The Jamro Family

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Story of Rescue - The Jamro Family

Maria and Jan were children of Karol and Waleria Jamro. The family lived in Zagórzany village, 49 kilometers east from Nowy Sącz. During the First World War Karol served in Polish Legions and he received Cross and Medal of Independence. He was a real patriot. During the Second Polish Republic he and his wife tended to a little farm and Jan worked on the railway.  

Waleria was from nearby Rzepiennik Stróżewki, where her parents had a large farm

The Jews

Hena was a Jewish girl whose parents managed a little store in Rzepiennik. “Mom remembered seeing her behind the counter, when she used to drop by there to buy a few things” recalls Maria. “She was a very nice and pretty woman.” Later Hena married Oskar Oliner, and she settled down in Biecz.

There weren’t many Jews in Zagórzany itself. They lived in small towns, such as Bobowa – a famous Hasidism center before the Second World War – Biecz or Gorlice, where Jews strongly supported the idea of Zionism.

The Jewish-Polish relations in the area were unstable. Maria talks about growing antagonism: ”Beforethe war the Jews were not very much liked there. (…) It was building up between the Jews and the Poles. It wasn’t always good. But in general there were many Jews liked by others.”

The war

When the war started Karol Jamro, always very devoted to Polish affairs, got involved in the resistance movement. Maria recalls: ”The partisans would come at night. We had a radio. There was this woodshed. We stored coal there. There was a toilet and a little attic where my father kept a radio in secret. There was no electricity. The radio ran on batteries. (…) They would bring batteries and listen to the radio from abroad. My brother was on the lookout in one corner and someone else in the other. Just in case someone was passing by, so that nothing bad happened.”

Biecz: ghetto

Biecz was occupied by the Nazis on September 7th, 1939. In October, 1940 they started to gather Jews in a ghetto which was finally closed in spring of 1942. Hena and Oskar Oliner got trapped there together with their 2 year-old son.

The liquidation of the ghetto started on July 22nd, 1945. The majority of Jews from Biecz died in the extermination camp in Bełżc. In October, Germans took away the last 40 Jews, who up till then had been forced to work in a bakery.  

“They would drag the Jews out of their apartments and put them in cars” says Maria“[the Jews] had a certain amount of minutes to take the most necessary things.”

The Oliners, even though surprised at night, managed to escape the transportation. This is how Maria remembers their story: ”When Germans banged on their door with rifle butts, they slid down the drainpipe to the garden, where they hid in a bed of peas. The Germans got inside, walked around the apartment and went away. We could hear lamenting and moans. Finally, in the morning it was all quiet. The cars drove away and there was silence.”

When Hana and Oskar went back to the apartment to get their son, because they hadn’t managed to take him with them, the boy wasn’t there “They come and the baby is gone. The Germans took the sleeping child and left. That’s how it ended. They couldn’t do anything about it then.”  

They were hiding in reeds by the river for a while. “Sometimes they would go to someone they knew to stay for a day or two. But then people got scared.” says Maria. Each Sunday after mass the village leader would remind everyone about the German ban on helping Jews. Maria remembers words: ”It is absolutely forbidden to help Jews! You cannot give them anything, nothing to eat or drink! God forbid hiding them, because you can get shot for it! It is forbidden!” The street were covered with posters saying similar things. ”And people didn’t want to help.”

Asking for help

Some time later, one cold, fall night the Oliners turned up at the Jamros’ house. “My father did not know them at all. (…) They had a severe cold. They had lice, they were hungry and sick. They were coughing” recalls Maria. Waleria fed them with freshly baked bread. ”We had just one small room and a kitchen. My father brought an extra mattress from the attic (…) and I think  mom gave them some of her clothes (…) And I remember they put liquid paraffin on their hair to kill those parasites. And later she says: »I feel so good now when my hair is clean, because when something crawls there, itches then it is awful!« It must have been awful. And they stayed. When they told us about their tragedy with that child, and when she cried so much, mom says: »It’s so terrible.«They liked them so much that they said right away: »We’ll help you. We’ll hide you.«”

Hiding places

Karol fixed a temporary hiding place in the apartment. ”There was this big armoire in the room, so in the back of it he made a set of closing doors. He placed that armoire not against the wall but in the corner. So she [Hana] stayed in the room. She could sew quite well and from time to time she would sew a little bit in her hands. And if a stranger came into the house she went inside the armoire and from there to the corner where she could sit on a little stool.” remembers Maria.  At that time Oskar would go outside sometimes and brought food.

