“This ceremony is the crowning moment of my rescue”

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher 25 August 2018
In Warsaw, on 23rd August at the Jewish Historical Institute, a ceremony was held during which the title of Righteous Among the Nations was bestowed upon Janina Garbień and, posthumously, upon her mother Kazimiera Jasik and sisters Maria Milasiewicz and Helena Krawczuk-Demczuk. The medals and certificates were presented by Holocaust Survivor Larissa Cain, the Jew whom they saved.

Helena remembered me. She told me about her children and grandchildren. And, one day, her grandson Mariusz asked her about my name – which she, of course, remembered. She knew that I had emigrated to France. As my book could be found on the Internet, Mariusz contacted my publisher and, in that way, obtained my email address. Not only did we establish mail contact, but he brought his grandmother and relatives from Jelenia Góra to Paris […] A year later, we went to Jelenia Góra. From that time, we've been visiting Poland and they've been visiting Paris. I have found a new family – Holocaust Survivor, Larissa Cain.

Participants at the ceremony held at the Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) included the Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari, ŻIH Director Prof. Paweł Śpiewak, representatives of the Warsaw Jewish Community Council, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, the Polish Associationof the Righteous Among the Nations and other community and cultural organisations.

– I never thought that I would meet Larysia again. […] I want to say that, if the Jasik family managed to do anything good during the Holocaust, an act of humanity, then I am very happy, said Janina Garbień, honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, who had come to the ceremony with her family.

She recalled that she was brought by her uncle. I just happened not to be at home at that time. My sisters told me about it. My sister sewed her a dress. It was funny, because there was no material, so that she had to cut up a curtain and use that. Unfortunately, Larysia couldn't stay with us for too long, because the ghetto wall crossed our yard and there were regular patrols. So that it was not for long, but we became very good friends. From the parish, my sister obtained a certificate for her under the name "Marysia Kozłowska". Of course, we were all under threat of death but, to us, it was more important to save the child's life – she said.

Larissa Sztorchan, now Cain, was born in 1932 in Sosnowiec. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a nurse. Two years later, the family moved to Warsaw where they established a small sweets shop. In 1940, they found themselves inside the Warsaw ghetto.

In September 1942, during the main Warsaw ghetto liquidation operation, Larissa's mother was then probably transported to the death camp in Treblinka, where she perished. From that time, the little girl, together with her father, went into hiding. Thanks to her uncle, a pre-war Communist activist and active during the War as “Aleksander Pilicki”, Larissa was extracted from the ghetto in December 1942.

To begin with, she hid with a Polish family who, after a few days, passed her on to another family. Again, thanks to her uncle's help and that of a party colleague Mieczysław Jasik, she ended up in the home of Kazimiera Jasik (1889–1981), Mieczysław's mother, who lived in Muranów with her daughters Maria (born 1914), Janina (born 1925) and Helena (1927–2015).

To ensure her safety, Larissa could not leave the home and, when guests came to the Jasik home, she was introduced as a sick cousin from Siedlce. Soon after, with the help of Father Marcel Godlewski from All Saints church in Grzybowski Square, she obtained a false birth certificate.

In February 1943, Larissa's uncle too her to another place and then to another where she was subjected to much unpleasantness. To this day, she warmly remembers the Jasik family very well. She stressed that during my wartime stay with them, Helena, of the three sisters, was the youngest and her mother told her to treat me as her younger sister. I remember how she played with me and sewed clothes for me. I am amazed that she didn't forget my stay with her family, that small Polish girl of Jewish origin and who was therefore condemned to death. That child survived the War and persecution thanks to her family. Even though I couldn't stay with them for long, I felt the best when I was with the Jasik family.

After the War, Larissa found herself in a Jewish orphanage in Otwock. Her father and uncle had perished but, soon, she was found by her mother's sister and, together, they left for France. 

Sisty years after the war, Mariusz Zapotocki, Helena's grandson, made contact with Larissa. Shortly after, in 2009, he came to Paris with his family. Larissa, with her family, then visited thyem in Jelena Góra. 

On 23rd August 2018, Kazimiera Jasik and her daughters, Maria Milasiewicz, Janina Garbień and Helena Krawczuk-Demczuk, were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. During the ceremony Larissa Cain said that this ceremony is the crowning moment of my rescue seventy five years ago.

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