Remembering Pharmacy’s Past: Tadeusz Pankiewicz: A Biography of a WWII Pharmacist

Editor’s Note: The following article is part of AIHP’s “Remembering Pharmacy’s Past” series, in which we highlight previously published articles that recount aspects of pharmacy’s long and colorful history. The article was authored by Rachel Buchanan and Robin Tumlinson, PharmD candidates 2022, and Bernie R. Olin, PharmD., Associate Clinical Professor Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy. The article was originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of the AACP History of Pharmacy SIG Newsletter. (Past issues of the newsletter are posted on AIHP’s website at this link.) 

Before officially entering the profession of pharmacy, modern students take the Oath of the Pharmacist.1 The first vow in this oath is to consider the welfare of humanity and the relief of suffering as their primary concern. The embodiment of the depth and weight of this call can be seen in the life of Tadeusz Pankiewicz. Born on November 21st, 1908 in Sambir, Ukraine, Pankiewicz was a Polish, Roman Catholic pharmacist in the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland.2 As the owner and operator of the only pharmacy in the ghetto, he used his position to relieve human suffering and to help his fellow man by methods far beyond the dispensing of medications.

Tadeusz Pankiewicz (Photo credit:
United States Holocaust Museum)

Pankiewicz’s father, Jozef, was also a pharmacist and owned the Apteka Pod Orlem, or Under the Eagle Pharmacy, in Kraków, Poland. As a boy, Pankiewicz was not interested in pharmacy; however, he continued the work of his father and became a pharmacist after studying at Jagiellonian University in Krakow.2 Prior to World War II, Under the Eagle Pharmacy was one of four pharmacies serving Gentile and Jewish patients in the area. During the war, Nazi forces in Poland and other occupied territories often segregated Jews into small sections of towns known as Jewish ghettos which were isolated and cut off from the rest of the city by fences and barbed wire. Jewish people were forcibly moved to these ghettos, and conditions were typically overcrowded with insufficient food and rampant disease. The Kraków Ghetto was established in March 1941, with Under the Eagle Pharmacy falling within its border.3 Pankiewicz was given a choice to continue working in his family owned pharmacy or to move his pharmacy to the Gentile part of the city.2,4,5 Pankiewicz realized that relocating to this part of the city would be safer and more profitable for him, but he declined this offer for two reasons which he later recalled in his memoir, Apteka w getcie krakowskim or The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy.6 The first reason was that he did not think that Germany would win the war and that any pharmacy he moved to would be reclaimed by the people who had previously owned it while his own pharmacy would likely be ruined. His second reason was tied to his experience with the people in the Kraków ghetto. He realized that they were in desperate need of his help and, based on the traditions instilled in him by his father, he felt that it was his duty as a pharmacist to stay. In order to continue working in the pharmacy, Pankiewicz had to prove that he was not Jewish. In a 1985 interview, he recalled having to document his ancestry back four generations, because by Nuremburg Law, any individual with three or more Jewish grandparents was classified as a full Jew regardless of their religious affiliations.7,8 After receiving permission to keep working, Pankiewicz moved into his pharmacy fulltime where he could provide care to his patients day and night. There were also three women — Irena  Drozdzikowska, Helena Krywaniuk, and Aurelia Danek-Czort who worked in the pharmacy but were given permits to travel in and out of the ghetto for work, providing the perfect avenue for smuggling goods and papers across the border. Thus, Under the Eagle Pharmacy became a clearing house for information and goods as well as a safe haven in the center of the ghetto.2,4,5

During the two-and-a-half year occupation, Pankiewicz often provided medications free of charge. The ability to access necessary medicines greatly improved quality of life in the ghetto and helped to prevent even greater spread of disease within the close quarters.2,4 Without Pankiewicz’ insistence to keep his pharmacy open despite great danger to himself, the people in the ghetto would have been forced either to rely on German guards to allow medications in or to risk their lives smuggling medicines through the barbed wire fences. In addition to providing a vital source of medical care, Pankiewicz provided services far beyond compounding and dispensing. For instance, he provided sedatives such as Luminal (phenobarbital) to keep children quiet and calm when hiding during German raids. Hair dye was supplied in order to help older people appear younger in an effort to evade deportation to concentration camps. Additionally, Pankiewicz would smuggle food, jewelry, and correspondence from outside the ghetto through the pharmacy.4,5 At one point, it even served as a restaurant to provide food to work crews from the nearby concentration camp.7,8 Doctors and intellectuals in the ghetto used the pharmacy as a gathering place to read smuggled news and reports to keep up with the outside world.2,4,5 The window of the pharmacy overlooked Plac Zgody. This was the square where beatings and executions occurred and where the able-bodied Jews were separated from those who would be deported to the camps. Due to this location, Pankiewicz and his employees bore witness to the atrocities committed by the Nazi soldiers, and both Pankiewicz and all of his employees provided vital testimony of these acts after the war.7,8 Under the Eagle pharmacy was often the last stop on the way to deportation, so the pharmacy also served as a storage site for valuables and as an information center with the most accurate records of who had been taken away. Pankiewicz recalled that the only time he officially closed the pharmacy was to hide neighbors in the basement overnight during roundups for deportation.7,8 After the raids, Pankiewicz and his employees provided bandages and medication to those who were injured.5 Towards the end of the war, when the Krakow ghetto was being liquidated, he collected valuable Jewish artifacts and Torah scrolls which he stored until after the war. The Krakow ghetto was finally liquidated in January 1945.3

