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How My Family Survived WWII




For years I was reluctant to embark on my own family research. “Are we going to be the proverbial shoemaker’s sons who always go barefoot?” – my sons would ask time and again referring to the fact that I am now a full time professional genealogist. And thus, under so much pressure, I decided to  give it a try. There were many options what exactly to research but the family was univocal: they wanted to know how our ancestors survived WWII in Poland. I started with the easiest case: my maternal grandfather, Jozef Cymer. When the war ended he came back from the Polish Army (known as the Anders Army) with a well arranged photo album starting with some unique photos as a Polish POW in the Soviet Union and then as a junior officer in the Polish Army under the British command in the Middle East. I asked around and discovered that the British Army Records Centre has a file on my grandfather and after some wrangling with the privacy restrictions received, well, not the actual file but a good summary of its content. The summary was a genealogical treasure! It not only provided detailed description of my grandfather’s service during the war but also his pre-1939 biography, starting with his days as a student in Lodz. It is hard to believe but the British Army also sent me two medals my grandfather failed to collect when he left UK in 1946! The photo album and the summary became the basic sources for my grandfather’s story.



Encouraged by this initial success I turned to a much more complex task of researching my mother, Eugenia Cymer (known to all as Krysia), who survived the war on the “Aryan” side in Warsaw. Researching a Jew who lived on the “Aryan” side, with forged papers, not disclosing his or her real name, avoiding contacts with the outside world, constantly changing addresses, seemed at first to be a “mission impossible”. But, incredible as it may be, my mother also had a batch of photos taken during the occupation. The photos disclosed the name of the person who was very close to her during the war and he was able to provide a frame which I then filled up with photos and some additional findings.


The last part of the project, writing about my father Arnold Majorek (known to all as Anek or Janek), seemed to be the most difficult: there were no photos, no documents, nothing at all. In my despair I started time and again to Google my father’s name. Nothing came up for years but then one day the first item on the results page was a  link to a 1944 letter published on-line by an Israeli archives. This letter led to additional findings which totally revolutionized my research and, with some additional digging, provided much more information that I could ever have hoped for.


This is, I think, the right place to mention the people who risked their lives in order to save my parents: Krzysztof Starzynski, Andrzej Ostoja-Owsiany and the Viennese accountant Karl Grimm regarding my mother and Krystyna Ostrowska, Barbara Ostrowska, Irena Rybczynska, Mr. Miszczak and Dr. Wojciech Wiechno regarding my father.   



The story of my grandfather, Jozef Cymer

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The story of my mother, Eugenia Cymer (Krysia)


Anek on the Zjednoczenie ID, March 1943.jpg

The story of my father, Arnold Majorek (Anek)

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