«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
My dad and his partner worked outside the, the ghetto, and they found out that the ghetto was going to be liquidated, and we couldn’t tell any of his relatives, my dad couldn’t. So he came back with his partner, and he must have paid off the guards. They let us cross the river, and my dad was carrying me on his shoulders, and the six of us escaped. And we went to stay with one of the people that worked for my dad’s bus company. Was a, was a Sunday. And they went to church, and we were looking out in the attic outside, and … my mother tried to keep me away from the windows, so I wouldn't see … And then we stayed there till the … they came back from church, and they wanted us to leave, because they were afraid, you know, that somebody’s gonna find out that they’re hiding us. So my father and his partner went to the country to see if he can find the, one of the conductors, and see if they’d let us stay there. And then my mother and my father’s partner’s wife and their son, the four of us, stayed there. And we went and we stayed with the … where the pigs were staying. So if somebody came, then he can say that he didn’t know we were there. So we stayed there, and he insisted that we leave. And my mother said she’ll leave, and go and see if she can find my father, but would he just keep me safe, you know, hide … for them to hide me some place. So she left, and I never saw her again.
And they were taking us to the country, where my father was. …So they left us there, and they dig out from under … there was like hay and straw against the barn. And we dug out an entryway, and made the straw and hay hollow, so five of us could get in there. … And we stayed with those people [Kowalczyk], I don’t know how long, but I know it was one winter for sure, and it was a summer … And they had children too. But he [Kowalczyk] was killed … He was riding his bicycle from Lutsk [Łuck] … we had to leave there … they also had a hiding place underneath some flooring inside the house. But we didn’t stay there very long, maybe sometimes in the wintertime, we would come in to warm up at night. One night, we came out of the hole, and they found a man from underneath the straw and there was a man in the barn hiding too. And my dad and his partner lied to him and told him that we were just there for the night, … because they didn’t want another person there. And I don’t know whatever happened to that man. … When it was time for us—so they moved us in a wagon covered with straw. My father … we separated at that time. I don’t know what happened to the partner and his wife and son; they somehow survived. … But I know my father and they took me to this convent, and my father left me there, and he joined the Partisans. But everybody was whispering that he was dead, because he had this fur coat, and he gave it away so it would look, you know, that he died, and so people wouldn't search for him, the Ukrainians. But he hid out someplace in the forest, with, with other Jews, and also with some Partisans.
And I stayed in the convent for a while until they told, found me a place, and they told that I was an orphan....
They were very nice to me. I have special warm heart, … in my heart, you know, about how they treated me, and they took—New Year’s Eve, I remember them taking me to church. I didn’t have any shoes on, so they wrapped my feet with towels and stuff. … I wore a cross. … I was raised Catholic. … And you know, I remember when my Dad came back, and we moved into our house, my dad not once said, “Take off that cross,” or, “Don’t say that,” or, “Don’t go to church.” He never said a word. And then all by myself, you know, I stopped doing those things.
They knew that I was Jewish. So I, I don't remember how long it was that I stayed at the convent, but I know it was wintertime, because I was cold, and I remember not having warm things. And then they gave me to this family that lived way, way far away from the road …, so, and it was safe there. And if I saw a person walking towards the house, I would immediately hide. I had a special place where to hide. And I stayed there I know one winter, and a summer, not whole summer … and sometimes when it was nighttime I would go outside and play. Then one day I saw this man coming in the distance, and I went and I hid, and then, as he came closer, the woman recognized my dad. And she went and she got me … my dad came and, you know, that was the first time I saw him in a long time. And we stayed together.
