The Kowalski Family

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Story of Rescue - The Kowalski Family

Righteous

Lucylla Kowalska’s mother was a teacher, her father – a school inspector. They lived in Bydgoszcz. After father’s death in 1938 mother and daughter moved to Dąbrowa Tarnowska in Małopolska (Little Poland).

Wojciech Kowalski’s father was a veterinary doctor, his mother died in childbirth. His mother’s sister, who had recently lost a child of her own, took care of him. The aunt soon became his stepmother. The family lived in Warsaw, but later on moved to Pińczów, where Wojciech started middle school.

This is how Wojciech Kowalski describes his father: “He regarded everyone just as a human being, regardless of race or religion – simply a man or a woman. After he died, a mohel – a kosher butcher – came to my stepmother and asked her for my father’s personal data needed for the Jewish prayer for his soul. Jews were praying for a non-Jew, that’s the kind of person my father was”.

Lucylla and Wojciech met in Dąbrowa Tarnowska in 1939, they got married 2.5 years later. During the war Wojciech Kowalski ran a company which did irrigation works in the Pińczów county. The couple lived there till 1942.

Before the war

Before the war, in Dąbrowa Tarnowska, there was a Jewish community of about 2,500 people. Lucylla attended school together with several Jewish boys and girls. She recalls some common adventures: “I remember – with a friend [Bella] we played hookey, it was our first time. We talked about doing it together and finally we did skip classes. Dąbrowa is surrounded by fields, groves and woods, and we lay somewhere there on the grass and were sunbathing. Only the basketball was to be played after lunch, and we needed to return for that. And we were red as a boiled lobster. So we came sun-burnt like this, especially her, because she had such white complexion, while I was darker. We looked really ghastly – so we had to confess.”

She also recollects: “I often visited Rutka, for instance, on her birthday. I know I’ll never forget the pastries her mother baked – with mousse and a nut inside. They were... well, simply delicious. We had a Jewish tailor – he would make anything, and also did alterations – to shorten, let out, take in. And there was a cobbler, he would always do things very well, any time of day”.
The ghetto

In July 1942 the Germans created a ghetto in Dąbrowa Tarnowska. Mrs. Kowalska tells us: “I often went in the evening with a loaf of bread and threw it over the wall [to help our neighbours] the Schindlers, a Jewish family. They might have even not known who it was, one didn’t show oneself, just threw over the wall, to help, because they couldn’t leave to buy something, nothing was allowed. [One day] in the morning [the Nazis] knocked on their door – it was opened by Ozjasz, my friend from school – and they at once shot him, then went to the bedroom, the parents were asleep, they shot them, and Josek, my brother’s friend, wanted to jump from the balcony into the garden, but he, too, was shot, and only Juda and Leo Schindler survived”.

Extermination of the Dąbrowa ghetto took place in September 1943. “Jewish pogrom started in our village. It was a terrifying view, because our house stood on the very border of the ghetto, we had ghetto on both sides, they let us out to the ‘Aryan side’ through a big garden” – says Lucylla.

“Before my eyes, that was a horrible experience... Such a pretty Jewish girl, no more than 18, with long plaits, and that Gestapo man was pushing her, and she fell to her knees and embraced his boot and begged him to save her, and he just kicked her and shot her, right in front of my eyes. I saw a lot of people being shot”.

Henryk Margulies

Henryk Margulies was one of Lucylla’s school friends, “he was a son of a notary, they had a very nice house, a villa on a small hill, he lived with his mother, because his father had died before the war” – recalls Lucylla. “His father owned some estate in Dąbrowa Tarnowiecka. For instance, the church was build on the ground which belonged to him” adds Wojciech Kowalski.

“And when the situation got really bad, they were simply shooting those Jews, chasing them like hares, it was in 1942. And then one evening Henryk dropped in on us and he says: ‘Lula, save us, save us, help us’” – tells Lucylla to a researcher from the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews.

Help

Mrs. Kowalska continues her story: “As a young girl I worked in a dairy, in the office, doing accounts, so I had access to a phone. I already knew my husband – then my fiance – who lived in Pińczów. He supervised some irrigation works in Chmielnik near Pińczów. He had a permit and employed some workers. Actually, he was an engineer, but during the war he started those irrigation projects that weren’t really his specialty. So I called my fiance and asked him: ‘Look, couldn’t you find a job for my friend, Henryk?’ And my husband, being in love with me, says: ‘Sure, let him come!’ So then Henryk Margulies came to me. I gave him the address, explained where it was. ‘You can go there, my fiance will take care of you’. And, of course, he went there with his mother”.

