Irena and Antoni Wittek: personal papers and photographs

Scope and Content

This collection consists of the personal papers and photographs relating to Polish refugee Irena Wittek documenting her life in Poland, France, Africa and the UK together with material about her husband Antoni Wittek. Irena Wittek was studying medicine at the Sorbonne in Paris when she managed to catch one of the last boats to the UK as Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940.

Included are qualifications, testimonials and work references, affidavit regarding Irena Wittek's marital status, marriage and naturalisation certificates, medical registration certificate and papers relating to Irena and Antoni Wittek's work in Northern Rhodesia in the 1950s/1960s. There are also audio recordings (in Polish) of Irena Wittek talking about her life in France leading up to the German occupation, her escape to England and life in London during the war. Also included are Irena Wittek's biography written by Anna Teicher and press cuttings.

Administrative / Biographical History

Irena Hanna Wittek (1917-2005) and her two brothers, Roman and Eugeniusz, grew up in Lwow in Poland (now L'viv, Ukraine). Her parents were Maurycy and Helena Roth. Maurycy Roth was a lawyer with a modest family background from Eastern Galicia. He had been hired as a tutor by the Reitmann family for their daughter Helena who he later married. Helena's family was part of the privileged wealthy Jewish elite of Lwow. Helena's father, Solomon Reitmann, was the director of a brewery in Lwow. Helena's brother, Jerzy Reitmann, was an art collector and owned a retreat for writers and artists in the Carpathians.

Irena's parents sent her to the University of Paris to study medicine so that she did not have to be exposed to the anti-Semitic atmosphere at Polish universities in the late 1930s. In the summer of 1940, as the Germans invaded, she made her way to England on one of the last boats, together with her then partner, Leopold Weissman, who returned to Poland after the war.

Irena's father was shot in 1941. Her mother jumped to her death from the train taking her to Belzec extermination camp. Her brothers also perished in Poland.

Irena Wittek continued her studies at the Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh between 1943 and 1948. She got married to Antoni Wittek, a medical professional, in 1949. In 1950-1952, they both worked for the public health service in Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia. Upon her return Irena Wittek specialised in paediatrics and children with special needs. Correspondence between 1954 and 1961 suggests that Antoni Wittek continued his work in Northern Rhodesia. From 1964 until her retirement in 1983 Irena worked as senior medical officer in child health at St Christopher's Health Clinic, Battersea.

Irena Wittek became friends with Polish (later British) artist, film-maker and stage designer Franciszka Themerson and was part of a circle of Polish Jewish writers who frequented the Themerson house.


Chronological and by subject

Conditions Governing Access

See Wiener Library access conditions at:

Acquisition Information

Donated by Anna Teicher



Archivist's Note

Papers and photographs are held on photo server (WL1763)