Ursula Kwarta

Ursula Kwarta

Death 12 Sep 2008 (aged 88)
Burial Manning, Clarendon County, South Carolina, USA
Memorial ID 74196539 · View Source
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Article copied from The Sumter Item

MANNING – As a child in pre-Hitler Germany, Ursula Kwarta could never have imagined the twists and turns her life would take twists and turns that took her from Berlin to Poland to Long Island, N.Y., and finally to Manning, S.C.

She lived through World War II in Germany, hiding her Polish-born husband for months from Nazi SS troops with a few close escapes of her own, and she lived with her husband in Poland when Germans were not popular in that country. In 1959 she came to the United States by herself to join her sister and brother-in-law. Later with her second husband, she cared for monkeys, at one time as many as 65 of them, in Long Island.

In 1989, they moved to Manning, where she now enjoys living quietly with her seven dogs all of them strays and her pet chickens, miniature horses, parrot and any other animal that wanders through her property.

Kwarta, born in 1920, was a teenager when Hitler began his campaign to take over Germany and then the world. Hitler came to power, Kwarta says, by promising the poor a monthly stipend for each child they had, inexpensive cars and inexpensive living all without working.

People were almost hypnotized by Hitler, Kwarta believes, and he became so powerful that anyone who disagreed with his policies was put in concentration camps. There were many Germans, along with Jews and other nationalities, in the camps.

"Many people in the middle class didn't like Hitler. I had many friends, they didn't like what he did with the Polish people and the Jewish people, but there's nothing that they could do," she explained.

"Already the power was too high, and he had spies all over the place in buses, in planes, on the streets."

The young Kwarta saw the trains coming through Berlin with Russians, Poles and Jews, all begin transported to the concentration camps.

"We couldn't understand that. He (Hitler) thought he was a big hero, but he was just crazy. How can a normal man put so many people to death? I saw all that. I saw it."

Kwarta's first husband was Ryszard Kryszczuk, a well-known Polish portrait painter, sculptor, and architect, who had studied in Germany. Although Kryszczuk was 18 years older than Kwarta, he was "a very interesting man, a very good man, a very handsome man," and they had a good marriage, said Kwarta.

They lived in an artist's atelier in a building with other artists and entertainment personalities. Although their apartment was unscathed when the building was hit by firebombs, Kryszczuk decided they would be safer in his weekend home about 100 miles outside of Berlin. The couple took what was important to them, including Kwarta's German shepherd dog, and left Berlin.


In her accented English, Kwarta tells stories about that time in the country, providing examples of what life was like for a non-Nazi.

When Kryszczuk was told he would have to enter the German military, he refused and decided to hide there in the house. He built a bunker, big enough for two or three people to hide, under a closet floor. He didn't stay in it all the time, said Kwarta, but he had to hide there when anyone came.

Once two SS troopers came and asked Kwarta if she had heard from her husband. Kwarta, with her dog by her side, turned the tables on the men, acting as though she thought he was in the military already.

"I said, ‘Why, what is wrong? What's happened to him?' He (the SS trooper) said, ‘When you hear something from your husband, you call us.' I said, ‘When you hear something, you let me know, too. I'm very worried.'" She paused. "I could be an actress. I could lie to these people I hated them."

Her acting ability and quick thinking came in handy one cold February day when she had been gone all day getting groceries. Her husband, following her instructions (which Kwarta later realized was a mistake), had kept the fire going so the house wouldn't be cold when she returned.

Two SS troopers were at the gate waiting for her as she came back. The chimney smoke looked as though someone had been adding wood to the fire during the day, and they wanted to know who was in the house. Kwarta asked the troopers to wait until she put the dog away, she made sure her husband was hidden, and then let the troopers in.

"It is a new method now," she explained to the troopers about the smoke. "You put lots of newspaper around the wood, and when the wood burns, then the newspaper starts going up again." She shook her head. "I don't know where I got that lie from, but they believed me, and they didn't look no more."

Kwarta learned that a concentration camp a few miles from their house sometimes allowed prisoners to help local farmers, and, although she did not need farm help, she believed she could feed at least a few prisoners that way. The two prisoners sent to her by the camp officials were young Russians, who were thankful for the food and became friends. In February 1945, the two Russians escaped from the camp and came to Kwarta's house to ask for warm clothing and help in getting to Berlin.

Explaining that they would never get to Berlin without identification papers, she introduced them to her husband and offered to let them hide in the bunker until the end of the war, which at that time seemed imminent.

The next few months were very difficult. There were no food stores nearby, and the train stations had been bombed, putting an end to her shopping trips to Berlin. Most farmers were Nazis and refused to help. Kwarta sold a gold watch for seven pounds of potatoes, and each of the four got one potato a day. Kwarta's weight fell to 85 pounds.

