Story of rescue

enlarge map

A Crime in Stary Ciepielów and Rekówka - the Story of the Kowalski, Obuchiewicz, Skoczylas and Kosior Families

One of the largest executions carried out by the Germans, during the occupation, on Poles for helping Jews, took place on 6th December 1942 in Stary Ciepielów and in Rekówka. The Polish families and the Jews they were hiding - thirty four people in all - were brutally murdered.


The People of Ciepielów Before World War II

During the occupation, Adam and Bronisława Kowalski, together with their children (Jan, Janina, Zofia, Stefan, Henryk and Tadeusz) lived in the village of Ciepielów Stary (Mazowieckie Province). Ciepielów was the seat of the local borough. It is estimated that, before the War, it was comprised of 200 homes. At that time, Jews made up almost half of the local population (of almost 1,000 village residents in the 1930's, about 480 were Jews). They were mainly traders and small craftsmen. Overall, they were on good terms with their Polish neighbours although, at various times, mainly in the 1930's, there were some antisemitic incidents, e.g. Poles calling for a boycott of Jewish shops. Politically, the District of Iłża, which took in Ciepielów, was dominated by the peasant movement. The nationalist grouping, with antisemitic slogans in its programs, did not have any significant support here.

Adam Kowalski worked in the fields. He was well-known in the village for his honesty and dilligence. His wife looked after the home and cared for the children.

Living near the Kowalski farm were Adam's sister, Helena, together with her husband Piotr Obuchiewicz and their four children (Władysława, Zofia, Janina and their newborn son). The Kosior family also lived in the same village - Katarzyna and Władysław and their chidlren (Aleksander, Tadeusz, Władysław, Mieczysław, Irena and Adam).

Both families were friendly with a family in the nearby village of Rekówka: Zofia (Marianną) and Stanisław and their children (Jan, Mieczysław, Marian andi Teresa) and their relatives, the Skoczylas family - Piotr and his children (Jan, Józef, Leokadia and Bronisława).

Help Given to Ghetto Fugitives

In the spring of 1941, the Germans began establishing ghettos in the region, creating one of the largest ghettos in Radom. In December of that year, the local administrator, Hans Zettelmeyer, issued an order which decreed districts for Jews. These included Iłża, Starachowice and also Ciepielów. In the summer and autumn of 1942, as part of "Operation Reinhardt", began liquidating the region's ghettos. Some Jews managed to escape, some took refuge in the forests. In Ciepielów and the surrounding area, several Polish families came to their aid. Some brought food to those in hiding. Others took them into their homes and provided them with shelter in their farm buildings.

Adam and Bronisława Kowalski took in Elka Cukier and Berek Pinchas (Pinechas), the son of a tailor. Among those helped by Piotr and Helena Obuchiewicz were the owners of a dyeworks in Ciepielów (who soon thereafter returned to the forest). The Kosior family from Ciepielów hid two Jews whose names are unknown. Two Jews from Ciepielów and then another four Jews hid with the Kosior and Skoczylas families in Rekówka.

The German Roundup on Polish Farms in Ciepielów

Most probably as the result of denunciation, in the early morning of 6th December 1942, the Kowalski, Obuchiewicz and Kosior farms in Ciepielów were surrounded by German police from the station in Górki Ciepielowski. The roundup lasted for several hours.

Bronisława Kowalska pleaded for the lives of her children, but the officers agreed to release only one. Twelve-year-old Zosia went to neighbours, but eventually returned home. The only family member not there at the time was the eldest son Jan. The boy was studying tailoring and began work at dawn.

It is unclear as to whether the search of the Kowalski and Obuchiewicz properties revealed any evidence of their helping Jews. It is known that at the Kosior property, they found books in Hebrew and Yiddish, and also found two men in hiding.

Around noon, the Germans still allowed Adam Kowalski to feed his animals.

Families Brutally Murdered and Burned in a Barn

The Germans killed the Kosior family in the early afternoon. They were shot in the barn, together with the two Jews who they were hiding. They later burned the farm. That was the signal for the other officers to carry out further pacification operations.

The Germans took the Kowalski family to the Obuchiewicz home. Maria (nee Mirowska) Bielecka, Adams's niece, recalled their last moment:

They took the whole family to the Obuchiewicz home. Uncle Adam walked at the front, holding the hands of his boys, Heniek and Stefan, as if he was just going for a walk with them. Only, his head had dropped towards the ground and he dragged his feet along helplessly. Behind him, Aunt Helena hugged tiny Tadek in her arms, with Janek and Zofia following their mother.

