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Heroine of Warsaw

Little Wanda with the braids

Niuta Teitelbaum was a Jewish resistance fighter in Poland who despite her innocent, youthful appearance was a deadly assassin who shot dead four Nazi officers.

Born in Warsaw in 1917, Niuta was raised in a religious Jewish family. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Niuta was one of the first volunteers to join the underground resistance movement. She said, “I am a Jew. My place is in the struggle against the Nazis for the honor of my people and for a free Poland!” Niuta was 22 but petite and baby-faced, she looked much younger. Wearing her blonde hair in two long braids, she resembled a Polish farm girl, which enabled her to move around Warsaw without arousing suspicion among the Nazi guards stationed around the city. Niuta transported weapons and helped Jews find safe havens even as she put herself in danger repeatedly.

With audacious bravery, sometime around 1942 Niuta approached the Nazi headquarters in Warsaw. Questioned by the officer guarding the front door, Niuta, acting shy and embarrassed, said she needed to see a certain high-ranking German officer. She said it was a “personal matter” implying that she was pregnant out of wedlock. The guard at the door snickered as he told her the officer’s room number and gave her a special pass to enter her supposed paramour’s private office. She thanked him shyly, and walked through the building to her “lover’s” office. Niuta entered the room to find the officer sitting at his desk. Before he could say a word she pulled out a pistol with a silencer and shot him in the head. He died instantly. Calm and collected, Niuta made her way back through the building to the front door and thanked the guard sweetly.

Because her resistance activities were so secretive, information is incomplete. What is known is that in another startlingly courageous episode, Niuta shot three Gestapo agents, killing two of them and wounding a third. Then she obtained a white lab coat and pretended to be a doctor to gain entry into the agent’s hospital room, and shot him again, killing him this time. Niuta landed a spot on the Nazis’ Most Wanted list, and was given the nickname “Little Wanda with the Braids.”

For three years, Niuta evaded her German pursuers and continued her resistance activities, until she was captured in 1943 and imprisoned with thousands of other Polish Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, where she participated in the famous uprising of April 1943. For most of the ghetto fighters it was a suicide mission; they knew they were likely to die but wanted to go down fighting. Niuta was one of the few who survived the ghetto battles and managed to escape. However, in July 1943, her hiding place in Warsaw was discovered and she was arrested by the Gestapo. Niuta was beaten and tortured for several weeks, but she refused to give information about any other resistance fighters or activities. Niuta was executed by the Germans later that year at age 25.

For her heroic resistance activities, including killing four Nazi officers, we honor Niuta Teitelbaum as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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