And some of those Jews went and they stayed at our house. They went as, as we were being liberated from the Russians, Jews came out from hiding, and they came and they stayed in our house [in Rożyszcze]. … I remember that … we traveled to Lublin. And we stayed there for a while … then we went from there to Łódź. … from Łódź we went to Danzig [then Gdańsk, Poland]. … I didn’t know how to write, read or anything. Then when we came back to Poland, … I met some nuns, and they taught me the alphabet, and how to write, or read. … they didn’t push catechism on me, or any religion. … And the Russians were so sympathetic to me. … And the Catholics. … In the Tarnopol region of Eastern Galicia, two Polish villages were wiped out because, with the encouragement of
Fifteen Jews escaped from the Sasov [Sasów] labour camp at the end of June 1943 after learning that the Jews in the labour camps at Olesko and Brody had been exterminated and received food and shelter from peasants in the Polish village of Dzwonica. … The 70 to 80 Jews who had managed to get away [from Sasów] encountered in the forests an equal number of Jews who had escaped from other camps and ghettoes, but despite their relatively large number they were able to survive thanks to the Polish peasants from Huta Pieniacka and Huta Wierchobuska [Werchobuska].
The two Polish villages were surrounded by hostile Ukrainian settlements and to defend themselves against the attacks of Ukrainian nationalists the Poles had organised in each village a defence body armed with a few rifles. Despite the dangers they were running, the Poles, encouraged by their Catholic priests, provided the Jews with food, for which the Jews paid if they had the means, and when the cold weather came they allowed them to sleep in their sheep-pens and barns. The Ukrainians from the neighbouring villages reported what was happening to the Germans and the Zolochev [Złoczów] Kreishauptmann (District Chief) warned the headmen of the two villages that unless they stopped sheltering the Jews, the inhabitants would meet with the same fate as other enemies of the German Reich. The Poles did not, however, change their attitude to the Jews and only asked them not to appear in the villages in daytime.
… the Polish underground learnt that the Germans were preparing a punitive expedition against the village. The Jews took the warning seriously and ceased sleeping in the village, but the Poles did not … But three days after the departure of Krutikov’s [Soviet] partisans a force of Germans and Ukrainians captured the village, crammed all the inhabitants into a barn and their cattle into stables, and burnt them all alive. … Three weeks later, on 23 March, a force made up of Ukrainians from neighbouring villages attacked the village of Huta Wierchobuska. Warned of their approach, three-quarters of the peasants fled into the woods and forests. Those who stayed tried to defend themselves, but were quickly overpowered and met with the same end as the inhabitants of Huta Pieniacka.
At the urging of Rev. Canon Aleksander Chodyko, the dean of Białystok, Rev. Emil Kobierzyński, the pastor of Brody, joined in the rescue effort and actively encouraged his parishioners to assist Jews. (Mordecai Paldiel, The Righteous Among the Nations [Jerusalem: Yad Vashem; New York: HarperCollins, 2007], pp.173–76.) In September 1939, at the start of the war, Avraham Itzhak Rivkind [Rywkind], his wife, Chaya, and their children, Menachem-Mendel and Raaya, all living in Bialystok [Białystok], fled eastward to Brody ahead of the advancing Germans. Brody was then occupied by the Russians and remained in their control until the German attack on the Soviet Union. When the Germans struck again, in June 1941, Menachem-Mendel, at the time in his thirties, was married to Lonia, the daughter of the chief rabbi of Bialystok, Rabbi Gedalia Rosenman. Acting swiftly to assist his son-in-law in Brody, Rosenman turned to the Catholic bishop [actually, the dean] in Bialystok, Aleksander Chodyko, and asked for his intercession. Chodyko in turn approached a number of clerics in the Brody region and appealed to them to make an effort to save the Rivkind family. However before any of the clerics could act on the bishop’s appeal, on November 2, 1942, the Germans and Ukrainians staged one of their murderous raids on the city’s Jews. Avraham Itzhak Rivkind and wife Chaya were among the victims as was their daughter, Raaya. Only their son, Menachem-Mendel, and his two cousins from the Cygielman family were able to escape by finding temporary shelter and survived the bloody raid. … Brody was one of the many Jewish communities in eastern Poland (today in Ukraine) that was totally obliterated by the Germans and their Ukrainian collaborators.
