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Wanda Lesisz (15 July 1926 – 16 July 2017)

 wanda-LesiszWanda Lesisz: Polish resistance fighter honoured as Righteous Among the Nations for hiding Jews from the Nazis.

Wanda Lesisz joined the Polish Home Army at 15 and served as a nurse during the Warsaw Uprising

During the wartime occupation of Poland, Wanda Gutowska and her family risked their lives on a daily basis. In their large house in Warsaw, where they hid weapons for the resistance and held training sessions for young volunteers, they were also sheltering fugitives from the Nazis.

There was Irena, the fiancée of a Jewish army officer who was held in a concentration camp; Piotrus, a young Jewish boy who had lost his parents, and, for a while, an RAF pilot. There were also two other occupants for much of that time: a German officer and his orderly.

Wanda had joined the Home Army — the Armia Krajowa, or AK — in 1940, when she was 15, completing a course as a medical orderly and taking on courier duties. Her father, Mieczyslaw, an army officer, was captured by the Red Army after the fall of Poland in 1939 and murdered with 22,000 of his countrymen in the Katyn massacre.

As the war developed, and Russian forces began their advance from the east while the allies closed in from the west, Wanda — under her nom de guerre “Kitek” — moved weapons from her house to AK units across the city, as well as carrying messages. The Uprising began at 5pm on August 1, 1944 — “W-Hour” — when the AK attacked German positions. “I wasn’t afraid because, frankly, one had little to lose,” Wanda recalled. “The occupation was awful. Anyway, we expected the Bolsheviks to help and the British to drop supplies, and we thought the Rising would end quickly.”

Wanda LesiszCarrying out nursing duties, Wanda survived several confrontations with German troops. When the Russian advance stalled, the Germans attacked with renewed vigour, and as many as 50,000 Poles were slaughtered. “What went on was monstrous,” she said. When the Uprising was crushed after 63 days, Wanda was captured. Her mother, Leonie, and her sister, Janina, smuggled Piotr out of Warsaw. Wanda’s sweetheart, Andrzej, was killed.

The Allies had belatedly granted the AK combatant status, and so the Germans reluctantly treated them as prisoners of war. She was held at Stalag VI-C, in the marshlands outside Oberlangen, northwest Germany, and eventually liberated by Polish soldiers.

Wanda Lesisz, centre, with her daughter Barbara and her sister, Janina
In 1947 Wanda — who had been born in Pultusk, 43 miles north of Warsaw, in 1926 — was sent to England, where she found work as a secretarial assistant in a pharmacy and met an architect and former naval officer, Tadeusz Lesisz, who had served in the Battle of the Atlantic. He became a leader of Manchester’s Polish community. She became chairman of the Manchester branch of the Home Army Association.

After the war her mother tracked down Piotrus’s family. He had emigrated to Israel — as had Irena — and served in the army. In 1988 he was reunited with the family when Wanda, Leonia and Janina were honoured in Israel and awarded Righteous Among the Nations medals, which are given to Gentiles who risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust.

Tadeusz died in 2009; Wanda is survived by their two daughters, Krystyna, who is a doctor in the US, and Barbara, who qualified as a solicitor and moved to Poland.

Wanda was always keen to learn of the extent to which the Polish people had contributed to the defeat of Nazi Germany. She often addressed meetings, recounting her story. “The things I saw and did astonish me now,” she said. “Was that really me? Youth and stupidity saved me from madness. Nowadays, I jump at the sound of a car alarm.”

Wanda Lesisz, veteran of the Warsaw Uprising, was born on July 15, 1926. She died on July 16, 2017, aged 91


 

August 4 2017, 12:01am, The Times