The Kuchta Family

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Story of Rescue - The Kuchta Family

The Righteous

The Kuchta family lived in the village of Łukowiec Żurowski, now located in Ukraine. Before World War II, the village, lying about 60 km east of Drohobycz, belonged to Żurów district situated in Rohatyń county of Stanisławów province of the Second Polish Republic (the independent Polish state existing between the two world wars).

The Kuchtas’ house lied on the periphery of the village, next to the forest leading to the village of Holeszów. The family also owned a garden and an orchard. The land they had been farming was 6 hectares. The head of the family, Jan Kuchta, was a forester, while his wife, Józefa, took care of the house and raised their children: Jan, Aniela, Władysław, Emilia, Józef and Czesław. Józefa’s sister lived in the nearby town of Żurawno. Her husband, Adam Sobieraj, was a town council member.  

The Jews

The Jewish community of Żurawno constituted 45% of the whole town population. The Jews had their own representative in the town council: Dawid Liberman. Both council members were friends. Dawid had a wife Estera and a son Zwi, also called Heniek. Łukowiec, a large village with about 300 households, was utterly Polish. However, Jan remembers that some Jewish families lived in nearby villages, sometimes a few such families in one place. He recollects a Jewish miller Mosiek and a pharmacist Krol from Żurawno.  

World War II

After the outbreak of World War II, the territory where Łukowiec lay first came under the Soviet occupation (1393-1941) and then was invaded by the Germans (1941-1944). This is how Jan describes the fate of Jews under the Nazi occupation: “When the Germans came, they started to gather all Jews in the ghetto (…), deport them to camps or execute them on site. (…) In the place called Dobrowlany, in the town of Chodorów, near that place (…) [the Germans] gathered the Jews together and forced [them] to dig up holes. I thought that it would be some kind of shelter or something. So they dug this hole: it was quite a large gap. Later the Germans hurried all the Jews from the surroundings and from the ghettos to this place, executed them and covered their bodies with chlorine, lime and soil. And then others started to come.”

He also remembers another episode: “At that time I was traveling to Chodorów. It was the spring – we were planting beetroots, and I was on my way for seed and fertilizer. (…) Then I noticed the Jews that the Germans drove from Chodorów or the surroundings – I was not sure... I was driving my wagon (…). One of the Germans was shouting all the time: »Schnell! Schnell! Schnell!« (…) I was rushing my horses, and suddenly… I did not know from where, a beautiful young Jewish girl jumped out of this crowd and right on my wagon. She sat beside me. I looked over my shoulder, horrified. (…) However, the German soldier noticed her and pulled her back into the line. He said to me: »Raus!«... and so I drove away. He could have shot me! In September 1942 the Nazi deported most of Żurawno Jews to the extermination camp in Bełżec, where they were murdered.

Rózia and Irena

The first people to find shelter at the Kuchtas’ home during the war were Rózia Jampel and her 2-year-old daughter Irena. Rózia was a sister-in-law of a Żurawno pharmacist named Krol, a friend of Jan Kuchta. Krol asked Jan to hide Józia – in this way the woman spent a few months at the Kuchtas’ home. She lived in a separate little room, which was equipped with the flues for the sake of a new resident. Józia participated in everyday life of the family: among other things she cooked and cleaned the rooms. Whenever she wanted to go to the toilet, which was situated outside the house, she would put on a dressing-gown belonging to one of the household members and go out.

After a few months, the Kuchta family received information that people in the village had learnt about the hiding Jews. Somebody must have noticed the stranger hanging about the farmyard, others might have heard the cry of a child. Rózia and Irenka had to leave. According to the information Stefan received from Zwi Liberman, they both survived the war.  

