Dr Stefania Perzanowska

How to cite: Kłodziński, Stanisław. Dr Stefania Perzanowska. Kapera, Marta, trans. Medical Review – Auschwitz. November 20, 2021. Originally published Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim. 1981: 189-197.


Stanisław Kłodziński, MD, 1918–1990, lung specialist, Department of Pneumology, Kraków Medical Academy, Co-editor of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, Auschwitz survivor (No. 20019). Wikipedia article in English.

Dr Stefania Perzanowska was one of the bravest and most dedicated Polish women doctors who survived the ordeal of incarceration in a concentration camp and, what is more, managed to be active there and provide medical attention to literally thousands of her fellow inmates. She had a powerful personality and even in the most difficult situations showed composure and courage, found good solutions, defended her own opinion, and was successful in achieving seemingly unattainable goals. Her unassuming attitude went hand in hand with a strong sense of belonging to a community and an ability to exert a decisive impact on it.

Dr Stefania Perzanowska. Source: Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1981.

Dr Perzanowska wrote on the Nazi German camps on numerous occasions, both in her conference papers, articles, and other publications, such as her book entitled Gdy myśli do Majdanka wracają [When my thoughts return to Majdanek] (19661). However, it must be stressed that in those texts her own person appeared only somewhere in the background, as if she wanted to downgrade her unquestionable achievements. Although she kept her writing as authentic and expressive as possible, she withheld information about her personal experiences, her suffering and pain, while vividly depicting the actions and emotions of other people, the terror she witnessed, and the events that took place in her presence, offering her apt, objective judgement.

So writing about the late Dr Perzanowska in more detail than about other survivors is a worthwhile endeavour to pay tribute to this universally respected survivor and physician. This biography is an attempt to sketch her profile on the basis of painstakingly gleaned, previously disconnected facts.

The suggestion that Dr Perzanowska’s life should be described here has been put forward by many people who used to know her; they also named the sources on which her biography could be based. For instance, Zofia Przanowska,2 an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor, wrote me a letter in which she said,

None of the issues of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim has published an obituary of Dr Perzanowska. Even though I didn’t know her well, I always heard good opinions of her attitude and work in the hospital of the women’s section of the camp. Malina Bielicka,3 Wanda Ossowska,4 and Zofia Leśniakowa5 were some of her friends. Mrs Leśniakowa asked me to inform you that she has materials that you could use for a biography of Dr Perzanowska.

Some survivors who felt greatly indebted to Dr Perzanowska and wanted to show their respect have written their own recollections of her, even though they were not asked. For example, Krystyna Horczak6 sent her memories to another fellow prisoner, with the following remarks:

I learnt that the editors in Kraków want to publish a throwback article about the late Dr Perzanowska. As you were one of her closest fellow inmates [sic], therefore I think it’s just right to send you my personal memories of her, which I would like to share. What I especially have in mind is the last camp in which both Dr Perzanowska and I were imprisoned before liberation. I’m not sure if anybody will want my text, but you will certainly be in the know and submit it to the right person.

Dr Perzanowska is most warmly remembered by other survivors, her friends, and junior colleagues from the most difficult period in her life, which was spent in the German concentration camps. That warmth emanates from both the oral and written accounts as well as from the letters. This is what you can read in a letter dated 9 September 1974, written by Zofia Leśniak:7

There was a strong emotional bond between the late Stefania and myself, so I grieved deeply for her. . . . Other friends of hers and I discussed writing an article that could be published in Służba Zdrowia,8 but as for now, we feel unable to cope with the task. It’s difficult to come to terms with such a serious loss. . . . I think an obituary or a biographical paper should appear in the January issue of Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim.

Stefania Perzanowska was born on 26 August 1896 in Warsaw. Her father Szymon Juraszek was a chemical engineer and his speciality was the sugar industry. He had studied in Zurich. Her mother Helena née Flach died when Stefania was just five. The girl was raised by her maternal aunt. In 1914 Stefania finished No. 1 private girls’ grammar school, which was located on Foksal in Warsaw (its official name was Ośmioklasowa Szkoła Komercyjna Żeńska Anieli Wereckiej).

In 1915, she commenced her studies at the Medical Faculty of the University in Warsaw and completed the course in the 1925/1926 academic year. She graduated with the degree of Doctor Medicinae Universae9 on 10 July 1926. As a student, she joined the Women’s Volunteer League10 and served in the rank of lieutenant as a battalion physician and a physician for the rolling stock command in the 2nd Infantry Division of the Legions.11 At the same time, she was second-in-command in her battalion. She took part in operations near Łuków and Lwów12 (now L’viv, Ukraine), for which she was awarded military decorations. From May 1915 she was a member of the Warsaw branch of POW, the Polish Military Organisation,13 in which she served as secretary of the post exchange and later of the entire branch.

She completed her internship in Warsaw and from October 1925 to November 1927 worked as a voluntary assistant in the internal ward of Wolski Hospital (chief physician: Prof. Anastazy Landau14), in the Children’s Hospital on Litewska (chief physician: Prof. Mieczysław Michałowicz15), and in Ujazdowski Hospital on Pokorna, (chief physician: Dr Leon Karwacki16). In 1927-1928 she worked for the Warsaw Powiat17 branch of Kasa Chorych, a health insurance organisation.

In 1928 she and her family moved to Sosnowiec, where she worked for the clinics owned by the national social insurance company and was a school physician. She continued to use every opportunity to further her professional qualifications, for instance, from June to October 1931 she attended a course on internal diseases conducted in Vienna’s Karolinen-Kinderspital under the tutorship of Prof. [Wilhelm] Knöpfelmacher.18

Her first husband was Waldemar Jerzy Szwarcbart, head of Kasa Chorych, whom she divorced after four years of marriage. In 1937 she married Dr Zygmunt Perzanowski, an oculist, aged 47 at the time.

In the same year she moved from Sosnowiec to Radom, where she made home visits for Ubezpieczalnia Społeczna, the national social insurance company, and worked as a school physician for Liceum im. Tytusa Chałubińskiego, a grammar school. By this time, she had become an experienced doctor, specialising in internal diseases and paediatrics, and was living in Radom when World War II broke out.

Dr Stefania Perzanowska was drafted in September 1939. At the beginning of the War, she and her husband were assigned for duty to one of the hospitals which was evacuated to Biała Podlaska and then closed down. Dr Perzanowski and a group of other men were taken to another place.19 Having parted from him, Dr Perzanowska and her daughter Zofia went to Brześć (now Brest, Belarus), as her family had a house in the countryside in the neighbourhood. When she learned it had been seized by the Ukrainians,20 she had to stay in the town. Initially she was employed in a medical centre for the refugees and later worked in the local hospital. In February 1940 she took her daughter back to Radom, to work there in the Municipal Department of Health. Meanwhile, Dr Zygmunt Perzanowski was in an internees’ camp.21

The authoritative source of information about how Dr Stefania Perzanowska joined the resistance movement in Radom is Reserve Maj. Kazimierz Aleksandrowicz,22 nom de guerre Huragan. He says that in early 1940, Reserve Lt.-Col. Dr Franciszek Waga,23 who was an active member of the resistance, suggested that Dr Stefania Perzanowska should be sworn in, explaining that in 1918 she had served in the Polish Army Medical Corps, in the defence campaign of [September] 1939 she had looked after casualties, and had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant in the Polish Army. So in February 1940 Perzanowska joined Huragan’s resistance unit, which operated in Radom. She decided to adopt the same nom the guerre, Żywna, that she had used during World War I. She stayed in contact with other medical officers, such as Lt.-Col. Dr Aleksander Zienkiewicz24 (nom de guerre Siostrzeniec), chief medical officer of one of the areas in which ZWZ-AK25 operated; 2nd Lt. Dr Konrad Vieth,26 chief medical officer of one of the districts; and Dr Stanisław Niklewski,27 chief physician of Radom hospital.

