Bronislawa Kopaniak was born in Czeladz, Poland, on Sept. 3, 1919. She died in Toronto on Jan. 6, 2005. She was 85. Her husband predeceased her. She leaves her daughter, Marguerite, and grand-daughter Jacqueline.
ET and I know Mrs. Kopaniak’s daughter, Marguerite, and had heard about Mother. Last year we had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Kopaniak and were impressed by the Style, warmth and intelligence. We were very saddened to hear from Marguerite when she passed away in the beginning of January, especially given how attached she was to the Mom. Today I had I discovered this obituary in the Globe and Mail. The Toronto Star also carried her obituary on March 1st (now at this url – Barbara Kopaniak, 85: Beauty used brains to outwit Nazis :Regal woman lived a fearless life.
Polish activist saved compatriots
Born Bronislawa Krol to parents who had been involved in earlier efforts to liberate Poland when it had been divided among Russia, Austria and Germany, she was the youngest of four children. Her father, the owner of a copper mine who was considered a Polish patriot, died when she was 12, and she lived with her mother in their hometown of Czeladz in southwestern Poland.
On Sept. 3, 1939, the day She turned 20, Britain and France declared war against Germany for invading Poland two days earlier.
By October of 1939, Poland’s western region had been annexed by Germany, and the eastern part under Soviet control. Poland had ceased to exist.
Dropping her university studies in economics, Bronislawa helped many others affected by the war, using her intelligence, beauty and courage to work with the Polish resistance. In January of 1940, she joined the resistance group Organizacja Bialego Orla, or White Eagle, adopting the code name Baska.
Initially she helped surviving Polish army officers eager to carry on the fight from abroad get access to exit documents, and warned people being rounded up, arrested and removed from their homes by the Nazi occupiers, supplying them with food coupons and arranging false documents for their escape.
With the sound of the Gestapo pounding on the door of her mother’s first-floor apartment, one night during the summer of 1941,Mrs. Kopaniak escaped through a window, destroyed her papers and, for the next few months, traveled from town to town until she was smuggled across a checkpoint (in the engine of a train!) into Warsaw. To regain identity papers, Mrs. Kopaniak claimed to have come from a town she knew had been destroyed. She took as her surname that of a Polish hero, Lewandowicz, and, for a first name, Barbara, a name she would use for the rest of her life
In Warsaw, she continued her resistance work and helped Jews leave the Warsaw ghetto. Her trick, said her daughter, was to walk into the ghetto and then boldly escort people out to the safety of a distant forest, praying all the while they would not be challenged. By the time the war ended, Mrs. Kopaniak had become seriously ill with tuberculosis.
With Poland was under Communist rule, and because of her wealthy background and her refusal to join the Communist Party, bureaucrats made her life difficult, all though acknowledged by people for her heroism.
She met Jozef Kopaniak, a mathematician and economist who had also been in the resistance, in the late 1940 while working at an administrative job in industry. They married in 1950, and in the late 1950s the couple moved to Warsaw, where Mr. Kopaniak headed Poland’s first computer-research institute. In 1968, things took a turn for the worse after student riots erupted the government tried to recruit workers into a new militia. Mr. Kopaniak appealed to employees at his institute not to join up. He resigned, only to be blacklisted, have their mail was being opened and their telephone bugged. Around that time, Mr. Kopaniak was run down in the street by a car.
With Poland was no longer safe for the Kopaniaks they left, arriving in Canada 18 months later, with her young daughter and with a husband who was still recuperating.
Of Mrs. Kopaniak’s bravery and love of Poland, and Love of Family, there can be no doubt. Rest in Peace, and with our Thanks.