The German occupiers set up a ghetto in the Polish city of Kraków in March of 1941. It was a closed-off quarter where all Jews were forced to live. It was off-limits to non-Jews. The pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz suddenly was located in the middle of the ghetto. Pankiewicz was not Jewish and was supposed to move his pharmacy. He successfully fought to be able to stay.
The pharmacy was centrally located within the ghetto. Pankiewicz and his staff observed numerous crimes committed by the German occupiers. Jews were rounded up before their eyes, humiliated, beaten, and shot. They tried to help the sick and starving people in the ghetto. Starting in 1941, on orders of the German governor-general Hans Frank, anyone caught helping Jews was to face the death penalty. Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff nevertheless helped wherever they could. They passed on medicine, food, and news. Pankiewicz also hid some Jews in the pharmacy, helping them to survive.
Right after the German army invaded Poland in 1939, the Polish people were subjected to many forms of terror. Jews in particular were persecuted, shot, and locked up in ghettos. Roughly 18,000 Jews were crowded into the severely conﬁned space of the Kraków ghetto. About 12,000 of them were deported to Belzec extermination camp in 1942 and murdered there. Many were killed earlier in the violent raids or died on the transports. Of the 60,000 Jews from Kraków, only 2,000 survived.
Pankiewicz’s pharmacy was located on the central square in the ghetto. Through the window Pankiewicz and his staff could see the brutal actions taken against the Jews. They did all they could to make life at least a little easier for those in the ghetto. They smuggled news and food into the ghetto and procured medicines that were not in stock. Their efforts were very risky, as they were checked at the entrance to the ghetto. The pharmacy was also watched by German and Polish police as well as informers.
Beyond dispensing medication, Tadeusz Pankiewicz and his staff also helped Jews ﬂee. Moreover, in the vault under the pharmacy they hid religious objects from the synagogue that had been given to them for safekeeping. The pharmacy also became an important meeting place for ghetto residents. After violent raids and mass deportations, Jews would go to the pharmacy to ﬁnd out who was still in the ghetto and who had been deported.