Zofia Janczy (1905–1977)

Anna Żalińska

Zofia Janczy was remembered in the occupation period history of Nowy Sącz, first and foremost as a dedicated teacher and scout. In the wider circles she was remembered as the one who returned from the hell of the German  Ravensbrück concentation camp for women, where she was setting an example of highly moral behavior full of sacrifice, as a leader of a secret scout team “Mury” (“Walls”).

She was born under Russian rule on 1 may 1905 in Brody of the Tarnopol Voivodeship (today the city is part of Ukraine, in the Lviv region) as the younger daughter of Wojciech Janczy and Emy née Kriške. She had an older sister, Kazimiera (married name Pawłowska) born on 12 March 1904 – she was also a teacher and a scoutmistress, after the war she lived in Nowy Sącz (where she worked in the day room of the Elementary School No 2[1]).

Zofia finished primary school in Nowy Sącz. She then joined the Municipal Teacher’s College in Nowy Sącz. On june 15, 1925, she passed her maturity exam. From September 1925, she started working in elementary schools (also in Gorlice, later she returned to Nowy Sącz). In 1931 she completed the State Teacher Higher Training Course in Kraków. She taught Polish language and literature as well as history[2].

She joined the scouting ranks before graduating from elementary school, in 1918[3]. When by the decision of the Kraków Scouting Organisation Headquarters from 1934 the teams in the Nowy Sącz district are divided into three districts, Zofia Janczy acts as the district commandant of the 2nd Railway District in Nowy Sącz. She held the title of Scoutmistress of the ZHP (Polish Scouting Association) – the highest instructor rank of the Girl Guides Organization. She was the organizer and commandant of numerous scouting camps and colonies. She participated in international scouting meetings. From spring 1939, she was a leader of a Team of the Girl Scout Emergency Service, which had its roots in the Girl Guides Organization, and in March 1939 became part of the larger structures of the PKW (Female Military Training) Organization. The Girl Scout Emergency Service accepted girls over the age of 15, who had proven themselves in at least one of the four services: Samaritan, communications, house economy, childcare[4]. The main objectives of the girl guides in the Emergency Service, after being incorporated into the PWK, were to prepare in the areas of anti-aircraft and anti-gas defense and to perform communication functions in the event of the war [5].

According to the accounts of those who knew her, Zofia was characterized by extraordinary kindness and serenity. In addition, she was deeply religious and fervently practicing her faith[6]. By combining a strong experience of faith with the scouting principles, she was fulfilling her calling to help her fellow men in every situation, even in captivity.

When the war broke out, she evacuated with her mother to Hungary. There she ended up in Losone and then in Garany, where she helped orgnize elementary education in a Polish refugee camp. In addition, in Garany she worked with the Polish commandant of the camp to help smuggle Poles to the West – she took photos for documents and organized cultural events for those waiting for the journey. During her time working at school, she would also prepare celebrations of national holidays and anniversaries, which years later she would recall with affection. When the camp was moved to Tajo, the children went to a bigger school already existing there[7].

Therefore, Zofia Janczy returned to Nowy Sącz, in July 1940. She again took up her school job, she would also help take care of displaced persons from Poznań and Pomerania regions and feed children, working with the Central Welfare Council. After connecting with the underground, she became a liaison of ZWZ (Union of Armed Struggle) in Nowy Sącz. In the apartment she occupied with her mother, from November 1940 to March 1941 the briefings of the district heads of the Nowy Sącz poviat would take place – there were fully conspired, Zofia would never even see the people meeting. She owned a radio and a typewriter (which was forbidden), which allowed her to act as a courier and intelligence operative and to distribute radio news[8]. She operated under the pseudonym “Mewa” (“Seagull”), which was her “forest” name from the scouting time (“Czarna Mewa” – “Black Seagull”) [9].

Arrested on 7 May 1941, after an investigation in Nowy Sącz, she was sent to prison in Tarnów[10]. In Tarnów prison she shares a cell with “Ziuta”, Józefa Kantor, and Stanisława Szczeklik from Tarnów. That’s how Stanisława remembered that period: There were many women of value in Tarnów prison, so the atmosphere in the cell, despite overcrowding and rough interrogations, was good and friendly. In these difficult conditions my friendship with Zosia Janczy began […] [She was] a person of great heart and flawless character. She loved her mother very much. Every day around 7 in the evening she would stand quietly at the prison window and she would stay still for a few minutes. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me that before the arrest she had agreed with her mother that they would always talk to each other at this time of day[11]. The transport of 12 September 1941 took all three aforementioned women from Tarnów to the FKL Ravensbrück concentration camp, where they arrive in October. In the same transport there are known girl guides from Nowy Sącz, whom Zofia knew, Janina and Józefa Stefaniszyn. Zofia becomes the camp number 7303[12]. Initially, the entire transport was quarantined. Even then, staying in one of the camp barracks and accurately reading the humiliating intentions of the camp crew, Józefa Kantor, a teacher from Szopienice, a scoutmistress and a member of the Silesia Scouting Organisation Headquarters, inspires three other scouts from her transport: Maria Rydarowska from Gorlice, Aniela Wideł from Bielsko and Zofia Janczy from Nowy Sącz, to create a scouting team in the camp. Zofia and Józefa Kantor know each other from the scouts meetings they participated in together before the war. The team is given the name “Mury” and the slogan “Endure and help others survive”. Women initially gather around them several dozen pre-war girls guides in groups of several people each, and everything is kept in strict conspiracy. Zofia Janczy became the leader of the “Fundamenty” (“Foundations”) group[13].