Dr Perzanowska recruited and trained new members of the underground medical service, which was a huge responsibility, yet she asked for even more work. This is why she availed herself of the services of Tadeusz Wróblewski as an intermediary to join in the activities of a sabotage unit. She smuggled weapons, ammunition, and other materials to sabotage venues. Her flat at No. 28, Żeromskiego served as a dead drop for the Warsaw-based Home Army Headquarters. Perzanowska did a lot of complex resistance work and delegated some of the tasks to her daughter, as testified by Maj. Aleksandrowicz:

Initially she was appointed to serve as my courier, but later, on the new orders, she served in the Warsaw Area of the Home Army. In May 1942 the Gestapo discovered and arrested many resistance members in Warsaw, which had serious ramifications also in Radom, as some local Home Army members who had direct connections with the detainees were arrested too and deported to concentration camps. On the night of 11 November 1942, the Gestapo burst into Perzanowska’s flat. Fortunately, although they searched the premises thoroughly, they did not find the dead letter box, which contained confidential correspondence. Importantly, their failure put a halt to further reprisals.

Józefa Peters remembers the nightmarish night of 10/11 November 1942 in Radom, the mass arrests and the sight of more and more people being yelled at, hit with the rifle butts, and herded into the garages on Kościuszki. Men and women stood in two separate groups with their hands up, facing the wall. Time dragged on and on, and it was only around noon that the detainees were given some soup, courtesy of the Red Cross. Peters describes this dramatic episode quite vividly:

The exhausted, stupefied women did not fully understand they were being given a meal. There was chaos in the garage. All you wanted was to sit down, just sit down! And drink, as you were terribly thirsty. Find somebody you know. It was stuffy, we needed air, fresh air! In the commotion, one of the arrested women fainted. And that was when I met Dr Stefania Perzanowska. I don’t know how she managed to reach the unconscious woman so quickly, but she revived her in an instant, and with motherly kindness. Hardly interrupting the medical treatment, she relieved the tension and turbulence among her fellow detainees, saying, “Now, my dears, let’s eat up our soup. We need to eat. We don’t know what’s ahead, but eat we must.” It was the first time I saw that Dr Perzanowska could overcome a horror by disguising it as an ordinary, apparently normal activity.

At that point, Perzanowska could not have known she had lost lots of papers and photos that documented her earlier life. Years later, in her letter to Jan Masłowski,28 she said, “When the Gestapo arrested me, they took all my things.” Her imprisonment in Radom jail was a particularly gruelling experience, as she was “questioned” fifteen times. Józefa Peters says,

She suffered as much as her fellow inmates. She must have been constantly thinking about her only daughter and her elderly aunt, who was like a mother to her, as Dr Perzanowska was orphaned in childhood. These two creatures, who loved her and were loved by her, had been left without a caregiver or helper. Yet, she would never call her concern suffering. Sometimes, indeed, she was wont to wonder, “What could my [daughter] Zosia be doing now?” But she always said it with a bright, loving smile.

She had the right psychological approach to people, realising that the terrible circumstances might overwhelm them, block their minds, and deprive them of hope. Perzanowska tried to divert the thoughts of her fellow prisoners: for instance, she encouraged them to clean up their clothes or comb their hair. She gave them a kind of “remote” emotional support by first teaching them that even if they were isolated from their companions and tortured during an interrogation, they just had to hold out, bearing in mind that the nightmare would come to an end and they would be able to return to their cell, where help would surely be offered.

On 7 January 1943, Dr Perzanowska was sent out of Radom jail in a group of thirty-five women. The whole transport included over 300 women prisoners, also from jails in Kielce, Skarżysko, Tomaszów, and Częstochowa. They travelled by rail in cargo cars. In her book, Perzanowska says she did not know the destination. She describes the trials of the deportation, especially as that winter was very harsh. Józefa Peters writes,

On 7 January 1943, we were deported to Majdanek. However, before we left, Doc gave away all her warm clothes, her underwear, and her sweater, and kept only the most indispensable things for herself. We left at seven in the evening. On the ramp at the station, we saw men prisoners ready for transport, standing with their hands tied with wire. We were hurried into the cars. On the following day about noon, we were unloaded in Lublin and scurried along on foot to Majdanek. We arrived in the camp up to our knees in snow, due to the drifts on the way.

Inside the barrack, the prisoners saw a sorry sight. The moment was captured by Józefa Peters:

No panes in the windows, three-tier bunks with mattresses filled with wood shavings, all under a thick layer of snow. We waited several hours. It was getting darker and ever more terrible. And again we heard the affectionate, calm voice of Dr Perzanowska: “We must get some sleep. We need to screen the windows off as best we can to stop the snow from getting in. Beat the mattresses to remove the snow. Best to lie down close to one another and use your coats as blankets. We need to sleep.” And the following day, before the morning roll call, she took the risk and decided to leave the sick women indoors, to keep them from having to stand outside in the snow. She used her enormous power of persuasion to convince the SS men that it was necessary to establish a prisoners’ hospital, arguing that such a hospital was a must to stop epidemics from spreading in the camp. Obviously, the SS personnel had their own vision of such an establishment. Dr Perzanowska was given a barrack with no windows, doors or floor, and no medical equipment or medicines. It had no water supply either, so water had to be fetched from the washrooms, which were about five kilometres away. Yet, for Dr Perzanowska, such matters were not a formidable obstacle.

That’s how she became Majdanek prisoner No. 236. For a long time she was the only woman doctor in the camp, as it wasn’t until May 1943 that Dr Ada Brudkowska,29 another woman doctor, was deported there from Lublin jail, and they worked together until liberation. For a few months in 1943 they were helped by their Jewish colleagues, however, the Jewish women doctors were killed in the gas chambers of Majdanek, along with other Jewish prisoners, on 3 November 1943.

In Majdanek, Perzanowska worked in Field Five,30 and from September 1943 in Field One. She had to cope with the extremely cruel camp personnel, like the primitive Elsa Ehrich,31 once a butcher’s shop assistant and now an SS Oberaufseherin (senior prison warden), with the power to decide about matters of life and death and enjoy brutally beating up emaciated women. Other perpetrators of violence were SS Obersturmführer Anton Thumann,32 who was Schutzhaftlagerführer (Protective Custody Camp Leader) in Majdanek; SS physician Franz von Bodmann;33 and an SS orderly called Konieczny.34 In her book and articles, Dr Perzanowska described them vividly, in much detail, and sine ira et studio, so readers are recommended to see those sources. My point here is to show that in the face of so much evil, Perzanowska upheld the honour of a Polish woman and prisoner doctor and, as far as possible, tried to stand up against that evil and improve the living conditions of her patients. She impressed the violent camp personnel to a certain extent with her indomitable courage, cool composure, persistence, and medical expertise.

The prisoners’ hospital in Majdanek was established thanks to a lucky chance grasped by Dr Perzanowska. She diagnosed typhus in one of the prisoners at a point when no rash was showing yet. She demanded the sick woman be hospitalised. The SS doctor, who was far less qualified and experienced that she, sneered at her diagnosis and insulted her. Yet, two days later, it turned out that her diagnosis was right, as the typical typhus rash had presented. The SS doctor was impressed with the skills of the obstinate Perzanowska and gave his permission to assign one barrack for a hospital. Within a year and a half, Perzanowska managed to expand the hospital to ten barracks.

