The Szczepaniak Family

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A Crime in Trębaczew. The Story of the Szczepaniak Family

On 11th December 1943, in Trębaczew (Rawski District), German police and Polish “Blue Police executed Poles who, during the Holocaust, had helped Jews. The Szczepaniak brothers, Antoni, Stanisław and Władysław, together with Jan Domeradzki were murdered. They were members of the Gwardia Ludowa (People’s Guard), an armed division of the Polish Workers Party.


“I heard shots coming from the direction of Trębaczew. I went out behind the barn and saw that […] a man was running across the field”, Jan Chylak, a resident of Gogolin, reported. “When he reached me, I saw that it was Stanisław Szczepaniak. He said that the German police had come for him because he was hiding a Jew. […] At that time, I noticed, that a policeman on horseback came riding, from the forest towards Szczuki. chasing after Szczepaniak. When Szczepaniak noticed him, he changed direction and fled […]. I then went up into the attic to see better what would happen next.”

The Szczepaniak Family of Trębaczew

The brothers Antoni (1901–1943), Stanisław (1896–1943) and Władysław (1906–1943) Szczepaniak, the sons of Ludwik and Aniela née Michalak, lived in Trębaczew (Rawski District) – a village of a dozen or so families lying within the Roman Catholic parish of Lubania.

The Szczepaniak family had been associated with the Trębaczew region from, at least, the 18th century. The closest urban centre for Trębaczew residents lay in Nowe Miasto nad Pilicą to the south and, further to the north, Rawa Mazowiecka. Before World War II, both cities were inhabited by many Jews. 

From 1936, the couple Antoni Szczepaniak and Marianna née Domeradzka ran their own farm on the edge of Trębaczew and raised their young children Henryk, Jerzy and Zofia.  Antoni’s younger brother, the batchelor Władysław, also lived in their two-room timber home. After moving from Warsaw in December 1940, his older brother Stanisław, with his wife Zofia and their teenage children Marianna, Stanisław and Wacław, also lived nearby.

Antoni’s neighbours also included his brothers-in-law, Jan and Józef Domeradzki, together with their families.

The Partisans. Activity within the Gwardia Ludowa

A pine and oak forest lay to the north of the Szczepaniak homes. During the years of German occupation, partisans from the communist Gwardia Ludowa, from Józef Rogulski’s (pseud. "Wilk”) detachment, were periodically stationed there. A member of the armed formation of the Polish Workers’ Party (PPR), was Roman Masny: 

“In the middle of July 1942, following the orders we had received, we went with ‘Wysocki’ to the railway station at Brzostowiec near Nowe Miasto [nad Pilicą – ed.]. ‘Owijacz’, ‘Olek" and ‘Janek’ were waiting there for us. They led us to a barn in one of the Szczepaniak brothers’ buildings in the Trębaczew settlement. Hilary Chełchowski (‘Długi Janek’) took an oath from us and declared that, from now on, we were a partisan unit of the Gwardia Ludowa.”

Masny especially recalled meeting a representative of the PPR leadership which took place around 20th July 1942:

“[…] In the [Szczepaniaks’] barn, in the darkness, he spoke very eloquently and with great faith in the correctness of the matter. Never before, or since, have I heard a speech that would make such an impression on me […]. I felt a surge of new energy and the will to fight for the liberation of my homeland.”

The Szczepaniak brothers and Jan Domeradzki belonged to the Gwardia Ludowa, at least, since the summer of 1942 and their farm served as a secret contact point. It would soon also become a place for the hiding of Jews during the Holocaust.

The Tailor of Nowe Miasto nad Pilicą

After being involved with the activities of the GL, the Szczepaniak brothers and Jan Domeradzki extended help to a three-member Jewish family from Nowe Miasto nad Pilicą. The tailor, in his forties, with his wife and young daughter, had been in hiding on the Aryan side since the autumn of 1942, when the Germans had liquidated the Nowe Miasto ghetto. They had found refuge in the attic of Stanisław’s new home.

After several months, on 11th December 1943, probably as the result of being denounced by neighbours, for hiding Jews, Antoni, Stanisław and Władysław Szczepaniak, together with Jan Domeradzki, were shot by the German police and the Polish “Blue” Police (the General-Government Polish Police).

