«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
He had no way of providing me with the proper papers but would make out a false christening and birth certificate which would be better than having nothing at all. But I must not come back sooner because Father Krzeminski was having 125 problems with the Gestapo. They had nothing on him but suspicions thus far but if they found me here it would be the end for all of us. The housekeeper gave me a piece of bread but I could not even stay long enough to eat it. I had to leave immediately regardless of the curfew. The country road should be empty and I should sleep in the fields. … Today he is not nearly as nervous, and true to his word, he has a typed out certificate of Birth and Christening waiting for me. It is made out on yellowing, aged paper to give it a genuine appearance. He has made me three years older than I really am. People would be less suspicious if I am a little older, especially if I need to find work. … Fortunately I am developed enough to appear older.
… I am given a small prayer book and Father Krzeminski instructs me to learn everything in it by heart. It is well worn but has a lovely mother of pearl binding. He also gives me a silver crucifix on a chain.
I explain that I have attended catechism classes as a child, but he actually knows this part of my history. Father Krzeminski seems to know my family well. I am extremely touched by this and ask him if he would wish to christen me. But even there he surprises me. He remembers my mother’s wishes. It is to be done when I am sixteen, and he will give it due respect. I am under stress now, and this is a very serious decision to make. … “If you are ever caught,” he tells me, “the Gestapo will trace these papers to me, you know. You will not be able to withhold the information from them … They have a way … They torture people. They will get it out of you. If ever this happens and you should suffer guilt,—do not on account of me. I have done for others what I am doing for you. Those are the chances I have to take. Zosia, I want to give you absolution now in advance and my full forgiveness. Save yourself from torture with my blessing. Nobody can withstand it anyway …” In her wanderings in the vicinity of her native village of Bolesławiec near Wieluń in the summer of 1942, Mala Brandsdorfer (then Goldrat) encountered many friendly Polish villagers who were prepared to help her. Their help was short term because of their fear of the severe punishment meted out by the Germans, and not because of malice. On occasion, the villagers would turn to their parish priest for guidance. (Mala Brandsdorfer, as told to
Louis Brandsdorfer, The Bleeding Sky: My Mothers’s Recollections of the Shoah, Internet:
http://www.brandsdorfer.com/podcast/; also http://www.theverylongview.com/WATH/mothers/skyintro.htm.) I remember growing up in Boleslawiec [Bolesławiec] very happy. The town had about 500 families, with about 2500 people. Jews made up about a quarter of the population. … We lived and traded together in peace. There were some Poles in our town who were openly anti-Semitic, but very few. … One of the farmers who dealt with my uncle was a Christian named Pannek. He was a very nice man, and he liked my sister because of how honest she was. … After the war started he said to her that if she or her family ever had to hide from the Germans they should come to him, and he’d hide them at his farm.
Pannek’s farm was about one kilometer from our town. My daughter and I went there to hide. Pannek let us in and made a place for us in the attic of the stall. … Living with him were his wife and his wife’s sister. He also had two children, a son 14 or 15 years old, and a daughter about 20. They were both living at home.
The next day a woman came to Pannek’s and told us that the Germans had surrounded the town. They were ordering all the Jews to assemble in the market square. She had met my sister Eudel in a field outside of town. She told my sister to run and hide, but my sister said her parents were home all alone and that she must go back to them. And so my sister returned to the town.
The following day Pannek’s sister-in-law went into the town to find out what had happened. She returned and told me that all the Jews were being held in the church, and the Germans were ordering all those Jews still in hiding to come out.
My parents and one sister were with the other Jews, but one of my sisters was still hiding in the attic of my neighbor’s house. It was my sister Fay. She was sick, and my father took her over to the neighbors. He didn’t want her taken by the Germans while she was ill. There were rumors that the Germans were killing the sick right away.
The neighbor who was hiding my sister was very scared and wanted her to either go to the church with the other Jews or go into hiding with me. The next day I paid Pannek’s sister-in-law 50 marks to smuggle my sister out of the town and bring her to me.