She accomplished a titanic amount of work there: the number of patients under her care was neither twenty, nor one hundred, nor even several hundred. It has to be stressed that Majdanek was a death camp and received huge transports of prisoners from other camps, many of whom were seriously ill. For instance, in February 1944 a Ravensbrück transport arrived with over a thousand severely ill women, some of them unconscious and exhausted. Dr Perzanowska was not discouraged, but quickly arranged for all of them to be bathed, examined, triaged and diagnosed, accommodated in the already crowded barracks, and sometimes given some initial treatment. This is how Perzanowska described her work in an article in Przeglad Lekarski – Oświęcim (published in 1968, now hardly available, p. 173):

The workload continued to be excessive. By mid-1943, during an outbreak of typhus, we had six barracks with 500-800 patients on average. We had to start at daybreak and finish late in the evening. We worked with the outpatients early in the morning, but had to see some women also after the evening roll call, if they had fallen ill during the day. We also had to dress prisoners’ feet chafed by clogs, as well as the heads and backs of those who had been beaten. After the morning work in the admissions room, we did our daily rounds in the barracks, while the nurses described the condition of the patients and took down our orders. When there were many patients, the rounds continued well into the evening, and we also worked Sundays and holidays.

Perzanowska took a keen interest in the new arrivals. She wanted to find not only those prisoners who were particularly weak and unwell, exhausted by their previous imprisonment and transfer, but also qualified nursing staff or young volunteers willing to work in the hospital. Those searches have been described by Wanda Orłosiowa, who was deported to Majdanek from the Pawiak jail in Warsaw on 17 January 1943. Orłosiowa recollected what her group of women prisoners had experienced on arrival in the camp from Lublin station:

We covered the distance from the station dragging our feet, as we were very cold and tired. We spent the night on the floor, which was strewn with a handful of wood shavings and straw. . . . It was not until the following morning that Dr Perzanowska was able to see us (she had arrived earlier, on the Radom transport). She was immediately surrounded by the younger women, so there was no point even in trying to approach her. She instantly took the sick ones under her care. I had my first conversation with Doc when she appealed for volunteers for the medical service. I stepped forward and told her about my qualifications, but Dr Perzanowska warned me right away that at my age typhus was dangerous, and an outbreak was beginning in the camp. I smiled, as she was not much older and was as the only doctor working in the women’s section. I was one of the five qualified nurses there. Apart from us, lots of young women volunteered. Perzanowska was an excellent organiser. Zofia Orlicka, the nurse who acted as matron, was also a good manager, so she took some of the burden off Perzanowska’s shoulders. The Germans gave their permission for the establishment of a hospital when an Aufseherin (female guard) caught typhus; they wanted to save their own skins.

The hospital was more than a place where prisoners could get treatment. Thanks to Dr Perzanowska and the staff that she had trained, it was also a shelter for older detainees who would undoubtedly have perished if they had been forced to work in the fields. Also the young trainee nurses were protected there and could earn their qualifications on the job. Although Dr Perzanowska worked in a concentration camp, she managed against all odds to found a quasi-school for her nurses, who not only learned the practicalities of the profession, but also had theoretical lectures. As Wanda Orłosiowa recalls, more than a hundred prisoner nurses were trained between January 1943 and April 1944.

It was a surprise and a shock for Dr Perzanowska to meet Prof. Mieczysław Michałowicz, her university tutor, in the camp. She was hardly able to recognise him, he was so emaciated and had changed so much because of the starvation and all that he had been through. But he had kept his optimism and hope, and assured her, “Please believe me, Dr Perzanowska, that one day I’ll be a professor of the University of Warsaw and your daughter’s tutor.” Actually, it all came true. Some of those encounters as well as the friendships that were formed then stayed in Dr Perzanowska’s memory forever. She remembered many former inmates, such as Zofia Praussowa,35 a member of the Polish Sejm for the Polish Socialist Party, as well as several young colleagues. Dr Perzanowska used the prisoners’ hospital as a hideout for those who would otherwise have been killed. To that end, she rigged their medical records. Ignoring the risk and potential consequences, she made it possible for them to keep in touch with their relatives and friends. She participated in the exchange of illicit correspondence and procured provisions for the hospital by all possible ways and means, sometimes with the help of the Polish Red Cross and the RGO36 (Main Welfare Council). She describes all these activities in her articles and book, which contains reproductions of some of the “kites,” the prisoners’ secret letters, including her own letter to her daughter.

As Wanda Orłosiowa says in her manuscript,

Dr Perzanowskawas always full of energy, busy since the morning roll call, ready to give medical attention. She had a reputation as a good diagnostician and for her ability to use readily available medications. She knew how to build good rapport with patients and was always cheerful and witty. She took young prisoners under her wing straightaway and gave classes for them. When she was not busy with her work, she recited poetry and earned a reputation as an engaging story-teller. On such occasions, her listeners could forget where they were and in what kind of times they were living. Regrettably, due to the responsibilities that Dr Perzanowska entrusted me with, I spent less time with her than that flock of youngsters who always sought her advice and support, tapping her expertise and enjoying the pleasant atmosphere she created.

It must be remembered that all that effort went on amid terror, brutality, sadism, and killing. For instance, when Dr Perzanowska asked Elsa Ehrich for an allowance of milk for her patients’ babies, the Aufseherin slapped her face, yelling: “This is not a sanatorium, but a death camp!”

The violent men and women guards harassed and beat up especially the old and weak prisoners, while Dr Perzanowska was particularly caring for those most vulnerable detainees, as many accounts confirm. Orłosiowa writes,

Whenever it was possible, she would employ them as clerks. Others were taken in as patients. Also, she took tender care of the children imprisoned in the camp.

Dr Perzanowska’s fellow inmates, especially the nurses, many of whom later became doctors, have fond memories of her and still refer to her as “Mama.” By way of explanation it has to be added that in the concentration camps older inmates often took care of the younger ones, who felt like their adoptive daughters. The seniors were devoted to the youngsters and liked to be treated as substitute mothers.

Wanda Ossowska is one of the nurses who remember Perzanowska and worked closely with her. In her account, Ossowska describes the typhus barrack, assigned for that purpose thanks to Dr Perzanowska’s appeal to the camp supervisors, who, as we know, were terrified of the prospect of a typhus epidemic. For an idea of the difficulties that cropped up during the arrangements, read the account written by Ossowska, a reliable eyewitness:

The barrack had no roofing and through its walls you could admire the world around. But, as soon as Mama got it and started talking and whispering to the workers who were not prisoners and came in from outside, it started to change minute by minute. Soon it was furnished with three-tier bunks, straw mattresses and blankets, which kept arriving from God knows where and were ours to use. Then the treatment could start. The most readily available medicine was a kind word, but Dr Perzanowska had more of her own, wondrous but efficient ways of dealing with patients. When the War was over, she still continued to ask, “Tell me, dearest Wanda, how was it possible for all those poor women to pull through even though everything was against them?” The hospital grew, it had four qualified nurses and some staff who had been trained by the Polish Red Cross, and even more very young volunteers, and then Mama resolutely told the Germans to give her another barrack and establish a medical service in the camp. The installation of a water pump in our section of the camp was also Mama’s doing and it opened a new stage in the prisoners’ lives. Mama was no specialist in surgery or obstetrics, but we delivered a lot of births and performed many operations which overawed the crude and ignorant SS doctors. Luckily, we had no postpartum infections, haemorrhages, or [postoperative] deaths. The treatment basically boiled down to talking to Dr Perzanowska, some herbal concoctions, autologous blood therapy, taking charcoal made of bread burned to cinders etc.

