Kutrzeba was the son of Israel Fajwiszys, a composer, and Malka (Hakman) Fajwiszys, both of whom perished in the Holocaust, along with their daughter, Kutrzeba’s sister. Israel Fajwiszys was born in 1887 in Yampil,Ukraine. Having graduated from a music conservatoire, he led the choirs of the progressive synagogues in Brody and Tarnów. After studying in Vienna, he was also the leader of the Kraków Tempel Synagogue choir. He came to Łódź from Lviv in 1922 and he became a teacher in both girls’ and boys’ schools of the Jewish Secondary Schools Society. He was the co-organiser of a singing society “Szir”. After the outbreak of World War II he moved to Warsaw, where he volunteered to help an underground military organisation. In the ghetto, with Kutrzeba, he organised a children’s choir. Kutzreba’s father Israel wrote the music to the poem M’khol Masada by Yitskhok Lamden. In 1937 Israel’s girls’ chorus won first prize in an all-Poland choral competition. Later in the Warsaw Ghetto, he would lead the children’s choir in performances of the song recounting the Jewish resistance and sacrifice under Roman rule.
Kutrzeba was a member of a teenage resistance group in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He escaped and met a priest, Reverend Stanisław Falkowski, who gave him the patriotic Polish name of Joseph Kutrzeba. He found him work as a cowherd with neighboring farmers and helped him get Catholic ID papers. In 1977 Falkowski was honored by Yad Vashem, the international Holocaust heroism remembrance authority. The story of Kutrzeba and Falkowski’s fifty year friendship was told in the documentary “Messengers of Hope: The Hidden Children of the Holocaust”, produced by Jeff Kamen, Jonathan L. Kessler and Joseph Kutrzeba.
Kutrzeba wrote in his memoir in May 1994: “During the first days of September 1942, at the age of 14, I jumped out of a moving train destined for Treblinka, through an opening (window) of a cattle car loaded to capacity with Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Wandering over fields, forests and villages, at first in the vicinity of Wołomin, and later of Zambrów, I found myself, in late November, in the area of Hodyszewo (near Łomża). Throughout my wandering, the peasants for the most part were amenable to put me up for the night and to feed me—some either suspecting my origins or pressing me to admit it.”
He attended L.M. University in Munich, Germany (B.A. equivalent) and at age 19 was the winner of the top literary prize for a World War II short story sponsored by the Polish Combatant Association in London.