The Kaczmarek Family

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Story of Rescue - The Kaczmarek Family

Stanisława and Franciszek Kaczmarek, together with their five children, lived in Sieraków in the Poznańskie Province (now the Wielkopolskie Province). On 12th December 1939, the German invaders decreed that, from that moment, the Province belonged to the Third Reich and that its inhabitants must vacate their homes immediately. Like many others, the Kaczmarek family was displaced without any means to support themselves. They were not even permitted to take any of their goods and chattels.

The Kaczmarek family relocated to the small town of Żyrardów (now in the Mazowieckie Province). They lived in dire financial circumstances but, thanks to the kindness of neighbours, they found work quickly enough. The father was employed in the fire brigade. Daughters, Irena, Emilia and Janina also found positions. The son, Bogdan, undertook studies in a mechanical plant.

In the second half of 1943, a Red Cross employee from Milanówek visited the Kaczmarek home. Mrs Kaczmarek told her then that, should the family be fortunate enough to survive the War, they would agree to take in and bring up an orphan. In the autumn of 1944, the Kaczmarek family received a request to come to the Polish Red Cross centre. It turned out that the employee wanted to give them an orphan to look after straight away.

The girl was called Barbara Rebhun. Despite understanding that the girl was Jewish, the Kaczmarek family agreed to take her in. Basia was two and a half years. She looked gaunt and neglected. At first, she would not say a word. She slept on the floor instead of a bed. After a few days, it turned out that she spoke Polish and German fluently.

From Basia’s own story (today she is known as Pnina Gutman), we know that she was born in 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto. Even before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as a nine month old child with the help of a German soldier, she was smuggled into the Aryan side. Her parents had hung a tag around her neck with the name Barbara Wengliński (it is unknown whether this is her real surname). In accordance with her parents’ wishes, she was handed over to Charlotte Rebhun, a Christian, the wife of a German Jew who was later deported to Treblinka. In her apartment on Krochmalna street, Charlotte sheltered a few other Jewish people. Basia’s parents asked Charlotte, if they did not return for the child, that she make contact with their family in the USA. It is unknown as to whom they were referring.

Basia lived with Charlotte until September 1944. After the Warsaw Uprising was put down, the child was separated from her carer who had been sent to a work camp in Częstochowa. The girl was placed onto a railway freight wagon, certainly one of those used to transport Jews to the camps.

Not long afterwards, Basia was found at the Milanówek railway station. Thanks to the initiative of that Polish Red Cross worker, the child ended up in the Kaczmarek home. Her new carers treated Basia like a member of their own family. They tried to give her toys and sweets and to make life pleasant for her. Basia stayed with the Kaczmarek family until the end of the War, at which time they all returned together to Sieraków.

The Kaczmarek family were prepared to adopt Basia, to have her baptised and to incorporate her into their own family. They acknowledged, however, that before they take those steps, they should place advertisement in the newspaper containing Basia’s details and stating that she was looking for her family. They also wrote to the Central Committee of Polish Jews asking if any of the girl’s relatives had survived. No relatives were found. But, in March 1948, a representative of the Committee announced to the Kaczmarek family that the girl must leave her current home and return to a Jewish environment. Basia then ended up in a Jewish orphanage in Otwock.

Not long afterwards, in October 1948, she was adopted by the Jewish Himel family. Two years later, she left with them for Israel. Contact with the Kaczmarek family was broken off. In 1996, Basia (living in Israel as Pnina Himel, married surname Gutman), began tracing her past. In that same year, she made contact with the Kaczmarek family and visited them. She was still unable to find any trace of her real family.

In 1997, Franciszek and Stanisława Kaczmarek were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations

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