When the Russians marched through on their way to liberate Berlin in May 1945, Kwarta's kindness to the two Russian prisoners became her salvation. The Russians brought them rice and meat and food for the dog, with instructions not to give any of the food to the former Nazis who lived around them. They were also protected from the small bands of German WehrWolf troops, a para-military force developed by Heinrich Himmler to continue the war through guerrilla attacks. Kwarta said these troops were roaming the area, killing people who had not been loyal to Hitler. She learned later that friends of hers were burned alive in their barn by the WehrWolf.

At the request of the Russians, Kryszczuk became the mayor of the small town where they were. It was not a pleasant job, says Kwarta. There was not enough food, typhus broke out, and people died.

By 1949, Kryszczuk felt he couldn't continue, and the couple went to his native Poland, where they lived in a large home in the scenic mountains. Kwarta learned Polish and kept her blond hair dyed black to fit in better with the Poles, who hated the Germans after the war. Kryszczuk was commissioned by several large Polish churches to re-paint artworks that had been destroyed by the Nazis on their march through the country.

In the late 1950s, Kryszczuk became seriously ill. Although Kwarta knows now it was probably Parkinson's disease, no doctors in Poland had any knowledge of it then. The shaking brought on by the condition was intolerable to the artist, and as the disease progressed and he knew it would only get worse he told his wife to leave Poland and go to America, where her sister was already living in New York.

"So in November 1959 I came from Poland to my sister, all by myself," she said. "And before I came over here, I had to divorce my husband. But he wanted that I do go and live with my sister."

Kwarta was not allowed to take anything of value out of Poland no paintings, no jewelry, no gold.

"I wish I could bring at least my paintings that I liked, but I couldn't. My husband had painted a big picture of me, but I couldn't take it. Just 55 pounds in clothes and $5 in American money, that was all I could take."


She met Casimir Kwarta, a first-generation Polish-American and an engineer, about two years later. She didn't speak very much English at the time, and when a handsome man stopped his car and offered her a ride to work in Polish, she accepted. They were married in 1963.

"Casimir started the monkeys. He took me to a pet store, and I saw a little monkey there. I had to get that monkey," said Kwarta, a lifelong animal lover.

At that time, explained Kwarta, you could buy a monkey at any pet store for $20 to $75.

"And everybody thought they were wonderful pets for kids to play with. They had no idea that a monkey is not a good pet. It is a wild animal and very dangerous."

Many monkeys were mistreated or killed when people discovered that. And many monkeys died in pet stores, the victims of store owners' ignorance or neglect. Kwarta felt she had to do something about it. She began by buying at-risk monkeys from pet stores. As people heard about her, she received calls from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and individuals asking her to take monkeys they couldn't keep. She never turned down a request. She became, by herself, a chapter of the National Simian Society.

The "wooly" monkeys from Brazil were her special favorites, although she loved the capucin (organ-grinder) monkeys, too. They soon discovered they couldn't leave the monkeys unsupervised in the house. One day they came home to find the animals had opened every bottle they could find into the sink along with all of Kwarta's spices. Sometimes they'd find their jewelry or car keys hanging in the trees.

Casimir renovated their garage with large cages for the monkeys and built doors so they could go outside, but a few of the woolys lived in the house with the Kwartas, caged only at night. Each monkey had a name, and they responded to their names. In the wild, wooly monkeys would have a 40-year life expectancy. Kwarta says climate and environmental problems shorten that to 20 years or less here, but she knew her monkeys had a happy life.

In 1989, Casimir decided to retire, and they searched for a place where the climate was warm and there was "country."

They loved the Manning area immediately, although they had to return five times before they found property they liked, with privacy and room for lots of animals.

"The people here are so friendly," she said. "When I came down, everybody waved, you know. That makes such a good feeling. In Long Island I lived there 20 years, I didn't know my neighbor's name."

All the monkeys they brought down with them have died now, but Kwarta has lots of company with her dogs, horses, chickens and parrot, who sings "like a diva" along with the television. Sometimes he asks, "Ursula, where are you?"

Casimir died two years ago from a brain tumor, and Kwarta, who doesn't drive, is grateful for the support she receives from many people. Manning residents John Driggers and Henry Floyd provide much of that support, helping with yard work, errands, and many other things. Kwarta has been seriously ill several times recently, and Floyd came over every day to prepare meals and help with the animals. Other friends take her shopping and to doctors' appointments. And she continues to enjoy her life.

"Wherever I go there's always a story," she said recently. "Other people live their whole life without stories. But I have so many stories, I don't know where to begin and where the ending is."

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  • Created by: Deborah Baker Metzger
  • Added: 30 Jul 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 74196539
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Ursula Kwarta (13 Mar 1920–12 Sep 2008), Find A Grave Memorial no. 74196539, citing Clarendon Memorial Gardens, Manning, Clarendon County, South Carolina, USA ; Maintained by Deborah Baker Metzger (contributor 46980100) .