The Gwizdak Family

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Story of Rescue - The Gwizdak Family

During World War II, Stanisław and Katarzyna Gwizdak lived in Łańcut, where Stanisław ran a bakery. They had 7 children, out of whom two daughters were deported to forced labor camps in Germany and Austria. The family rescued 6 Jews altogether.

In July 1942, the Gwizdak family provided shelter to two fugitives from a train transport: Szmul Zak and Naftali Berliner. The first hiding place was prepared under the stairs in the house. Szmul, referred to as Szymek in the family of his rescuers, was Stanisław’s friend from before the war. He came from Kalisz and was a brush-maker. Before he found shelter in the Gwizdak family, he probably lived in the Rzeszów ghetto.

In the winter of 1942/1943 and the early spring of 1943, Tadeusz, son of Stanisław and Katarzyna, brought two more persons from the ghetto in Rzeszów: Stanisław Lordenbaum and Juliusz Goldfarb.

The bakery run by the Gwizdaks was often visited by the Germans from nearby Gestapo headquarters. Soon, hiding under the stairs in the house became too risky. The next hiding place was a dug-out with the entrance near the bakery furnace, which was concealed with wood and crumbs.  The four hiding men could only leave the dug-out at night.

In November 1943, the Gwizdaks received an order to move out from the house. As a result, they moved from Sobieski Square to a tenement house located near the Market Square, which accommodated an ironmonger’s shop. In their new place of residence they prepared another dug-out for shelter. The entrance to the shelter was located next to the kitchen, while ventilation was connected with the sewage system. However, the new hiding place turned out to be exceptionally dangerous, as the fugitives practically could not leave it.

The next two Jewish fugitives – Jecheskiel Klajnmint and Eliasz Fisz – arrived in the winter of 1943/44. They met each other in Łańcut, but did not know the name of the Gwizdak family. They only knew that the owner of the bakery from that city gave aid to other Jews.

The Gwizdaks experienced several German inspections. They tried to somehow account for large amounts of food cooked by Katarzyna, while the rubbish near their house was constantly examined by snoopers searching for evidence of a larger number of people inhabiting the house.

Due to the fact that 6 additional people had to be now fed in the family, the bakery ran out of flour needed for ration cards for bread. As a consequence, the Germans summoned Stanisław for interrogation, after which he had to hide with Katarzyna’s family living in the village near Łańcut. He stayed there from the late spring of 1944 to the very end of the war. When he was gone, his family lost the only source of income and the problems with food began to arise. The Gwizdaks received help from the family of Katarzyna living in the villages of Lipnik and Chodakówka, as well as from Stanisław's family that provided them with food.

Stanisław used to visit his family in Łańcut in a clandestine manner. During one of such visits, some German officers accompanied by a dog unexpectedly burst into the house for inspection. Stanisław together with his 6-year-old son Kazimierz quickly hid under the bed. The dog only sniffed out the child, but the father was not found.

Tadeusz was also interrogated by the Gestapo, who beat and tortured him. He was rescued by the Navy Blue policeman, who at the absence of the Germans opened the back door of the headquarters and let him go.

At the end of World War II, after second or third inspection of the house, the family was visited by a German with an order to deport the whole family to a camp, probably the Auschwitz concentration camp. However, Katarzyna managed to bribe the officer with her savings, which resulted in crossing the family off the list of people intended for deportation.

When the war ended, all of 6 rescued Jews departed for the West: to the USA, Argentina and Israel. Initially, it was only Stanisław Lordenbaum in Argentina who maintained contact with the Gwizdak family. In the 1960’s, Juliusz Goldfarb, after the war living in the USA, also made contact with the rescuers. He was then followed by Jecheskiel Klajnmint, who settled in Israel. When it comes to the remaining 3 rescued Jews, the Gwizdaks are not knowledgeable about their whereabouts. They know, however, that the Jews are still alive, have families and children.

On January 28, 1980, on application of Jecheskiel Klajnmint, Yad Vashem Institute in Israel awarded Katarzyna, Stanisław and Tadeusz Gwizdak the honorary title of “Righteous Among the Nations”.

Bibliography

  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009
  • Archiwum rodziny Gwizdaków