The death penalty was not applied to their wives and children. During the search which followed, the father of the Jewish family also perished, but his wife and daughter managed to escape.

“I Remember the Exact Date” – the Crime

We learn about the details of the crime in Trębaczew from the accounts of seven witnesses who, in 1969–1971, testified before the Central Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland.

This commission had endeavoured to establish the identities of the German perpetrators of the execution during the course of an investigation initiated in September 1945, under the “August Decree” (The Decree, dated 31st August 1944, relates to the punishment of fascist-Nazi criminals guilty of murder and the ill-treatment of civilians and prisoners-of-war. It also affected traitors to the Polish nation).

Below are selected excerpts from the testimonies (original spellings, additions from the editors):

Józef Domeradzki (Antoni Szczepaniak’s brother-in-law): 

“On 11th December 1943, at around 7:00am, someone knocked on the door. My wife [Zofia] opened the door and a policeman, not known to me, came inside. Later, people said that he was the policeman Jarecki from Nowe Miasto [nad Pilicą]. A German policeman followed him inside. In one hand, he held a torch and, in the other, a pistol. In Polish, the German asked who lives there. I replied that Józef Domeradzki lives here. He then asked me where the Szczepaniak family lived and, when I told him, he went to the Szczepaniak home together with the [Polish] policemen”. 

“I stood up, got dressed and went into the yard. I saw that the policeman, Siepczyński, was leading my brother, Jan Domeradzki, to the Szczepaniak buildings. I went into my own cowshed and peered through the door […] the dogs began barking and the German policeman shot [them] with a machine gun.” 

“I returned home and my wife told me to leave so that the Germans wouldn’t come back looking for me. I took a barrel and went to the distillery in Trębaczew and I stayed there for two hours. I learned from other people [that] the German police had gone to get Stanisław Szczepaniak and, through the door, shouted to ‘surrender the Jew!’ […]”. 

Marianna Maciejewska (Stanisław Szczepaniak’s daughter): 

“[…] I remember the exact date. I looked out the window of our apartment and saw four armed men. I don’t know if they were in uniform because they were wearing grey coats”.

“At one point, one of these men entered the apartment and, turning to my father [Stanisław], asked, ‘Where do you have the Jews?!’. Because my father replied that he wasn’t hiding Jews, that individual began shooting his machine-gun into the attic. That was where the jewish family was actually hiding […].”

“During the shooting, my father and the jews managed to escape […]”.

Jan Chylak (a Gogolin villager): 

“[…] I heard shots coming from the direction of Trębaczew. I left the barn and saw that […] someone was running across the field. When he reached me, I saw that it was Stanisław Szczepaniak. He said that the German police had come for him because he had been hiding Jews. He was wearing only a sweater. So I gave him a sheepskin coat and Szczepaniak ran off towards the village of Szczuki. […] At that time, I noticed that a policeman on horseback approached Szczepaniak, from the forest, from the direction of Szczuki. When Szczepaniak noticed this, he changed direction and fled towards the village of Celinów. I then went into the attic in order to get a better view of what was happening”. 

“The policeman, whom I later recognised as Jarecki from the police-station in Nowe Miasto, [from Julian whom he met along the way] took a stick and began urging the horse to run faster. He was riding bareback. When he was around a hundred metres from the escapee, he fired his rifle  and Szczepaniak fell into the snow. Jarecki reached him and, for a few minutes, they talked. I could hear them talking but couldn’t make out the words. Jarecki then fired a second shot and killed Stanisław Szczepaniak.” 

“Jarecki left the dead man in the field, came to Julian Więcek’s farm and ordered that the body be taken to Trębaczew. He then left alone. When Więcek returned with the corpse, I then searched my sheepskin coat which Szczepaniak was wearing, so as to avoid leaving any trace of his documents […]”.

Wacław Szczepaniak (Stanisław’s son): 

“[…] After my father’s escape, I left home and went to my uncle Antoni Szczepaniak, to let him know what had happened. When I went in, there was a blue policeman there. He was the owner of the mill in Mogielnica. I don’t remember his name - as far as I remember, his name was Jabłoński”. 

