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Michal Klepfisz collection

Document | Not Digitized | Accession Number: 1994.109

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    The Michal Klepfisz consists of a 1944 letter sent from the Polish Government in Exile in London to Rose Klepfisz in Stockholm concerning the death of her husband, Michal Klepfisz, death in the Warsaw. Also includes an affidavit sent from the ŻOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) attesting to Michal Klepfisz's activities with the ŻOB, and the text of a decoded telegram reading "Michal Klepfisz of Bund, who was hidden on the Aryan side and working to produce explosives for the Warsaw Ghetto, was a representative of ZOB for the Polish Underground. The day before the Ghetto Uprising, he entered the Ghetto and joined the resistance crew on StoJerskiej street. In the second day of fighting he distinguished himself as a brave warrior and was killed." The telegram includes a handwritten note at bottom reading "Silver Cross of Military Medal Virtutui Militari, 5th Class, Dr. Person, Feb. 44."
    creation:  1944
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Rose Klepfisz
    Collection Creator
    Michal Klepfisz
    Michal Klepfisz (1913-1943) was born in Warsaw, Poland, to Miriam (neé Rojza, ?-1942) and Jakob Klepfisz (?-1942). His parents were both teachers at Warsaw public schools, and Miriam served as the director of the Association of Jewish Teachers. Jakob came from a long line of renowned Warsaw Hassidic rabbis, but he broke with tradition and joined the Bund. The Bund, or League of Jewish workers in Russia, Lithuania, and Poland was the Jewish Socialist party. Both Miriam and Jakob remained active Bundists as adults, and raised Michal and his older sister, Gina (1908-1942), as such. Growing up Michal was a member of Tsukunft, the youth branch of the Bund, as well as a leader in Morgenstern, the Bund’s sports organization. Through his involvement with the Bund, Michal met his wife, Rose Perczykow (1914-2016). The couple married in 1937, and moved in with Michal’s parents and sister.

    Michal studied mechanical engineering at the Politechnikum in Warsaw, and graduated in 1939. He began working as an engineer, but his work was interrupted when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Roughly a week after the invasion, the Warsaw Mayor ordered all men of military age to leave the city and move east to avoid being taken by the Germans. Michal left for less than two months before returning to Warsaw. However, all of Rose’s siblings, and their families chose to leave the city permanently, leaving Rose's mother, Rikla, without a place to live in Warsaw. As a result, Rose arranged for Rikla to move in with her, Michal, and his family. On October 12, 1940, the Germans established a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. Michal, Rose, Gina, and their parents were forced to move into an apartment in the ghetto, and by November, the ghetto was sealed and they were not allowed to leave. Rose was pregnant at the time, and she gave birth to their daughter Irena (Irene, b.1941) on Michal’s 28th birthday.

    Between July and September 1942, the area in the ghetto where the Klepfisz family lived was raided. Rose’s mother, Rikla, and Michal’s parents, Miriam and Jakob, were taken during the raid by the SS and transported to the Treblinka II killing center in German-occupied Poland, as part of the first set of transports from Warsaw. Michal decided to get his family out of the ghetto, so he obtained false papers for Rose, and they returned to Warsaw avoiding detection. Gina decided to flee with them, after she was caught by a Jewish police officer for helping other people sneak out of the ghetto. Initially, Rose and Irena went into hiding with an older Polish couple in the village of Gleboczyce. Later, Michal found Rose a position as a housekeeper for a family in Warsaw. Rose and Michal also decided to place Irena in a Catholic orphanage in order to keep her safe. In December 1942, Gina died while undergoing an operation in a Catholic hospital. In order to keep the rest of the family and other friends in hiding safe, they gave Gina a Roman Catholic funeral, and buried her under her false name, Kazimiera Jozwiak.

    After sneaking out of the ghetto, Michal became an active member of the underground Bund resistance movement and the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB). His blue eyes and light-colored hair allowed him to pass easily as a non-Jew, and he managed to purchase the birth certificate and identity card of a man named Tadeusz Metzner, who was currently working in Germany. Originally, Michal lived in the cellar at the home of Stephan Machai, a worker in the factory where Michal had been an engineer. The home became a meeting place for underground workers until Michal was forced to move. The mother of the real Tadeusz Metzner thought her son was back in the city, and kept coming to the home looking for him. Michal was afraid she might expose his false identity.

    The Bund central committee appointed Michal the task of acquiring weapons for the ZOB. He was in charge of confirming the purchase and supplying the money for any arms deals. He also worked with other resistors to smuggle the weapons, as well as illegal literature and correspondence, into the ghetto. As it became increasingly difficult to purchase weapons, Michal used his engineering background to learn how to make them. From his own research, and training with Dr. Zbigniew Lewandowski, the head of the Polish Home Army’s Technical Research Office, Michal began making grenades, bombs, and Molotov cocktails. He then snuck back into the ghetto, and organized small factories to train other ZOB personnel to build these weapons. After these munition plants were set up, Michal returned to Warsaw and worked on smuggling the supplies they needed for weapons production into the ghetto.

    In January 1943, Michal was arrested, sent back to the ghetto, and put on a train for Treblinka. He broke through the metal window screen in the train car and squeezed through it. He ran under heavy fire from the sentries. He injured his knee, but managed to hide until the train was gone. He returned to Warsaw, and continued his work for the resistance despite the increased risk of arrest. On April 17, 1943, Michal discreetly met up with his wife to celebrate his and his daughter’s birthdays, and then he snuck back into the ghetto with a revolver he had obtained. Two days later, German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport the surviving inhabitants. The ZOB had been preparing for their arrival, and the Warsaw ghetto uprising began. Michal fought in the brush factory district under the command of Marek Edelman. On the second day of the uprising, April 20, their group was crossing from one attic to another, when they came across a German with a machine gun. Michal sacrificed himself by covering the machine gun with his body, and clearing a path for the other men. After driving off the Germans, Edelman and his surviving fighters returned and buried Michal’s body. On February 18, 1944, the Polish government-in-exile posthumously awarded Michal the Virtuti Militari medal, Poland’s highest honor. Michal’s wife and daughter both survived, and Rose received his medal while living in Sweden after the war.

    Physical Details

    1 folder
    System of Arrangement
    The Michal Klepfisz collection is arranged thematically.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Topical Term
    Personal Name
    Klepfisz, Michal.

    Administrative Notes

    Rose Klepfisz donated the Michal Klepfisz collection to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994.
    Record last modified:
    2023-06-05 11:38:43
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