In the shadow of Tadeusz Pankiewicz – Irka, Helena and Aurelia


Irena Droździkowska, Krakow, Pod Orłem (Eagle) Pharmacy,
Property of the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow.

Although some things can be said about Tadeusz Pankiewicz, little is known about his three employees who assisted him in the ”Pod Orłem” [”Eagle”] Pharmacy. We know them from occupational photographs in which they were shown accompanying their manager. Smiling, amiable, young. But what do we actually know about them? Do we at least know their names? The most serious of them seems to be Irena, Helena always smiles, and Aurelia has slightly absent-minded eyes. On the day of the war outbreak they were 26, 21 and 23 years of age, respectively. But for their engagement it would not have been possible to create around the Pharmacy the whole system of aid for the Jews imprisoned in the ghetto. And yet the world seems to have forgotten them. None of them was honoured with the ”Righteous Among the Nations” medal…

People said that ”the soul of the pharmacy were Tadeusz and Irka”. Irka commented on this opinion: ”We saw what was going on in the ghetto, we had to help”. Unlike the two remaining employees, Irena Droździkowska (1913−1994) managed to finish pharmacy at the Jagiellonian University, hence she was a certified master of pharmacy and worked in her profession since 1936. Until 1 September 1939 she worked in the Mariańska Pharmacy in Rybnik. On this day she resolved to terminate the contract, seeing the extremely enthusiastic reaction of its staff to the entry of the Germans to Poland; the staff had even begun to speak only German. She returned to Kraków. At that time she did not know Tadeusz Pankiewicz, who − just like most of the Kraków population − decided to escape to the East after the occupant had entered the city. He reached Lviv, but in November 1939 he was back in Kraków. Then, Irena, who later was to become a close friend of Pankiewicz, was already working in the ”Pod Orłem” [”Eagle”] Pharmacy. On 10 September, upon the request of the Pankiewicz family, who knew Droździkowska from the circle of Kraków pharmacists, she re-opened the pharmacy, which had been closed from the onset of the war, and ran it until the return of Tadeusz. She continued working there until 1951 (the date of nationalisation of all pharmacies in Poland).

When the pharmacy became enclosed within the ghetto and the workload increased, two pharmacy students joined the staff in 1941: in May − Aurelia Danek (1916−1995), and in December − the youngest of them, Helena Krywaniuk (1918−1994). The outbreak of war had stopped their education and now, recommended by Irena Droździkowska as trustworthy persons, they were accepted to the ”Pod Orłem” [”Eagle”] Pharmacy for apprenticeship. They already knew that the role of the facility at Zgoda Square went far beyond the function of mere provision of medicines. They soon became engaged in helping the ghetto residents. It was Aurelia who transported one of the Torahs stored by Pankiewicz outside the ghetto. She did it on a children’s scooter, carrying the precious scroll in a travel bag through one of the ghetto gates, while Helena and Irka distracted the attention of the guards, engaging them in a conversation.

Helena Krywaniuk. Kraków, Pod Orłem [Eagle”] Pharmacy,
Property of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków.
Aurelia Danek. Kraków, 
Pod Orłem (Eagle) Pharmacy, 
Property of the Historical
Museum of the City of Kraków.

Even after the tragic liquidation of the ghetto, all three women did not stop their work in the pharmacy, providing their assistance to those who survived the massacre, now imprisoned in Płaszów camp. Irena and Helena remained in the pharmacy until the end of its operation as Pankiewicz’s private company, i.e. until 1951, when the pharmacy became the property of the state by the decision on nationalisation; Aurelia stayed until 1945. Later, all three worked in different pharmacies in Kraków and outside the city. In 1947 Aurelia and Helena finished their studies, discontinued by the outbreak of war.

While reading the dates of their deaths as well as the death of Tadeusz Pankiewicz, one cannot avoid the impression that they remained a team to the very end. Tadeusz died in 1993, Irena (buried in the Pankiewicz family tomb in the Rakowicki Cemetery) and Helena − in 1994, Aurelia − in 1995.

Elaborated by Kinga Kołodziejska (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.