When Mama wanted to save a patient’s life, she knew no limits to persuading us to do things. I remember giving Janka Modrzewska a hypodermic infusion of two litres of saline solution using syringes of 5 and 10 cc, as we had nothing else at our disposal. When Janka Fuchsowa had a serious kidney condition and her blood pressure shot well above the acceptable level, I wet-cupped her, making small incisions behind her ears. All in tears, I wanted to defer the procedure, saying something about the arteries, and that I didn’t have the right instrument to cut the skin. “Everything’s going to be fine, Wanda dear, we must save her,” I heard. So I had to make do with an old razor blade and some ether left over from a previous operation, because Mama decided Janka had to live on, and she’s still alive today. . . .

Mama was not only a wonderful doctor, she was also a wonderful person. Although she had her foibles, just like an ordinary human being, she was strong enough to keep them under control. Like the rest of us, she was afraid of the Germans and avoided unnecessary scraps, but was also an example of great courage. One day [one of the brutal henchmen of Majdanek, the SS doctor] Blanke37 gave an order that we women working in the hospital were to bring out all the Jewish women receiving treatment to the roll call square: a selection was going on. We were just standing there, silent and outraged, next to Dr Perzanowska, determined to disobey the order. Blanke came and was taken aback. Mama stepped forward and spoke up: “We are dedicated to saving other people’s health and lives and cannot take any part in the extermination of our patients.” Blanke went red, stunned and frenzied, and slapped Mama in the face. She staggered, but we held her up. He left and we stayed there, until the functionary prisoners were sent in to carry the Jewish patients out of the hospital.

So whenever it was necessary, Dr Perzanowska was ready to face a threat and forget about her own safety; only luck saved her from death. Józefa Peters recounts a similar, typical episode:

One day a woman prisoner was shot by a watch-tower guard. Dr Perzanowska ran up to help her, which was strictly forbidden. An infuriated female guard lashed her whip across Dr Perzanowska’s back, but that did not change our Doctor’s daily routine at all.

In these accounts as well as in an article in Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim (1968, p. 181)we read favourable, even enthusiastic opinions about Dr Perzanowska’s conduct and work in the Majdanek hospital. The latter publication was authored by the survivor Zofia Pawłowska, who said that Perzanowska was always “prompted by humanitarian instincts and readiness to support the vulnerable.”

Józefa Peters, whom I have quoted above, described the arrival of extremely tormented, terrified, starved, and feverish young and old women as well as children from Vitebsk. Dr Perzanowska and her nurses immediately took care of them, triaged them, and divided into groups depending on the diagnosis, typhus, tuberculosis, or diarrhoea. Almost instantly, a new typhus ward was arranged.

For a long time, the surrogate hospital for the women prisoners of Majdanek functioned with just very small supplies of medicines. A change came, as Peters says,

in the spring, when the unit of plant gatherers went out to pick plants that were added to the soup. Dr Perzanowska suggested in secret that they could also gather medicinal herbs. So every day after the evening roll call they turned up and produced the herbs they had found and hidden under their clothes or in their sleeves. Then she could offer some real treatment to the sick. Meanwhile, using all effective channels, Dr Perzanowska stayed in contact with the Polish Red Cross and the Lublin medical community.

The official supply of medicines was negligible. The hospital was better off only once it started to receive medications from the Polish Red Cross and the Main Welfare Council. In her book (p. 143), Perzanowska lists the weekly allowance for hundreds of patients:

My antipyretic drugs were a few dozen of salicylate and sulphonamide tablets, mainly Prontosil, which was popular at the time; diarrhoea could be treated with charcoal tablets and bolus alba; and the cardiac medicines we received were Cardiamid, caffeine, camphor, and valerian drops, three vials of each. Then, about a dozen paper bandages, a packet of gauze and cellulose paper, some ointment . . . , which means that our pharmacological options stayed well below any admissible minimum.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr Perzanowska and the help provided by the inhabitants of Lublin, the camp hospital got more medicines needed to treat patients. Yet, the resources could never meet the increasingly greater demand. Neither was it possible to reach all the sick prisoners in Majdanek: after all, it was called a Vernichtungslager, that is an extermination camp. Nurse Wanda Ossowska, a Majdanek survivor whom the reader has already met, wrote,

When the Main Welfare Council was allowed to help the prisoners by sending in food and medicines, Mama requested calcium for a large group of TB patients. We were sent a basketful of calcium chloride ampoules. Dr Perzanowska was overjoyed and at once ordered all the injections administered. And again I tried to object. There was just a small light bulb high up under the ceiling, and intravenous calcium chloride was to be administered. I felt I would be accountable and knew what the risk was. But Mama was not to be dissuaded, “Give them the injections, Wanda dear, it’s the only way to save them.” And so I administered eighty injections a day, while Mama kept assuring me and the patients that obviously they felt better now and were bound to get well.

Józefa Peters reports that

starting from December 1943, the Lublin branch of the Polish Red Cross provided a regular dispatch of bread and soup for patients. Thanks to our contacts with dedicated local doctors, invaluable medicines arrived too, hidden under the food. Now the women could be treated more effectively, but we were very concerned to keep the extra medical supplies secret, as no explanations would have excused us.

One of the good things about Majdanek, its special feature, was that representatives of the Polish Red Cross and the Main Welfare Council had access to the camp. That fact was good for the prisoners, and it has been frequently referred to in publications. In 1965, Dr Perzanowska wrote a whole article about it for Przegląd Lekarski—Oświęcim. At this point I shall add that Dr Perzanowska’s memories of Majdanek, which have been published, for instance, in WTK—Wrocławski Tygodnik Katolików and in several instalments in Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim since 1965, formed the groundwork and were the inspiration for her book Gdy myśli do Majdanka wracają (1970). In this way she recorded and documented the long history of the women prisoners’ hospital in Majdanek.

The next stage in Dr Perzanowska’s life was her subsequent incarceration in several other concentration camps. On 14 April 1944, the Majdanek hospital was evacuated to Auschwitz: about seven hundred patients were accompanied by Drs. Perzanowska and Brudkowska as well as fifty nurses. In Auschwitz, Perzanowska was registered as prisoner No. 77368.

Józefa Peters made a reference to that pivotal moment:

We were ordered to evacuate the patients to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Dr Perzanowska was beset by worries. And suddenly a solution occurred to her: Mengele,38 an Auschwitz doctor, sent an order that fifty members of the medical staff should travel with the patients. Of course Perzanowska wanted to be one of them. But she also put the names of those young girls who did not want to be separated from their mothers on the list of medical attendants. Upon arrival, they were virtually stripped of all their belongings and left without a stitch. The Germans herded the naked women into the washroom. Their things had gone, but Perzanowska would never surrender and could never be broken: she managed to smuggle in her greatest, most precious treasure: the suitcases packed with medicines. How? There are very few people who could explain that. And she herself, when asked, just laughed off her success.

Any change in camp routine, and especially incarceration in another camp, was an ordeal and a trauma for prisoners. It forced them to start again from scratch, adapt to the new conditions, look for new contacts, and avoid dangers and pitfalls they did not know of yet.

Perzanowska’s first moments in the new camp have been described by another prisoner doctor, Irena Białówna,39 who watched the reactions of her new colleague and was intrigued by her brave attitude in the face of a setback, especially as her reputation, established in Majdanek, travelled with her to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Białówna’s account describes such a critical point:

Dr Stefania Perzanowska arrived in Auschwitz . . . with a transport of sick prisoners from Majdanek. From them I learned that she had enjoyed her patients’ trust there and established contact with the Polish Red Cross, and that she had even had some respect (or perhaps just recognition) from the SS personnel. In Auschwitz, probably because the conditions were more difficult, she looked disoriented and confused. She made the same impression on me when we met in 1945 in Ravensbrück.