Soon, Karol prepared another hiding place by one of the outbuildings for both of them. ”There was a small pile of bricks (…) My father pulled it down and  made a big pile out of that small one, making a kind of a bunker inside. The entry to the bunker was from the side of the outbuilding. There, next to the wall, was a passageway and that’s where the door was. And somewhere here, there was a lot of straw. There was a building with a roof, there was a pile of bricks for some construction work but nobody knew that there could be a room inside. It was lined with old  bed covers and blankets . Besides, we gave them warm feather quilts because the nights were freezing. (…) The room inside easily fit two people. Of course they could not stand up. I think it was about 1.5 meters high. It was all lined with the bed covers.” In the winter Maria and her brother would bring bottles of hot water for the couple to keep warm.

The house search

“Once at night the Gestapo came” recalls Maria. Probably because of the neighbor’s denunciation. “It was winter. We were sound asleep.  And they were shouting and banging their rifle butts against our door. It finally opened (…) They ran into the apartment. Father in his underwear, he couldn’t even get dressed. They let him put his shoes on.  They dragged my mother and me in front of the house, barefoot. Mom grabbed a blanket to cover us, but we were standing on a frozen ground. And there was this guy in front of us with a machine gun, so that if they had found them we would have died right away. (…) Mom was almost sure that they would find them! (…) And she says: »Children repeat after me «Beneath thy protection..» [a prayer to Virgin Mary - translator’s note], because we may all die today«.I wasn’t very much aware of what was going on. I mean my heart was fluttering out of fear but also out of cold, because we were standing in the cold.”

After some time w had another search. “They were coming in a group of 10 with a dog. If they came to our house with the dog, it would right away… (…) When someone is hiding in such a place, and there is food and you have to take the bedpan out, there always is this specific smell. And there was. But it looks like God wanted to protect us. If that dog came up there and there was something wrong… But no. They split into two groups. The one with the dog went somewhere else and the other one came to us. They did not find anything.”

Repeat decision

Karol, worried abut his family, decided that they had to stop hiding the Oliners. “Father asked them to come to the apartment and said:»Listen, we cannot hide you anymore. I don’t have the right to risk my wife’s, my children’s and my own life because of you. (…) You see that we have enemies here.«” recalls Maria.

The Oliners were devastated, they had no one to ask for help. Then Waleria spoke up:”»Listen, if they leave, there was no point in hiding them all this time in the first place. Because now they will die for sure. They have nowhere to go, (…) And if they do die, I will know no peace! It is as if we literally sent them to death. They have to stay with  us, no matter what!«. And then she said something memorable, that if there had to be such a terrible destiny, we all had to die together. And they stayed with us for two and a half years (…) till the Russians came.”

The everyday of hiding

The Jamros became more vigilant this time. They delivered food in secret; either Waleria brought it after dusk, or  children would smuggle a small pot during the day over to the couple. Karol forbade Maria and Jan to talk to other children.

The family farm was small, and many times there wasn’t enough food. The only cow they had, Germans took away because of the levy imposed on the villagers. When Karol opposed to that, he got himself arrested, but luckily Waleria’s brother took him out of jail. They often fought famine with peas that Waleria grew in the garden.

When in the summer of 1944, the withdrawing Nazi army installed a field kitchen in their yard, the family was very pleased. The soldiers were not interested in looking for Jews, and their presence protected them from house searches or the neighbors’ suspicions. And it meant food.

The end of the war

In January 1945 the Soviet Army entered Zagórzany. Maria remembers when  mom showed her through the window Germas who were running away ”And in the afternoon the first Russians came. They made themselves comfortable and there was a great joy because of the end of the war. We were so happy. Everyone had been waiting for that moment like for salvation” she recalls.

After the war

The Oliners stayed in Gorlice for a few months but then they moved to Germany and from there to the USA. “They said goodbye and added that they would remember, that they would writeand if they made some money they would try to repay.”But after they left, their contact with the Jamros loosened up a lot.

Jan got married and moved to a nearby village, Stróża. Kalor and Waleria stayed in Zagórzany and tended to their farm together with Maria and her husband. When they died, the Augustyns moved to Gorlice. Maria worked as a librarian.

In 1989 Maria left for New York where her son had been living for 9 years. He was the one who found the Oliners’ phone number. He convinced his mother to get in touch with the couple. Hena invited Maria to her house in Florida. During that visit they both decided to apply for the title of Righteous Among the Nations for her late parents. 

When asked why they were helping Jews, Maria answers: ”Mom was very religious. She believed in  love toward your neighbor; that you have to save others. It was out of the question for her to let them die. She said that we had to save them.”

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Bibliography

  • Czyżewska Anna, Interview with Maria Augustyn, 23.06.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009