Rodzina Kostusiów

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The story of the Kostuś family

During the war, Rozalia Kostuś, a widow with two children – Genowefa and the younger Mieczysław, lived in Sambor at 1 Kopernika Street. They made their living as traders in the city market square.

On 30th June 1941, the city, which was located around 100 kilometres from Lwów, was occupied by the Germans. In the spring of 1942, a ghetto was established in the Blich district, an area where, before the war, had been inhabited mainly by Jews. The Germans' first liquidation operation was carried out in August of that year, then again in September and two more in October. On 1st December, the ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire. Jews from Stary Sambor, Felsztyn and Turek were deported and moved into it. Around three thousand people now remained in the closed-off area. Further operations were regularly conducted from February. The biggest took place in June 1943, during which the Germans murdered around one hundred people. 

In her testimony to the Yad Vashem Institute, Genowefa Marczuk (née Kostuś) wrote:

In December 1942, during a German raid on the bazaar, my mother became acquainted with Martin Gross. He had nowhere to hide, so my mother brought Mr Gros [original spelling – ed.] home. Mr Gros asked Mum to let his sister know where he was. My mother sent me to where Martin's sister, Shantya, was. I found four more Hebrews [Jews – ed.] there. They were Martin's brother Tulek and three of their friends. I brought them all home.

At the time, Genowefa was seventeen-years-old.. 

The Kostuś apartment comprised two rooms and a kitchen. All seven were hidden in the basement.

They were Martin Gross, Tolik Gross, Shantya Gross, Gienia Gross, Berkowicz someone else [Siegman], Singer and Srul Berkowicz. […] [according to Yad Vashem: the Gross siblings: Martin, Shantya, Tulik and Golda, as well as Józef Singer and Itche Siegman – ed.]. The lived in the basement, below the kitchen. No one knew they were hiding there, apart from ouor mother, me and my brother.

At that time, in the city, the Ukrainian police were chasing down Jews who had escaped from the ghetto. 

“I went to work and my brother was still going to school. I used to go to the technical school , but I had to leave to help the family make a living. We had to eat”, Mrs Marczuk told “Multicultural Podkarpacie” project researchers at the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of Warsaw University. Rozalia and Genowefa were traders at the market. Mieczysław sold newspapers. Siegman had a few dollars which the Kostuś family used for shopping: “[…] If he didn't have those dollars, then we would have left then and fled, because there would have been nothing to eat”.

For eighteen months, almost two years, it was terrible. There was no water. There was nothing to burn. My brother gathered coal at the station. There was no toilet. Mum carried out their's. She washed for them and everything – and, thank God, no one reported anything, no one knew we were hiding them. They would have shot us. It was terrible.

When the Kostuś family left for work, in order to secure the home, they left a note on the door saying “We are not at home”. Rozalia prepared the food at night.

They came out of the basement to sleep – they slept in the room. They slept, ate, chatted and read the newspaper – my brother sold newspapers and always brought them one to read. […] They opened the window for some fresh air, but no one went out. They wore what they came in. When I worked at the factory, I stole a shirt for one and trousers for another - that's how we dressed them. 

One day, following Genowefa returning from work, Germans came to the apartment with a dog.

Mum opens the door and the dog wants to come in. Mum says “Halt!” – my mum could speak German. If she couldn't speak, we'd have all been done for. Mum tells them that she's not letting it in any further, because her son keeps rabbits in the hallway and the dog would bite them.

The group of Jews hid in the Kostuś apartment until September 1944.

They stayed until the Russians came and liberated us from the Germans. […] Whoever could leave, did so. We heard nothing more from them, […] and so we didn't know if they were alive or not.

The Kostuś family remained in Sambor. Rozalia died in 1957. Forty years later, in 1997, Genowefa Marczuk read in a local newspaper that Martin Gross was searching for her family. They exchanged letters and, in December, she went to visit him. She spent half a year in the United States. In February 2001, the Kostuś family was honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.