The Kmita Family

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Story of Rescue - The Kmita Family

Both, Zofia Bronstein née Gewircman and Elżbieta Kmita (died in 1958), a daughter-in-law of Karolina and Mikołaj Kmita, lived in Kovel (now in Ukraine) on Monopolowa Street. They were neighbors.

In June 1941 the German army captured the city, and in May 1942 the Nazis set up two ghettos. In one of them they gathered all the Jewish inhabitants unable to work and executed them all a month later. The second ghetto was liquidated a little later – in August 1942.

Zofia Bronstein escaped from the ghetto in May 1942 after the first “extermination action”, in which all of her relatives lost their lives. At first she wandered around nearby fields and villages. Soon she reached Kovel and knocked on the door of Elżbieta Kmita’s house. Karolina, Elżbieta’s mother-in-law, was at home too, visiting her daughter-in-law. She was a simple, religious woman who decided immediately and without hesitation to help the Jewish girl.

Elżbieta provided Zofia with documents that belonged previously to Elżbieta’s niece, Wanda Holz, who had fled to Hungary. Karolina’s husband, Mikołaj Kmita, gave the Jewish girl a ride in his cart to his household in Boża Darówka. During the ride, she had her eyes covered to conceal her “bad looks”. She stayed at the Kmitas’ house, which consisted of only one room and a kitchen, as the rest of the building had been burnt down.

In September 1942 in the nearby village of Hołoby rumors went around that Jews were hiding in its vicinity. The Nazis started to search one house after another. As a consequence, the Kmitas built a shelter in the field, where Zofia and four other Jews from Hołoby took cover for a period of two weeks. Every day Karolina Kmita brought some food for the fugitives.

In November 1942 the German occupies ordered all the surviving Jews to gather in Hołoby, assuring them that there was nothing to fear. Despite the pressure from her relatives to release the  Jewish girl, Karolina Kmita refused, suspecting that this was a trap. She was not going to leave the girl.

She prepared another hiding place in the field for Zofia and started to bring her food at night, carefully covering her own tracks. “Sometimes she would crawl, and sometimes she would camouflage herself with sheets during blizzards, sometimes with her fingers attacked by frostbite ” – said Mosze Bronsztajn, Zofia’s son, at the ceremony held in the Gardens of the Yad Vashem Institute in 2009.

In June 1943, when the Nazis’ vigilance decreased somewhat, Zofia returned to her previous shelter situated near the Kmitas’ house. Soon, however, a housemaid discovered her presence, so the Jewish girl had to hide in a hay compartment in the barn. There she met Dora Kac, whom she had known from before World War II, and who had been hiding in the Kmitas’ household for a few months.

In September of the same year the Nazis discovered the presence of both girls while looking for hidden weapons, but Karolina Kmita convinced them that the girls were in fact Poles helping in the household. The two girls run to the forest immediately:

“[Karolina] came for us in the night, she told us to get back home, where there was warm food and a bed waiting for us. She was wearing a wide coat, under which she hid bread and other foodstuffs – she went to the forest to pass that food to the Jewish families hiding there in various places. Grandma [Karolina] asked us not to tell anybody from the family that the Nazis had found us, because she was still going to hide and help us. It was on this day that Dora Kac’s temples went gray” – writes Zofia Bronstein in her memoirs published in Israel in 1957.

In October 1943 the Kmitas hid in their household two otherJews, sisters named Rachela and Pynia Bujnes. All four Jews survived until the liberation of the area in the summer of 1944.

After the war Zofia departed for Haifa in Israel, while Karolina and Mikołaj Kmita moved to Gdynia. They were in touch with each other until their very deaths – Zofia always called Karolina Kmita “Grandma”. Today the grandchildren of both families are still in contact.