Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz (1912–2003)

Anna Żalińska

Teresa Janina Bromowicz née Harsdorf was born on 27 January 1912 in the family estate in Zielona near Kamieniec Podolski. She graduated from elementary school in Nowy Sącz, where the family moved, trying to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. Podole was the ancestral home the Harsdorf family from the time of Napoleon Bonaparte – the progenitor of the family, Baron Jobst von Enderndorf, was a soldier of the Great Army and he settled on the Polish lands after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia. The family, despite its German descent, got deeply rooted in Polish culture. Teresa’s father was Antoni Harsdorf, a participant of the January Uprising, her mother was Zofia née Skarbek-Leszczynski.[1]

Antoni and Zofia had six children. The first-born son, as well as another son, Andrzej, born in 1914, died in childhood. The remaining siblings were: Krzysztof – born in 1908, Ewa – who later became a painter, born in 1910, Teresa and the youngest Maria, who was also born in Kamieniec Podolski, but shortly before the family evacuated west.[2]

In Nowy Sącz the family first stayed at Grodzka Str. (Jagiellońska today)[3], and then moved to a tenement house at Batorego 78 Str., in the immediate vicinity of the so-called railway church of St. Elizabeth. Antoni was a n office worker – in the school books from when Teresa was attending the female gymnasium i Nowy Sącz, his profession was recorded as a “private clerk – Kociubińce ad Kopyczyńce”.[4] Kociubińce, located 70 km south of Ternopil, was one of the railway stops of the former Galician Transversal Railway, which went also through Nowy Sącz. In Nowy Sącz Zofia Harsdorf worked as a department teacher in the 7-class St. Elisabeth female elementary school. Apart from that, from 1926, she was employed at the People’s School Society Industrial Women’s School, directed by Bolesław Barbacki. There she taught Polish, history and, periodically, also French.[5]

All the Harsdorf girls got involved in scouting. Teresa joined the Polish Scouting Association at the age of 12. In 1926 she took the scouting oath during a sleepaway camp in Mszana Górna.[6] In the years 1929–1933, during her Polish studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, she was a member of the famous “Watra” Academic Girl Guides Team. It was a team organized a few years before by Zofia Krókowska, a Tatra mountaineer, a classical philologist and a scoutmistress.[7]

At the Nowy Sącz gymnasium Teresa was a very good student (in 1926, in 5th grade the only ‘B’ she received was in gymnastics).[8] After graduating from the university, she started teaching in Nowy Sącz. She taught Polish language. Until the outbreak of the war, she was a member and a team leader of the Nowy Sącz senior female guide team and of the Girl Scout Emergency Service (which was a part of the team).[9] On 27 December 1938 she married Zbigniew Bromowicz, also a graduate of the Jagiellonian University and a secondary school teacher (he taught mainly mathematics). They were broughtr together by their shared passion for the mountains. Beside participating in scouts summer camps, Teresa and her husband hiked in the mountains and skied[10].

During the occupation, the teacher couple naturally got involved in secret teaching. They participated in secret classes and exams in the districts of Nowy Sącz, Limanowa and Miechów. I remember the secret maturity exams, which ended with singing “Poland Is Not Yet Lost”. The dilpomas were put in bottless and buried in the garden – Teresa recalled years later.[11] Bromowicz also helped with the operations smuggling people to Hungary. Over time, they joined the structures of the ZWZ-AK – Teresa with the code name “Jaśka” and Zbigniew as “Bronek”. Together they distributed illegal press and were invoved in contacts with the partisan unit. From May 1944 Zbigniew Bromowicz took part in partisan operations as part of the unit of “Zawisza” (lieutenant Krystian Więckowski).[12] Their apartment at Batorego Str. was a contact point for people from “Tatar’s”  (major Julian Zubek) unit.[13]

Teresa’s sister, Ewa – a talented painter –  when the war broke out, was working in Kraków as an art teacher (already at the Nowy Sącz Female Gymnasium, she practiced drawing under the supervision of Bolesław Barbacki, then she graduated from the State School of Decorative Arts and Artistic Industry in Kraków, majoring in graphics, and later she was studying at the State Institute for Technology and Home Economics in Warsaw) –  during the occupation she returned to Nowy Sącz, where she got involved, among others, in the organization of aid for refugees and care for orphans, initially working as a member of the secret “Resurectio – White Eagle” scout organization.[14]

Already in 1940, the German police raided the Harsdorfs’ apartment at Batorego Str. – they were following Krystyna Michalska, a courier, and arrested her. The woman was shot in an execution near Tarnów. Ewa Harsdorf was also arrested that day. After some time Ewa was released for lack of evidence against her. However, it was the beginning of a series of calamities. In 1941, the Germans arrested the head of the family – Antoni Harsdorf for distributing illegal newspapers was sentenced and imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp. He died there after about three months.[15] His name appears on the plaque of the symbolic grave of the victims of the Auschwitz camp, which is located at the municipal cemetery at Rejtana Str.

