk bed on which a young Serbian inmate was dying of a terrible diarrhoea. The nurse started telling her off for soiling the straw mattress. Then Dr Jasińska scolded the nurse, ordered her to bring a chamber pot, and helped the Serbian sit on it. The young girl died in Dr Jasińska’s arms.

As I have already said, after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Dr Jasińska continued working with the sick survivors in the camp’s hospital. She and her sister returned to Poland in late July 1946. On returning, she opened a children’s TB sanatorium in Ludwików, and later organised a sanatorium run by the Social Insurance Institution in Nowogard in the voivodship of Szczecin. Later this sanatorium was transformed into a children’s TB preventive centre. This is how a long-time colleague, who was the headmistress of the Nowogard school for children with special needs described Jasińska’s activities:

Dr Jasińska was very sensitive to patients’ physical suffering and moral dilemmas. She was something of a loner; her activities were characterised by stalwart professional ethics, constancy in her opinions and beliefs, and profound, wise reflections. She was friendly to all and had the virtue of simplicity, but at the same she kept a certain delicate distance. She was objective and unselfish; and when she saw that someone needed help she became totally committed, did her best to help him or her, and became a faithful friend. She could combine the gift of friendship with the gift of discretion. She was a truly moral guide. She was a born teacher and capable of helping people improve their character. She often said that people made a mess of their lives and ended up unhappy because they were unable to think realistically and lived in a world of make-belief. Her skills as an organiser were appreciated by the ministerial authorities; she was able to quickly create a new medical and educational centre that became a home for TB children, mostly social orphans whose tuberculosis destroyed their family life permanently or disrupted it for a long time. . . . Dr Jasińska followed the children’s progress at school, inspected all the classes, participated in staff meetings and advised teachers on hygiene and medical issues; she knew all the children staying in the centre, their family conditions and school curricula; she also supervised the educators’ undertakings. She devoted a lot of time to talk to parents who visited the centre and got the teachers and tutors to keep in touch with them. She tried to get to know the staff’s problems; she hated gossip and flattery. In a word, she was neither simple nor easy-going. Above all, she was sincere, noble and fair to all. Moreover, she was discreet and always very modest, and hardly ever talked about herself and her work in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She could not stand ostentation. I remember that one day someone leaned down and respectfully kissed her tattooed Auschwitz number. She blushed and whispered, “But I was not the only one…” When she left the camp she was extremely exhausted but remained stable and balanced, with no complexes. . . . She liked to quote the words of her favourite poet, Rainer M. Rilke, on the meaning of one life or one death compared with a tragedy at some stage of history. Rilke’s answer was that it meant love.

Dr Jasińska cultivated her medical as well as her philosophical interests. She was a humanist in the full sense of the word, which had a good influence on her worldview and character. According to her sister, in her last years she liked to translate various texts into Polish, e.g. texts written by Bô Yin Râ.6 She translated his poems for herself, with no intention to publish them.

Summing up, Dr Władysława Jasińska deserves our respect and the memory of many generations on account of all her activities. She was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Golden Cross of Merit, the Pomeranian Griffin and the Award for Exemplary Service in Healthcare.

***

To write this paper I have used my personal recollections of Dr Jasińska, letters from her sister Janina Jasińka, who also sent me her late sister’s CV, as well as the accounts of many Auschwitz survivors, doctors and nurses who worked with Dr Jasińska.

Translated from original article: Kłodziński, S. “Dr Władysława Jasińska,” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim; 1969.

Notes
  1. In the special 6th edition published in 1966, pp. 237–238. See https://www.mp.pl/auschwitz/journal/polish/171116,volume-1966a
  2. At the time the city was in Germany and known as Breslau.b
  3. Sache Moschin—events that occurred in the town of Mosina, 20 km away from Poznań, in September 1943. The Gestapo arrested hundreds of inhabitants and detained them in the Security Police Prison and Educational Labour Camp in Żabikowo, and later deported them to different concentration camps.a
  4. On the 70th anniversary of Sache Moschin Żabikowo Museum published a brochure on the events of 1943: Jacek Nawrocik and Renata Wełniak. Sprawa mosińska 1943 rok. Żabikowo; 2013. a
  5. See an article on Hans Wilhelm Königa
  6. Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, also known as Bô Yin Râ (1876-1943), was a German poet and painter.a

a–Translator’s notes; b—notes by Teresa Bałuk-Ulewiczowa, Head Translator of the Medical Review Auschwitz project.
      

A publication funded in 2020–2021 within the DIALOG Program of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland.

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