Voices of the Shoah
TO MEMORY AND TO WARNING
(The Son of Righteous Gentiles Remembers)
by Boleslaw Kulczycki
of witnesses make up a very valuable source for historians. Often,
while searching for sensations or big historical events, one can forget
about ordinary people who lived in those times and had to take a big exam
in religion, ethics, and simple humanity, as they did during Word War II.
There are fewer and fewer direct witnesses of those tragic times left. Many of them passed away and took their memories with them. I visited my family in Poland not long ago. I had a lot of time to talk about the past. My mother, Katarzyna Kulczycka, cousins Stanislaw Kulczycki, Maria Huzarska and Julian Michalski, and Gina Lanceter from New Jersey helped me remember the events that happened to my family in Brody. This could be an interesting beginning for historical investigation of Ukraine-Jewish-Polish relations.
March 9, 1944: My older brother Marian and I heard banging on the door of our house. Our parents were at work. They did not allow us to open the door. Marian opened it anyway. There were two shots. The first bullet lethally went through Marian's head. The second bullet went through my right hand. In order to understand who killed Marian and wounded me, and why, you would have to familiarize yourself with the events going on in Brody near Lwow (today's Ukraine) during World War II.
During the night of July 7, 1941, Hitler's army occupied Brody. Our parents were directed to work for Fritz Todt's Land Building Company. My mom worked in the kitchen, cooking for the officers and engineers in that company. My father worked in a sawmill, where he delivered wood from the surrounding forest using a horse and carriage.
On July 17, 1941, the Gestapo executed all of the Jewish intelligentsia--teachers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen--about 250 people. Mr. Kapelusz, an engineer and my father's good friend, was killed among them. His niece, Eugenia Nadler, lives in Jerusalem.
Before the war, our neighbor Sachowicz married a Jew who lived on Gesia Street in Brody. At the beginning of the German occupation, Mr. Sachowicz became a commander of Ukraine's police.
In September of 1941, our mother overheard at work that the Germans were planning to exterminate the Jews during the night. At that time, there were Herman Achtentuch, Lusia Skulska, Runia Seltzer (maiden name Meles), Isak Kupferman, Bronia and deaf Manka (I don't remember her other name) hiding in our house.
Markus Schwadron, with his daughter Liza Grunfeld and granddaughter Greta (now Chalfin) were taken by my father and hidden in Majdan Pieniacki village in Bobik's home. Even before the war, Jozef Bobik's daughter Andzia lived in our home and went to school in Brody.
Commander Sachowicz told my parents that he knew there were Jews hidden in our home. He suggested that we hide his wife and her parents. Our parents worried, but did take the commander's family in. They were afraid because the penalty for helping Jews was death for the whole family.
The people hiding in our house had to eat. So my brother Marian and I used to go to our mom's work and steal food from there. We also went to a local market and bought food there. Commander Sachowicz also gave us food and clothes. I think that all of that came from Jewish houses. Herman Achtentuch, Lusia Skulska, Runia Seltzer with her husband, and Izak Kupferman used to send me and Marian to their homes to see what was going on and, if there was nobody, to bring some of their personal belongings to them. My parents thought that it would be safer for the children to enter Jewish homes. Today we know how wrong they were, but we were lucky.
The Germans' occupation was worse than the Bolsheviks'. What the Russians didn't get a chance to take as taxes or by a levy on agricultural products, the Germans took over. That caused general hunger. The atmosphere in the town was getting worse. Denunciatory activities were spreading.
For that reason, our father was shipping Jews to Katy village, Huta Pieniacka, and Majdan Pieniacki in a horse carriage. All together, there were 14 people saved. They all survived the war.
Our parents also used to send Marian and me to the ghetto in Ostrowczyk, where we took food and medicine for Dr. Bilig's family and for Norman Adler. Germans used the ghetto as a source of free workers. They were also stealing everything. The Germans set up a schedule of contributions in the form of gold, furs, money, fabrics, art, furniture, and rugs. They did not provide anything for Jews.
It was easy to get inside the ghetto. So we didn't didn't have any trouble getting in, nor did Jews getting out to find some food.
I remember that our father used to take us close to Majdan Pieniacki village by carriage. Then Marian and I went on foot through the forest, which was between the road and the village. We went to see Jozefa Schnitzer's family, where the dentist Isak Kupferman was. We brought them dental instruments, medicine, matches, salt, thread, candles and oil to burn. We took chicken, groats and sometimes fruit.
