The Cękalski family

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Story of Rescue - The Cękalski family

Jan Cękalski, an officer of State Police in Lublin, was deported to the USSR in the fall of 1939 and killed in one of the camps for Polish officers. His wife Justyna and three children: Zbigniew (born 1925), Apolonia (born 1929) and Eugeniusz (born 1933) stayed in occupied Poland. All of them lived at 5a Środkowa St. in Lublin.

In 1941 a ghetto was established in Lublin. The Fogelgarn family, including Izrael Mordechaj, his father Józef, brother Eliezer Abraham and sister Róża Brajndel, moved there. Izrael's mother died in April 1939. Before the war, the family ran their own tailoring and clothing business.

Since April 1942, Izrael Mordechaj and his family lived in the ghetto in Majdan Tatarski located on the outskirts of Lublin. In September 1942, his sister was murdered there, and a month later also his brother and father were killed in one of the operations. Izrael Mordechaj was left alone.

He had a friend in the ghetto, Izrael Natan Mełemed, whom he knew from before the war as they attended the same school. During the occupation they worked together outside the ghetto, in an electrical appliances store in Lipowa St. On his way back to the ghetto, Izrael Mordechaj used to buy bread from two Polish women, Justyna Cękalska and her daughter Apolonia. "They were poor and sold bread every day to buy potatoes for the money they earned," he reported after the war. After some time Izrael Mordechaj started to think that the women could help him and offer him shelter.

When the Germans started to liquidate the Majdan Tatarski ghetto in the fall of 1942, Izrael Mordechaj and Izrael Natan managed to escape. They went to the Cękalskis and asked for help. Despite the danger involved, Cękalska offered them shelter in her home. "Justyna and her children, being aware that the boys were under direct threat of death [in the German camp KL Lublin] in Majdanek, decided to hide them in their apartment in a hideout under the floor prepared before the war," Dariusz Reszka, Apolonia's son, recalled after the war.

The hideout was located in the hallway, behind a door leading to the kitchen. It was prepared by Cękalska's son Zbigniew. The hideout was cramped, and the Jews hiding in there could hardly move. Extreme caution had to be taken, particularly in the first few month of hiding, when the Cękalskis had a tenant. For security reasons, Justyna even trained her dog Dora to warn household members if the hidden men behaved too loud, for example snoring.

In order to support the family and the two additional men, Justyna and her children worked on farms. Additionally, she and her daughter Apolonia did housework for money. Justyna cooked and Apolonia cleaned and did minor kitchen jobs. Despite the poverty at the Cękalskis' home, Eugeniusz sometimes brought them cigarettes on top of the food they received. Cękalska's children, despite their relatively young age, understood the situation and kept the secret. The hidden Jews survived until the end of the occupation.

Izrael Mordechaj Fogelgarn and Izrael Natan came out of their hideout in July 1944. After the war ended, they stayed in Poland for some time, they even served in the army. No one from their immediate families survived the war. After a few years they went abroad, Izrael Natan to Great Britain (after the war he changed his name to Adam Adams), and Izrael Mordechaj to Australia. The remained in mail and telephone contact with Justyna Cękalska until 1989.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, Dział odznaczeń Yad Vashem. Dokumentacja sprawy Apolonii Reszki, 349/24/1744
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009