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Reproduction of a spoon and box smuggled out of Warsaw ghetto with an infant

Object | Accession Number: 2003.88.1 a-b

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    Reproduction of a spoon and box smuggled out of Warsaw ghetto with an infant

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    Brief Narrative
    Reproduction of a silver spoon smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto with 5 month old Elżbieta Kopel (later Ficowska) in a wooden box hidden under bricks piled in a wagon in May 1942. It was given to her by her Jewish parents, Izrael and Henia Rochman Kopel, and is engraved with her nickname, Elżunia, and her birthdate, January 5, 1942. The spoon and case were presented to the Museum on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Zegota's formation because Elżbieta's escape from the ghetto was handled by Irena Sendlerowa and members of that underground organization, which assisted Jewish people in German occupied Poland. Elżbieta was temporarily housed with Stanislawa Bussoldowa, a Zegota collaborator and Polish midwife that helped deliver Jewish babies to women in hiding and in the ghetto. Stanislawa was supposed to place Elżbieta with another woman, but when she discovered the woman had tuberculosis, she decided to raise Elżbieta herself. She hired a nanny and sent the two of them to live in the nearby town of Michalin in order to avoid attracting attention from her neighbors. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. Elżbieta’s parents never came to claim her, and Stanislawa raised her as her own daughter. In order to protect her, Stanislawa did not tell Elżbieta about her past until, at 17, Elżbieta began asking questions. After many years of research, Elżbieta learned that her father, Izrael, was shot on the boarding platform in the Umschlagplatz of the Warsaw ghetto in mid-1942, and that her mother, Henia, was executed at Poniatowa labor camp on November 4, 1943.
    creation:  2002
    commemoration:  1942 January 05
    creation: Poland
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Elżbieta Ficowska
    a. front, handle , engraved script : Elżunia
    a. back, handle, engraved : 5-1-42
    Subject: Elżbieta Ficowska
    Elżbieta (Elżunia) Kopel (later Ficowska) was born on January 5, 1942, in the Warsaw ghetto, in German occupied Poland, to a Jewish couple, Izrael Josef (Josek) and Henia Rochman (Rohman) Kopel (Koppel). Prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, Izrael had been a banker and financier and had owned a tannery in Wolomin. He was born on May 15, 1893, in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, to Fajvel and Chana Kopel. Henia, a housewife, was born in 1918, in Poland, to Aron Pejsach Rochman and his wife. Pejsach had also owned a tannery in Wolomin. After the German invasion of Poland, the authorities passed many anti-Jewish restrictions and confiscated Jewish owned property.

    On October 12, 1940, a ghetto was established in Warsaw and in November, it was sealed behind a 10 foot tall wall topped with barbed wire. There was very little food in the overcrowded ghetto and it was closely guarded to keep interactions between Jews and non-Jews to a minimum. Zegota, the underground Council for Aid to Jews in occupied Poland, was one of several groups trying to help Jews in the ghetto. Social worker Irena Sendlerowa (1910 – 2008), head of Zegota’s children’s section, set-up an extensive network of sympathetic Polish people to help Jewish children escape from the ghetto. The children were smuggled out and then hidden in convents, hospitals, private homes, orphanages, and schools. Irena, alias Jolanta, provided each child with a new identity, but made sure to carefully document their placements and original names in code so that surviving relatives could find them after the war.

    In May 1942, Henia entrusted 5 month old Elżbieta to Jolanta and the Zegota network. Elżbieta was put to sleep and placed in a wooden box with air holes, with a silver spoon engraved with her birthdate and nickname beside her. The box was hidden under a pile of bricks in a wagon and smuggled out of the ghetto by Pawel Bussold, a Polish building contractor with a pass that gave him access to the ghetto. He was the stepson of Stanislawa Bussoldowa (1886 -1968), a midwife who worked with Zegota. She helped Jewish women deliver babies in the ghetto, gaining access to the area by putting on a Star of David armband. She also delivered babies for Jewish women in hiding outside the ghetto and hid Jewish toddlers that had been smuggled out while she helped find them temporary homes with Polish families. Elżbieta was temporarily placed with Stanislawa, but remained there after she discovered the woman who was supposed to care for Elżbieta had tuberculosis. Stanislawa was widowed and all of her children were grown, so she worried that the neighbors might become suspicious of the small child’s presence. She hired a nanny, Janina Beciak, and sent her and Elżbieta to live in the nearby town of Michalin.