“As soon as I walked in, he grabbed me and pushed me into an empty room […]. My sister Marianna and a woman, who had helped her father on the farm […], were already in this room. Her name was Helena.” 

“After some time, we heard that German police had come to my uncle’s home. […] I saw that one of them had a list and began reading out first names and surnames – mine, my sister’s and that of this woman. He then decared that we were free to go […]”. 

Marianna Szczepaniak née Domeradzka (Antoni’s wife): 

“[…] The German police forced me out of the apartment, while my husband [Antoni] and children [Henryk, Jerzy and Zofia] remained inside. When they forced me out, I ran barefoot to my sister-in-law Anna Domeradzka, now Wrona […]”.

Wacław Szczepaniak (Stanisława’s Son): 

“[…] When I was leaving the yard, I noticed that the German police were leading out Jan Domeradzki, Antoni Szczepaniak and Władysław Szczepaniak. […] I saw how these three were led out next to the well. Later, they were ordered to go in the direction of the farm buildings, so that they stood with their backs to the barn, facing the home. From there, they were taken out and stood up against a wall of the home [...].”

“After a while, I heard one shot and, after about two minutes, three further shots. Shortly after these shots, the German police left, leaving the corpses behind […]”. 

Marianna Szczepaniak née Domeradzka (Antoni’s wife): 

“[After returning home], I began lamenting in the yard. A [navy-blue] policeman told me that it was not him, but a German policeman who had shot them […].”

Wacław Szczepaniak (Stanisław’s son): 

“[…] They were buried in the cemetery in Lubani, in one common grave. Let me mention that, when I returned home after the executions, the Jewish woman and her child had gone. […] Apart from the shooting of my family members, I don’t know of any other similar incidents that may have been committed by the police from Nowe Miasto [nad Pilicą] or Mogielnica […]”.

Jan Chylak (a Gogolin villager): 

“[…] I heard that the policeman, Jarecki, was [later] killed by the partisans in the street in Nowe Miasto [nad Pilicą].”

Teresa Walczak née Szczepaniak (a relative): 

“[…] Before the murder, I never heard anyone say that the Szczepaniak family was hiding Jews [...].”

Wacław Szczepaniak (Stanisław’s son): 

“[…] Apart from my father’s family from the village, only K****** knew about the hiding of Jews. I don’t remember his first name. He was Jan Domeradzki’s neighbour. When the German police came, they first stopped at K******’s [home].”

* * *

Sources of quoted accountsi: 

  • Akta dot. ukrywania przez Antoniego Szczepaniaka i jego rodzinę rodziny żydowskiej we wsi Trębaczew, pow. Rawa Mazowiecka w l. 1942–1943, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej – Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, File No.: BU392/1910;
  • Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen zur Aufklärung nationalsozialistischer Verbrechen in Ludwigsburg (Deutschland), File No.: B162/15185 (translation: M.Sz.).

Postscipts

Thirty years leter, the widow Marianna Szczepaniak née Domeradzka (1904–1981) was located by the two Jewish women who were rescued from the Holocaust by her husband, brothers-in-law and brother. At the end of the 1970’s, they met in Warsaw, where the women lived following the War (information obtained in April 2017 in an interview with Ewa Szczepaniak, the wife of Henryk Szczepaniak who took part in this meeting together with her husband and mother-in-law. The identity of the woman and the circumstances of their rescue from the Holocaust are unknown today).

At that time, the Central Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland had completed its investigation into the crime in Trębaczew. In 1973, it was declared that the German policemen, serving in Nowe Miasto as the potential perpetrators of the execution.

In documents of the PRL Ministry of Justice, names stated include Schmidt, Rudolf Nisfalt, Rudolf Serbin (or Zerbin), Jeske, Brejer, Hoffmann and Makowski. However, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, in Damstadt, failed to determine their place of residence [at that time]. They have never been placed on trial.

The author thanks Dr. Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat and Anna Styczyńska-Marciniak for their help in obtaining source material. The author also thanks Klara Jackl for her careful reading of the text and for her editorial comments.

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