After the War, Perzanowska wrote about Białówna, too. Her manuscript says that for a time, Białówna worked in Birkenau in the infectious ward in Block 24, and that her colleagues were Jadwiga Dąbrowska-Belońska40 and Zofia Krasińska-Leśniak. Białówna took care of the children who had been deported to the camp from Warsaw after the fall of the 1944 Uprising. They were in a miserable condition. She arranged Christmas celebrations for them and was really happy and showed her joy to see smiles on the faces of the youngest prisoners.

Jadwiga Romeyko remembers Dr Perzanowska from the infectious ward of the Birkenau hospital, where she was admitted as a patient in August 1944. She writes that Perzanowska

. . . understood the human psyche well and was a dynamic organiser. She was a courageous person and put in a great deal of effort and dedication to help both sick and healthy prisoners, especially the youngsters.

Later she adds,

Luckily, I was not put on [an evacuation] transport in the late autumn of 1944. In January 1945, hearing the news that the hospital would be evacuated with its [women] patients, she [Perzanowska] used to run up to the wire fence separating our section off from the men’s section, begging for clothes and shoes for those who were to leave the camp.

Romeyko writes,

On 17 January 1945 Dr Perzanowska left the camp with the last group of women prisoners. Her name was called out and she was actually pushed to the other side of the gate. I was in the same group, but I parted with Dr Perzanowska in Ravensbrück, where she was admitted to the hospital with diarrhoea.

The dramatic death march is known from many testimonies. In Ravensbrück, Perzanowska was registered as prisoner No. 107185. At first she was assigned work in the Jugendlager [“the young people’s camp” in Uckermark], which was a few kilometres away from the main camp. After a time she returned with severe starvation diarrhoea. Nevertheless, she kept working for the following two and half months in one of the hospital barracks. That time is documented by Wanda Kiedrzyńska in her famous monographic study Ravensbrück—kobiecy obóz koncentracyjny[Ravensbrück: a women’s concentration camp](1961).

In March 1945, following a German doctor’s decision Perzanowska was relocated to Neustadt-Glewe,41 a sub-camp of Ravensbrück, situated in northern Mecklenburg. Again, she encountered conditions different from those in the previous camps, but she managed to prove her medical and organising skills. In Neustadt-Glewe there were no selections for death and no crematoria, as testified by Krystyna Horczak, but the prisoners were starved and could not procure anything at all to eat.

Horczak writes,

So-called “soup” was dispensed in tiny quantities and was unsalted, because salt was too expensive to be wasted on prisoners. Soon many of us developed scurvy, as well as the other diseases that pestered the concentration camps. Many prisoners had starvation oedemas, our gums were painful and festered, and nothing could be done about it. But that year spring was coming early, so for hours on end I used to walk along the perimeter fence, trying to find blades of grass or weeds, because I could eat them. The only problem was that walking was becoming more and more difficult. One day I was on my way to the fence, where you were more likely to find grass, and Dr Perzanowska was walking in the opposite direction. It did not occur to me to stop her, but she approached me and talked to me for a while. She explained she was in a hurry, but if I was not very busy, I should wait for her before the hospital entrance. Not only was I not busy—I was not strong enough to do anything. After a while, Dr Perzanowska turned up, but not for small talk this time. She brought me some thick soup in a tin and asked if my gums hurt. They did, quite badly. She was kind though brief, and told me to wait for her every day around noon in front of the hospital. And every day she brought me both soup and slices of raw swede. Her only request was that I should chew the swede slowly, for as long as possible. I blessed her kind heart and her help. Gradually, my gums healed and I was a bit stronger. On 2 May the Germans ran away and no other authority appeared in the camp. We were free, our imprisonment was over. We were not starving to death any longer, we could do anything, we were free to do whatever we liked.

On page 29 of her book, Dr Perzanowska writes,

I have clear memories of April 1945, the end of the War in Neustadt-Glewe, and the women, starved and swollen, who after the evening roll call went to pull up any blade of grass which had just sprouted up from the soil or peel bark off the trees. And I know that in April 1945 all my dreams of liberation focused on just one thing: a whole, large loaf of bread.

Dr Perzanowska’s work in Neustadt-Glewe is described by Ossowska, whom I have already quoted several times:

On 3 May 1945, when US troops liberated the camp, we had to transfer the patients to the hospital in a nearby town. Mama and I went there. The hospital commander, an enormous, fat German, ogled us with hostility and disgust. Dr Perzanowska introduced herself as a physician from the camp hospital and requested a certain number of beds to be ready for the women who would arrive in the evening. The German heard her out, but then started shouting out loud: he was not going to move his soldiers, who were war heroes, or put two men in one bed so as to provide treatment for a bunch of dirty, lousy women prisoners. So Mama cut in, speaking in her sonorous, authoritative voice. She asked if he was perhaps not quite aware of the fact that the War was coming to an end and that he would be taking his orders from different people now. Yes indeed, she admitted, the prisoners were dirty and lousy, and it was the Germans’ doing. “And I must add that thanks to your nation, for three years, I have had three or four patients to a single bunk. Now I demand a ward ready for my sick women prisoners within three hours, with doctors and nurses standing by to help, and the women need dietary food as they have been starved. Clear?” Oh, how I loved that last little word. The German straightened up and stammered: “Jawohl!” I gave Mama a kiss – she was wonderful, absolutely memorable.

Unlike many others, Dr Perzanowska did not feel relieved of her duties when the SS guards abandoned Neustadt-Glewe. She continued to take care of the patients and decided she would do so until they could be transferred to a better place. She had to arrange meals for them, although the camp kitchen was no longer working. Dr Perzanowska warned the starved, emaciated prisoners that they should not eat too much or choose their food indiscriminately: eager to relieve the pangs of hunger, the women would break into the abandoned storerooms and thoughtlessly devoured anything they laid their hands on very fast and in large quantities. Consequently, they suffered from abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problems, and some even died. As a figure of authority, Dr Perzanowska, tried to stop the survivors from acting on impulse and save those who fell seriously ill.

Finally, she got the chance to return home. Again, a memorable description is provided by Ossowska, who was Perzanowska’s travelling companion:

Having provided for the patients, we were able to return home, to our families and homes, beaming with happiness as we had regained our freedom and liberty. Mama kept talking about her nearest and dearest, but at the same time she was always concerned for our future and well-being. We were famished and our legs were swollen, but we still had to plod two hundred kilometres on foot to reach home—yet Mama was constantly watching over us. During the stopovers, I gave glucose to the weakest women. We had to be strict about our diet, too, and in the evening Mama, who was really the most fragile of us, always found the strength to listen to our hearts, take our pulse, and generally check on us. Our ruined and ravaged country needed people to work. Mama had no time to relax and enjoy her new-found freedom. She took up her new duties practically from day one, getting Radom hospital, which had been devastated, ready to start work, and hiring its new staff.

Dr Perzanowska reached Radom on 29 May 1945 and stayed at her friend’s, where her daughter met her two days later. Almost at once she took over as chief physician of the internal ward at the municipal hospital. Subsequently, she was employed as a physician in the Radom Health Department and the chair of its medical board. Soon she became a second degree specialist in internal and cardiovascular diseases.

At the same time, she engaged in several projects of voluntary work for the community, for instance as honorary head and an excellent lecturer of the nursing school she established in Radom. Also, she set up one of Poland’s first outpatient clinics for survivors of Nazi German concentration camps. She worked in that clinic until the end of her life, waiving all her fees.

She campaigned for substantial medical and social assistance she considered due to survivors, speaking and writing letters on their behalf. Her public appeals were definitive, forceful, and unemotional, as she always presented objective, well-reasoned, and persuasive arguments.