On 25 August 1944, in the village Konina of the Limanowa district, the Bromowiczs were arrested.[16] After the war, Teresa testified that her arrest was connected with secret teaching[17], but the question arises whether it was not a result of keeping in contact with the partisans. After being arrested by the Germans, Teresa was first imprisoned in Nowy Sącz, then in the Montelupich Prison in Krakow, from where in early October she was sent to the female camp in Ravensbrück (it took her about a month to get there by train in cattle cars).[18] Her husband was sent to the concentration camp in Flossenbürg. He survived – he met the end of the war in the camp.[19]

In Ravensbrück Teresa was given the number 74530. Everyone from her transport was sent to the munitions factory in Wattenstend, she was the only one picked out and sent to the so-called “revier”, the camp’s “hospital”. She was selected for a subject of pseudo-medical experiments. Fortunately, thanks to the help of a fellow prisoner, she was soon assigned to work in a vegetable peeling room (the so-called “cabbage column”) and she avoided the typical fate of “rabbits”, as the prisoners subjected to experiments were called. She returned to the “revier” in 1945 with high fever (after a series of vaccinations) and here she was again saved from death by a fellow prisoner. This is how Teresa described this event after the war: We were all waiting for the check-up, standing naked in the hallway with windows open. One of the old prisoners warned me then not to admit I had a fever or I will be sent to the chimney. So I told the doctor present that I had a toothache and I was sent to the dentist. After that I came back to work as usual. But because I was not able to actually work, my companions hid my lying on the ground, covered with their coats and because it was the night shift, I managed to stay alive.[20]

Teresa quickly became a member of the secret scout team, “Mury”, created by Józefa Kantor. She was a part of “Kamienie” – the Aniela Wideł’s group. As a teacher, she was involved in secret education of “rabbits”, she also did talks on literature. She helped the elderly and the sick, among other by  “organizing” additional food portions.[21] Among those who she supported that way was a fellow townswoman of Nowy Sącz, Anna Sokołowska (although among those in her care there were also women of other nationalities). During the night shifts working in the basements she would organize “literary evenings” with her friends – and in the camp she was friends especially with Irena Bany-Chełchowska[22] – a visual artist, known in the camp for sculptures she made of bread and other things, and a Polish teacher of extraordinary kindness and politeness – Jadwiga Wiktor. It was Irena Bany who placed Teresa in the “cabbage column”, “pulled” her into secret teaching and the “Mury” team, taught her how to act in the camp. Years later, Teresa mentioned how, on the occasion of the night shifts at work, they “lured in” the Russian women (which were more efficiently and faster peeling the part of the vegetables they were given) with stories – Jaga Wiktor told Scandinavian sagas, Teresa improvised highlander folk tales inspired by Tetmajer (Na skalnym Podhalu [In the rocky Podhale]). Her lectures for high school students among the “rabbits”, given in the evenings “on the thirds” (i.e. on the highest, third bunk) were moments of actual detachment from the traumas of the camp and return, at least mentally, to the home country by the study of Polish literature. This education was interrupted in March 1945 when Teresa was taken to work in munitions factories. It was a period when Germany was frequently bombed, so factories – and therefore prisoners – were constantly being moved from the areas at risk. In this transport, I was possessed by the “spirit of poetry” – Teresa reminisced years later – transported in cattle cars, cramped, hungry, feverish, she created for example “Babska odseja” (Woman’s odyssey), for which I was almost killed by the SS-man, because reading it made my companions laugh out loud, and he did not understand what we were laughing about .[23]

As for many women who, despite the humiliating conditions of the camp, maintained their dignity, her mainstay was – together with discipline and moral formation scouting gave her – her faith. In the camp, Teresa took part in the services organized by Józefa Kantor, she joined the rosary prayers and the Stations of the Cross in prison/[24]

She got out of the camp on 10 April 1945 – her transport went to Sweden under the care of the Swedish Red Cross as part of the intervention of a member of the Swedish royal family (nota bene a scout), ct. Folke Bernadotte. Years later, she will recall the uncertainty that accompanied the prisoners until the Danish border – are they not being taken to an execution after all? Then the shock in Malmö – medical examination, the sick were sent to a sanatorium, all of them received a decent meal, as well as clothes and personal trifles, which they did not have for many months (colorful dresses, hats, pocket mirrors, lipsticks, etc.). Is that how you look? – they kept asking, not recognizing each other.[25] Healthy women were quartered in temporary camps in different parts of Sweden. The Baltic Sea was mined – the journey to Poland was not yet safe.

