Story of rescue

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"Quickly! Get the heck out of here!” - the Story of the Siwak Family

Mieczysław Siwak and his wife Anna (nee Dziedzic) lived in Bukowskie Góry not far from the village of Zmiennica (Podkarpackie Province). In the summer of 1942, they helped the Jewish Fischbein family from Krosno. They had escaped from the Rymanów ghetto.


The Fischbein Family Before the War

Ozjasz Fischbein and Fela (Fejga, Fania) Galpern met in Warsaw in the 1930's. Following their marriage, they ran a shop in Krośno (Podkarpacke Province) and, just before the War, they moved to nearby Iwonicz, where they opened the "Bristol Hotel". Their daughter, Dora, was born in 1936.

After the outbreak of war, the Germans sequestered the Fischbeins' hotel. The family then rented a room in the suburbs of Iwonicz. In June 1942, they were forced to move into the Rymanów ghetto. They packed their belongings into a dozen or so suitcases. Some were handed over to friends, others were left in the attic. 

Read more about the ghetto and the "Aryan side" »

The Fischbeins' escape from the Rymanów ghetto

In the beginning of August, rumours about deportations spread around the ghetto. The Siwak family's granddaughter, Teresa Czubska, wrwote,

Through the Labour Office in Krosno, Fela's mother-in-law organised work for them in Bzianka. On 10th August 1942, they arrived at the Bzianka estate.

When the Germans appeared on the estate, the Fischbeins fled into the forest.

After a year in hiding, Fela began maintaining a diary which, after the War, appeared in print. On that day, she recalls:

From a distance, I saw a wagon which carried two people from the estate. They said that the Gestapo had come for workers and, because we are registered as workers there, we have to leave.

The Fischbeins fled to Wisłok. They hid in the bushes near the river. After a few days, the estate boss's son brought Mieczysław Siwak to their hiding-place. He agreed to take the Fischbein family to his home, toi a forester's lodge in Bukowskie Góry. 

On 15th August 1942, in a torrent of rain, they arrived at their destination.

"In this hopeless situation, for us, it was a real miracle from heaven. Only the hand of God could help us.”

As Fela wrote,

The forester was a broad-shouldered peasant, with a good-natured face. He made a good impresssion. Such a simple soul. […] After going inside, he sat us down and looked at us. For the journey, he was paid 100 or maybe 200 zł. After our relocation, we immediately gave them gifts. I gave them a weaved basket, a new purse, two pairs of stockings, twp pairs  of children's tights, a shaving razor, various items of haberdashery and hankerchiefs. For the mother-in-law, an alarm clock a piece of marquis, etc.

Anna Siwak prepared a meal.

 We ate and drank our fill. […] We were so pleased, because we hadn't eaten anything warm in four days.

Hiding in the Siwak Family's Attic

Four cottages stood in a cleaaring in the dense forest. Their hosts had good neighbours, but the forester was still careful. "After breakfast, he requested that we go into the attic”. Despite the relatively safe location, the Siwaks were afraid that their young children, Józef and Bronisława, would not keep their secret. The Fischbeins spent a few days in a hut in the forest. 

In the following days, Fela noted:

This man has a good character and won't do anything to harm us. He does whatever he can to help. […] Yesterday, we gave him 500 zł. to change. He brought back the correct amount. […] He also brought food. My husband went to his mother's hut. I stayed with my child in ours. What was said there, I don't know. My husband returned with Mietek saying, "We have to go." He took us with him. He led us to an attic, but not in the home, but in a barn. […] I will never forget how happy we were then, "While it's warm, you can stay here."

At Mieczysław's instigation, the Fischbeins attempted to place Dora into an orphanage in Krosno. Anna dressed the little girl in a village style and Mietek took her with other children to town. It was not successful. The children returned with the forester. There had been a misunderstanding regarding Mieczysław's prior arrangements. 

The forester searched for another hiding-place. Meantime, he took them to another house in the neighbourhood:

Znikąd pomocy. Again, the three of us are sitting in an attic. In a nearby house, there is mother-in-law Jadwiga, younger sister-in-law Ewa with her son. […] At night, it was too cold to sleep. We put the child between us and lay down on either side, fully clothed. We did not undress at all. We ate dinner in the kitchen, leaving late at nigt at 11:00. Hunger is tormenting us.

In the following weeks, the distant relatives of the Fischbein family returned to the Krosno ghetto. 

Selling Poles a Gold Watch 

At the same time, the Fischbeins tried to make their own false documents. Mr Polański, the owner of the estate in Bzianka, helped them,:

He promised to help. He took photographs. For now, the harvest is full underway. They are working. Meanwhile, we lay there. They give us some food, we buy the rest. We don't pay with money only with items that have cost us more in value. […] Sometimes, I remember the cold potatioes and this child eagerly eaats them or cold broth. The reason for the hunger was that there was a harvest and they didn't have time to cook or to buy food for us. 

11th September 1942:

I went to get the documents from Polański, but the man who was supposed to organise this had been removed from the office - it couldn't be done. We were spending 1,000 zł per month or more, and we were starving. My husband told me to sell the gold watch. Mietek went to Krosna with it and, horribly, Mr Starach offered only 400 zł for it, when, before the "Aktion", we hadpaid 1,500 zł for it.

Read more about the importance of having financial resources »

The Fischbein Family Leave Their Hiding-Place

In September, the weather became chilly,

[…] We couldn't properly fall asleep. We covered our child with rags. For us, the future looked bad. What were we to do? Winter was approaching. No one wanted to return to the ghetto in Krosno. Mietek, with his good character, saw that we were suffering. He came and said, "Wile it was warm, you were with us. Now we need to find a place for you". He found a place with his cousin. I went there with him - about three kilometres away, to see it and I agreed on 150 zł per week, except for lunches and bread, only milk in the morning and dinners. I didn't haggle and I agreed.

Fela, Ozjasz and Dora left their hiding-place on15th September 1942.

The Siwak couple were one of the links in the long chain of people who, at the risk of their own lives, helped the Fischbein family.

The End of the War and Leaving Poland

In their next hiding-place, in Wola Komborska, Fela decided to send thank-you cards to all those who had helped her family so far.

We began recalling all the details and what had happened to us. Impresses, I wrote letter to a couple of our first saviours, that I remember their kindness to us and expressing the hope that we can live long enough to be ble to repay them. Yes, they deserve it. Dear Stasiek Polański, who selflessly hurried to inform us that the Gestapo had already gone. And the good, noble soul who is Mietek Siwak, who was careful when we were calmly in his care. Oh, to live long enough to repay them.

For safety reason, Fela did not send the letters to her benefactors.

It was actually today that Mrs Wilk came, one of the links in our chain of benefactors. I showed her the letters which I'd written to our previous benefactors, so that she could post them for me. "No", she said. "God forbid that you should send those letters. Better that they shouldn't know about you. Let them think they you are dead.". She is older. She is right. I yield to her opinion.

That which the Fischbein family experienced during their period in hiding determined their post-War decision to leave Poland.

If God will allow, flee, flee and get the heck out of here so as not to be pointed at as being different and to be a equal human being.

Bibliography

  • 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.
  • Engelking-Boni Barbara, „...jest norma, jest zgoda i jest trochę honoru...”. Relacja ratujących z ukrywanymi na przykładzie dziennika Feli Fischbein, Zagłada. Studia i materiały
  • Alper-Fischbein Fela, Pamiętnik, 1947