After the conclusion of World War II, Pankiewicz wrote a book titled The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy which was published in 1947.6 When asked in an interview why he wrote the book, Pankiewicz replied that he wanted to inform other non-Jews who had little contact what life was really like within the ghetto.7,8 An excerpt from Pankiewicz’s book details what he felt gave the Jewish people the ability to press on despite the persecution they faced: “the faint hope of survival which flickered in the soul of every ghetto resident, this hope worked miracles: it gave people superhuman strength and staying power, and told them to grit their teeth and swallow bitter doses of humiliation. The urge to survive, not the fear of death, was the dominant trait.”6 Later in the interview, Pankiewicz acknowledges that the Jewish people had built im into a small legend but that he “only did what one human should do for other humans who were in a tragic situation.” 7,8 Pankiewicz might not have considered himself a hero, but the men and women whose suffering he eased and whose lives he saved very well did.

In 1983, Pankiewicz was recognized with the “Righteous Among the Nations” award by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Memorial Center in Jerusalem. 2,4 This is an honor given to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jewish people during World War II. Each recipient receives a medal and a certificate of honor along with their names commemorated on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Under the Eagle Pharmacy remained open until 1967, before being converted to a restaurant. In 1983, it was restored to its original state and converted to a museum for the history of the Krakow Jewish ghetto, first as the Museum of National Remembrance and then as a branch of the Museum of Krakow since 2003. The pharmacy was also briefly featured in the movie Schindler’s List.5 Pankiewicz continued working as a pharmacist until the 1980s, and he passed away in 1993 of kidney failure.

Community pharmacies have always served as pillars of the community, as a place where people can go for help and guidance in times of sickness and need. Pharmacists continue to serve as trusted and accessible healthcare providers. The admirable and courageous efforts of Pankiewicz exemplify the highest order of concern for the welfare of his community. He went far beyond the call of duty to provide not only for his patients’ health needs, but for their social, spiritual, and physical needs as well. In an interview for the 1985 Holocaust documentary Shoah, Pankiewicz said that “they [the Jews in the ghetto] had a lot of trust in me and I in them; I shared their happy and tragic hours as if I were a Jew too. They were very close to me.”7,8 May all pharmacists seek to serve their patients and communities with the selfless and wholehearted vigor of Mr. Pankiewicz.

by Rachel Buchanan & Robin Tumlinson, PharmD candidates 2022 and Bernie R. Olin PharmD., Associate Clinical Professor Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy

References:

1. Oath of a Pharmacist [Internet]. American Pharmacists Association; 2008 [cited 2020 Nov 6]. Available from: https://www.pharmacist.com/oathpharmacist

2. Pankiewicz Tadeusz. [amended 2020, cited 2020 April 5]. In: The righteous among the nations database [Internet]. Jerusalem (Israel): The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Available from: https://righteous.yadvashem.org/?searchType=righteous_only&language=en&itemId=4016763&ind=NaN

3. United States Holocaust Museum: Holocaust encyclopedia [Internet]. Washington DC: USHMM; [publication date unknown]. Krakow (Cracow); [cited 2020 April 1]. Available from: https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/krakow-cracow

4. POLIN: stories of rescue [Internet]. Warsaw (Poland): POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews; c2016. The story of Tadeusz Pankiewicz; c2014 [cited 2020 Mar 31] . Available from: https://sprawiedliwi.org.pl/en/stories-of-rescue/story-tadeusz-pankiewicz

5. Krakow museum: eagle pharmacy branch [Internet]. Krakow (Poland): Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa; 2003 [cited 2020 April 1]. Available from: https://www.muzeumkrakowa.pl/branches/eagle-pharmacy/6

6. Pankiewicz, Tadeusz. The Cracow ghetto pharmacy. New York: Walden Press; 1987.

7. Claude Lanzmann Shoah collection, interview with Tadeusz Pankiewicz [film]. Krakow (Poland): “Shoah” documentary; 1979. In: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collection; c1996 [cited 2020 March 31]. Available from: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn1004087

8. Allers U (translator). Transcript of the Shoah interview with Tadeusz Pankiewicz [interview transcript]. Washington DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: visitor services; 2011 [cited 2020 March 31]. Available from: https://collections.ushmm.org/film_findingaids/RG-60.5014_01_trl_en.pdft

9. Jarosinska, Irena. Portrait of Krakow pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz, circa 1940-1943 [photograph]. Washington DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum photo archives #41937]. Copyright of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Available from: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1131061

Posted: June 19, 2023

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