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The Baker’s Tale

Richard Rabkin

They could have shut their eyes and minded their own business, as so many people did in 1940s Poland. But when a three-year-old Jewish boy landed on their doorstep, so to speak, the Bulik family — bakers by profession — opened their hearts and gave the child a home. Michael Bulik, proprietor of Canada’s Bulik Bakery, tells the tale.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When World War II broke out in 1939, the Buliks’ bakery, which was founded by Ignacy Bulik in 1912, was already a well-known Warsaw institution. Despite the war, the Buliks, along with Warsaw’s other non-Jewish residents, could go about their daily routines and even enjoy themselves — as long as they didn’t openly rebel against their German occupiers. The situation was very different for Warsaw’s more than 400,000 Jews, who were crammed into an area just over one square mile in size, which became the Warsaw Ghetto.

Ignacy Bulik’s 18-year-old daughter Wanda therefore was able to continue with her private dance lessons at a music and language school on 25 Common Street in downtown Warsaw. One morning, during her regular commute from the suburban area where her family lived to her school, Wanda was stopped by the train conductor who thought she worked for the Red Cross. The conductor pointed to a three-year-old boy who was sitting by himself on the train, crying, and said, “This is the third time I’ve seen this boy taking the train on this route from Minsk to Warsaw. We need to help him. Why don’t you take care of this child?”

In a 2008 interview with Polish magazine Wysokie Obcasy, Wanda Bulik recalled that she had a feeling that the little boy was Jewish, but, “I didn’t care. He was nicely dressed with a full head of blond hair. I liked him.”

But when she took the boy home, her father saw things differently.

The Bulik family opened a package that the boy was carrying with him. It contained some clothes and a note. Wanda had been right. The boy, whose name, according to the note, was Tolek Weinstein, was Jewish. And it was no accident that the boy had been traveling alone on the train. The note ended with an anguished plea from the boy’s family: would whoever found the boy please take care of him.

Ignacy, the patriarch of the Bulik family, was terrified. He had personally witnessed the Nazis drag his neighbor into the street and, in broad daylight, execute the man and his entire family. The man’s crime: hiding a Jewish child. Ignacy Bulik desperately wanted to avoid a similar fate for his family. But his daughter persisted. As the Gemara explains, one can “koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas” (acquire one’s share of the World to Come in just one moment). This was the Bulik family’s moment — and Wanda won the argument. Ignacy gave his permission to hide Tolek Weinstein.

Life for the Buliks and their new “son” was at times surprisingly normal. He went to a Polish school and played with the other children in the neighborhood. He went on family trips with the Buliks in the winter, tobogganing in the special winter clothes that Wanda had sewn for him. He was part of the family. He even called Wanda “Mommy.”

Other times, things weren’t as normal. The Buliks had a friend named Henrik who was a police officer. Henrik knew their secret, and he would warn the Buliks about any movements of German soldiers in the area. When the danger of discovery seemed imminent, Henrik would take Tolek to stay with another police officer and his wife, who had no children of their own. Such was the effort required to protect one Jewish child, but it was effort well spent. Tolek and his rescuers were never discovered, nor were they ever betrayed.

After the war’s end, there was a massive humanitarian relief undertaking that helped young and old alike. Those responsible for assisting Jewish children came to learn that Tolek’s story was not unique. There were a number of Jewish children hidden by non-Jewish Polish families. The question was how to find the children and either return them to their parents or find them an adopted Jewish home.

Yeshayahu Drucker, who later became a colonel in the Israeli army, was then a captain in the Polish army’s Chief Rabbinate. He made it his personal mission to uncover these Jewish hidden children. He had heard about Tolek and in 1946 he approached the Buliks and asked if they would release him. At first they didn’t want to. “We loved Tolek,” Wanda recalled. “He was part of our family.” Even Ignacy Bulik, who hadn’t been sure if he wanted to take in Tolek four years earlier, now didn’t want to let the boy go. 

But Drucker persisted. Then he was contacted by a Jewish couple who had lost their son during the Warsaw uprising. Their given names were Cyla and Mieczyslaw Greenberg, but they had received forged papers with the last name Rajscy and therefore were able to live out the war outside of the Ghetto by posing as non-Jews. The Rajscys, as they still called themselves, wanted to adopt Tolek. They had been friendly with his biological parents before the war and as a result felt an attachment to the child.

The Buliks agonized over what to do. They knew that if Tolek remained with them, he would likely become a baker. If he went with the Rajscys, he could go to university and have a better life. Their desire for Tolek to have a better life won the day.

“We all cried hysterically as they took him away,” Wanda recalled, adding that Tolek also cried. “He screamed out, ‘Don’t let them take me! I don’t want to go!’ ”

The Rajscys moved to France. They sent the Buliks a postcard with a picture of Tolek and an inscription written in the boy’s hand, which said, “For Mommy.” The Rajscys added their own note, writing that they would be moving to another country. They didn’t specify where. With that, the Bulik family lost touch with Tolek Weinstein. Wanda tried many times to locate him, but the trail went cold. For 49 years.



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