The Libermans

In 1943 nobody deluded themselves about the real intentions that Germans had towards the Jews. The Liberman family, who less than a year ago avoided deportation, was again in danger. The Sobierajs decided to help the Jewish family, with whom they were on friendly terms, and find a safe shelter for them. They asked the Kuchtas whether they could protect the Jews and hide them – the Kuchtas’ farm, situated on the periphery of the village, seemed to be an excellent place to hide the fugitives. Initially, Jan and Józefa opposed: after their experiences with Rózia and Irenka they knew that hiding Jews is a risky and difficult undertaking.   In hiding

Transporting the Libermans

Though initially they were not very enthusiastic about the whole idea, in the end the Kuchtas agreed to accept the Libermans. The farmers sent their children, Jan and Władysława, to bring the Libermans to the household. They were to get through to the suburbs of Żurawno and met with four fugitives: Dawid, Estera, Zwi-Heniek and a friend of the Libermans called Maks Prinz, the son of the habersdasher in Żurawno.

The siblings decided to split their tasks. Władysława took Estera on her wagon. She hid her so well that the onlookers thought that the wagon was empty.

Jan was in a much more difficult situation – he had to bring back home three adult men on foot. “It was not an easy task to bring them home. (…) There was a bridge over the Dniester River, with Germans standing over there (…). I do not know, but maybe they somehow got rid of the Germans. I have no idea. It is difficult after so many years to tell exactly [what happened there]. We crossed that bridge; we were followed closely by my sister and that Jewish girl driving the wagon. (…) We crossed the bridge and were about to leave the track – there was a wagon driving towards the town (…). So we quickly left that slope and hit the ground (…) lying close to the slope. And then the wagon stopped. It turned out that it was the Ukrainian police. They got out of the wagon, standing there, laughing and smoking. They were smoking cigarettes and speaking Ukrainian. (…) If one of us had just coughed there… it would have been our end. [The police] got back on the wagon and drove away, and I [and the Jews] went home.  

Temporary hiding place

The Libermans and Maks found themselves in Łukowiec on 7 or 8 June 1943. Initially, the farmer hid them in the field of corn near the forest.

Summer hiding place

When the reaping time was forthcoming, the Kuchtas prepared the next hiding place in the barn. Judging from their description, it was a small place fenced off with boards and camouflaged with bundles of hays so that no partitions would be seen. The food was delivered from outside, through the hole concealed by planks and bundles of hays.

Danger

Władysława remembers the moment when the Germans accompanied by a dog, a large German shepherd, entered the farmyard. The dog immediately loped off in the direction of the barn. When Władysława saw the dog sniffing around the vicinity of the building, she reacted instantly: “I approached him very closely. I led him out to the orchard, to the garden. It was an enormous dog. A German shepherd. (…) Had he started to bark, had the German asked who was there... .”

Winter hiding place

When the winter came, the Kuchtas prepared a shelter in the stable. The hiding place was located in the granary over the place for animals, where the hay was kept. Jan describes it in the following way: “You had to open a small hatch and pull back the boards. We kept there hay. When the Jews moved in there, the boards had to be pulled away and the food was delivered in this way. Whenever they wanted to go out, as they did it mainly in the evenings, there was a ladder for that purpose. And so they used that ladder to descend. They could leave the stable, go outside and watch the surroundings.” Jan prepared a small skylight in the roof – he removed a tile and replaced it with a pane – so that the fugitives would not lie all day long in the dark.


The Libermans could satisfy their physiological needs either in the stable or they could use a bucket which was later at night emptied into the manure and washed with water. Sometimes at night they would go to the john.


A hair’s-breadth bust


One day the Germans organized military training in the vicinity of Łukowiec. The soldiers came to the Kuchtas’ farmyard and set up an observation point on the roof of the stable where the Libermans were still hiding. One of the soldiers became interested in the skylight, but the farmer quickly explained that one of the tiles had been broken and that he had to use glass in default of other materials. Luckily, this explanation satisfied the soldier’s curiosity.


Makeshift hiding place


Everybody soon understood that the Jews needed a place where they could hide at the times of particular danger. The Kuchtas found an appropriate place in the swamps in the forest between Łukowiec and Holeszów and prepared a hiding place there. The shelter was a large place, padded out with grass and hay, and with a covering protecting the survivors from soaking in the rain.


The forest shelter served its purpose until some people strolling in the woods had discovered it. Luckily, no one tipped the Germans off about the Jews.


