The Brzyszcz family

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Story of Rescue - The Brzyszcz family

In 1939, Franciszek and Katarzyna Brzyszcz lived in the village of Czajków Północny, Wiśniów Gmina, Opatów Poviat, near the town of Staszów where there was a considerable Jewish population. They had two little children of their own, Henryk, aged 8, and Krystyna, aged 5. The German invasion further worsened their financial situation which was difficult to begin with.

During the winter of 1942/1943. several people from the Staszów ghetto came to their house. At that time, the Germans were transporting people to death camps. The refugees came to the Brzyszcz family by no mere coincidence. That family and several other families in their village agreed to harbour strangers and help them, convinced to do so by Irena Dyrcz, a local teacher.

The acted out of humanitarian considerations but they were also pushed to action by their poverty – what little means of sustenance they received from the people they were helping was a reward of sorts for the efforts and time they invested in handling the affairs of strangers. However, they were not paid for the risk they took and they demanded no such payment.

The conditions in which they hid people were quite basic – in the attic, in a dugout in the yard entered via a shed, or in a one-person hiding place underneath their stove. Just to be on the safe side, they made their relations with Mrs Dyrcz official – the stated reason behind her visits was that she conducted private classes for Henryk who was then 11. For a year, from the winter of 1942/1943 until the turn of 1943 and 1944, the home of the Brzyszcz family was a safe harbour for many. At other farms, people hid for as long as until the summer of 1944.

It turned out that the Germans were not the worst thing to be feared – a band of Poles killing Jews and other Poles who aided them proved to be a greater threat. Stefan Gaweł, a Pole and a person close to the Brzyszcz family, was killed by them. That band found 18 Jews in Czajków Południowy. They intended to kill them during the night. However, their vigilance was successfully dulled and those Jews were safely moved close to a forest.

One day in the winter of 1944, the house of the Brzyszcz family was surrounded. The bandits beat Franciszek up and threatened to shoot him. They tried to make Katarzyna tell them where the people they hid were by intimidating her and by bluffing: “The leader of the band came in to our room again. ‘You’ve told us there were no Jews here. We’ve already killed one’. Mother: ‘There are no Jews here’. I and my sister started crying”, Henryk Brzyszcz recalled. In the end, they found no one.

The following people managed to live through the war thanks to the Brzyszcz family and other families: Eliasz and Regina Frydman, their children: Marurycy and Salek, Szmuel Sienicki, Szymon Rotenberg, Lola Winer, Aleksander Erlichmann, Aleksandra Frydman, Abe Szternberg, Barbara Turkeltaub, and Rina Szydłowska.

“There were those who hid and those who shot...”, Henryk wrote after many years.

In 1996, the Righteous Among the Nations title was awarded to Katarzyna Brzyszcz and Franciszek Brzyszcz by the Yad Vashem Institute.

Bibliography

  • Zarębski Maciej, Życie i zagłada Żydów staszowskich. W 50 rocznicę zagłady gminy żydowskiej w Staszowie, Staszów 1992
  • 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 Katarzyny i Franciszka Brzyszczów, 349/24/2014