She was a genuine spokeswoman for the community of survivors of Nazi German camps and jail, a champion speaking on behalf of their needs and objectives, always fighting for their good, never for her own.

As a survivor, she was one of those doctors who could sympathise with the experiences and current situation of those of her patients who were survivors too. She understood the background of their health problems, their worries and concerns, difficulty to adjust, and inability to cope with everyday matters. She was a staunch supporter of their interests, which she often presented to the general public, e.g. during ZBoWiD42 conventions, demanding that their problems be resolved for the sake of humanitarianism.

She was a highly esteemed person both in the survivors’ circles and among the ruling class, and her opinion was often taken into consideration. Thanks to the efforts of Dr Perzanowska, many survivors were given the aid they required promptly and effectively.

She spoke on the Nazi German camps, delivering numerous papers at ZBoWiD conventions and congresses, as she sat on the medical board of that organisation. For instance, she read a paper on the scale and essence of the psychological changes that occurred in women who were imprisoned in Nazi German concentration camps (“Rozmiary i istota kobiecych przemian psychicznych w obozach koncentracyjnych”), which was later published in the proceedings of the 1974 ZBoWiD symposium.

Dr Perzanowska cherished her contacts with ex-inmates and maintained her correspondence with them even during her final years, when she was weak and worn out by disease. Whenever she could, she attended their formal and informal meetings, and was always given a rousing welcome.

Her manuscript has preserved extremely warm remarks about Jadwiga Belońska-Dąbrowska and Zofia Krasińska-Leśniak: “I had many ‘daughters’ in the camp and after the War, I was in contact with many of them, and I still am. But it was always so, both in the camp and after the War, that Jadzia [J. B.-D.] and Zosia [Z. K.-L.] were closest to my heart.”

Anatol Adamczyk, just like many other people, especially members of the Radom branch of ZBoWiD, confirms that Dr Perzanowska provided him with first-rate, kind-hearted medical care. He stresses that she spared neither time nor effort to help survivors, consulting and treating them free of charge, sometimes in her residence, to the detriment of her private practice.

In her letter dated 16 December 1971, Dr Perzanowska informed me that as regards her book, her inner feelings are best expressed in its ending. The final passages conclude that it was in the camp, with its extreme conditions, that people got to know each other really profoundly. That knowledge, in turn, could bring them together intimately or set them completely apart. If it brought them closer to each other, a friendship could form which was an absolute treasure during their confinement in the camp and made it easier to survive. Apparent reserve and reticence often hid cordial relationships which continued for decades after the War. Yet an exorbitant price had to be paid for them.

Dr Perzanowska was a member of many learned societies and social organisations, such as the Polish Medical Association,43 the Polish Internists’ Association, the Cardiological Association, the Association for Fighting Tuberculosis, the Association of Physicians of the National Social Insurance System, the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, the Society for the Care of Majdanek Survivors, the Polish Red Cross, the Society of Children’s Friends, and the National Unity Front. She received many distinctions throughout her life starting straight after the end of World War I, including the honorary badge of the Polish Military Organisation, the War Order of Virtuti Militari, the Cross of the Polish Military Organisation, the Independence Cross, and the Badge for Outstanding Work in the National Social Insurance44 Company. During World War II, the Polish underground state awarded her a decoration for perseverance, loyalty and confidentiality under Gestapo interrogation and torture. After the War, she received the Cross of Valour (1945), the Gold Cross of Merit with Swords (December 1945) for her resistance work, the Officer’s Cross of Polonia Restituta (1 September 1959), the Gold Cross of Merit (5 May 1967), the Medal of Victory and Freedom (20 June 1961), the Badge for Outstanding Work in the Health Service (8 March 1953), the Second Class Badge for Outstanding Work in the Health Service (18 May 1968), and the Honorary Badge of the Polish Red Cross.45

Dr Perzanowska has endured not only in the living memory of those who feel indebted to her. She also left us many publications, some of which I have not managed to access. Neither am I sure that I have identified all the important articles during my research. However, the purpose of this biographical paper is not to compile a bibliography of Dr Perzanowska’s writings, but instead to focus on the time when she was confined in the Nazi German concentration camps. On the other hand, there should be at least a brief mention that her publications reflect her varied, manifold interests, for she wrote not only about her imprisonment or discussed medical problems (such as diabetes). Her other topics were education and character formation, history (e.g. the 1863-1864 Uprising against the Russians), and biography (e.g. of Marie Curie and the writer Maria Konopnicka). Dr Perzanowska won several prizes for her writing, e.g. in 1962 she was awarded a prize by the Polish Red Cross for a recollective paper about this organisation (“Polski Czerwony Krzyż w moich wspomnieniach”). It could be a worthwhile enterprise to gather and publish a collected volume of Dr Perzanowska’s various texts, especially those that have not appeared in print yet.

Apart from her career in medicine, she was intensely interested in poetry and painting. As I have said before, she had a good memory and was a skilful reciter and elocutionist, and an engaging story-teller. She also wrote poems. She was a very perceptive and witty person, whose remarks were often striking for aptness and accuracy. Her descriptions of the world were colourful and serene, even when the realities that surrounded her were really grim. For instance, in Birkenau her fellow inmates persuaded Dr Perzanowska to write a humorous Christmas pantomime about the hospital.

Dr Perzanowska practised medicine and did voluntary work until the last days of her life. She died on 16 August 1974 and was laid to rest in the historic Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw, in the Juraszek family grave (section 243, row VI, grave 7), marked with a tall cross on a pedestal, easily visible from a distance. The heroic doctor’s name is to be found on a memorial plaque next to St. Honorata’s Gate, the main entrance to the cemetery.


Translated from original article: Kłodziński, S., “Dr Stefania Perzanowska.” Przegląd Lekarski – Oświęcim, 1981.

