The Kedra Family

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More About the Kędra Family

Michalina and Wojciech Kędra lived in Humniska, a village in the Podkarpackie Province, sixty kilometres from Rzeszów. They were farmers. Wojciech also worked as a borer, drilling for oil. They had four children - Helena, Mariana, Józefa and Zofia.

Wojciech died in July 1939 of tuberculosis, the result of undiagnosed pneumonia. Michalina then became involved with another man.

The Jews

There was a Jewish family in Humniska – Abraham and Sabina Marków, with their two daughters, Anka (also called Hańcią) and Minka. The Marków family ran a grocery store at which the Kędrów family were regular customers.

“We would buy there on credit. Then, monthly, when dad was alive, when he got his salary, the amounts in a notebook would be added up and the bills would be paid”. Helena does not recall any other Jews in the village. She only remembers Szmula, most probably another shopkeeper or a tinsmith who repaired saucepans.

She describes the Marków family as good, kind people. They were religious, kept kosher and observed the ban on working on Shabbat, when Helena would then come to them to light the kitchen stove. Amongst themselves, they spoke Yiddish, but they also spoke a very good Polish.

Helena knew the Marków daughters not just from the store. She went to school with Minka, who was a year older. Minka was the only Jew at the school and Helena recalls that whenever the priest came to teach religion, she would go out. Hańcia, the older Marków daughter, worked in the store and had an admirer, Pinkas Rottenberg, who came shopping in a horse-drawn carriage.

The War

Following the outbreak of war, Humniska’s Jews were, for a time, left where they were. Later, the Germans established a ghetto in nearby Rymanów and it was there that Jews from the surrounding districts were brought – including those from Humniska (see: Maria Mikoś).

The Marków family fled before they could be deported and found shelter with a friend, Józef Dąbrowiecki, who hid them for about two months. However, repeated searches by the Gestapo meant that they had to change hiding places. Through Józef, they found their way to Michalina Kędra.

In the report for Yad Vashem, Mina Zuckerman writes that both Polish families did not know of each other, but the Marków family, for a certain time, hid themselves with both – when the hiding place at the Mikoś family became too tight for four people. When the Dąbrowiecki hiding became too dangerous, the entire family hid with Michalina.

Help

According to Maria Mikoś, the move to the Kędra family arranged earlier with Helena’s stepfather. Helena, however, recalls that Hańcia and Minka simply turned up one day at the Kędra home, asking for help (She does not remember Abraham or Sabina coming):

“Someone knocks at the door. ‘Who is it?’ , ‘Please open the door and let us in’, ‘Who is it?’, ‘Friends.’ At that, mum opens the door. She looks – it’s Hańcia and Minka (...) ‘We’ve come with a request’ (…) ‘Our parents ask if you can take us into your home’, ‘What do you mean, where are you living now?’, ‘We stay where we can. We were in Sanoczek, but we had to flee from there. Now we’re in Grabownice’, (...) Mum says that she is scared, because she already has a tenant”.

In fact, Michalina already had other tenants - the Ukrainian Walczycki family. Their presence increased the risk involved with hiding Jews. Nevertheless, Michalina decided to take in the Marków family.

At first, she put them in the larder, using straw to protect them from the cold. In winter, she took them hot food and a bucket with burning embers to keep them warm. In summer, she moved all four into the small attic of the stable. Apart from arranging space for them in the attic, Michalina’s husband created another hiding place for them – he separated a very narrow space of the attic with a partition wall, thereby creating an additional room. The Marków family was to hide there during searches or in times of particular threat.

“There was a room there and that’s where they lived. It had a large, normal window. There was a bed and the wall was boarded, whitewashed and covered with earth. A kilim carpet was hung above the bed. (…). If anyone knocked at the door, they would sit in that cubbyhole”.

They were in hiding, with nothing to occupy them within a confined space. Despite that, there were no quarrels or arguments amongst them. They also tried not to violate the laws of Kashrut and refrained from eating pork.

To cover their support, the Marków family paid 100 złoty per person. They had hidden the money with Kwiatkowski, a Pole who owned a flour mill and timber mill in Humniska. Mina Zuckerman writes that he was not particularly friendly towards Jews, but he liked Marek. The money was entrusted to him and he paid it out without asking any questions.