Wojciech Kowalski employed Margulies and let him use his office, rented from a farmer, as accomodation. Henryk and his mother stayed there for 2.5 years. Ida hardly ever went out, she took care of the housework.
The office was located in Chmielnik, in Kielce district, while Wojciech and Lucylla lived at the time in Czechów near Pińczów, “so that my husband travelled 16 km [by bike] every day to and from work” – says Mrs. Kowalska.

With the help of a friendly priest, Lucylla arranged for a fake birth certificate for Henryk and “Aryan papers” under the name of Marian Jackowski. Henryk Margulies used them till the end of war.

Denunciation

Lucylla relates: “[When Henryk] worked [in Wojciech’s company], we, in Czechów, were anxious that something bad might happen, we lived in constant fear. Once some people with guns barged in, I don’t know whether they were from the resistance or what, but they ordered us to stand against the wall with our hands raised and they searched the place, but they were Polish. They took my husband’s typewriter and some other staff, scared us and were gone”.

After 2.5 years, at the turn of 1944/1945, an informer told the Germans about Ida’s and Henryk’s hide-out. Someone in the village guessed or suspected this, in any case he came to Henryk and said: ‘Watch out, because Gestapo might have been told about you’ – relates Lucylla. The Marguelieses hid at the Kowalskis’ place, and they all escaped in time. Unfortunately, Gestapo shot the farmer who rented out the office-shelter to Wojciech.

Escape

The Kowalski couple escaped to Wrocław, Henryk and his mother – to Cracow. The further story of the Margulieses is described in a book by Miriam Peleg-Mariańska and Mordechaj Peleg, entitled “Witnesses: Life in occupied Kraków”.

According to Sabina, Henryk’s widow: „He came to Cracow with little money and no address. Wandering aimlessly around, he accidentally came across and irrigation company’s office. It was already past working hours. Since the office was lit, he went inside and found three Poles sitting around the table. He introduced himself, told them he had some experience in that kind of work and asked if by any chance they needed another employee.

The answer was unexpected: ‘right now we need a fourth for bridge’. He was lucky, he was an excellent bridge player. They played late into the night and Henryk won both quite a lot of money and the players’ liking. With their help he got a job in the office and, since he spoke good German, was soon promoted to the position of estate controller. He stayed at this job till the end of war”.

As we further read in the book, Margulies became a clerk in the sub-prefecture. It was amazing that in spite of his “Jewish appearance” he wasn’t afraid to hold such a prestigious position, involving continuous contact with Germans. Taking advantage of the possibilities connected with his job, Henryk supplied all kinds of official forms, stamped and signed by Germans, that were needed by Jews with “Aryan papers” and by members of Polish resistance. Miriam Peleg-Mariańska also describes how he helped Feliks Misiołek to find a job, a place to live and fake documents while the latter was in hiding.

After the war

Henryk Margulies emigrated to Israel in the 1960s (probably in 1968). He married Sabina from Bielsko-Biała. He was a lawyer. In 1983 he invited Lucylla and Wojciech to Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, the couple were refused passports by the then authorities. Until his death in March 1984 Henryk kept in touch with the Kowalskis through correspondence.

After the war Janina Chmura – Lucylla’s mother – was visited by Leon and Juda Schindler, whom the women helped to survive the ghetto in Dąbrowa.

Family story

During the war there happened a certain incident which the Kowalskis found especially meaningful. As told by Lucylla: “There was a forceful recruitment to work in Germany. The Germans were walking around the village and grabbed young men and girls from their homes; and they came to me. I was alone at home, we were then renting out a small room in the village. The Germans ordered me to join the line of people that were meant to be taken to Germany. So I am showing them my wedding ring and saying that I am a married woman and shouldn’t be taken.

But they say ‘everybody can put on a ring and pretend’ – and they got me just as I was, wearing only a dress and slippers. And so we are walking along the road, I am feeling quite desperate – what to do, my husband will come home and I’ll be gone. And suddenly, after a hundred yards or so, I hear somebody screaming ‘Save your wife’. My husband was on his way to work, but something was telling him not to go, and he turned back. When he returned he learned that I was already near the Hajdaszek train station – they took us there and put us on the train. My husband got there and went straight to that German and told him sharply – he was very self-assured – he said ‘What’s that? Why are you taking my wife?’ He began shouting at them ‘This is not allowed!’ – and they let me go”.

More

Bibliography

  • Zapomniana część historii Dąbrowy Tarnowskiej
  • Miriam Peleg-Mariańska, Mordechaj Peleg, Witnesses: Life in occupied Kraków, Londyn
  • Mojkowski Karol, Interview with Lucylla and Wojciech Kowalscy, 19.06.2009