  1. This book was published in 1970; the correct date of publication is given later in the article.a
  2. Zofia Sobierajska-Przanowska, Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoner No. 64429, later collaborated with Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim. She answered several of the questionnaires sent out to survivors by the periodical’s researchers. See the Polish edition online for 1974, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1987, and 1989. Przanowska is also cited in the English version of the biography of Nurse Dąbrowska-Belońska on this website.a
  3. Maria Malina Bielicka-Szczepańska (1909-1989), Polish actress and vocalist, held in Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps.a https://www.majdanek.eu/en/news/jutrobedzie_lepiej_-_spiewajaca_malina/1209
  4. Wanda Ossowska (1912-2001), Polish nurse. Warsaw Uprising combatant. Survivor of Majdanek, Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Neustadt-Glewe concentration camps.a https://www.majdanek.eu/en/news/zaduszki_majdankowskie__wspomnienie_wandy_ossowskiej__1912___2001/869 and https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wanda_Ossowska
  5. Zofia Krasińska-Leśniakowa, Polish nurse, Auschwitz survivor. See Maria Ciesielska, Szpital obozowy dla kobiet w KL Auschwitz-Birkenau (1942-1945), Warszawa: Muzeum Historii Medycyny WUM, 2015 , p. 26.a Online at http://polska1926.pl/files/2691/files/szpital-obozowy-dla-kobiet-w-kl-auschwitz-birkenau-1942-1945.pdf
  6. Krystyna Horczak (1914-?), Auschwitz survivor. See her statement to Prosecutor Judge Jan Sehn investigating German crimes in the concentration camps, online on Chronicles of Terror, https://www.zapisyterroru.pl/dlibra/show-content?id=3765&navq=aHR0cDovL3d3dy56YXBpc3l0ZXJyb3J1LnBsL2RsaWJyYS9yZXN1bHRzP3E9QXVzY2h3aXR6JmFjdGlvbj1TaW1wbGVTZWFyY2hBY3Rpb24mbWRpcmlkcz0mdHlwZT0tNiZzdGFydHN0cj1fYWxsJnA9NDQ&navref=MnRuOzJ0NCAyeDQ7MndsIDJ1MTsydGk&format_id=6a
  7. Also known as Zofia Leśniakowa and Zofia Krasińska-Leśniak.b
  8. Służba Zdrowia—a monthly magazine for the Polish medical profession published since 1949.a
  9. Doctor Medicinae Universae (Doctor of General Medicine) was the official title of the degree awarded at the time in Poland to students graduating in medicine.a
  10. Ochotnicza Liga Kobiet, the first women’s unit in the Polish Army.a
  11. The Polish Legions were a military organisation established by Józef Piłsudski in 1914 during the First World War, originally as part of the Austrian forces, but in fact fighting for the restoration of Poland’s independence, to which they made a major contribution, becoming the germ of the Polish Army. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Legions_in_World_War_Ia
  12. On the restoration of Poland’s independence in 1918, after 123 years of non-existence as a sovereign state, the country had to fight several wars with neighbours for the demarcation of its borders. One of these wars was with the Ukrainians inhabiting Poland’s eastern territories for Eastern Galicia (i.e. the City of Lwów and its region) in 1918; and another was against the Bolsheviks, who invaded Poland in 1920. This article was published during the period when Poland was in the Soviet sphere of influence, and for reasons of censorship it is not explicit about which “military operations” are meant here.a
  13. Polska Organizacja Wojskowa, POW—a secret military organisation founded by Józef Piłsudski in 1914 and operating on the territory of the Russian zone of Partitioned Poland during the First World War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_Military_Organisationa
  14. Anastazy Stanisław Landau (1876-1957), Polish internist, one of the pioneers of bronchoscopy in Poland. Chief physician of the internal medicine department at Wolski Hospital, 1921-1939, https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anastazy_Landaua
  15. Mieczysław Michałowicz (1876–1965), Polish physician and Rector (head) of the University of Warsaw, 1930/31. For more on Prof. Michalowicz, see the article on him, “Two memorials of Professor Mieczysław Michałowicz,” on this website.a
  16. Leon Karwacki (1871-1942), Polish microbiologist and pathologist, professor of the University of Warsaw and lieutenant in the Polish Army serving as an army doctor, 1918-1928. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Karwackia
  17. Powiat—the term for the second-tier division of territorial administration in Poland.a
  18. Wilhelm Knöpfelmacher (1866-1938) Austrian paediatrician, head of Karolinen-Kinderspital, 1901–1938). Committed suicide when the Nazis came to power in Austria (he was Jewish). https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_Kn%C3%B6pfelmachera
  19. The Second World War began on 1 September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The Poles defended their country against the German invasion, but on 17 September Soviet Russia invaded Poland from the east. Poland's defence against the double invasion continued until the first week of October. The Soviets deported the POWs they took and over a million civilians to the USSR. In March 1940 Stalin signed a warrant for the execution of over 22 thousand Polish officers held as POWs in Soviet camps. These men were killed in what is known as the Katyn Massacre. Zygmunt Perzanowski was one of the victims. As this article was published under the Soviet-controlled People’s Republic of Poland, putting this information across explicitly was out of the question for censorship reasons. See Note 10.b
  20. Before World War Two Poland had a large Ukrainian ethnic minority, living mainly in the eastern regions of the country. When the War broke out, many Ukrainians collaborated with either or both the German and Soviet invaders in anti-Polish operations.a
  21. In fact Dr Perzanowski was held in the Starobielsk POW camp in the Soviet Union and murdered by the Soviets in the spring of 1940. See relevant earlier note.a
  22. Dr Kazimierz Aleksandrowicz (1915-1982), Polish Army officer; combatant in the defence campaign of September 1939 and later in the resistance movement in the Radom area. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazimierz_Aleksandrowicza
  23. Dr Franciszek Jan Waga, Polish Army physician before the War; chief medical officer of the resistance movement unit in the Radom area. See Zdzisław Jezierski, “Służba Zdrowia Okręgu Radomsko-Kieleckiego Armii Krajowej” (English summary entitled “Medical Services in the Radomsko-Kielecki Region of the Home Army”), Archiwum Historii i Filozofii Medycyny, 2014: 77, pp. 36-62, 48-49; online at https://depot.ceon.pl/bitstream/handle/123456789/11623/Sluzba_Zdrowia_Okregu_Radomsko_Kieleckiego_Armii_Krajowej.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=ya
  24. Dr Aleksander Zienkiewicz (aka Siostrzeniec), Polish Army physician, active in the resistance movement in the Kielce and Radom area during the Second World War. See Jezierski in Note 21.a
  25. ZWZ, Związek Walki Zbrojnej (Union of Armed Struggle), an early Polish resistance organisation, predecessor of the AK (Armia Krajowa, the Home Army), the largest underground resistance movement in occupied Europe during the Second World War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_Armed_Strugglea
  26. Dr Konrad Hubert Vieth (1913-1987), Polish physician, combatant in the Polish defence campaign against the German invasion in September 1939 and later in the wartime resistance movement in the Radom region. https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Hubert_Vietha
  27. Dr Stanisław Niklewski (1897-1951), combatant in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in which he served in one of the insurgents’ hospitals. After the Uprising evacuated to Radom, where he worked in the local hospital. https://www.1944.pl/powstancze-biogramy/stanislaw-niklewski,53629.htmla
  28. Jan Masłowski (1931–2015), member of the editorial board of Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim. Co-author (with Zdzisław J. Ryn) of “KZ Syndrome: A selection of the most essential bibliography” and (with Antoni Kępiński) of “The Dulce et Decorum Motif” on this website.a
  29. Dr Aglaida (Ada) Brudkowska, (1914-1983), Polish physician sent to Majdanek on suspicion of engaging in anti-German resistance activities. Survivor of Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Ravensbrück concentration camps, where she had worked as a prisoner doctor. Maria Ciesielska, Szpital obozowy dla kobiet w KL Auschwitz-Birkenau (1942-1945), Warszawa: WUM, 2015, pp. 95-99; online at http://polska1926.pl/files/2691/files/szpital-obozowy-dla-kobiet-w-kl-auschwitz-birkenau-1942-1945.pdfa
  30. Unlike other German concentration camps, Majdanek had its own term for the different areas in it, which were called “fields.” See, for instance, “the Gardener of Field III” on the Majdanek website at https://www.majdanek.eu/en/news/exhibition__the_gardener_of_field_iii__is_again_available_for_visitors/1476a
  31. Else Lieschen Frida Ehrich (1914-1948), SS guard in several German concentration camps and war criminal notorious for her brutality. Arrested by the Allies after the War and extradited to Poland for the trial of the Majdanek staff, tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and executed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsa_Ehricha
  32. SS-Obersturmführer Anton Thumann (1912-1946), served in several German concentration camps and notorious for his brutality. Arrested by the British authorities after the War, tried and found guilty of crimes against humanity, and executed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton_Thumanna
  33. SS-Obersturmführer Franz Hermann Johann Maria Freiherr von Bodmann (1908-1945), camp physician at Auschwitz and later Majdanek. Taken prisoner by the Allies and committed suicide at the end of the War. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_von_Bodmanna
  34. For this individual, see Tomasz Kubicki Kobiece drogi: polskie bohaterki II wojny światowej (Warszawa: Bellona, 2018).b
  35. Zofia Praussowa (1878-1945), a Polish politician and a PPS (Polish Socialist Party) member of the Polish Parliament. A member of the resistance movement during the War, arrested in 1942 by the Germans and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison, and later sent to Majdanek and Auschwitz. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zofia_Praussowaa
  36. RGO, Rada Główna Opiekuńcza—the only Polish charity organisation the Germans recognised and tolerated.a
  37. Hauptsturmführer SS Dr Max Blancke (1909-1945), SS Lagerarzt at Natzweiler to mid-1942, where he collaborated in pseudoscientific experiments on prisoners. Lagerarzt in Majdanek from mid-1942, taking part in the “selection” of new arrivals in the prisoners’ hospital blocks located in the diverse sections of the camp, and in the executions and gas chamber killings. Transferred to Plaszow, November 1943. Committed suicide at the end of the War to avoid prosecution, See Józef Falgowski, “The SS health service at Majdanek,” on this website.a
  38. SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr Josef Mengele (1911-1979), one of the most notorious Nazi German war criminals who conducted criminal medical experiments. For a recent study, see Helena Kubica, “Dr Mephisto of Auschwitz”, Medical Review Auschwitz: Medicine Behind the Barbed Wire. Conference Proceedings 2019. Kraków: Polski Instytut Evidence Based Medicine, 2020. pp.71-90. Online at https://www.academia.edu/43963440/Medical_Review_Auschwitz_Medicine_Behind_the_Barbed_Wire_Conference_Proceedings_2019a
  39. For more on Dr Białówna (1900-1982 ), see the English version of her biography (by Stanisław Kłodziński) on this website.a
  40. For more on Jadwiga Dąbrowska-Belońska (1912-1965), see the English version of her biography (by Stanisław Kłodziński) on this website.a
  41. The name of this sub-camp is misspelled “Neustadt-Gleve” on the original Polish article.a
  42. ZBoWiD, Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokrację (the Society of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy), the main Polish war veterans’ association under the People’s Republic.a
  43. Original names in order of occurrence: Związek Lekarzy Polskich, Towarzystwo Internistów Polskich, Towarzystwo Kardiologiczne, Towarzystwo Przeciwgruźlicze, Zrzeszenie Lekarzy Ubezpieczalni Społecznych, Związek Bojowników o Wolność i Demokrację, Towarzystwo Opieki nad Byłymi Więźniami Majdanka, Polski Czerwony Krzyż, Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Dzieci, Front Jedności Narodu.b
  44. Original names in order of occurrence: Honorowa Odznaka POW, Krzyż Virtuti Militari, Krzyż POW, Medal Dziesięciolecia Odzyskanej Niepodległości, Medal Niepodległości, Odznaka za Owocną Pracę w Dziedzinie Ubezpieczeń Społecznych.b
  45. Original names in order of occurrence: Krzyż Walecznych, Złoty Krzyż Zasługi z Mieczami, Krzyż Oficerski Orderu Odrodzenia Polski (Polonia Restituta), Złoty Krzyż Zasługi, Medal Zwycięstwa i Wolności, Odznaka za Wzorową Pracę w Służbie Zdrowia, Odznaka II stopnia za Wzorową Pracę w Służbie Zdrowia, Odznaka Honorowa PCK.b

