IRENA’S CHOICE – Irena Gelblum’s story

IRENA’S CHOICE by Remigiusz Grzela


Irena Gelblum, later named Conti Di Mauro, a Polish Jewish woman and a soldier in the Jewish Fighting Organization, whose heroism during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising inspired the Allies’ admiration and respect, led an extraordinary life.

Born in 1923, into a wealthy Jewish family – manor, servants -, at the age of 18 Irena gets rounded-up and locked in the Warsaw ghetto. She manages to escape. Her family gets killed, probably in Sobibor. Irena fights with the underground against the Germans. Braving every danger, she became a liaison officer. During one mission, on a tramway, her impudence compelled her to doze off against the arm of a German officer. She was so beautiful and sure of herself, she got away with everything.

After the war and an action with the Avengers, determined to kill Nazi criminals themselves, she left for Palestine. Initially sent to the Haifa refugee camp, she became a kibbutz pioneer. Love made her leave for Italy where she changed her name to Irena Conti. Later she even modified her voice and her way of speaking.

After her return to Poland in 1948, she constantly changed her identity, nationality, status, friends. Her first husband was a Polish Jew with whom she had a daughter, Janka. In 1968, following the anti-Jewish purge in Poland, she left for Italy. Her second husband was an Italian journalist writing for the communist daily L’Unita. She was now known as Irena Conti Di Mauro. Under that name, she achieved fame – she became an Italian poetess.

Irena died in 2009 in a Warsaw hospital. The people who took care of her were those from the time of ghetto or their relatives. Kazik Simha Rotem, her war love and one of the greatest heroes of Warsaw ghetto uprising paid for the nurses.

To her dying day, she kept her heroic actions and true identity secret. Though her companions in arms chose to recall their experiences, she was the only one who steadfastly refused to write about her memories and boast of her courage. At last, the truth is revealed in this book about the incredible destiny of a free woman.

Who was Irena Conti Di Mauro really? Journalist and writer Remigiusz Grzela knew her for a long time without ever being aware of her numerous identities. And when he sensed a mystery, just after her death, he decided to piece together the puzzle of her life. He spent five years doing research and finding unpublished information in Poland, Italy and Israel. For his research, he was able to access family archives and photographs, namely thanks to the support of Irena Conti’s daughter.

The book was published in Poland by Dom Wydawniczy PWN in October 2014
Renata De La Chapelle Agency
(we have French and Hebrew excerpts of this book)