Pannek’s sister-in-law dressed Fay up as a field hand going to work in the fields outside of town. Fay was very sick when she brought her. She was running a fever. When she saw me she started crying and banging her head against the wall. She kept saying that we should go with our parents. That we would not survive anyway. The Germans had put up notices that they would shoot any Jews they found, and they would also shoot any Poles that helped a Jew hide. But I said, “No, we would not walk voluntarily into their hands,” and I dragged her up to the attic.
126 For the next few days the Germans kept the Jews in the church. A few of the Jews who were still in hiding were caught, some had given themselves up. Then all the Jews were taken to Wielun [Wieluń]. I had a terrible feeling that the three of us were the only Jews left in the entire district. … Fay’s illness was getting worse. Late at night I took her into town to see the doctor. … He was a very fine man. … He gave her some medicine that made her better. He refused to take any money from us saying we would need it more than he would.
As we were leaving, Dr. Taren said, “Go hide in small villages. There you will find less anti-Semitism than in the cities.” We thanked him and left. … Pannek was too scared to hide us near the house during the day. Since a lot of people came to his house he was afraid we would be seen. During the day, when it wasn’t raining, he told us to hide in the nearby fields. … Once when we were hiding in the field we heard someone coming. We crawled into a stack of wheat. I looked out and saw 2 women walking towards us. It was Mrs. Yakobovich and her daughter, Estarka. Estarka was about 20 years old.
They were neighbors of ours before the war. … Estarka got out [of the ghetto] and got to village a few kilometers from our home. … There she was able to hide out with a Christian family until the end of the war. … One day Pannek said that we would have to leave. He was too afraid to hide us any longer. …Pannek’s wife was truly a wonderful human being. She pleaded with her husband to let us stay. … But still he said no. So after two weeks of hiding at Pannek’s we were sent away.
We went to a village near Wojcin [Wójcin]. Wojcin was the town my mother was born in. We went to a family that had done business with my father. In the house lived an old woman with her daughter and son-in-law. The old woman had gone to school with my mother. She asked us why we didn’t bring our mother with us. She would have helped her hide too.
We stayed there a short while hiding in their attic. One day two Germans came into their yard. Both the old woman’s daughter and I saw them come in. We got very frightened. I was sure that someone had told on us until I saw they had bicycles and one was broken. They stopped to fix it and then went on their way.
We had such a bad fright that a few days later Fay noticed a patch of hair on my head had turned white. The young woman was pregnant then. She had been married for five years and this was going to be her first child. A few days after we had seen the Germans come into the yard she lost the child. It may have been because of the fright she had. The next day the husband came up to the attic and told us we would have to leave. He was very sorry about it, but they felt that they couldn’t keep us anymore.
From there we went to another village called Drzdskowitz [Dzietrzkowice], to a Christian farmer named Urbonek [Urbanek?]. My husband knew him from doing business with him and felt he was a good man. My husband wrote that if I had to hide I should go to this man’s house, tell him who I was, and he would surely let me hide there.
When I got there I found out that Urbonek was a leader in the village, appointed by the Germans. We came to his house at night. He let us in, gave us some food, and took us up to the attic.
Urbonek was in his middle 20s. He had a wife and some young children. His wife was very scared to have us in the house. We would sometimes hear them arguing about us being there. Since he was working for the Germans some of them would come to the house. Also they had a lot of enemies in the village because of the work they were doing. His wife was afraid of us being found there. It would have cost them their lives if we were.
Once I heard him say to his wife that if he was destined to die, he would, whether he was hiding Jews or not. But his wife prevailed and we were sent away. … Urbonek sent us to his brother in another village, but they were also afraid. As soon as we came to their door Urbonek’s sister-in-law started yelling that the village was surrounded, and that the Germans were looking for us. None of this was true, but the woman was hysterical. We could not stay there. They sent us somewhere else.
