The Plaksej Family
The Story of the Płaksej Family
In 1935, the Płaksej family moved from Lviv to Kałusz – a small town located 70 km west from Lviv – when Zachariasz Płaksej received a position of an accountant in the salt mine in this town. His daughter Paulina recollects: “First [i.e. in 1939], it was the Soviet Union that occupied this territory. We were under the Soviet occupation, and after the war against Germany broke out, the Germans came here in 1941. When they marched into the town, the first thing they started to do was murder the Jews.”
During the Nazi occupation, the Płaksejs were evicted from their apartment. Luckily, a Ukrainian – the father’s colleague from work – accepted them under his roof. He lived on the outskirts of the town; it was easier for the family to help Jews living in the place like that. “We lived in seclusion and not in the center of the town, so it was very convenient for us. We were surrounded by gardens, orchards, the river was flowing nearby, and there was a slaughterhouse not far away. The Germans rarely visited this place, so our life was peaceful...”
Paulina continues her story: “Before [the ghetto was created], [Jewish] children would often come to us. We fed them, my mother cooked a soup, and those children would visit us every day.” The information about the soup spread like lightning, and soon the Płaksejs’ place of residence became commonly known.
According to Paulina, her family could not just stand and look at Nazi Germans murdering the Jews, who before the war had constituted half of Kałusz’s population. She describes her father in the following way: “He was a very religious person, and he believed that you should always help a man, your fellow creature, as our religion has it. The Jewish victim was not simply a Jew, but your fellow, a human being, wasn’t he?”
The Płaksejs helped Miriam Helfgot and her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maja. They had known each other before the war. It was through the agency of a Jewish enforcement officer that Miriam, who stayed in the ghetto, could maintain contact with the family. The Płaksejs provided her with things indispensable for life.
The officer knew a certain peasant woman named Katarzyna, who agreed to take care of Maja. Zachariasz transported the child to her new guardian. During the ghetto liquidation action in August 1942, Miriam ran away directly under the protective wings of the Płaksej family.
She stayed in their apartment in one of the rooms for a few weeks, and whenever there was somebody visiting the family, she hid behind a wardrobe. It was a very burdensome and dangerous practice.
Some time later Zachariasz managed to procure for Miriam so called „Aryan papers” for the name of Wesołowska. For a year Miriam lived in Lviv at Bronisława’s brother’s home. As a result of a roundup, she was deported as forced labor to Germany. She survived, however, then returned to Poland and retrieved her daughter.
Dawid Kelman was another Jew the Płaksej family helped to survive the ordeal: “When Dawid came to us, he was 10 years old and his father (…) wanted to hide him [in a hiding place in the forest], but he had a problem. Dawid wore payot and neither the mother nor he wanted to cut them off.
The mother simply refused to do it. Still, she was aware that any German encountered on the way would instantly recognize the boy as a Jew. So she bound a bandage round his head, leaving only his eyes, nose and mouth uncovered. (...) The father said: »If anyone asks, I will tell them that I am taking a sick child to a hospital. At the worst, I will go to an infirmary with him if I have to.« In this way the boy was taken to the bunker [in the forest]. However, after that we lost any trace of him.”
The Płaksejs kept various Jewish fugitives at their home for a short time, and then directed them to other places (mainly to a friend farmer’s barn; during the war this farmer hid altogether seventeen Jews there). In this way they helped Róża Ungier and the Szapiro family consisting of three persons. For several months the Płaksejs supplied the barn and the bunker with the most needed provisions – clothes, blankets and medicines.
When World War II ended, the family was deported to Cracow, where Paulina found a job as a clerk. Miriam and Maja left for Israel, while the Szapiro family – for the United States of America.