The Rychlik Family

enlarge map
Photos: 1

The Story of Helena Kamińska (nee Rychlik)

Helena Kamińska (nee Rychlik) lived in the village of Biskowice (Lwowskie Province), around which lived Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. Helena remembers relations with Jews were considerably better than with Ukrainians.

 "(The greatest number) were the Poles, but those Ukrainians would give us a hell of a beating. . [...] The Poles fought. The Ukrainians fought, but the Jews didn't, not the Jews. (...) If only the Poles weren't the way they were. The (Jews) never hit anyone”.

During the War (the summer of 1942), her brother, Józef Rychlik, brought home nine Jews whom he had met in Sambórz. They were well-off people and promised to support the family finanically in return for help. Helena remembers the day when Józef brought them.

"It was evening, very dark. He brought them and, from behind a window, mum said, 'Not like that - the police will see and those Ukrainians will kill us all!'. And so they were quickly taken inside and into the attic (...). Straight away, mum gave them something to eat. Those poor people, they soon began crying. They all cried. (My brother) said, 'Don't be afraid. I'll move some of you to another house - but at night. It will be better.' So that night, mum led them away such that no one would see”.

Since the Rychlik home, inherited from Helena's aunt, stood behind a fence, the Jews were divided into two groups. Half of them went to live in the attic, while the other half went to a house next door. When no one else was home, the Jews could move around freely and even cook meals for themselves. Helena did the shopping for them.

"I said, 'I don't have money. Mum didn't give me any because she herself has no money'. They gave me money and I went to buy what was needed - bread, rolls, milk."

In the evenings, they would come down to wash themselves. However, the Rychlik family, as well as the Jews in hiding, were not sufficiently careful so as not to arouse any suspicions.

"We go into the fields, but smoke is still coming from the chimney. To that, the Ukrainians say, 'What's going in? They're in the fields and there's smoke coming from the chimney?. What's going on? There's no one there'. At that time, we would lock up with padlocks, but like one does now. They said, 'It's locked up, but there's a fire burning.'"

The day which changed everything was a frosty, winter's day in 1943. The son of one of the hidden Jews, who would sometimes go outside, met a Ukrainian and told him where they were living.

"I said, 'Let's go, because they'll lock you up.' [...] And so he goes through the stable. He returned and said, 'They're asking me where I live'. [...]. This young boy was maybe 10-12 years old - such a fine boy, blonde, good looking. 'Why did you say anything?' 'I didn't know.' After that, they all yelled at him, but it was done”.

Despite that, the family took no steps in order to change the hiding place. Around one week later, in the middle of the night, a Ukrainian came with a unit of the Gestapo.

Helena's father, Mr Rychlik, was an official in Sambórz. At work, he'd become friendly with a few Germans.  Helena remembers how they visited her father at their home. "They liked vodka and the Jews sat silent. Dad gave them something to eat. They ate and drank and then the Germans went”.

Those "friendly" relations probably saved their family from immediate death. When the GEstapo appeared at the door to their home, Helena's brothers managed to run away. However, she and her parents remained and were arrested. 

"They arrested us at night and took us away towards Sambórz. There, they gave us such a beating - such a beating!! It was terrible. To this day, I still suffer from it. I can't talk about it. (...) In Sambórz, they put us in prison. Mum separate, dad separate and me separate. They took everything from me. I was left only with the dress I was wearing. I started to cry. One Silesian (...) a German, taps on the little window and says, 'Don't cry and don't chatter. If they ask you, say that it was you who took them in. Otherwise, they'll beat and kill you all'”.

However, they were not killed, only deported to the camp in Majdanek. Along the way, in Lwów, Helena met her father for the last time. He perished in the camp. She, herself, survived four camps - Majdanek, Graslitz, Genten and Ravensbruck. She emerged from them alive, but with a severe impact upon her health, leaving her semi-disabled physically. Her mother survived the camp, but passed away shortly after liberation. The precise fate of the Jews hidden by the Rychlik family remains unknown. It is not known if any one them survived. 

Due to a lack of direct witnesses to these events, the Rychlik family could not be honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

English translation: Andrew Rajcher

Bibliography

  • Kamiński Łukasz, Interview with Helena Kamińska, 8.02.2010