For a time we were just sent from village to village. A Christian once said to me, “Why do you risk our lives? No Jews will survive anyway.” In one place we came to, as soon as we walked in, the man there said that he was sure we were spotted and made us leave right away. Another place we came to late at night. We were allowed to stay the night but no more. In the morning we had to leave. After a while there was no place for us to go, so we decided we had to go to the Jewish ghetto in Czestochowa [Częstochowa].
We went to another village, named Toplin. It was the village in which Alter was born. Toplin was 28 kilometers from Boleslawiec. There we went to a Christian named Antos Krzyzos [Antoś Krzyżoś]. He was the same man who took the money to my cousin in Wielun when I tried to rescue my husband.
As soon as we came to his house we told him we only wanted to stay for a short while. We told him of our wanting to get into the ghetto. Antos’ family tried talking him out of letting us stay. They were afraid. But he said he would help us and took us up to the attic.
127 We couldn’t just walk into the ghetto. If we were caught outside we would be shot. We had to be smuggled into it. I had a cousin in the ghetto named Rachel Liss. Rachel ran away from Wielun when her husband was taken away to labor camp. I knew that she had ended up in the Czestochowa ghetto. Antos helped me get a letter to her. We were taking a chance writing a letter to someone in the ghetto. If the letter had been read by the Germans we would have been caught, but Antos agreed to take the chance.
In the letter I asked her to find out how we could get into the ghetto. This was in September 1942. It was on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, that we sent the letter. We spent the holiday up in the Krzyzos’ attic. Two weeks later a letter came back from my cousin.
My cousin told us to go to the Ponow [Panów(?), i.e., the Lords’] woods. The Ponow woods were near Wielun. There we would find a man whose name I can’t remember now. She said that this man could smuggle us into the ghetto.
The next day we said good-bye to Antos Krzyzos and headed for the Ponow woods. We walked all day until we got to the woods. I remember it was a beautiful day. A number of Poles spotted us for Jews as we traveled there. Some were kind to us; some were not; but none of them turned us in. One told us that just the day before we came there the Germans had finished a large “operation”. For 2 weeks they searched the woods for Jews. Over 30 were caught hiding there. The Germans took them all to Wielun where they were all executed.
We came to the man my cousin told us see. He said that he could not get us into the ghetto anymore. Once he used to lead animals into the ghetto to be slaughtered for food. Then he was able to smuggle someone in by dressing them up as a helper. But the Germans stopped letting meat into the ghetto since they started taking Jews out of there. … In the morning we were able to see a village in the distance. We went there, and we looked for a house that was run down. We knew that the people living in poor houses were not Germans or collaborating with them.
We came into a house. We told the people the truth about who we were and what had happened to us. They said not to fear. They would talk to the village priest, and he would know what to do. The priest was a very fine man. He advised that we go to the city of Klobuck [Kłobuck] which was not far from there. There were still some Jews in Klobuck. One of them was the dentist. We were to go to the dentist, and he’d be able to help us get into a Jewish work camp nearby.
During the round-up of Jews in a village near Olkusz, an old woman became frightened by the sudden appearance of an unknown Jewish girl at her door and alerted a nearby German soldier nearby who shot the child on the spot.
Her confession was recorded in Chava Kwinta, I’m Still Living (Toronto: Simon & Pierre Publishing Company, 1974), at pages 159–60.
Not far from the little town of Olkush [Olkusz] the Germans rounded up all the Jews to have them sent away. One mother, desperately wanting to save her child, told her to run away, to go as far as she could and then ask some Polish family to take her in as their daughter. She was a clever little girl of eight, and she managed to steal away. She was wearing a nice summer dress. In a village she knocked on one of the doors. An old woman appeared. “Grandma,” the child appealed to her, “will you take me for your daughter?” The old woman did not think; automatically she called a Nazi soldier. … she said to him, “Here’s a Jewish girl.” The German shot the child on the spot. The old woman did not expect that, she thought he would simply take the child away; and she could find no peace. She went to her priest for confession.