"The relationships of Poles to Jews during this awful
time continue to be an area of controversy. Some Poles
helped Jews; some Poles betrayed Jews; while others
were mostly concerned about their own survival."
Terese Pencak Schwartz
In 1944, before the horrifying extent of the Holocaust became fully known, a Polish woman named Maria Brzeska wrote a book entitled Through A Woman's Eyes: Life in Poland Under the German Occupation (MaxLove Publishing Company, Ltd.). Brzeska described the attitude of some of the Polish villagers to the desperate Jews who sought their help: "The peasants whom the Germans reduced to the role of pariah gave their protection to the most miserable of all pariahs: the Jews. And in this, as in many other cases, they had often paid for their humanity with their lives. In the little village of Sadowa in Wegrow County, a baker, his wife and son were shot for giving a loaf of bread to a Jewish woman. In many cases villages have had their inhabitants shot, their husbandries burnt down, their people deported amid sneers and humiliation, just because they have given Jews a loaf of bread, or shelter for the night, or have set plates of groats in the forest for the homeless Jewish children whom the Germans shoot like rabbits. Nonetheless, in village after village deliberate and effective aid has been given, with the strong and helpful forest always available if necessary."
By contrast, Vengrov survivor Shraga Feivel Bielawski (Philip Biel) recalled that his brother-in-law Herschel Rekant “was bitterly disappointed" that not one of his non-Jewish friends or neighbors in Vengrov would help him. Rekant, his wife Miriam, and their three daughters perished in the Treblinka death camp. Bielawski himself survived 1943 and 1944 by hiding in the barn of a Polish farmer named Bujalski. To pass the time, Bielawski made several wood carvings. Around the edge of a representation of the barn, Bielawski carved in Hebrew: "In this place we sat while Hitler murdered the Jews."
To understand what an act of heroism it was for non-Jews to hide Jews, it must be remembered that when Germany occupied Poland, hiding a Jew was a crime punishable by death --- not only the death of the rescuer, but of his or her entire family. Despite the extreme danger to themselves, there were Righteous Among The Nations in Vengrov and its environs who risked self-sacrifice in order to help Jews to escape the homicidal destruction wrought by the Nazis.
Janina Roginska was a Christian woman living in Vengrov. She agreed to hide several Jews in her barn, including Moshe Ptak. On June 15, 1943, she was shot by military policemen from Vengrov, who discovered the Jews she was trying to rescue. Janina was posthumously awarded the Righteous Among The Nations medal. For the source of this story, click here.
Szymon and Anna Sledziewski, Leokadia Sledziewski-Kossuth lived in Cierpieta, a village near Vengrov. The Kaplan family lived in the same town, where Froim Kaplan and his son Aron worked at the village forge. Most of the Kaplans were murdered during the German occupation. Of the parents, three daughters, and five sons, only two sons survived. One of the surviving children, Aron Kaplan, was hidden by the Sledziewskis. Their daughter Leokadia, then aged 16, brought him food and helped him to escape to the forest just before the Germans arrived at the farm. For the source of this story, click here.
Jan and Maria Wikiel hid Lonia Goldman and her husband Sevek in a village outside of Vengrov. Beginning in 1942, the two Jews stayed motionless on their backs in a cellar "grave" lined with straw. Each day, the Wikiels risked their lives by bringing them food and emptying the chamber pot. Once a week, the Wekiels gave them sponge-baths. After the war, having spent eighteen months in their hiding place, Lonia and Sevek had to be retrained to walk. For the source of this story, click here. See also Gilbert, Martin, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust (MacMillan, 2003), p. 105.
Pelagia Vogelgesang and her husband were teachers in Vengrov. In May, 1943, soon after the Germans had killed some 1,000 Jews in the town and deported the rest to the death camp at Treblinka, the Vogelgesangs heard crying outside their door. It was a little girl, whom they took into their home. The child subsequently was identified as Lusia, daughter of Szmul and Feiga Farbiarz. Although the Vogelgesangs were warned by their neighbors not to risk helping Jews, they sheltered Lusia and gave food to her uncle Chaim Farbiarz and the Kleiners, a miller from Vengrov and his son. In 1946, Lusia was reunited with her Uncle Chaim, her only immediate relative to survive the Holocaust. For the source of this story, click here. See also Grynberg, Henryk, Children of Zion (Northwestern University Press, 1998).
Wladyslaw, Eugenia, and Zdzislaw Skwara had a farm in the village of Kamionna, near Vengrov. Efraim Weinberg [Wajnberg], his wife Ester, and their two-year-old daughter Chava lived in nearby Baczki. After the destruction of the Jewish community in Baczki, the Weinbergs asked the Skwaras for help. At first, the Skwaras hid the Weinbergs in a storehouse. Later, they built a shelter under a back porch of their home. From September, 1942 until the arrival of the Soviet army almost two years later, the Skwaras hid the Weinbergs, provided daily food and medicine when needed. Even their young son Zdzislaw kept the secret and warned the Weinbergs of impending danger. The Skwaras were devout Catholics who felt it was a matter of faith and religious obligation to save the Weinbergs. After the war, they bought a sewing machine for Efraim, so that he could support his family. For the sources of this story, click here. See also The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: Poland (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem Publications), pp. 720-721.
Mrs. Kowalchik (first name unknown) agreed to take care of Gittel Przepiorka, a three-year-old child from Wengrow. Gittel, who was taught to pretend to be Christian, survived the war as Gucia Kowalchik, Mrs. Kowalchik's daughter. Mrs. Kowalchik also hid two Jewish women in her barn, but did not tell her husband because he was a heavy drinker and she was afraid he might reveal what she was doing. Thanks to Mrs. Kowalchik, the two Jewish women also survived the Holocaust. For the sources of this story, click here and here.
Credits: Text and page design copyrighted © 2008 by Helene Kenvin. Page created by Helene Kenvin. All rights reserved.