In the camp, faith became her mainstay. Despite the ban on religious practices, she would personally organize services for fellow prisoners (she led the prayer with the words of the Holy Mass from the illegally kept service book), celebrations of church and state ceremonies[14], and furthermore – discussions and lessons for the willing fellow prisoners[15]. This is how she remembered her work and prayer in the camp (she worked in a sewing room, sewing buttons to German uniforms[16]): Often among the rumble of the machines on which we were sewing military uniforms, a sensitive ear could have captured a familiar litany call to the Virgin Mary or the Heart of Jesus  […] And in the morning […] a silent melody of the Book of hours would flow from the machines the Polish women used. If caught singing they would explain, that it helps them not fall asleep[17].

She spent 1.453 days in captivity. She managed to survive the inhuman conditions of the camp. She had returned to Nowy Sącz in June 1945. Her last address before her death was Żółkiewskiego 17 Str., app. 3[18]. She returned to work at school and in scouting, acting as an instructor. From 1963 she had worked in the library of the Elementary School No. 7. She was involved in the Youth Affairs Committee of Nowy Sącz ZBOWiD; she was meeting with scouts and other school youth on the occasion of various anniversaries and talking about war and her life in the camp[19]. She was afflicted by disability of her right hand (which made it hard for her to write)[20], she had a war-disabled person card, and was hospitalized several times. She died at a hospital, supposedly with a smile on her face, on 25 September 1977. Her funeral became a religious and patriotic manifestation, with huge participation of people connected with scouting and school as well as former Ravensbrück prisoners and her pupils. She was laid to rest at the municipal cemetery in Nowy Sącz at Rejtana Str. in the 11th quarter[21].


[1] IPN Kr 37/92, Akta paszportowe Zofii Janczy, Podanie-Kwestionariusz z 23 maja 1975 r., k.14 et seq. Kazimiera Janczy Pawłowska is mentioned on the list of ZHP girl guides to be nominated in: Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie Oddział w Nowym Sączu (later as: ANKr O/NS) Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, ref. 31/559/38, p.5.

[2] Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie Oddział w Nowym Sączu (later as: ANKr O/NS), Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/30, krótki życiorys Zofii Janczy – autograf, p. 147., cf. also: Marta Lorek, Stanisław Gniady, Sądeczanki – więźniarki Ravensbruck, „Almanach Sądecki” 2014, nr 1/2 (86/87), p.29.

[3] M. Lorek, S. Gniady, op. cit., p. 29.

[4] Zofia Florczak, Organizacja Harcerek (OH) [in:] Słownik uczestniczek walki o niepodległość Polski 1939–1945, Warszawa 1988, p. 508–509.

[5]) ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/30, Relacja Zofii Janczy z dziejów hufca harcerskiego w Nowym Sączu, p. 107.

[6]) ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim 31/559/34, typescript Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego w Nowym Sączu – biogram Zofii Janczy, p. 6.

[7] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/34, Zofia Janczy – Wspomnienia z lat okupacji – 14 marca 1969 r., pp. 44–45.

[8] Ibidem, pp. 43–44.

[9] Archiwum Narodowe w Krakowie Oddział w Nowym Sączu (later as: ANKr O/NS), Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/34, typescript Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego w Nowym Sączu – biogram Zofii Janczy, p. 6; M. Lorek, S. Gniady, op. cit., s. 29.

[10] M. Lorek, S. Gniady, op. cit., p. 29.

[11] Urszula Wińska, Zwyciężyły wartości. Wspomnienia z Ravensbrück, Gdańsk 1985, p.59.

[12] M. Lorek, S. Gniady, op. cit., p. 29.

[13] Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk, Mury w Ravensbruck, Warszawa 1979., pp. 26–28

[14] For example, a celebratory Sunday morning with a lecture, songs, declamation in 1942, on the anniversary of the November Uprising, cf. U. Wińska, op. cit., p. 128.

[15] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/34, typescript Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego w Nowym Sączu – biogram Zofii Janczy, s. 6.; Cf. also.: U. Wińska, op. cit, p. 100.

[16] U. Wińska, op. cit., s. 333.

[17] Ibidem, p. 100.

[18] IPN Kr 37/92, Akta paszportowe Zofii Janczy, Podanie-Kwestionariusz z 23 maja 1975 r., p. 14.

[19] IPN Kr 37/92, Akta paszportowe Zofii Janczy, Promesa, p. 17, Podanie-Kwestionariusz z 5.06.1970 r., p. 24.

[20] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/34, Zofia Janczy – wspomnienia z lat okupacji, p. 43.

[21] ANKr O/NS, Materiały do dziejów harcerstwa w nowosądeckim, 31/559/34, maszynopis Związek Harcerstwa Polskiego w Nowym Sączu – biogram Zofii Janczy, p. 6; https://genealogia.okiem.pl/forum/viewtopic.php?hilit=Janczy*&t=9488, accesed on: 15.10.2021.