The Plaksej Family

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More about the Płaksej family

Paulina Kisielewska was born in 1925 in Lvov. She lived there with her parents – Bronislawa and Zachariasz Płaksej till the age of ten. In 1935 her parents moved to Kałusz, 70 km from Lvov, where her father got an accountant job in a salt mine.

Since then Paulina went to a boarding school run by nuns in Lvov. She only returned home during the school holiday, so she didn’t have friends in Kałusz. She also didn’t know friends of her parents, but she had always heard that among her father friends were many Jews before the WW II.

Two occupations: the Soviet and the German

In September 1939 [when the war started] Paulina didn’t go back to school to Lvov. She stayed in Kałusz with her parents. She says: “First, the region was seized by the Soviet Union and we were under their occupation. But when the war between The Soviet Union and Germany broke out and the Germans entered, we came under the German occupation. And then of course the first thing they did – they started killing the Jews”

Help

Mr. and Mrs. Płaksej could not stand the injustice done to Jewish people, who before the war were the half of Kałusz population. “My father was a very religious person and thought that every man, every neighbor as it is said in the Bible deserves to be saved. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Jew, a neighbor or just any other man….” (…) “Before the Germans closed the Jews in the ghetto, many of (Jewish) children had come over. We fed them, my mum made a soup, so they used to come every day” adds Paulina. The information about free soup got round the town and a lot of the Jews knew their address.

The Hidden

The Płaksej family hid a lot people and helped many to find a safe hiding place. They found out about a farmer from a nearby village who was hiding Jews in a shelter under his barn. Zachariasz transported there many Jews in need. During the period of 18 months Zachariasz and Bronisława were in constant contact with the people they helped and delivered to them the most important things such as clothes, medicines and blankets to their hiding place.
Among the hidden Jews were: Dawid Kelman, Miriam Helfgot, Rózia Ungier and Szapiro family.

Dawid Kelman

Paulina Kisielewska recalls: “Dawid came to our flat when he was 10 year old. My father wanted to take him to the hiding place but there was a problem because Dawid wore sidelocks and my mum didn’t want to cut them off and he wanted to keep them too. So, on the one hand my mum didn’t want to cut his sidelocks but on the other hand, she was afraid that the Germans would recognize him as a Jew. So, she bandaged his head and only left holes for eyes, nose and lips. My father said that if anybody had asked about the boy he would have said that they were in their way to a hospital. And he drove him to the shelter. We haven’t heard from him after the war.”

Miriam Helfgot

Mr. and Mrs. Płaksej also helped Miriam Helfgot and her 2, 5 year old daughter Maja. In the beginning, when Mirian was in the ghetto, she contacted with them through a ghetto marshal. They provided her with necessary things.
The marshal knew a village woman named Katarzyna who agreed to take Maja. So, Zachariasz drove the girl to this woman.
When the ghetto liquidation begun in August 1942 Miriam ran away to Płaksej’s flat. She spent there a few weeks, mostly in their bedroom and hiding behind a wardrobe when they had visitors. It was quite uncomfortable and dangerous.

Zachariasz managed to get Aryan id for Miriam, so she could use the name Wesołowska. However, Kałusz was a small town, so she couldn’t move there freely as all inhabitants knew that she was a Jew. Therefore, she left for Lvov where she stayed with Bronisława’s sister. She pretended to be an Aryan for a year there and no one informed on her to the police. However, one day she was stopped by Germans during a round-up and sent to a force labor camp to Germany. But her real identity remained undiscovered.

When the war finished she went to the neighborhood of Kałusz to look for her daughter. Paulina Kisielewska recalls that the woman who took the girl wrote a letter to Miriam saying that the girl cried a lot after her mother. The woman didn’t know how to calm the baby. And the neighbors advised her to take the girl to the woods nearby. But she didn’t dare (…) she didn’t do it. Somehow, she managed to make the girl quiet…. (…) But when the real mother [Miriam] came for her daughter [after the war], there again was a problem, because the girl begun to cry << she’s not my mother, it’s her who is my mother>> [pointing the village woman]. So again, there was a huge problem but Miriam finally explained everything to her and she recognized her as her real mother”.

Róża Ungier

The next person who was saved by Płaskej family was Róża Ungier neé Huchtsman. Nothing is known of the faith of her before the war. She spent short time at Płaskejs’. They helped her to move into the farmer’s barn where seventeen people were hidden.

The Szapiro family

The Szapiro’s couple met in Płaskej’s flat accidentally. First, it was Sara who escaped from the Kałusz ghetto and then she found her husband and son at Płaskej’s home.

Paulina remembers their story:” We had a kind of a tool shed where we kept hens and I fed them. Once when I went to feed them - I came in and saw a dirty Jewish woman on the ground who said to me <> I rushed home and told my parents about her. My mum and dad said to me << Don’t bring her here now. Take a bucket, water, clothes, let her wash and in the evening you’ll bring her in>> so, did I. The poor creature, she washed herself. She was covered with dirt because she had to escape through sewer pipes. And I was shocked when I saw her. So, she washed herself and in the evening I brought her home. Meantime, her husband with their 7 year old son, Imek, also escaped from the ghetto and came to us. And then I bring her in and they meet unexpectedly. Can you imagine how happy they were, they regained hope for life. I will never forget this view.”

Thanks to Zachariasz they joined the rest of Jews hiding in the barn.

After the war

After the war the Płaksejs were resettled to Krakow, where Paulina found a job as a clerk. It was there where Mirian found them. All the people saved by Płaksej family have emigrated.
Miriam went to Israel and she was in touch with Paulina until her death. She also helped to arrange a meeting between Paulina and Karl Szapiro. And it was her who applied for the medal of the Righteous among the Nations for Płaksejs family. Miriam died in 1998.

The Szapiro family emigrated from Poland to the US in 1948. Before they left they had visited the Płaksej family in Krakow. Since 1994 Paulina has been corresponding with Karl Szapiro– Imek who is a retired physician.

Both of them, Paulina and Karl – living on different continents- they often take part in meetings with young people and tell them their war stories.

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Bibliography

  • Kurek Agata, Interview with Paulina Kisielewska, 23.04.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009