Fifteen Righteous Honoured in Lublin

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 24th November 2017
On 20th November 2017, a ceremony took place in a lecture hall of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in which fifteen new Righteous Among the Nations were honoured. During the Holocaust, they provided help to Jews in Kurow, Tomaszow Lubelski, Biała Podlaska and Żelechow. Family members of the Righteous accepted medals and certificates on the Righteous' behalf. Those taking part in the ceremony included the Israeli Embassy Cultural Attaché Hadass Nisan and the Vice-Chancellor of the Catholic University of Lublin Rev. Prof. Antoni Dębiński. A similar ceremony, honouring new Righteous, was held in Gdynia one month earlier.

During the ceremony in Lublin, members of ten families were honoured posthumously - Stanisław and Feliksa Gajda, Antoni Kordowski, Jan and Marianna Kulik, Jan Molenda, Jan Pajórek, Julianna, Władysław and Zdzisław Sokoł, Edward Turek, Stanisław Szeleźniak, Elżbieta Ważna and Bronisława and Władysław Wójcik.

"Each of us has a choice - to make this earth a heaven or a hell", said Cutural Attaché Hadass Nisan during the ceremony. "The descendants present here today have the right to feel proud of the fact that their ancestors were those who chose to make it a heaven and not a hell."

Speaking about his grandparents, Bronisława and Władysław Wójcik, Zbigniew Muszczak said, "They were modest people. They never spoke about themselves as heroes, only of their desire to help another human being."

Relatives of Holocaust survivors also took part in the ceremony. Among them was Josh Korn, the son of Dwojra Popowska, who told the audience, "Today, there are almost one hundred and forty members of the Weinberg, Winograd, Boruchowicz and Popowski families living around the world. None of them would be alive today if it was not for the courage of the Edward Turek and the Sokoł family. It is hard to imagine that they and their descendants would be enjoying life today if not for the actions of good people."

One month earlier, a smiliar ceremony took place honouring Aleksandra Cybulska and, posthumously, her husband Kazimierz. Due to the state of health of the 99 year old Righteous, the ceremony was small-scale and took place in her home in Gdynia. Those present included the Deputy Israeli Ambassador Ruth Cohen-Dar, the Chairperson of the Gdynia City Council Joanna Zielińska and Aleksandra's son Kazimierz who, from his childhood, remembers Sonia Szindel, whom her family rescued.

Below is the list of this honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations during the ceremony in Lublin. Their full stories will be lublished soon on this website.

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During World War II, Stanisław Gajda (1901-1946) and his wife Feliksa (1899-1974) lived in Mała Kłoda (Lubelskie Province), where they ran peatlands. In 1942, fifteen year old Dina Rycer turned to them for help. She had come from nearby Kurów and had escaped from the ghetto there during its liquidation in November 1942. She had sought shelter in the surrounding forests and villages. Because the Gajda couple and their seven children lived in a one-room house, they decided to help Dina by creating a hiding place for her in their meadow. Inside the dugout, Dina could only lie down. She could leave it at night to stretch her legs and to breathe a little fresh air.

For a certain period, the Gajda family also helped other Jews, among them being Abraham Goldberg and his son Jechiel who, after coming out of hiding, were murdered by local bandits.

After the War, Dina married and left for France. For many years, she lost contact with the Gajda family. Shortly after the War, misfortune struck the family. In 1946, Stanisław suffered a tragic death and the family home was burned to the ground.

The honouring of Stanisław and Feliksa Gajda with the title of Righteous Among the Nations was made possible by the involvement of Prof. Antoni Sułek of Warsaw University. The medal and certificate were accepted by the RIghteous' family - Sabina Kustra, Barbara Mróz and Danuta Rokita. 

Jan Kulik (1910-1970) and his mother Marianna (1881-1944) lived in Rogoźnica (Lubelskie Province). In October 1942, Jan and his friend Felek Silczuk offered to help Szmuel Dziencioł and his daughter Rajzel, whom they had met by chance and who were looking for somewhere to hide in the nearby forest. In the beginning, Silczuk hid them with material help from the Kulik family.

Despite the help he received, due to the difficult living conditions, Szmuel Dziencioł died in November 1942.  Rajzel remained alone in the hiding place, but she was growing weaker. As the front drew nearer, the hiding place became dangerous, but she was too weak to run away. In order to save the girl, Jan Kulik carried her on his back to the village of Puchacz, seven kilometres away. There, he introduced her as an escapee from Poznań.

After liberation in the summer of 1944, Rajzel buried her father in the cemetery in Międzyrzec and arranged a tombstone for the grave of Marianna Kulik, who had died in that same year. Later, together with Jan Kulik, who was being persecuted by Poles for having helped Jews, Rajzel moved to Łódż. In 1946, Rajzel, together with her husband, left for Australia. She mainatined close contact with Jan over many years.

The honouring of the Kulik family with the title of Righteous Among the Nations was made possible with the involvement of Gil Faran and Zbigniew Niziński. The medal and certificate were accepted by the RIghteous' family - Halina Oksiejuk and Wanda Bandura.

