European Tree of the Year - a Hiding Place During the Holocaust

Krzysztof Bielawski, 13th February 2017
The Józef Oak is 650 years and has a rich history. It served as a hiding place for Jews during the German occupation. Now, it will be Poland's entry in this year's European Tree of the Year Contest.

A huge tree stands in the park of the Mycielski Estate in Wiśniowa in the Podkarpacie province. It is 30 metres tall, with a circumference of 675 cm. It is a natural feature of historical importance, often the subject for painters and photographers. In the 1930's. it was painted by Józef Mehoffer. The oak even features on today's 100 złotych banknote.

During World War II,  the oak's partially hollow trunk served as a hiding place for the two Jewish Hymi brothers. They were escapees from the forced labour camp and ghetto in Frysztak.

"The brothers were shown the hiding place by Rozalia Proszak”, says Jakub Pawłowski of the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa. "The hidey-hole supposedly had two levels - the bottom was the hiding place, while the top one served as a look-out point. Both brothers survived the occupation, but their later fate in the War is unknown”.

Staff at the District Cultural and Tourism Centre in Wiśniowa, situated in the old Mycielski Estate, draw attention to the fact that the amazing history of the tree is still not completely clear. In discussions with local residents, numbers vary as to how many people were hidden there and exactly when the tree was used as a hiding place also varies. Perhaps, during the European Tree of the Year Contest, more testimonies will emerge, as even might those people who actually used the tree in order to hide.

Recently, the Józef Oak won first place in the Poland-wide 2016 Tree of the Year Contest. Now, a public opinion poll has determined it will be Poland's entry for the 2017 European Tree of the Year. You can vote on the website until 28th February 2017. The result will be announced on 21st March 2017 during the Award Ceremony which will take place in Brussels.