«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
One night I dreamt that my mother came to me and said that soon I would get well; I should then try to get away from this hospital as far as possible. The priest also came to visit me. All the nurses took an interest in me, but I avoided all their questions about my past. I was afraid I might be discovered. During my recuperation period, I got acquainted with a nurse named Sophia. This nurse suggested that I should not go back to the farm. Instead she offered me a place with her sister who needed help with her little ones. I was considering the change but dared not tell my former patrons, who were very good to me. When I was well again I decided to leave the hospital under cover of darkness. … Sophia’s sister received me gladly and offered me her home. I kissed her hand and immediately began to attend to the two little girls, who soon took a liking to me. They never asked me who I was and where I came from. Evidently, the letter I brought from Sophia explained everything.
Once I was so exhausted from work in the field that I fell asleep on the spot. I was brought home to rest, and was not even scolded. I felt happy in my new home, and even attended religious services with all the other children of the village.
Once when I came to church I noticed that I was being pointed at. I thought that again I was recognized as being Jewish.
So after the services I slowly slipped out into the street and was again on the road, feeling once more the gaze of hostile eyes on me. As I was walking along I found myself before a group of German policemen, two of which turned out to be Polish. I thought that the best thing would be to go on walking calmly and briskly. But then I heard one of them calling me to stop. They said “Gut Morgen” rather politely and walked away. One of them, however, remained behind. Now, I thought, is the crucial moment. It turned out that this was a young Polish policeman whose name was Solick. He was a native of Drohichin [Drohiczyn] and recognized me.
“You are Jewish, aren’t you? Your uncle’s name was Sholem. I know all about you. Let me see your identity card.” 183 Trembling I handed him the card with the name of Antonina Bujalska. Again he looked at me and said: “You are not telling the truth, but I shan’t do you any evil. You better clear out of here, for somebody else might recognize you. Then, you shall be among all the other dead of your people.” He let me go but wrote down the place where I lived.
Again I was facing danger. I didn’t sleep all night, planning how to find safety elsewhere. I did not run away the next morning for I was hoping that the war would end soon. So a few months passed and it was already the eve of Passover, the season when good Catholic Christians go to church to confess their sins. I, too, went to the “father confessor” with the other children of the village.
On the way to church the children were discussing how and what to confess and made fun of the whole thing. Wanting to be part of the conversation, I decided to say something positive and affirmative. So I said that we must perform the duties of our religion, and urged hem to hurry lest we be late. I was glad to be last to remain in the church after everybody had already gone and made as if I was praying devotedly. I drew the attention of a fine middle-aged lady who came over to me and asked why I had remained in the empty church so late. I took the opportunity to tell the lady about my sad lot. I told her how difficult it was for me to stay with the family I was living, and expressed the wish to find work with some other family, attending to children or taking care of an old woman. She immediately offered to take me with her as she had two children and an old mother.
I couldn’t believe my ears, but here I was already walking by the side of my new benefactress. As we were walking the distance of about 3 kilometers from church to her home, the woman told me how her Jewish neighbors were taken out to be killed. I listened to her story of horror but made no reply.
When we came into the house, I met the old lady her mother. I bowed, kissed her hand and greeted her in the manner that good Polish Christian children do. Her reply was also cordial and traditional, but I noticed tears in her eyes and a benevolent smile on her face. Later, when all left for the fields and I was left alone with the old lady and the two children I again felt at home hoping that now I would resume a normal life as a refugee Christian girl under the name of Antonina Bujalska. The old lady took a liking to me and told me her own story. It appeared that she too, was Jewish, but eloped with her Polish lover when she was only 16 and never returned to her family. Now she would recall her old father who never recovered from the shock of his daughter’s conversion, while her old mother perished in the Warsaw ghetto.
Hearing her mention Warsaw, I burst out crying. The old lady then told me that she knew right away I was Jewish by my appearance and gentle manners. … I remained with this family for several months, and everything appeared normal for nobody but the old grandmother knew that I was Jewish.
One sunny Sunday morning I was in the fields with the children of my adopted family and I felt fine. The children wanted me to sing for them, so I began a church hymn I knew well. Just then I heard the voice of the local priest who remembered me from the time I was in the hospital. He was glad to see me again and said: “Good morning, Antonina … what are you doing in my parish?” I answered that I was already a year with the Timinsky [Tymiński] family and was fine and happy.
Complimented [sic] me on my singing he invited me to come and sing in his church choir. Without waiting for a reply he handed me some money to buy myself some decent clothes before I come to church.
I was in a real predicament. To appear in a church choir before many people where somebody might recognize me was dangerous. But it was equally dangerous not to accept the priest’s invitation. I was also afraid to tell my patroness. So I decided to seek the advice of the old grandmother. I came to her room when everybody in the house was already asleep kissed her hand and sought her opinion in regard to the priest’s invitation. The wise old woman listened carefully and advised me to accept the offer; buy new shoes, dress nicely and join the choir. She was sure my outward appearance could never betray my being Jewish.
Next morning I did exactly as the wise old lady told me to do. I washed and dressed neatly and went to the priest’s house.
From there I was taken by the priest’s housekeeper (who was also Jewish) to buy the right sort of clothes for a good Christian choir girl. We bought a pair of sandals, a beret, and a nice blue knitted skirt. When I was all dressed, Wanda (that was the housekeeper’s name) slyly remarked that now I really look like a “Jiduvka [Żydówka]” (a Jewish girl) … I was really frightened, but soon Wanda calmed me by saying that nowadays anyone who looked gentle and cultured is suspected as Jewish … We both knew the truth about each other, but acted as if we didn’t, and so parted, to our respective non-Jewish “homes.” I was nervous and impatient, during the last days of the week, thinking how it would be on Sunday morning—my hour of trial. At nine o’clock, when I heard the church bells ringing I was ready but jittery. I only plucked up courage when grandma, my old friend, wished me good luck saying: … “Sing well. Think of me when you stand before the public, and have no fears”.
