(GLEN HEAD, N.Y.) - Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D - Glen Cove) recently presented a citation to Glen Head resident Wanda Lorenc in celebration of her 90th birthday and her selflessness and valor during World War II.
Mrs. Lorenc, a native of Warsaw, Poland, lived for five years under Nazi occupation before being imprisoned in a concentration camp in 1944 at age 16. Before her incarceration, she and her Polish-Catholic family were active in the resistance against Nazi occupation and carried out numerous humanitarian efforts to aid and protect Jewish families.
“At a time when doing the right thing carried the imminent risk of torture and death, Wanda Lorenc and her family did not waver. To this day, Mrs. Lorenc continues to give back to all of us by sharing her incredible story of survival and perseverance,” Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It was a true privilege to celebrate her 90th birthday, her boundless courage and her inextinguishable and contagious love for life.”
Mrs. Lorenc joined the Polish underground army, Polska Walczy (Poland Fights), and at age 16, was a messenger and nurse during the 1944 Warsaw uprising, during which Nazi forces slaughtered approximately 200,000 civilians, razed the city and shipped the surviving population of the city to concentration camps.
Before the uprising, her father, Pawel Wos, operated a textile factory which employed approximately 100 and protected workers from extradition to Germany. The business also gave the family access to the ghettos and the ability to aid Jewish families by smuggling supplies and making arrangements to hide families from the Nazis. Mrs. Lorenc and her family would later be honored in Israel by Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, for their valiant, selfless efforts to save Jewish lives.
Their humanitarianism came at great personal risk - Polish citizens caught helping Jews were routinely executed. Soon after the Warsaw uprising, her family was imprisoned in the Flossenbürg and Ravensbrück concentration camps. During her imprisonment, she was beaten savagely for giving a starving prisoner bread.
“We were Christians, and what was happening to the Polish Jews during these terrible times was not a matter of indifference to us,” her brother, Paul Zenon Wos, writes in “Rebuilding a Life,” a family memoir. “So we tried to help in various ways. It was a matter of life - not only for the lives of these poor unfortunates behind the wall, but our lives and that of our families.”
After the war, Mrs. Lorenc and her husband, a urologist and surgeon, raised four children and began to put their lives back together in Poland. In 1967, putting the futures of their four children first, they fled Poland to escape the Soviet Union’s oppressive puppet government and made their way to freedom in the United States and Glen Head.
In America, Mrs. Lorenc has become an outspoken Holocaust educator, speaking to numerous audiences at high schools, Polish community centers and museums. Her story of survival was later recorded and enshrined in several forums, including the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. as part of film director Steven Spielberg’s grant initiative.
PHOTO CAPTION - Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton, left, presents a Nassau County Citation to Wanda Lorenc (seated) in celebration of her 90th birthday. They are joined by Dr. Robert Madison, his wife, Dorota Madison, and canine companion Princess, a rescue from the North Shore Animal League.