Despite that, maintaining ten people under wartime conditions was difficult. Helena recalls that “the Germans took away the cereal crops.They took away the cow, so there was no meat. As potatoes were dug up, they took them away also. There was nothing to eat. So mum took a sack and went around the villages and brought back cereal on her shoulders”.

Michalina and Helena travelled around trading. Michalina went as far as Lwów and Helena to Kraków. They mainly sold food and vodka. Sometimes they sold sweaters which Hancia had knitted in her hiding place. Michalina brought her used clothes which Hańcia unravelled to obtain the wool with which to make something new.

During one of her trips to Kraków, Helena saw Oskar Schindler at the Bieżanów labour camp. She went to the camp in order to deliver a letter from Hańcia to her fiancé Pinkas. In Bieżanów, she managed to sell all the food she had brought to the camp cook.

Threats

The Kędras’ tenants had become friendly with Ukrainian policemen from the station between Humniska and Grabownice, and would often invite them, meaning to the Kędra home. Michalina and Helena treated the guests politely. They were often there while on duty, especially at times of bad weather.

These visits were, at the same time, threatening and protective – who would suspect the presence of Jews in the home visited so frequently by the police? The neighbours rather gossiped about Ukrainians coming to Helena. The girl was worried that she would pay with her reputation for the safety of those in the attic.

One day, there was almost a slip-up. Michalina was celebrating her name day. She had baked little cakes, expecting the sisters to visit her. Instead, Polish police turned up with a work order for Helena. They surrounded the house to prevent anyone escaping. They shone a light through the windows and ordered the door to be opened.

Hearing all the confusion, the Markóws rushed to their hiding place. The noise they caused alerted the policemen and they decided to conduct a search. Michalina, for as long as she could, delayed leading them to the stable. She blamed the noise on the cat rummaging around in the stable. In a fortunate quirk of fate, a tomcat appeared, thereby providing Michalina’s explanation with some credibility.

The policemen found the attic empty. Michalina explained that it was used as sleepover accommodation for young people who visited and who would often stay overnight. To this day, Helena wonders why the presence of a Jewish prayer shawl did not alert the policeman. Satisfied by their search, they were served cake and vodka and remained at the Kędra residence until morning, at which time they left and allowed Helena to remain at home.

After the War

All four members of the Marków family survived the War. As soon as the Germans began to retreat, they emerged from hiding. They did not wish to return to their home in Humniska for fear of being assaulted. They gave it to the mine for use as a day room. They themselves then lived in Brzozów, in a building containing apartments which the authorities at the time had designated for Jews who had survived.

After a time, they asked Helena to help them get to Sanok. They were already planning to leave Poland and even proposed that Helena go with them. However, she did not want to leave her mother. The Marków family travelled to Budapest and ultimately settled in the United States. Hańcia married Pinkas Rottenberg, her pre-War fiancé. Minka married Abraham Zuckerman, a Jew from Kraków.

The Marków and Zuckerman families remained in contact with the Kędra family. Minka and Abraham returned to Humniska, looked at what remained of the hiding place, took photographs and reminisced. Helena visited them several times in the United States. During one of her visits, the Zuckerman family invited Oskar Schindler to their home. It was then that Helena could meet the man personally, the man whom she had seen during the War at the Bieżanów labour camp.

During another visit, Helena discovered that, as the result of testimony provided by the Zuckermans, she had been awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Several years previously, that title had already been awarded to her mother, Michalina. They wanted to go to Israel for the presentation ceremony and to take Helena with them. However, at that time, this was not possible. With special permission from the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy (ZboWiD), Helena’s husband accepted the award in Warsaw.

For a long time, Helena’s did not talk about the details of her wartime experiences. She was happy that she was able to help at that time. “It’s good that they survived. It was a service to God, because they are human beings”. In post-War Poland, the bravery of both these women was not a reason for distinction. In recent years, the story of these Righteous women has been registered by Kraków’s Galicia Museum.

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Bibliography

  • Gospodarczyk Hanna, Interview with Helena Bocoń, 1.05.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009