Members of the execution squad formed a cordon around the family.

Auntie turned her head in the direction of our windows. She probably wanted to say goodbye to us through her facial expression. But a German hit her in the neck with his rifle butt with a force which almost pushed her face into the snow. At the door of the Obuchiewicz cottage, she tore Tadek away form her breast as if to give him to the Germans. She was probably begging for mercy for the baby. A German pushed her so hard that she bounced off the door frame and fell a distance outside of the cottage. The closed the door and used wire to immobilise the door-handle.

Maria Bielecka also said that both families were burned alive. Other testimonies indicate that they were shot in front of the building and their bodies were thrown inside. The door was closed and the building was set alight. Most probably, the Germans did not murder the children straight away. Janina, the Kowalskis' daughter, managed to get out of the burning building. However, she was shot while trying to escape and her body was thrown back inside.

The remains of those murdered were buried the next day.

Janek Kowalski, after hearing of the tragedy that befell his family, attempted suicide. He was saved and received supports fro family and neighbour. However, he had to remain in hiding until the end of the War.

More Murders in Rekówka

Soon after, German officers from the Ciepielów police station surrounded the Skoczylas and Kosior homes in Rekówka. Stanisław and Zofia Kosior, with their chidlren and  Mirosława Kiścińska (Piotr Skoczylas' mother-in-law) and their grandchild Leokadia Skoczylas, were there at the time. Also present was Leokadia's friend, Henryka Kordula. Despite intervention by the family and the local mayor, the Germans did not allow her to return to her home.

The search of the Kosior home revealed Yiddish-language books, whic was most probably the reason behind their execution.

The bodies of those murdered were burned in the barn. On the following day, the remains were buried nearby in a pit.

Three of Piotr Skoczylas' children - Jan, Józef and Bronisława - avoided death. He, himself, was brought by the Germans from Tymienica and then murdered.

The Exhumation of the Victim's Bodies After the War

After the War, the remains of the thirty four people, murdered on 6th December 1942, were exhumed and transferred to a mass grave of victims of German terror in Stary Ciepielów. This was one of the largest executions carried out by the Germans, during the occupation, on Poles for helping Jews.


"The Story of the Kowalski Family” »

Read reviews of the film, directed by Arkadiusz Golębiowski and Maciej Pawlicki, about the crimes committed in Ciepielów.


The Ulm, Kowalski and Barank families on Polish coins »

Three families, who perished for helping Jews, were commemorated by the National Bank of Poland in the numismatic series "Poles Helping Jews”.


 

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej w Kielcach, OKBZH, 53/299
  • Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, IPN BU, 392/1410
  • Bartoszewski Władysław, Lewinówna Zofia, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Warszawa 2007
    This publication consists of 3 parts: monographic outline of the issue of aid given to the Jews; collection of German and Polish documents concerning the histories of Jews and the aid given to them; collection of the post-war reports created by Poles and Jews about the aid.
  • Bielawski Wacław, Zbrodnie na Polakach dokonane przez hitlerowców za pomoc udzielaną Żydom, Warszawa 1987
  • Datner Szymon, Las Sprawiedliwych. Karta z dziejów ratownictwa Żydów w okupowanej Polsce, Warszawa 1968

    "The purpose of this publication: to illustrate the attitude of the Polish nation towards the tragedy of the decimated Jewish people" - the author wrote in the introduction. He presented, among other things, the themes and possibilities of saving Jews and human attitudes in the face of the Holocaust. At the end there is a list of names of Poles murdered for rescuing Jews.

  • Juszkiewicz Ryszard red., Those who Helped. Polish Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, Warszawa 1997
    Publication of the Committee for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation and the Polish Society of the Righteous Among the Nations; contains a list of the Polish Rescuers of Jews and a list of the Polish Righteous, of December 31, 1996. In 1997, the third volume was published; previous volumes contain the same content, but include data which was current in the previous years.
  • Fajkowski J., Religa J., Zbrodnie hitlerowskie na wsi polskiej 1939‒1945, Warszawa 1981
  • Młynarczyk J.A., Piątkowski S., Cena poświęcenia. Zbrodnie na Polakach za pomoc udzielaną Żydom w rejonie Ciepielowa, Kraków 2007
  • Red. A. Namysło, „Kto w takich czasach Żydów przechowuje?...”. Polacy niosący pomoc ludności żydowskiej w okresie okupacji niemieckiej, Warszawa 2009