Polish couple who hid Jewish girl during WWII honoured for their bravery

Ceremony at the Polish Security Printing Works (PWPW) in honour of former employees Czesław and Helena Lech who were awarded the Righteous Among Nations medal. From L-R: Helena and Czesław’s daughter Krystyna, Chana Bulwar’s daughter Shifra Shor, and the Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Poland, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon. Leszek Szymański / PAP

When an orphaned Jewish teenager replied to an advertisement for a nanny, she had no idea of the series of events that would unfold.

After escaping the horrors of the Zawichost Ghetto, 16-year-old Chana Bulwa had fled to Warsaw with fake documents.

Using the name Helena Majewska, she applied to an advertisement from a couple called Helena and Czesław Lech who worked at the Polish Security Printing Works (PWPW) and were looking for a nanny. 

The couple were active members of Poland's underground Home Army (AK). Czesław worked in a clandestine unit that produced banknotes for the underground, while Helena carried out secret training for the Polish Red Cross.

Fully aware of the danger Chana was in, and of the enormous risk they and their family were taking of being killed by the Germans if they had been discovered, in the summer of 1943 the Lech’s nonetheless took her in and gave her refuge, work and treated her as a member of their family.  

Chana survived the war and in 1949 moved to Israel with her husband. Following the fall of communism in 1989, Chana managed to contact Helena Lech and her children.

In 1988, Helena Lech was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal. In today’s ceremony, Israel’s deputy ambassador handed their daughter Krystyna a posthumous medal for her father Czesław. 

Talking at the ceremony Krystyna said: "I was greatly moved and proud to collect the medal with which Yad Vashem honoured my father, Czesław Lech. My mother, Helena Lech, received the same medal in 1988. This respected distinction of the Righteous Among the Nations, awarded for what they did in times and situation of extreme danger, will not let people forget them. It will not let people forget about their devotion and willingness to help a lonely girl, a 16-year-old Jew Chana Bulwa, whom we referred to as Helenka Majewska." 

Also present was Shifra Shor, one of Chana Bulwa’s daughters who said she had come to Warsaw on behalf of Chana's two daughters, five grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren, saying they were all alive thanks to the Lechs.

The ceremony also paid homage to the 600 AK soldiers who defended the PWPW building during the Warsaw Uprising. 

Vitally important because of its strategic position close to the Old Town, the AK had a number of people working within the PWPW for a number of years as Trojan horses, and on August 2, Capt. Czesław Lech – whose nom-de-guerre was ‘Biały - led an attack on the Germans trying to take the building. 

By the end of the 28-day battle which raged inside the building he was the only resistance leader left. 

He was killed on the 28th while trying to protect the remaining AK soldiers who were trying to leave the building. 

The event was attended by six of the surviving insurgents including Juliusz Kulesza, nom-de-guerre Julek, one of the last surviving defenders of the stronghold.