Story of rescue

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“He was always regarded as an upright, good and noble person, a great Polish patriot”. The story of Józef Elsner

Józef Elsner was a construction entrepreneur. He lived in Kraków, at 27 Długa Street and there he ran the offices of his company, the “J. Elsner Limestone Plant”, located in Zabierzów. His first wife was Jewish. After the outbreak of war, he helped her and many others of Jewish descent. 

He provided help by hiring Jews in his construction plant. In accordance with German regulations, he arranged an Arbeitskarte for each of his employees. This was an official certificate which enabled Jews, living in the Kraków ghetto, to leave the enclosed district and work. These documents could protect them should they be caught in a round-up and protected them from deportation to an extermination camp. Only some of the people he employed were actually qualified to do the work.

Tadeusz Jeleński, an engineer and a pre-War friend of Eisner's, stated the following at his post-war trial: “I consider him to be a man who, during the occupation, used the situation, in a courageous manner, to protect his employees and fellow Polish citizens from harassment by the German authorities”.

Edmund Kusmer was one of those Jews employed in the enterprise. He would come to the factory from the Kraków ghetto. He died during the liquidation of that district in March 1943, His wife Laura and daughter went to the German camp in Płaszów, where Elsner provided them with medicines and other material help. 

Elsner especially cared for his first wife, whom he hid in his apartment until the end of the occupation. Paulina Taubenschlag, one of the Jews from Kraków rescued from the Holocaust, recalled:

He was always regarded as an upright, good and noble person, a great Polish patriot. During the occupation, he spared no resources to help people persecuted by the Nazis. To the last moment, he protected his wife from the Gestapo whom, as a Jew, they wanted to kill. Everyone knew how Elsner fought in defence of of her life.

Even though they had not known each all that well, he also helped the son of Paulina Taubenschlag. He was in hiding in Kraków. “In Elsner, I have found not only a friend, but also a father”, Józef wrote in one of his letters to his mother.

Józef also helped others in hiding on the “Aryan side” in Kraków – Edward Frydlender and his daughter Adela Ehrlich who, for a short time, lived in his home. He helped Jews find hiding-places, provided them with food and stored property which was entrusted to him (e.g. the furniture of those who had been deported from Kraków in 1941 and valuables belinging to Sydonia Freundlich), who returned after the end of the occupation.

After the War, Elsner, as a factory owner, was suspected of collaborating with the Germans and was tried under the “August Decree” (a decree, dated 31st August 1944, regardiung the punishment of fascist Nazi criminals who were guilty of murder and for traitors to the Polish nation). Despite the many testimonies given in his defence by people whom he had helped – both Poles and Jews, he was not acquitted. He died under torture in prison in 1951.

On 1st September 1992, Józef Elsner was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział Dokumentacji Odznaczeń Yad Vashem, Akta sprawy Józefa Elsnera, 349/24/967
  • Archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej, Kartoteka tzw. zniszczeniowa Wojewódzkiego Urzędu Spraw Wewnętrznych w Krakowie, 080/1
  • Grynberg Michał, Księga Sprawiedliwych, Warszawa 1993

    The lexicon includes the stories of Poles honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations in the years 1963-1989. The list of entries is preceded by a preface by Icchak Arad and Chaim CheferThe Righteous of the World.