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Dr. Maria Pogonowska
Birth: 30 October 1897
Warsaw, Poland
Death: 15 July 2009
Age: 111 years, 258 days
Country: PolandPOLIsrael ISR

Dr. Maria Pogonowska, Ph.D., until 1940 Proner, née Asterblum (30 October 1897 – 15 July 2009) was a Polish-Israeli scientist, doctor of physics, and supercentenarian whose age has been validated by the Gerontology Research Group. She was the wife of pharmacist and botanist Mieczysław Proner. At the age of 111 years and 258 days, she was the oldest Israeli person ever, a record she held until being surpassed by Polish-born Holocaust survivor Israel Kristal in 2015.


Dr. Pogonowska was born in wealthy, assimilated family of Jewish intelligence in Warsaw, on 30 October 1897. Her father Maurycy Asterblum (born 28 May 1866), lawyer, graduated from Imperial University of Warsaw, mother Salomea née Kernbaum (born 1 June 1869) Jadwiga Sikorska's private school for girls. From both mother's and father's side, Dr. Pogonowska was related with Jewish intelligence: cousine Jadwiga Kernbaum, artist and head of ornamental society, married historian Marceli Handelsman; cousin from the father's side Izydor Asterblum was doctor of medicine, after his death the widow became wife of biochemist Jakub Parnas.

Education at the secondary level Maria Asterblum received on salary of Angela Werecka in Warsaw, where during certain time, her teacher of Polish language was notable teacher Bogdan Nawroczyński. In 1915 she passed the maturity exam. In the same year she entered the Warsaw University, newly opened after the Russians left Warsaw, taking physical studies. She was one of only four women admitted to the first year of studies. She attended, among others, the lectures by professors Stefan Mazurkiewicz and Zygmunt Janiszewski. In 1924 she became the first doctor promoted by the Department of Physics. She worked as a senior assistant at the Department of Experimental Physics, Warsaw University under the guidance of her supervisor Professor Stefan Pieńkowski. She conducted exercises in physics, has written several papers in the field of optical tests.

On 3 July 1927 she married 6 years younger Mieczysław Proner, also born to the family of assimilated Jews, doctor of pharmacy and Warsaw University lecturer. On 14 January 1929 their only daughter Janina was born. Proners continued their work at the Warsaw University until 1938. One year later, the World War II broke out. Mr. Proner was mobilized to army and came to the Soviet captivity. In the spring of 1940 he was murdered in Kharkov.

After the establishment of Warsaw Ghetto Maria Proner, at the urging of friends (especially active in "Żegota" Mary Palester), remained with her daughter on the Aryan side. She received documents in the name Pogonowska, which she used for the rest of her life. She has been repeatedly changing her residence, making for her living with trade in foodstuffs, cigarettes and soap. The older sister and parents of Dr. Maria Pogonowska were sent to Warsaw Ghetto, as well as the family of her husband. The sister and parents were able to escape, but none of them survived the war - the father died a few months after leaving the ghetto, her mother died at the Warsaw New Town during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and sister Stefania (b. 25 September 1894), was exported after the Uprising to work in Germany (on Aryan papers), died from American bombs on May 5, 1945. In the ghetto, the mother and sister of Mieczysław Proner and other members of the family were killed. Dr. Pogonowska and her daughter were in the district of Ochota during the Warsaw Uprising and after a few days, both were cast out of the apartment and through the transit camps in Pruszkow and Wroclaw, they went to the labor camp in Bunzlau (Bolesławiec), which was liberated by the Soviet Army in February 1945. At the time, they were unaware of Mieczysław Proner's death, who was omitted in the lists of the victims of Katyń massacre, disclosed by the Germans in 1943.

After the war, Dr. Maria Pogonowska decided not to return to her scientific work and bind to the House for Chronically Ill Children maintained by Maria Szulisławska-Palestrowa. Dr. Pogonowska became her deputy and dealt with administrative matters, helped the children during their classes. She also contributed to the acquisition of land for the Warsaw Circle for the new residence for the house, converted into the orphanage in Warsaw, and she was active in the planning, construction, furnishing. She has worked there until her retirement in 1962. During this time, she unsuccessfully corresponded with the Polish authorities and the Red Cross, and on the determination of the fate of her husband, however she did not find his name on the Katyń lists available in the West, when she was in the USA in 1964 after the invitation of her family. During retirement she was not inactive. She took care of grandchildren, and again took scientific job - teaching at the Medical University of Warsaw, leading classes in the Department of Physics.

In 1968, her daughter Janina decided to migrate to Israel and Dr. Maria Pogonowska decided to go with them. Then she lost the Polish citizenship and the right for a pension. She took care of her grandchildren and later great-grandchildren, she learned Hebrew. She also worked, for a certain time, in the rental of Polish books in Israel. In 1990, she went through a formal explanation of the circumstances of the death of her husband. In the same year, she became member of the Katyń Families in Israel. In 1994, she participated in the ceremony of planting thousands of trees - symbol of the Katyń Woods near Jerusalem. She also regained the Polish citizenship. In 2005, filed before residing in Israel prosecutor of Polish Institute of National Remembrance testimony concerning the Katyń massacre. Written by her in the years 1995-2000 "Memoirs Warszawianka" appeared on the pages of the "Quarterly Jewish History" (2009, No. 1).

Almost until the end of her very long life, she remained active, was interested in ongoing politics, read Polish books, kept contact with Warsaw orphanage. On the occasion of her 110th birthday, she received the congratulations from the Presidents of Poland and Israel and from Irena Sendler. As her receipt for longevity she mentioned the work activity and close bonds with her family. Dr. Maria Pogonowska died at age 111 years 285 days on 15 July 2009, as 35th world's oldest person. She has reached the supercentenarian status.

She was survived by her daughter Janina, two granddaughters: Hanna Russo, informacist and Ewa Shlank, doctor of medicine, five great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Her daughter Janina Goldhar, after completing medical studies, worked in Warsaw Medical University as the habilitated doctor of bacteriology. In Israel, she achieved the title of Professor of medical microbiology at the Tel Aviv Medical University.


  • Jan Bohdan Gliński, Słownik biograficzny lekarzy i farmaceutów ofiar drugiej wojny światowej, tom I, Wydawnictwo Medyczne Urban & Partner, Wrocław 1997, s. 338-339 (dotyczy głównie męża, Mieczysława Pronera)
  • Janina Goldhar, Maria Proner-Pogonowska z domu Asterblum. Od XIX do XXI wieku, w: Pisane miłością. Losy wdów katyńskich, tom III (redakcja Andrzej Spanily), Gdyńska Oficyna Wydawnicza "ASP Rymsza", Gdynia 2003, s. 387-395 (z fotografiami)
  • Maria Proner-Pogonowska, Wspomnienia warszawianki, w: "Kwartalnik Historii Żydów", 2009, nr 1 (229), s. 45-80
  • Jadwiga Rytlowa, Wspomnienie (1897–2009). Dr Maria Proner-Pogonowska, w: "Gazeta Wyborcza", 24 sierpnia 2009
  • Anna Maria Wolińska, Maria Pogonowska – świadek wieku, w: "Kombatant. Biuletyn Urzędu do spraw Kombatantów i Osób Represjonowanych", 2008, nr 4 (207), s. 24-25 (wersja elektroniczna, dostęp: 25 sierpnia 2009, z fotografiami)