The Bar family

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Story of Rescue - The Bar family

When helping Jews in the village of Markowa (Jarosław Poviat, Cracow District) is mentioned, the Ulma family usually comes to mind first. The Ulmas were murdered in 1944 together with the Jewish families they were hiding. However, the Ulmas were not the only brave people to be found in that small settlement. The Bars – Józef, his wife Julia (née Szpytma), and their daughter Janina – were also heroes.

They were just a regular Polish peasant family with limited means living in fear of the occupant and suffering from poverty due to the levies imposed. Their hopes of surviving the difficult times of war rapidly dwindled when, in late autumn of 1942, Józef and Ida Riesenbach appeared at their doorstep. They had been living in the same village as the Bars until they received a warning from a Polish policeman and fled from the Germans.

The Jewish family asked the Bars for shelter. Initially, Józef Bar was reluctant to endanger himself and his nearest and dearest, arguing that: “I cannot hide you because the Germans are hunting Jews down and if you stay here, they could be here any moment now and kill you and us alike”. In the end, he let them stay for some time.

After a couple of days, Ida Riesenbach decided to bring three of her children, in hiding with another farmer, to the Bars. She brought Joel, Mania, and Genia there at night. She was ahead of the Germans who came in search of Jews only by a couple of hours. When it turned out that the Riesenbachs had nowhere to go and that they only had a chance of staying alive if they remained with the Bars, Józef, mentally exhausted, asked them: “and what would you do if you were in my shoes?”. Instead of answering that question, the Riesenbachs only pleaded with him to let them stay. He agreed.

The Bars were poor but they nevertheless shared everything they had – which was not much and there was often not enough bread for everyone – with their secret guests. The Riesenbachs usually stayed in the attic. Janina would bring them food there and take away waste. When the situation grew more dangerous, they would hide in the basement or in a hiding place built for them. This saved the life of both the people in hiding and their hosts many times. The Germans would often unexpectedly come for an inspection and it was a miracle that the Bars did not share the fate of the Ulmas. The Riesenbachs stayed with the Bars until 1944 when Soviet troops arrived at the village.

They left after the war but they remained interested in the fate of their benefactors. They sent them letters, parcels, and money. The Bars were grateful to them for their memory. In 1999 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title to Józef Bar, Julia Bar, and Janina Bar.

Bibliography

  • Szpytma Mateusz, The Risk of Survival. The Rescue of the Jews by the Poles and the Tragic Consequences for the Ulma Family from Markowa (Ryzyko ocalenia. Ratowanie Żydów przez Polaków i tragiczne następstwa...), Warszawa 2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział odznaczeń Yad Vashem. Dokumentacja sprawy Józefa, Julii i Janiny Barów, 349/24/2468