Initially, the camp, in which Teresa was placed (in Deversdorf, by the lake, surrounded by beautiful mountains) was not fenced. However, after unpleasant and more and more frequent incidents of theft and prostitution (usually involving former criminal prisoners), it was surrounded by barbed wire, which actually was not an obstacle for former prisoners. Teresa stayed on the Swedish land from May to October. During that time, together with Władysław Matuszewska she created a school and a scout team called “Wędrowne Ptaki” (“Migratory Birds”). It was inspired by Swedish scouts who visited the camp. They came to help entertain the Polish women with singing and scouting games they organized. Teresa being chosen by her companions to direct the cultural and educational life of the camp was also significant. She initiated and helped organize concerts, film screenings, literary evenings (also of Swedish poetry), etc. Despite all that, the mood in the camp was very tense – freedom, return to “normality” on the one hand, on the other hand – the impossible to forget trauma of the concentration camp and the noticeable slackening of morals around. These extreme feelings, combined with idleness, did no service to the inner balance, especially among the youngest. It was for them, the underage girls, that Teresa together with Władysława Matuszewska, using the help of the teachers present in the camp, organized a primary school and a high school. In addition, they decided that a scout team should be created for the students. Władysława Matuszewska, with the rank of a scoutmistress, was especially involved in this initiative; Teresa – as she recalled herself – only started her trials to become a sub-scoutmistress. The team was called “Migratory Birds” and it was joined by about 50 girls, most of whom had no previous experience with scouting. The girl scouts organized festivals, games and meetings with Swedish scouts. Teresa even received permission to organize a real scout sleepaway camp on the other side of the lake. The company was led, together with Teresa and Władysława Matuszewska, by Jadwiga Wiktor and Irena Srebro. The Polish-Swedish contacts among the scouts developed in the best possible way. The Swedish commandant of the camp, nota bene a scaut himself, also became an honorary member of the “Migratory Birds”. In October, shortly before her departure, Teresa Bromowicz was invited to a solemn conference at the newly created Polish House in Brixstaat.[26] On 15 October 1945, she started her journey back to her homeland. She could not imagine working for Poland outside its borders.[27]

The Bromowiczs found each other again after the war and settled in Zakopane. They lived at Chałubińskiego 17 Str. They had no children – in the camp Teresa was subjected to criminal medical procedure (during her period she was given an injection, which caused her great pain and stopped her from menstruating ever again – despite treatment she received in Sweden and Poland). Because of that, after the war, she was hospitalized, and she was granted a 2nd disability group and state benefit for the victims of pseudo-medical experiments (although her case was not immediately considered valid, the court case lasted several years).[28] Both she and her husband returned to work in education and to their common passion, which was mountain tourism. In 1956 Zofia – despite suffering from rheumatism caused by working in camp basements– became a licensed Tatra Mountains guide. At the same time, she continued being involved in scouting. She became the commandant of the Zakopane girl scout district (1946–1949), and in 1946 she was granted the title of a scoutmistress – the highest instructor rank. She worked in various secondary schools in Zakopane, as well as in the sanatorium high school in Bystre, where in 1946–1949 she formed a scouting team with the young people being treated for tuberculosis.[29] She retired in 1971.[30] Her husband, Zbigniew Bromowicz, died on 18 January 1980.[31]

Even before the war Teresa Harsdorf wrote poems. Today she is mostly known for the ones written in the FKL Ravensbrück. Other prisoners wrote her poems down on scraps of illegally obtained paper or learned them by heart – and that way they circulated, repeated from mouth to mouth. Between 1946 and 1949 Teresa belonged to the Podhale Writers Society.[32] She is also the author of the book “Na szlakach górskich wspomnień” (“On the trails of mountain memories”) dedicated to Zbigniew Bromowicz. The book consists of stories and poems by Teresa, mostly devoted to Zbigniew’s activities and their shared passion for the Polish mountains. Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz died in Zakopane on 21 August 2003.[33] She was buried there at the cemetery on Nowotarska Street.