Every-day life in hiding


There were no problems with food. “Our household was not poor” – says Jan. “It was not rich too, but just average. (…) After all, we bred our own pigs and we had our own milk. Also, we had eggs, as we kept hens.” In accordance with the commands of their religion, the Libermans did not consume pork. However, this was not a great obstacle for the farmers, whose everyday diet was also based on poultry and dairy goods.


The meals were prepared and served by Józefa and Władysława, who also took care of laundry. When the Jews stayed in the farm, they received food each day. Things got worse, however, if they had to take shelter in the corn or in the forest. At those times they were devoid of food even for a few days. In the article entitled “Ocalone cztery światy” [“Four saved worlds”] by Jadwiga Burdzy-Wardach, Zwi Liberman recollects the most dramatic moments in his life:


“Before the harvest, we had been hiding in the corn, and after the harvest – in the woods, because the Kuchtas were afraid of German inspections. At those times the food was delivered to us twice a week. It sometimes happened, though, that no one would come. We did not know what that meant. We were afraid that we would lose contact with the only people who lent us a helping hand. After a discussion, we left the forest at dusk and approached the Kuchtas’ house. There was some kind of party going inside the house, so we sat in the garden among the tomato seedlings and waited. When it was pitch dark, Jan, who had noticed us before, came to us and reassured that everything would be all right. When the guests left, we did not return to the swamps but stayed in the barn.”


From time to time the fugitives would leave the loft in the barn and come out to the farmyard to see what the Kuchtas were doing. “They would come in the evening or at night. In the evening they would leave the loft and walk around the farmyard, but they had to be careful. (…) Although we lived near the forest and in seclusion, the neighbors’ household was close, like just across the road. (…) One had to be careful, very careful (…). [The Rescued] were very interested in the latest news. We all listened to the radio. If there was any news, we passed them on to the Jews, who were even more interested in them than we. They really wanted to survive” – remembers Jan.


The farmers did not tell their younger children Emilia, Józef and Czesław that there were Jews hiding in the farm. „They did not know about it but began to suspect something. After all, we cooked meals… and we carried them to the fugitives in secret. We did our best not to raise any suspicions but they learnt in the end. (…) Children are very observant – they can guess things quicker than adults” – explains Jan.


The Kuchtas did not know whether there were other people who were hiding Jews in Łukowiec Żurowski. “We were not aware about it. And then it turned out [that] there were many other Jews hiding in the village” – says Jan and lists the following names of the rescuers: Kozioł, Szot, Burdzyn, Krawczyk. He also emphasizes the merits of Jan Bal,the village administrator.


After World War II


At the end of July 1944, the Soviet army marched into Łukowiec and the Libermans could finally leave their hiding place. They returned to Żurawno and after a few months departed for Cracow. Heniek-Zwi enrolled in the faculty of law at the Jagiellonian University, which he completed in Paris. After that, the whole family departed for Israel. Already on his pension, Zwi Liberman moved to Germany toDüsseldorf, where he became the rabbi’s deputy.


After establishing the new borders, the Kuchtas’ village was incorporated into the territory of the USSR. In September 1945, the family was deported to Lubin. They received a new farm, but Jan preferred a firefighter’s profession to husbandry. He married a woman from his native land, while Władysława married a deported fellow countryman.


A few years after the war, Maks Prinz moved to Israel. He established contacts with the Kuchtas in as late as the 90s thanks to the help of Liberman, who had found them at that time. Zwi invited Jan to Düsseldorf so that together they could reconstruct the story of rescue and prepare the materials needed to begin the procedure of awarding the Libermans the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Jan senior and Józefa received the titles posthumously.

                

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Bibliography

  • Archiwum Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 349, 2406
  • Burdzy-Wardach Jadwiga, Ocalone cztery światy, „Konkrety”, nr 4
    A story about the Kuchta family from Lublin awarded medal of the Righteous.
  • Czyżewska Anna, Interview with Władysława Buczak and Jan Kuchta, 9.03.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009