So I did. Standing there among the other girls in the choir, I felt the priest’s approving look, and saw the old man’s lips whispering: “Dobje [Dobrze]” (Polish: well done!) My first appearance was successful. The next time it was easier. They got used to me and no one seemed to question my
The Sisters of Divine Providence in Międzyrzec Podlaski, as did other nuns, accepted Irena Likierman, born in Warsaw in 1932, whose family had shot refuge in that area. (Account of Irena [Agata] Bołdok, née Likierman, ‘Back to Being Myself!” in Gutenbaum and Latała, The Last Eyewitnesses, volume 2, pp.30–32.) I came from the train station to Mrs. Cydzikowa’s. I had jaundice. I remember that I looked completely different from the other kids. My mother’s friend let me stay for a little while, but then she said, “You know that I have two sons. I can’t take such a risk.” She turned me over to the nuns. These were the Sisters of Providence—located at 69 Lubelska Street, a place donated by Count Potocki. There was a barracks for orphans there. I was the oldest, but there were thirty other little ones.
The nuns knew very well that I was Jewish. I was emaciated, with little braids, yellow like a lemon because of the jaundice.
I don’t know how long I stayed with those nuns. One time, Germans came and told the nuns that if they had any Jewish children, they would have to give them up. They ought to go back to wherever they came from. The nuns decided to send me back to the woman who had brought me there. You should have seen the expression on Mrs. Cydzikowa’s face when she saw me. She said that she was very sorry, but that unfortunately, she could not take me in and that I should return to the nuns. I didn’t really know what to do; I went back and forth maybe twice. … I spent the night on the doorstep of a church mortuary. … Gendarmes came in the morning. They asked, “What are you ding here, little girl?” I answered astutely that I was waiting for my mother … They came back once—I was still sitting there. A second time—I was still sitting. They said, “Come with us, your mother probably won’t come back.” They took me to the town hall, to the mayor. … I think his name was Majewski. … The mayor got the idea to send me to a home for the elderly, so that I could wait out the worst period there. He figured out that I was Jewish. When someone asked me what my name was, I answered “Irena Likierman.” What more did he need?
At the home for the elderly, I sat under someone’s bed. I would only come out to eat and wash myself. I was already there for some time (months or weeks), when I once went outdoors. … In any case, some woman saw me and began screaming … I ran back into the home, and the nuns that were running it, afraid that this woman would come after me, took me back to the sisters where I had stayed before. I spent the following year with them. … In 1944 the Russians entered. Some time before, when the front was approaching and there was nothing to eat, the nuns handed me over, as the oldest of the girls, as a servant to a woman teacher. … When the front passes, I went back to the nuns (those at the orphanage, not with the elderly), and in 1945 I went to school. I had never gone to school before … After her escape from the ghetto in Łosice, Stella Zylbersztajn took shelter in several villages in the vicinity of Łosice. In total, 25 Polish families helped her survive the war. The attitude of local priests proved to be beneficial in assuring her survival. (Bartoszewski and Lewin, Righteous Among Nations, pp.288–89, 295–96.)66 Having been taught by experience, we gave our most valuable belongings to Poles for safekeeping and they were all we had later. O the day that the ghetto was destroyed several women stood on the boundary in front of our window in order to help us out in some way. Out of the window we threw things that we had no hope of carrying off and we did not lose any of them. … I left my mother and fled to the garden of Mrs Piotrowska. This was only 200 metres (650 ft) from the market square where everyone had been assembled.
At noon Mrs Piotrowska’s sister-in-law brought me milk and bread. But too many children knew o my hiding place so in the evening I went to Świniarków [Świniarów]. Along the way I had to ask where Mr Śmieciuch, our customer, lived.
Village patrols showed me the way but guessed I was a refugee abd asked Śmieciuch to send me on further. So, after spending the night and eating a good breakfast I moved on towards Wyczółki. There I knew the head of the hamlet and his family. People were already returning from Church after High Mass. I avoided large groups but joined a peasant who was walking alone. I asked him the way and he asked me about myself, where I was from, and so forth. He quickly guessed the
truth and put his whole heart in simple words:
66 Stella Zylbersztajn provided additional details about her rescue in her memoir A gdyby to było Wasze dziecko?: Wspomnienia antysemitki w getcie, komunistki w klasztorze i uniwersalistki wśród Ludu Wybranego, Umiłowanego (Łódź: Oficyna Bibliofilów, 1994;
Łosice: Łosickie Stowarzyszenie Rozwoju Equus, 2005), especially pp.36, 52, 55–56, 58–64, 145.
185 ‘You still have time to get to Wyczółki; the Kalickis will take you in later, too. In the meantime come to my place; in the bay of my barn I have a hiding place for pigs, and no one will find you there, you can hide there.’ He was moved to pity at the thought of my pampered childhood and compared me with his daughter. [Her benefactor, a complete stranger, was Wacław Radzikowski of the village of Szańków. At the mass he attended in the church in Łosice, the pastor, Rev. Zarębski, had spoken of the terrible fate of the Jews and urged his parishioners to assist them:“All people are brothers and you should help everyone.”] … Whenever I went my hosts always guessed [that I was Jewish] but we got on well together and they kept me as long as they could. Only when the entire village started frightening them [about the danger and possible repercussions for the entire village] did they pay me for my work and advise me where I should go further. I was looking after children in Kornica where once again my hostess was ‘advised’ to send me away for I would bring misfortune down on the village.