    In May 1945, Germany surrendered. Elżbieta stayed with Stanislawa, who raised her as her own daughter. To protect her from past events, Stanislawa did not tell Elżbieta her about her birth parents or that she was a Jewish child recused from the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. In 1959, seventeen year old Elżunia began asking Stanislawa questions and finally learned the truth about her parents. Elżbieta completed school and served as a Psychology and Education faculty member at Warsaw University. In 1968, Elżbieta married Jerzy Ficowski (1924 – 2006), a member of the Polish resistance during the war and a well-known Polish poet and author. In 1969, their daughter, Anna, was born. When she was about 5 months old, Elżbieta realized how hard it would have been for Henia to give her up and began researching her past.

    She found a notarized document stating that in 1940, her father, Izrael, had leased his tannery to a Mr. Bischoff. After locating Mr. Bischoff, Elżbieta learned that he used to meet Henia in the Court Building on Leszno Street, which was one of the few points where ghetto inhabitants could meet with outsiders. He met her in order to make payments for the tannery as agreed upon in the lease. Another woman, Regina, remembered working with Henia in the sewing department of the Tobbens factory in the ghetto. She said that the last time she had seen Henia, she was carrying a checkbook for a Swiss bank account, which Henia explained would help her family start over again if they survived. In mid-1942, Elżbieta’s father, Izrael, was shot on the boarding platform in the Umschlagplatz or holding area of the ghetto when he refused to board a transport. Elżbieta’s former nanny, Janina, told her that she used take Elżbieta near the street where her grandfather Rochman was escorted out of the ghetto each day to perform forced labor. One day, Janina asked him to provide clothing for Elżbieta’s baptism. He cried and said “Elżunia is not ours anymore,” but agreed to help. He gave her a white dress and a small gold cross. Janina also explained that Elżbieta’s mother, Henia, had called from the ghetto several times and had asked that the telephone be placed near her baby so she could hear her. Henia called for the last time in October 1942. In the first half of 1943, Henia was among the factory workers transported to Poniatowa labor camp near Lublin, Poland. In early fall, Poniatowa became a sub-camp of Majdanek concentration camp. On November 4, Elżbieta’s mother, Henia, and all of the prisoners at Poniatowa were executed as part of Operation Harvest Festival. The Rochman’s, Elżbieta’s maternal grandparents, likely perished in the Warsaw ghetto.

    Irena Sendlerowa’s network helped smuggle more than 800 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and helped save approximately 2,500 children overall. In October 1943, when Irena was captured, questioned and tortured for information about Zegota, she repeated only the fake information that the group had agreed upon. She was sentenced to death, but escaped with the help of Zegota and assumed a new alias to continue working to with them. Elżbieta reconnected with Irena and the two women became very close. Elżbieta is the director of the Irena Sendler award, which is given each year to a Polish teacher. From 2002 to 2006, Elżbieta served as the president of the Polish chapter of the Association of “Children of the Holocaust.” Her identity as a child of the Holocaust has been a large part of her adult life, and she has spent decades searching for photographs and information about her parents. She is a social activist, member of the democratic opposition party in Poland, and author of several books.

    Physical Details

    Household Utensils
    Object Type
    Baby spoons (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    a. Silver colored metal spoon with a dog-nose handle end and an embossed design on each side, the background blackened for contrast. The wide handle has a flat, smooth, silver colored center and a raised, ridged border with a small x shape centered on the long sides and scrollwork leaves at both ends. The handle tapers to a narrow stem with a raised border and stylized flowers, leaves, and circles at the ends of a thin center line. It expands into a slightly curved, scrollwork neck and a deep, smooth oval bowl that slopes up to a shallow, rounded tip. It has blackened text engraved on the handle and illegible marks, possibly hallmarks, stamped on the bowl and the back of the corroded stem.

    b. Rectangular, cardboard, back hinged clamshell box with rounded corners covered with blue velvety cloth. The hinges are hidden by 2 strips of white plastic. The interior lid and back base are lined with white satiny cloth. Glued to the blue cloth lined, interior base is a fitted, cloth covered padded insert with a narrow cloth strap passing over the center diagonally, now broken.
    a: Height: 5.500 inches (13.97 cm) | Width: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm) | Depth: 0.500 inches (1.27 cm)
    b: Height: 6.000 inches (15.24 cm) | Width: 2.375 inches (6.032 cm) | Depth: 1.125 inches (2.858 cm)
    a : metal
    b : cloth, cardboard, metal, plastic

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The spoon and box were donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2003 by Elżbieta Ficowska.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2024-05-30 11:52:26
    This page:

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