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The Ghetto Pharmacist

A Devout Catholic

Tadeusz Pankiewicz was a Polish pharmacist who helped the starving, suffering Jewish residents of the Krakow ghetto by providing them with medicine, food, and other lifesaving supplies.

Born in Sambor, Poland in 1908, Tadeusz studied at the prestigious Jagiellonian University in Krakow. In 1933 he took over the family business: a small pharmacy called Under the Eagle. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but Tadeusz’s quiet life and successful small business were mostly unaffected, until 1941, when the Nazis forced the city’s 15,000 Jews into a ghetto.

Tadeusz’s pharmacy happened to be within the ghetto’s borders. The Nazis shut down other businesses and essential services in the ghetto to make it impossible for Jews to get food and other necessities, but Tadeusz refused to close his store. He bribed the Gestapo, using his own savings, to keep Under the Eagle open. Tadeusz was inspired by his Catholic faith to stay and help people however he could.

Conditions in the ghetto were horrific. There was never enough food, and every day residents died of starvation or illness; others were shot in the street by Nazi soldiers. Medicine of any kind was almost impossible to obtain, except from Tadeusz, who provided health care and pharmaceuticals for free to residents of the ghetto. He also provided them with lifesaving products such as hair dye to disguise their identity and tranquilizers to keep children quiet during Gestapo raids.

Tadeusz’s pharmacy became the go-to place for Jews to meet, plan underground activities and acts of defiance, and get lifesaving care and equipment. Tadeusz and his pharmacy employees Irena Drozdzikowska, Helena Krywaniuk, and Aurelia Danek put their lives at significant risk to help the Jews of the Krakow ghetto. Besides medicine, supplies and a safe place to meet, the brave pharmacist and his staff shared their meager wartime food rations, and hid Jews on the property during deportations. They were able to smuggle some Jews out of the ghetto and take them to hiding places where they would be safe.

Tadeusz actually befriended German soldiers to get information from them! He got them drunk and cleverly manipulated them into telling him about planned actions against Jews so he could warn them. Another service Tadeusz to the Jews trapped in the ghetto was acting as intermediary between them and the Poles with whom they left their valuables.

Among the people who met in secret in the pharmacy were prominent figures such as writer Mordechai Gebirtig and artist Abraham Neumann, who were tragically shot by the Germans in the ghetto in the infamous Bloody Thursday of June 4, 1942. Julian Aleksandrowicz survived the war to become a doctor and medical professor who specialized in the treatment of leukemia. Dr Abraham Mirowski, another Jew saved by Tadeuszm later said that the kind pharmacist was “living among us, was continuously exposed to dangers, but it did not make him scared. He was full of sympathy for our tragedy and wanted to help us with all his heart. Each death of a man or a woman was a traumatic experience for him.”

After the war, Tadeusz stayed in Krakow and, in 1947, he published his memoirs of life under German occupation. He continued working as a pharmacist. In 1957, some of the Jews he’d saved brought him for a visit to Israel as their guest. Tadeusz was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem in 1983.

Tadeusz Pankiewicz died in Krakow in 1993. His pharmacy is now a museum about the history of the Jews of Krakow, with special focus on the ghetto years. Tadeusz and his brave staff are also a featured museum exhibit.

For helping Jews in the Krakow ghetto, we honor Tadeusz Pankiewicz as this week’s Thursday Hero.

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