1944 (Montelupich Prison in Kraków)


I am standing in silence. My frightened eyes see only you.
These toads, these torturemen look toward us…
They wink at each other…
They are friendly, nice, pleasant – they have two birds in their clutch!
Now it’s time to go.
Well, come on!…
I am standing in silence. No, it can not be,
God Almighty, holy, mighty God,
Jesus Christ! How terribly you bleed…
I am standing in silence. My eyes do speak.
We were joined by the Cause. Do you remember?
On the hot June night I was supposed to come to this cemetery for your word.
The sky lay over us stars with a golden market of stars,

The unknown flowers’ scent crept over the graves.
I said your code name.
It was about weapons. Do you remember? It was about grenades.
That’s how it started… you were a commandant.
You were the spirit of the Cause and the ember of the fire.
I loved both you and our holy Work.
Who were you? Tell them? I don’t know – I don’t know anything.
Let them ask the forests and the muddy paths,
sober roads, sunny days and starry nights.
Let them ask about you, the fire – the commandant!
Let them ask how do Polish partisans fight!
There in the forest they will find everything. The track, word by word.
Why do they ask me? I will not answer anything.
I am standing in silence. Eyes wide open.
Your hands are hanging limp, twisted, dead,
not a drop of blood is left in your pale face.
Well. The most terrible, although expected,
fell on the heart like a boulder, like an avalanche.
My fire – my commandant! My only… my beloved!
Everything suffers in me: the soldier and the girl.
I remember I boldly ride my bike in the rain, in the mud –
I will think about myself some other time…
you are the commander, I am your courier
so as your soldier I rush with your command.
There was no place for love between us.
Always in a hurry. Order. Kraków – Sącz – Warsaw.
Only once – there in the forest – the stars and we alone
but then too our Cause was there with us.
Someday… maybe someday… when the war is over
when the land will fill with the lazy hum of fields of grain
In a free, great Poland we will live peacefully –
looking at each other, unearthly happy…
Today? Quickly – now – hurry, order! Understood?
By Bike, by train or on foot: Sącz – Tarnów – Warsaw.
Am I a soldier or a lover?
Quiet, heart!… The Cause. Our holy cause.
I am standing in silence.
I see your eyes, invincible, mocking, bold, wild, proud.
I know what your eyes can tell me:
“Don’t cry. Don’t be a little girl!
My body is tough.
Let it hurt, I will not give anybody out.”
All right. I understand. My body is tough as well.
Girly tears? Ah, nonsense! I won’t bat an eyelid.
I look my enemies in the eyes boldly and daringly:
“I do not know this man.”

[A poem written by Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz in Ravensbrück in 1945; the author does not write about herself, it is reportedly a free interpretation of the actual fact of the arrest of Zofia Darlowska, daughter of the academic teacher from Poznań and her commander who she was in love with, and who died during brutal Gestapo interrogations[34]]


[1] http://polkiwravensbruck.pl/teresa-harsdorf-bromowicz/; https://plus.gazetakrakowska.pl/dzielne-corki-harsdorfow-ostatnie-spadkobierczynie-barona-jobsta/ar/11946826, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[2]https://plus.gazetakrakowska.pl/dzielne-corki-harsdorfow-ostatnie-spadkobierczynie-barona-jobsta/ar/11946826, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[3] ANKR O/NS, Prywatne Gimnazjum Żeńskie w Nowym Sączu, ref. 31/234/14, Katalog główny roku szkolnego 1925/1926, Teresa Harsdorfówna uczennica klasy V.

[4] Ibidem.

[5] Zespół Szkół nr 3 im. Bolesława Barbackiego w Nowym Sączu, Kronika szkolna 1926–1947, pp. 7, 32 and others.

[6] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/38, Biogram Zofii Hardsdorf-Bromowicz – autograf, p.69.

[7] Ibidem; https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zofia_Kr%C3%B3kowska, accessed on: 20.10.2021.

[8] ANKR O/NS, Prywatne Gimnazjum Żeńskie w Nowym Sączu, ref. 31/234/14, Katalog główny roku szkolnego 1925/1926, Teresa Harsdorfówna uczennica klasy V.

[9] Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie Oddział w Nowym Sączu (later as:  ANKr O/NS), Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/38, Biogram Zofii Hardsdorf-Bromowicz – autograf, p. 69.