… when during 1942 Father Emil Kobiezyński [Kobierzyński], in Brody, in response to Bishop [Canon] Chodyko’s appeal, began to make inquiries among his parishioners to help the remaining member of the Rivkind family, Menachem Mendel, and his two cousins, Dr. Julian Cyguelman and his brother Avraham, he was able to persuade one of his church members, the Polish-born Marian Huzarski to consider the matter favourably. Huzarski lived on the outskirts of Brody, in the nearby village of Sydonowka [Sydonówka], a distance of three kilometres—a village containing a mixed PolishUkrainian population. After receiving the priest’s request, Marian Huzarski returned home and gathered his family for a serious discussion about how to respond.
There is no written record of this crucial family consultation attended by all the immediate members of the Huzarski family, including Marian, wife Alfreda, and their two sons, Fryderyk, aged 22, and Zbigniew, aged 19. … The family consultation ended in a unanimous decision to shelter the fleeing Jews, people whom they had never seen before.
After the war, Zbigniew wrote that on November 25, 1942, he or someone else in the family informed Rivkind of the family’s decision and set up a meeting for the next day in Brody. The two Huzarski brothers, Zbigniew and Fryderyk, arrived at dusk and took the three fugitive Jews to their village home through fields and side roads. The three new 171 arrivals—Dr. Julian Cygielman, his brother Avraham, and Menachem-Mendel Rivkind—stayed there for a full 17 months, until the area’s liberation in July 1944.
The two Cygielmans and Rivkind were very religious and made an effort to strictly observe the Jewish rituals, even in the unfavourable conditions of their new setting. This included daily prayers, with the donning of the obligatory tefillin (phylacteries) and tallit (prayer shawl) for morning services and eating only kosher food as prescribed by Jewish religious law. … In consideration of their charges’ religious sensibilities, the Huzarskis, themselves religious, purchased special utensils and mother Alfreda cooked their wards’ food as prescribed by the Jewish religion. In fact, during prayers, which were at times uttered with intensity and raised voices, the Huzarskis were forced to ask the supplicants to lower their voices for fear that outsiders might overhear them, with al the risks involved for all. Not at all oblivious to their hosts’ own religious obligations, the three Orthodox Jews celebrated the Christian festivals with them.
The fall of 1943, a year after the arrival of the three Jews, … led to the burning of Polish homes in the region, including Huzarski’s village of Sydonowka. Many Polish inhabitants took to fleeing to the forest at night, returning to their homes only during daylight hours. Over time, the frequency of raids by Ukrainian nationalists in the village intensified, a situation that greatly concerned the Huzarskis—themselves Poles.
In light of this troublesome development, the Huzarskis prepared an underground shelter at the edge of the forest near their home, filling it with all the necessary items to accommodate their three charges. After transferring Rivkind and the Cygielman brothers to the new hiding place, the Huzarski family continued to supply them with all their needs on a daily basis, resolving not to abandon them even after the majority of the Polish peasant population of the village had deserted their homes.
In March 1944, the Red Army approached Brody. Out of fear of the Ukrainians, the Huzarskis advised the three Jews to flee toward the approaching Russian army. In June 1944, during the final German retreat, the Ukrainians set the Huzarski home on fire. The Huzarskis fled to neighbors in the forest, and on the following day the Red Army took over. The Huzarski family had escaped in good time and had headed westward to Lancut [Łańcut, a town in south-central Poland].
Rivkind and the two Cygielman brothers made their way back to liberated Bialystok. As a professional textile engineer, Menachem-Mendel Rivkind was inducted into the Red army with the rank of captain and appointed to manage the large textile firm in the city. Once he had located his rescuers, he invited them to Bialystok and ensured their employment in the factory that he managed. In 1946 when he decided to leave Bialystok, Rivkind transferred to his rescuers his big house, which had earlier been occupied by his father-in-law, Rabbi Rosenman, and left for Israel [Palestine]—as did the Cygielman brothers.