The Nursing School at the Orthodox Jew Hospital at Czyste district in Warsaw

There are very few resources for history of this school, as the most precious documents and remembrances hidden by its last director Luba Blum-Bielicka in “safe” places have been completely destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Only the School brochure by Sabina Schindlerówna remained. Quite rich information from the time of occupation was received from relations and reminiscences of the witnesses of that time.

Modern evidence-based nursing in Poland 1918-1939 was on a very low level, and Jewish nursing – we can say – did not exist at all.

The most modern in Warsaw and one of the largest in Poland of that time was – built from voluntary fees of the citizens – the Orthodox Jew Hospital at Czyste (today: the Wolski Hospital). People from all over Warsaw was treated there, health personnel consisted of the Hews, but the care was worse than in other municipal hospitals. “Staff was recruited by chance there, with no nursing qualifications, even the illiterates, human medley on low cultural and moral level.”

In November 1921, from the initiative of the Orthodox Jew Hospital’s curator eng. A. Weisblatt, the Nursing School Support Association was set up, including 173 members. Its statutes was accepted by the Minister of Internal Affairs in March 1922. The Association aimed in organization of a model, modern nursing school for women, regardless their religion. With the support and financial help of the American Distributing Committee, the Warsaw Municipality, and the Jewish Community, on July 8, 1923 the Nursing School at the Orthodox Jew Hospital in Warsaw was opened, known as the School at Czyste. It received the 3nd and partly 2st floor of the hospital’s administrative building, then the 4rd floor was built, and used as a dormitory.

At the beginning, since 1922 the School was organized and managed by two registered American nurses of Jewish origin – Amelia Greenwald and Ruth Hoffman.

The first director, Amelia Greenwald, “a person of extraordinary talents and energy”, who performed this function until 1927, developed a very high quality school soon. Even though the School worked on the hospital’s territory, it was completely independent from the very beginning. It had absolute autonomy, own budget, statutes, management, supervision over practical trainings. It changed its name, deleting “the Orthodox Jew Hospital” part, and it worked as the Nursing School in Warsaw.

Offered education was comparable to modern nursing schools in Europe. The course took two years (like in the Warsaw Nursing School), and from 1928 – two years and four months. Planned extension to three years was cancelled by the WW II outbreak. After a governmental exam the graduates received “a registered nurse” title and the right of practicing within the Republic of Poland.

Recruitment was similar to other schools, with severe selection and high requirements (from 300 applications 81 students were enrolled to first four groups, 32 of which abandoned during education).

The School management in the years 1924-1926 was supported by 4 English nurses, and 2 Polish instructors trained abroad. The lecturers came from the distinguished doctors from the Orthodox Jew Hospital. The School had numerous hygienic devices, perfect research equipment, nursing practice room, and diet kitchen. Practical training supervised by well-prepared instructors was realized on selected wards, all within the hospital. Introduction of hygienic habits, increase of general and personal culture, moral rules and professional ethics was strongly emphasized. The School at Czyste not only belonged to the best of this kind in Poland, but also it was well known and valued abroad.

The graduation ceremony of first 49 graduates of the Nursing School in Warsaw took place in November 1925. Successively, all vacancies in the Czyste Hospital were filled by them, being also pioneers of modern nursing among the Jews. Future directors and instructors were among the first course students. The most talented ones were delegated for complimentary studies abroad.

After Amelia Greenwald’s departure, director post was taken by Sabina Schindlerówna, who died tragically in 1938. Then Nina Lubowska became a director, and Luba Bielicka – vice director.

Just after five years of functioning the School received stabile place in the Warsaw healthcare system. Its students, apart from work in the Orthodox Jew Hospital, took posts of school or social nurses, worked in community healthcare settings. The School monitored their career, and cooperated closely with the Society of the Graduates of the Nursing School at the Orthodox Jew Hospital. The latter aimed in facilitation of professional specialization, answering cultural needs, and protection of professional interests.

Just before the WW II there were almost 120 students, much more than the School could find room for. A place nearby the Hospital was bought in 1939, for a new School building. The Nursing School Support Association Management delegated Nina Lubowska to the United States to find funds for this goal.

During the World War II the School’s history was closely connected to the history of the Jewish hospital. The School at Czyste, managed by Luba Blum-Bielicka, was the only one legal high school for the Jewish youth. Despite damages, difficult cirmumstances (typhoid epidemic, lack of water, food, medicines, energy, gas), on April 1, 1940 a new course of 11 students was accepted, and the next on October 1 (32 of 400 candidates). School certificates were given apart instead of diplomas. When ghetto was opened in November 1940, the School received a new site from the Jewish Community – “the most beautiful building within ghetto” – former Health Insurance at the Mariańska 1 and Pańska 34 streets junction. The School moved on January 2, 1941, and already on January 10 it renewed its activity, starting the new course. The students were 13-14 years old on the average. The Hospital, regarding terrible typhoid epidemic, changed it’s profile into an infectious diseases’ one. Devoted students practiced in children the Bersohns’ and the Baumans’ hospitals on Leszno street, and an infectious diseases hospital on Stawki street. Public nursing were realized in the Mother and Child Care Centre on Śliska street, where children with starvation diseases were treated, and in so-called “refugees points”.

In summer 1942 all the sicks and the staff of the Orthodox Jew Hospital were moved to a building on Stawki street, nearby Umschlagplatz, from where the Jews were transported to the Treblinka Concentration Camp. The students worked also in a small emergency ambulatory, allowed by the Germans. They risked their life helping people condemned to death, particularly children.

After July 22, 1942, when extermination of the Jews started in Warsaw, nurses were spared as indispensable in fighting against epidemics. After liquidation of a small ghetto, the School – with a nursing dormitory status – was moved on Gęsia street, and when the total annihilation was finished – on Franciszkańska street.

On September 1942 the Hospital on Stawki street was closed down, and German authorities decided to open a hospital on Gęsia street for Jewish workers from German manufactures. The nursing students worked there either.

Soon, on January 18, 1943, SS-soldiers burst into the hospitals and murdered all the sicks and the injured. The staff were removed.

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, at the end of April 1943, hospital remains were burnt. The School on Czyste was definitely closed after 20 years of activity, sharing the fate of the Warsaw Jews. Rescuing the nurses started too late, and most of them did not moved into an Aryan part of Warsaw.

The Nursing School of Warsaw graduated 350 students, 42 of them survived the WW II, leaving the General Gouvernement, in particular for the Soviet Union.

Elaborated by Iwona Kowalkowska