Now I understand how naive we were, and unconscious of the danger from Germans and Ukrainians. It was a crazy move back then, but when you are a child, you do unbelievable things and against the odds you are often successful.
I would like to mention a tragic event, which my mom told me about, crying. One night we were visited by a Jew (I don't remember his name) who said that his wife was killed in the ghetto by the Gestapo. He asked us to save his two-year-old son. He knew that my parents hid Markus Schwadron's family in the village. My parents recommended Bobik's family. Jozef Bobik's brother Franciszek was a ranger and lived in Huta Werhobucka near the forest. He came to Brody with his horse carriage and took that child with all the supplies and a big prize.
After some time, the same Jew came back to us and said, crying, that Jews from Huta Werhobucka told him that Franciszek Bobik took that boy by his legs and split open his head by smacking him against the tree . . .
That fact speaks for itself. Two brothers--noble Jozef helped Jews to survive while risking death for himself and his family, and his brother Franciszek who was a killer.
The biggest act of extermination against Jews began on Sept. 19, 1942. That's when the extreme craziness of Hitler's Gestapo and Ukraine's police started showing. They searched all suspected houses.
At that time Commander Sachowicz's family was at our house, because nobody in the villages wanted to help them. Commander Sachowicz visited us at night. Before he left, he said to my parents, "Clean your house of Jews . . . "
My parents were in a very difficult situation, but they believed that Commander Sachowicz would take care of our home. He was also a valuable informant. He used to warn us about planned actions against Jews. There was an office of Ukrainian police on the first floor of the house next door and an office of German police on the first floor. Those policemen often bought home-made vodka--called "bimber"--from my parents. They never suspected that there were Jews hiding under the floor. It confirms the saying that it's darkest under a big light. Three members of the Sachowicz family were hiding in a small space under the floor for almost two years.
Year 1944 came. The Russian front was getting closer to Brody. German army movements, nervousness, and ruthlessness towards ordinary people were very noticeable.
On that tragic day, March 9, 1944, Marian and I were aware that Sachowicz's family was still hiding in our house, in the kitchen under the floor. We knew that we had to take care of them. When we heard banging on the door, we didn't want to open it. Marian saw Commander Sachowicz through the window, so he opened the barricaded door. He thought that Commander Sachowicz won't do anything bad to us. Well, he and the Gestapo screamed at Marian that he was a Polish bandit. Then Marian blocked the entrance and didn't want to let them in. I heard shots . . .
After that the commander and the Gestapo left. That is how he saved his family. During the night, he took his family to the forest.
During the years 1965 to 1990, my mother and I visited the cemetery in Brody. During those trips I tried to find Sachowicz's family. According to Brody's old residents, Russians arrested Sachowicz and took him to Russia.
Sabina Anstendig from New York, Harry Brill from Pennsylvania, Saul and Clara Dreier from Florida, and others who survived the Holocaust also came to Brody. There are always Jews and Poles visiting there. They walk around silently, sometimes crying; they stop at old trees in Rojekowka, at their old and dilapidated houses, silent witnesses of human drama. The history of this town is a bloody register of injustice and unfinished matters.
During my last visit to Poland, I had a long talk with my 87-year-old mother. I understood that there is nothing more tragic than a mother's cry after the loss of her child. I tried to understand the connection between the loss of her son and saving a Jewish family . . .
Many times my mother asked me why Commander Sachowicz was shooting at us. I couldn't answer that simple question.
Thanks to Greta and Philip Chalfin, my parents' names are among the most noble elite, placed on a marble plate on Righteous Gentiles' Avenue in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The Talmud's words "who saved one life, saved a whole world" inspired Israel to honor every Christian who risked his or her life to protect Jews.
Our parents planted a tree where Marian was buried in the cemetery in Brody. I know that this tree was welcomed by the choir of the rustling leaves, whispering about Marian's angelic goodness, whispering about cheating death and about freedom.
I wrote this article rich with experiences of the past. It was easy to reconstruct past events, though I used witnesses' help when I could. It's difficult to uncover objective truth when what we have to deal with is personal experiences. The same person could be a killer and blackguard to one and a good person to another.
Even though time diminishes emotion and deforms reality, the facts remain the same, and I will let historians judge them.
Copyright © 2002 M S Rosenfeld