The Krzyształowski Family

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The story of the Krzyształowski family

During World War II, Józef and Helena Krzyształowski together with their four children: Edward (b. in 1928), Irena (b. in 1931) and twins Grażyna and Eugenia (b. in 1934) lived in Borysław (today within the borders of Ukraine). They provided help to Jews – the Bander family.

The Krzyształowski and Bander families

Józef Krzyształowski, who had served in the Legions in World War I, was a driver in the fire brigade in Boryslav while also working as a taxi driver.

The Banders with their little son Myron lived in the same town. Elias Bander was a doctor and most likely knew Józef Krzyształowski as one of his patients. Bander might have also used Józef's taxi services. “In Boryslav there were not many of those taxis”, said Irena Senderska-Rzońca in an interview for POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in 2014.

According to information provided by Myron Bander to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, his parents lived in Bełżyce, Lublin County, where he was born. Bander, who graduated from medical school in 1931, indeed worked in the hospital in the town. The Banders arrived in Boryslav in October 1939 while fleeing from German occupants. Under Soviet occupation, Bander continued to work as a doctor.

A pogrom in Boryslav. Help for Jews

In the summer of 1941 Edward Krzyształowski witnessed a pogrom in Boryslav. According to Irena, he saw:

“How adult people dragged the poor Bułka [a Jewish salesman acquaintance] out of the shop and pulled on his beard and kicked him. Most likely they killed him, but I heard that about a hundred Jews died at that time, in just one day, twenty-four hours, they perished. And then those posters appeared, ‘Destroy the Jew’ and other unpleasantness”.

When the Germans entered Boryslav, the Krzyształowski family had to move to a very modest apartment in the Mraznytsia district: one room with an attic where Józef kept pigeons. In the adjacent sheds he kept goats and pigs.

In August 1942, when approximately 5,000 Jews from Boryslav had been deported to the extermination camp in Bełżec, two ghettos were established in the town, in the Wolanka and Potok districts. The Banders, who were registered at 28 Łukasiewicza Street, found themselves in one of them. At the request of her father, Irena would bring parcels with medicines for Elias into the ghetto.

Bander’s hiding place in the attic

At the turn of 1942 and 1943 the Karpathen-Öl labour camp was established in Boryslav. Elias managed to secure a place for his wife there, but the child stayed at the camp illegally. Elias continued to work outside the camp and thus maintained contact with his Polish former patients.

In the summer of 1943 almost all of the remaining Jews in the town were murdered, with the exception of about 1,500 labourers working in oil extraction. It was probably in that period that Elias managed to hide Regina and Myron in the home of his former patient. However, the family who sheltered them soon decided to leave Boryslav. Elias needed to find another refuge for his wife and son as quickly as possible.

Krzyształowski agreed to take in Regina and Myron. Irena Senderska says that her parents were aware of the danger this decision could bring. It was not without significance that Helena Krzyształowska, as Irena stressed in her interview, “was very sensitive to human misfortune”. It cost her so much stress, she started suffering from heart disease.

The father prepared a place in the attic for the hideaways, equipped with blankets and mattresses. The Banders, Irena recollects, “brought nothing with them”. A few days later, Elias came too, asking for shelter:

“He came in the night, crying, saying he wanted to join his family. Well, what else could my parents have done? They agreed to let a third person stay there”.

The Bander family hoped that the Soviet offensive would happen in a few weeks, but they ended up staying with the Krzyształowskis for over six months, February through August 1944.

It was a difficult task to feed the three hideaways; Helena Krzyształowska travelled to nearby villages bartering all her possessions for food. By the end of the occupation, the staples of their diet were goat milk, pigeons, and soup cooked from nettles and goosefoot leaves. In his statement from 2000, Myron stressed that the Krzyształowski family shared all their food with his parents even though they did not have enough for themselves.

Irena brought water and soup up to the attic and took away the waste. She had to be careful, because her frequent visits to the attic aroused suspicion:

“A neighbour once asked me: ‘What are you doing with that bucket in the shed all the time?’. So I told her I was tending to my goat”.

For Myron, Irena brought children’s books that his parents read to him.

The hiding place in the attic was so small that the Banders were forced to spend all the time lying down. Only at night could they go out into a more spacious part of the attic. Despite living in constant danger, the Krzyształowski family never made financial demands or suggest that the Jews should look for shelter elsewhere.

Leaving the hideout

After the entry of Soviet troops into Boryslav in August 1944 the Banders went out of hiding. The Krzyształowskis then asked them to keep the previous events secret, as they were unsure of their neighbours' reaction. Irena remembers that when saying goodbye her father gave his suit and shirt to Elias, as his clothing was badly damaged after many months spent in hiding.

Elias Bander immediately began to organize a hospital in Boryslav. When Helena Krzyształowska fell ill with typhus, Elias took care of her with great dedication.

Several months later the Banders left Boryslav and moved to Łódź, then migrated to Germany. In 1949 they left for the US, where Elias had his medical diploma recognized. Myron earned a degree from the Department of Physics at the University Columbia in New York. He married Carol, a professor of German philology, and he himself became a professor of physics at the University of California in Irvine.

The Krzyształowski family remained in Boryslav, then repatriated to Poland and settled in Wałbrzych.

Their contacts after the war

In 1959 Bander once again contacted the Krzyształowski family, but by then Józef had passed away. After the death of Regina's husband she and Myron kept in touch with the Krzyształowskis. They invited Irena and her grandson to the United States.

In his testimony, Myron stressed that his parents often talked about their wartime experiences and the selfless help they received from the Krzyształowskis: “If either of my parents were still alive they would enthusiastically nominate any member of the Krzyształowski family [to be honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations]; it just never occurred to them”. Myron applied to Yad Vashem for decoration of the Krzyształowski family.

In 7 November 2000, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem decided to honoured Józef and Helena Krzyształowski and their daughter Irena with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. From 17 November 2016, Irena Senderska-Rzońca is the secretary of the Board of the Polish Association of the Righteous.