[10] IPN Kr 862/283 t.2, Kolekcja Zofii Rosiek, Biogram Teresy Bromowicz, p. 208; cf. also:

https://z-ne.pl/t,haslo,1681,harsdorf-bromowiczowa_teresa_janina.html, accessed on: 21.10.2021.

[11] IPN Warszawa, Collection: Marek Tadeusz Nowakowski, ref. IPN BU 1119/36, Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz: “Wędrowne Ptaki” – wspomnienia z Ravensbrück, p.1.

[12] https://z-ne.pl/t,haslo,451,bromowicz_zbigniew.html, accessed on: 21.10.2021.

[13] Julia Zubek, Ze wspomnień kuriera, Warszawa 1988, p. 2.

[14] https://plus.gazetakrakowska.pl/dzielne-corki-harsdorfow-ostatnie-spadkobierczynie-barona-jobsta/ar/11946826, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] IPN Kr 862/283 vol.  2, Kolekcja Zofii Rosiek, Biogram Teresy Bromowicz, p. 208.

[17] IPN Warszawa, Głowna Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, ref. GK 927/1576, Protokół przesłuchania świadka – Teresy Bromowicz, Sąd Wojewódzki w Krakowie, 25.11.1969, pp.6–7.

[18] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/38, Biogram Zofii Hardsdorf-Bromowicz – autograf, p. 69.

[19] https://z-ne.pl/t,haslo,451,bromowicz_zbigniew.html, accessed on: 21.10.2021.

[20] IPN Warszawa, Głowna Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, ref. GK 927/1576, Protokół przesłuchania świadka – Teresy Bromowicz, Sąd Wojewódzki w Krakowie, 25.11.1969.

[21] http://polkiwravensbruck.pl/teresa-harsdorf-bromowicz/, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[22] Teresa remembered her friend as extremely steadfast during the German interrogation. Reportedly the Nazis were to call her der egiptische Fakir – she was so tough, silent, showing no pain when she was tortured. Even in the most extreme situation, she maintained her dignity – during the investigation conducted at Pomorska Str. by Heinrich Hamann (by then already transferred from Nowy Sącz to Kraków) she refused tea and sandwiches, which her torturer offered, despite already being very hungry at that time. After: Urszula Wińska, Zwyciężyły wartości. Wspomnienia z Ravensbrück, Gdańsk 1985, pp.61–62.

[23] Ibidem, pp. 61, 102, 137, 153, quote from p. 177.

[24] U. Wińska, op. cit., p. 62.

[25] IPN Warszawa, Collection: Marek Tadeusz Nowakowski, ref. IPN BU 1119/36, Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz: „Wędrowne Ptaki” – wspomnienia z Ravensbrück, p. 8.

[26] IPN Warszawa, Collection: Marek Tadeusz Nowakowski, ref. IPN BU 1119/36, Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz: „Wędrowne Ptaki” – wspomnienia z Ravensbrück, pp. 9–30.

[27] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/38, Biogram Zofii Hardsdorf-Bromowicz – autograf, p. 69.

[28] IPN Warszawa, Głowna Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni Przeciwko Narodowy Polskiemu, ref. GK 927/1576, Protokół Komisji Opiniodawczej przy Ministrze Zdrowia i Opieki Społecznej z 17.08.1973, p. 4; and Protokół przesłuchania świadka – Teresy Bromowicz, Sąd Wojewódzki w Krakowie, 25.11.1969, pp. 6–7.

[29] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/38, Biogram Zofii Hardsdorf-Bromowicz – autograf, p. 69; https://z-ne.pl/t,haslo,1681,harsdorf-bromowiczowa_teresa_janina.html accessed on: 20.10.2021.

[30] http://polkiwravensbruck.pl/teresa-harsdorf-bromowicz/, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[31] IPN Kr 862/283 t.2, Kolekcja Zofii Rosiek, Biogram Teresy Bromowicz, p. 208.

[32] https://z-ne.pl/t,haslo,1681,harsdorf-bromowiczowa_teresa_janina.html accessed on: 20.10.2021.

[33] http://polkiwravensbruck.pl/teresa-harsdorf-bromowicz/, accessed on: 22.10.2021.

[34] Handwritten annotation of unknown authorship at on the typewrriten poem [in:] IPN Warsaw, Collection: Marek Tadeusz Nowakowski, ref. IPN BU 1119/37, Teresa Harsdorf-Bromowicz, “Wiersze. Ravensbruck”, p. 29.