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


This biographical article about Dr Stefania Perzanowska focuses on her experience of the concentration camps, which was so important in her life, and is based on the following sources [more materials may be found online at https://kpbc.umk.pl/dlibra/publication/201005/edition/202672/content—translator’s note]:

  1. Publications
  2. Bogusz, Józef. 1965. “Słowo wstępne.” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 10.
  3. Masłowski, Jan. 1976. Pielęgniarki w drugiej wojnie światowej. Warszawa: PZWL, 20.
  4. Ossowska, Wanda. 1975. “Dr Stefania Perzanowska—‘Mama,’” Służba Zdrowia 21: 2.
    4. Pawłowska, Zofia. 1968. “W rewirze na Majdanku.” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 181-182.
  5. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1970. Gdy myśli do Majdanka wracają. Lublin: Wydawnictwo Lubelskie, 9, 10, 29, 63, 143, 186-188.
  6. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1966. “Gdy wracam myślami do Majdanka. Wspomnienia lekarki.” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 202-209.
  7. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1966. “O niektórych hitlerowskich lekarzach w Majdanku,” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 209-211.
  8. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1965. “Pomoc lubelskich organizacji społecznych więźniom Majdanka,” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 140-144.
  9. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1968. “Szpital obozu kobiecego w Majdanku,” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 169-180.
  10. Perzanowska, Stefania. “Wspomnienia z Majdanka” in: “Dwugłos o profesorze
    Mieczysławie Michałowiczu,” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim 1968: 267-269.
  11. Perzanowska, Stefania. 1973. “Z okupacyjnych dziejów radomskiej służby zdrowia,” Przegląd Lekarski — Oświęcim: 164—168.
  12. Rosiak, Elżbieta. 1971. “Jej pierwsze zwycięstwo.” Służ­ba Zdrowia 10: 5.
  13. Unpublished texts
  14. Privately owned sources
  15. a) a typescript of Perzanowska’s biography by Teresa Ostrowska, compiled for Polski Słownik Biograficzny.
  16. b) Perzanowska’s four-page manuscript, untitled, dated 18 February 1973, about Jadwiga Dąbrowska-Belońska.
  17. c) Perzanowska’s letter of 16 December 1971 to me, accompanying a copy of Gdy myśli do Majdanka wracają, with her dedication.
  18. d) Perzanowska’s letter to Jan Masłowski, dated 9 September 1973.
  19. e) a four-page typed biography of Dr Stefania Perzanowska, written by her daughter Dr Zofia Perzanowska-Korczakowa.
  20. f) a letter from the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Ref. No. IV-8520-48/857/80, dated 22 March 1980.
  21. Letters I received from:
  22. a) Anatol Adamczyk of Radom, dated 22 March 1980.
  23. b) Dr Irena Białówna of Białystok, dated 2 September 1975.
  24. c) Zofia Leśniak of Warsaw, dated 9 September 1974.
  25. d) Dr Teresa Ostrowska of Warsaw, dated 27 May 1980 (a postal card).
  26. e) Dr Zofia Perzanowska-Korczakowa, dated 4 January 1975 and 29 June 1980.
  27. f) Zofia Przanowska of Warsaw, dated 17 February 1980.
  28. g) Jadwiga Romeyko of Warsaw, dated 2 October 1974.
  29. h) Dr Z. Wasilewski, chairman of the Radom branch of Polskie Towarzystwo Lekarskie (Polish Medical Association), dated 11 June 1980.
  30. Accounts by:
  31. a) Reserve Major Kazimierz Aleksandrowicz (nom de guerre Huragan, commander of SOB-AK-RPPS-PAL resistance group) of Radom, dated 5 February 1975. It is a photocophy of two and a quarter typescript pages, with 1.5 line spacing, entitled “Opracowanie ze wspomnień i posiadanych dokumentów śp. dr med. Stefanii Perzanowskiej” [A study based on the recollections and documents of the late Dr Stefania Perzanowska].
  32. b) Krystyna Horczak, a photocopy of an untitled two-page typescript with single line spacing dated 24 February 1975.
  33. c) Wanda Orłosiowa, a photocopy of two and a half pages of her manuscript dated 20 September 1974 and entitled “Moje wspomnienia o śp. dr Stefanii Perzanowskiej” [My memories of the late Dr Stefania Perzanowska]. It is.
  34. d) Wanda Ossowska, a three-page, typed, untitled and undated obituary.
  35. e) Józefa Peters, a photocopy of a six-page, standardised, undated typescript.
  36. f) Dr Z. Wasilewski, a four-page, dense, typed obituary of Dr Perzanowska.

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

See also

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