Maria Koper was born in 1912 in Biała Rawska, a small town lying about 70 kms from Warsaw. Her father was a tailor. Her mother died during her seventh pregnancy. At the age of fifteen, she left for Warsaw. There, she worked as a maid and later as a shop assistant in a shoestore in order to help her family financially. Shortly before the War, she became engaged but her fiance died fighting to defend Warsaw. In May 1941, she used the diamond engagement ring to bribe guards to allow her to leave the Warsaw ghetto in a truckload of corpses. She returned on foot to her small hometown, living with her sister and brother-in-law. On 18th October 1942, during the removal of Jews from the nearby Nowe Miasto, she began to keep a diary in which she wrote, ”I’m living under a terrible strain. Every day, danger threatens.”
On 19th October, while selling some goods, she met Jadwiga Chorążkiewicz from the local village. Jadwiga’s husband, Adam, was the village sołtys (administrator/headman). They lived on the edge of the village with their daughter, two sons and her mother-in-law. In her diary, we read, ”I immediately recognised that she must be a good woman, generally friendly, pretty and as pleasant as the sun in May. Mrs Chorążkiewicz spoke first, saying that if I wanted to, I could come to their home where it was quiet and where there was room for me.”
On 22nd October, when operations began to remove Jews from Biała Rawska, without her family knowing, Maria secretly escaped from the ghetto. She wrote, „If I’d told my family, it would have been worse, Either I couldn’t have gone, or they wouldn’t have let me […] As it turned out, we would’ve had to have been separated anyway.It was terrible – words cannot describe it”.
Along the way, she met a 14 year old Jewish girl and took her along. The Chorążkiewicz family, due to the risk of neighbours coming to the sołtys on administrative matters and seeing the two Jews, agreed to take them in for only one night. For many weeks, Maria, dressed as a peasant woman, wandered from farm to farm. From time to time, she spent the night at the home of the sołtys. ”I felt the best there”, she recalls. The Chorążkiewicz family, however, were still too scared to take Maria in permanently. There was still constant talk around the village about Jews and searches. She spent Christmas with them but, by 1st January, she had to leave. ”The night was dark and windy. I didn’t know where to go...”, she wrote. ”At that time, I envied those who had already died.”
A few days later, while wandering around the area, Maria came across a German patrol. She showed her Polish identification, but the policemen were not satisfied. Maria had to demonstrate her knowledge of Catholic prayers. The Germans also wanted to go with her to the place of residence as shown in her identification paperts but, fortunately, due to the heavy snows, they decided against it. ”I was scared. He waved his hand and went”, Maria wrote. ”I couldn’t move a step.”
Near the end of January, Maria decided to return to the Chorążkiewicz family. She was totally exhausted physically and mentally, close to suicide. ”I was walking and asking God for the ground to open up and swallow me – I’d lost the will to live”. This time, the family of the sołtys took Maria in permanently. ”Mr Chorążkiewicz took me into the barn where I shook the snow off myself. I started sobbing but, like a father, Mr Chorążkiewicz calmed me down. Soon, Mrs Chorążkiewicz and the children came into the barn, greeting me joyfully”.
Adam Chorążkiewicz prepared a hidiing place for Maria in the barn – a small, dark box. Maria remained there until the end of the War. For a certain time, once a week, she could come into the home in order to wash herself. However, shortly after, she stopped leaving the barn due to the danger presented by the neighbours. Her only companions were her diary and a dog.
Around the end of 1944, Maria’s brother was betrayed by the man with whom he was hiding and he was murdered. ”I’m lucky that I have met decent people because, otherwise, I would already be dead. If I survive, then it will only be thanks to the Chorążkiewicz family”, Maria wrote in her diary, which ends eight days before her liberation.
When the Russian army entered Biała Rawska, Adam took Maria there in order for her to search for her relatives. Unfortunately, no one survived. Of the 4,000 Jews who lived in the Biała Rawska district before the transportations (inhabitants of Biała Rawska, Żyrardów, Piaseczna and other localities), only twelve survived.
After the War, Maria married Benjamin Rozenbaum, a survivor from Biała Rawska. They had two children - Lilka and Marek. In 1968, due to the anti-Semitic witch-hunts, the family left Poland and settled in Canada. They remained in close, friendly contact with the Chorążkiewicz family.