During the War, Elżbieta Ważna (1886-1971) served three and a half months in prison for the illegal slaughter of a pig. During that time, she shared a cell with Hana Spiseisen who, at the end of 1941, was arrested and charged with the murder of a Polish policeman. He had been shot by the Polish underground. But Hana had been accused because she had been seen talking with the policeman shortly before his death. During interrogation, the girl underwent severe torture. She also suffered being humiliated by her fellow prisoners. Only Elżbieta extended her a helping hand - she helped her care for her wounds, shared her food and courageously denounced the antisemitic comments.

After serving her sentence, Elżbieta looked for a way to help Hana regain her freedom. She succeeded by bribing an acquaintance who was a lawyer. In addition, she financed Hana's operation and arranged a work permit for her. Because she was constantly worried about her safety, she prepared a hiding place for her in the attic of her sister's home in the village of Podhorce, near Tomaszów Lubelski. Around three months later, she used a wagon to bring Hana to her own home in the village of Majdanek and hid her in the pre-prepared basement of the farm building. Hana spent the next two years there.

After the War, Elżbieta Ważna was forced to flee from Tomaszów Lubelski due to persecution by her neighbours. She then settled in Łódż, together with Hana and her husband. After they left for Israel, Elżbieta remained permanently in that apartment. Over many years, the two women remained in close contact. In 1966, Elżbieta visited Hana in Israel.

The medal and certificate were accepted by the RIghteous' family - Danuta Wasyl and Krystyna Ważna-Wujec.

Edward Turek (1903-1945) lived in Wilczyska (Mazowieckie Province). In the summer of 1943, before the liquidation of the ghetto in nearby Żelechow, the Weinberg, Winograd, Boruchowicz and Popowski families turned to him for help. Before the War, Turek was friends with them. He could even speak Yiddish. Conscious of the huge risk, he agreed to help them and convinced his sister Julianna Sokół (1898-1977), her husband Władysław (1894-1944) and their sons Zdzisław and Jan (1926-1969) to assist him.

For over a year, the Sokoł family hid twenty four ghetto fugitives in the basement of their home in the village of Wilczyska. Throughout that time, Edward Turek co-ordinated help and endeavoured to solve any problems relating to such a difficult mission.

Late into the night of 22nd June 1944, a group of eighteen armed Poles entered the farm. According to the survivor, it was a unit of the Home Army (AK). Barely ten Jews were able to escape. Some of them returned to the farm but, on 10th July, four weeks before liberation, the Gestapo entered the village, the result of denunciation. The Jews in hiding, together with their host, Władysław Sokołm were taken into the nearby forest and shot.

Following liberation, Edward Turek handed over several Torah scrolls, saved from the burning synagogue in Żelechow.

During the ceremony, Dwojra Popowska's son, Josh Korn, addressed the audience. The medal and certificate were accepted by the RIghteous' family -  Maria Ducka, Lidia Gujska and Marzena Smagowska.

Many people were involved in the rescue of Samuel Chanesman and his son Josef, pre-War residents of Kurów. One of the most important of those who helped, not only the Chanesman father and son, but also other Jews, was Antoni Kordowski (1892-1974), a well-known shoemaker and respected local activist. He had business ties with Samuel, who made shoe-uppers. During the War, Kordowski sheltered persecuted Jews in his own home and also searched for safe hiding places for others. He provided them with food, medicines, newspapers and other essentials, including money.

Kordowski was helped by Stanisław Szeleźniak (1887-1943) who, before the War, was the Kurów Wójt (Town Administrator). Over two weeks, he took care of both fugitives and looked after their possessions which had been pledged to a Pole, thanks to which they obtained living essentials. From February to April 1943, the Chanesmans hid, together with the three-member Garberman family, in a bunker on a  farm belonging to Jan Molenda (1896-1967) in the village of Podbórz. Later, they hid in a bunker on the farm of Bronisława (1905-1974) and Władysław Wójcików (1903-1987) in the village of Krupa, From there, in June 1943, they returned to Stanisław Szeleźniak due to the intensification of operations by the Germans looking for Jews in hiding.

After a few months' wandering, they finally awaited liberation in a bunker under a pile of straw on the farm of  Jan Pajórek (1906-1976), a resident of Kurów.

After the War, the Chanesmans emigrated to Germany, from where they left for New Zealand. They described their story of survival in a book published in 1955 in Tel Aviv. The book, dedicated to the Jewish residents of Kurów is entitled Yizkor - Im Memory of our Hometown Kurów.

The presentation of the title of Righteous Among the Nations was made possible thanks to the involvement of Prof. Antoni Sułek fo the Warsaw University. During the ceremony, a letter was read from survivors Nathan and Alan Chanesman. The medal and certificate were accepted by the RIghteous' family - Barbara Czajkowska and Helena Marczak-Jaśkiewicz, Halina Lalak and Ewa Bogusz, Zbigniew Pajórek, Maria Waszczuk, Marta Antoniuk and Anna Mieszkowska, Zbigniew Muszczak and Halina Kawalec. Read more on our website.

Information regarding the procedure of bestowing the State of Israel's highest civil honour, the title of RIghteous Among the Nations, by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, can be found on our website: Yad Vashem Criteria .