The Markowski Family

enlarge map

“The showed us normal human sympathy” – the story of the Markowski family and Marcin Walas

Franciszek Markowski, his wife, as well as their children Stanisław, Antoni and Stefania, lived in Chrząstów (Podkarpackie Province, Mielecki District), where they ran a farm.

At the turn of 1944, Stefania’s brother, Marcin Walas, asked the Markowski family to hide a Jewish couple in their home. The couple was Marek and Frieda Verstandig from Mielec. Before the war, many Jews had lived in the town.

“The hiding place could be accessed through the attic. The straw had been swept aside and a flap into the cell could be opened from underneath. It was small in area, more or less two metres by two metres, but it was enough to be able to straighten up”, says Stanisław Markowski.

Stefania prepared the food, did the washing and prepared the bedding for those in hiding.

“The brought us Polish newspapers, as well as books which they had found in the streets of Mielec after the Jews had been deported”, recalled Marek Verstandig. “We ate what they ate – potatoes and potato soup. Once a week. we had meat. We drank lemon tea. The food was monotonous, but we were never hungry”.

He describes his wartime experiences in his book. As the result of his painful experiences, he writes critically of the attitude of Poles towards Jews during the war. For him, though, the Markowski family was the exception.

“They were honest, decent people. Each week, we paid them for the help they gave us and promised them a few hectares of land in Sadkowa Góra after the war. Their children were also aware of the danger which threatened the entire family”.

After a month, neighbours guessed that the Markowski family were hiding Jews. At Franciszek’s request, Marcin Walas moved the couple to the Korczak family who lived in an out-of-the-way place. Marek’s aunt, Debora Ostro, her two children Haar and Mindla, as well as Mrs Kleinman and her son Dawid, were already in hiding there. Soon afterwards, 75 year old Debora died and was buried in the garden.

Marek Verstandig spoke quite negatively about his next host. “Compared to the Markowski family, Korczak exploited every opportunity to hurt or humiliate us”, he wrote. “The Korczak family had no plans to wait for their reward. They wanted cash in hand immediately for everything which, in itself, robbed us of hope. It was clear that they did not expect us to survive. Calling what we received as food would be complementary. We were starving”.

Armed Poles appeared at the farm on 31st May 1944. They ordered the Korczak family to hand over the Jews they were hiding. Before midnight, they shot them at a nearby canal.

“A bullet whizzed past. Marek fell into the water, pretending to have been shot. Frieda was wounded in the collarbone”, says Stanisław, who was told what happened by Marcin Walas, who witnessed the event. The Verstandig couple managed to escape, but the others all died. Soon after, the Korczak couple were arrested by the Gestapo. Their ultimate fate remains unknown.

After what had happened, Marek and Frieda returned to the Markowski farm. “We were again in the same hiding place and under the same conditions as given us before by these ordinary, sympathetic people”.

By now, the Russian front was nearing Chrząstów. The Markowski home was damaged by artillery fire and so a new hiding place was prepared underneath the barn. Marek and Frieda emerged from hiding during the last days of the war.

The Red Army entered the village on 4th August 1944. The Verstandig couple left for their home town of Mielec, and then went to Kraków and Wrocław. After the war, they settled permanently in Melbourne. Until their deaths, they remained in contact with Stefania and Franciszek. Later, the Verstandig children and grandchildren developed contact with Stanisław Markowski.

In 1989, the Yad Vashem Institute decided to honour Marcin Walas, as well as Franciszek and Stefania Markowski, with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Two years later, Stanisław Markowski was also honoured with that title.

Bibliography

  • Ignacy Jóźwiak, 12.05.2009
  • Mark Verstandig, I rest my case, Melbourne 1995