The Latos Family

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Story of Rescue - The Latos Family

Wacława Latos worked in the factory owned by the Jewish industrialist Mamlok in Sosnowiec. She began work in 1926, when she was 14 years old. Prior to World War II she assumed a high foreman position there. During all those years, she stayed in touch with the industrialist’s family, and especially with his daughters Adela and Zofia.

When the war broke out, most of the Mamlok family ended up in the Sosnowiec ghetto, located in the Środula district. Wacława and her husband Józef helped the Mamlok family by bringing them food and medicine.

The dissolution of the ghetto in Sosnowiec took place in August 1943. Mrs. Mamlok, who was seriously ill and who wanted to die with honor, committed suicide. Adela, together with her husband Adolf Laneman and her other sister Janina, ended up in a transport heading to Auschwitz. En route to the train, when they were crossing under the train bridge, Adolf pushed Adela out of the column. He saved her, but was unable to escape himself. Adolf and Janina both died from typhus in Auschwitz.

Adela recounts: “Immediately after that I ran into a side street, ripped off the yellow star with the sign “Jew,” and went straight on Wiejska Street, to the house of Wacława and Józef Latos. I did not know anyone else, whom I could approach in this situation.”

The Latos’ took Adela in despite their destitute living situation (small kitchen and one room) and terrible sanitary conditions (lack of a sewage system and running water). They made their decision instantly: “She came, so she will stay.” When guests appeared at the house, Adela hid in the closet, where a pillow and cough syrup were already prepared for her. Particular danger was posed by the fact that many people in Sosnowiec knew Adela and knew about her origin.

Also, a 12-year-old son of the Latos’, Janusz, lived in the apartment. Adela emphasizes that despite his young age, the boy understood the situation well. He knew how to behave in order not to reveal Adela’s presence, “When someone knocked on the door, Janusz kept him at the door for as long as he could to give me time to hide in the closet.”

The Latos’ cared for Adela for eight months, until April 1944. In the fall, they placed her for a few weeks in Śląsk, in Jeleśń and in the Przyborów village. They visited her every week. In spring 1944, the Latos’ and Adela decided to arrange for Adela’s exit abroad. Józef made efforts to send off Adela to Austria as a forced laborer. He managed to bribe a clerk from the labor office (Arbeitsamt), arrange for “Aryan papers” for Adela for the name Cesarz, and receive approval for her departure to Villach (near Linz in Austria). At that time, Adela’s sister, Zofia stayed there with her husband and son.

The Latos’ also provided help to Zofia’s family. Her husband, Feliks Lissak, had served as the manager of the factory, in which Wacława worked. Feliks had assumed that position before the war, after the death of Zofia’s, Adela’s, and Janina’s father. Zofia met Feliks at the university, and married him despite the protests of her extended family, who did not accept marriages with non-Jews. In 1940, the Lissaks and their son Andrzej were deported to the camp in Frysztat (Freistadt; today in the Czech Republic). The Germans did not discover the fact that Zofia was of Jewish origin, thanks to which she avoided being sent to Auschwitz.

Wacława witnessed the Lissaks’ departure. At the train station, Zofia told Wacława about the gold hidden in their house and asked for bringing it to her. Wacława retrieved the gold from the sealed apartment. In order to enter the apartment, she damaged a water tank in the cellar: “the [female] building supervisor rushed in […] that water was leaking. And I went there, pretended to look at it, and I say: ‘So I must enter. The apartment is sealed […]. So I must [enter] through the attic.’ […] On the card which Zocha Lissak gave me there was a plan, [saying] that under the window in the bathroom, in a shoe, is gold wrapped in some cloth and that it needs to be taken out.” Wacława later went to Frysztat and brought the Lissaks the valuables and food.

Andrzej, the Lissaks’ son, remembered Wacława’s visit: “I was eight years old at the time. […] I vividly remember how one day I saw Mrs. Latos walking through an open field. […] she gave me a food package. […] It is hard to describe what we had felt then. The food we received was wonderful.” Soon after, the Lissaks were transferred to a camp in Raciborz, where Wacława had visited them a few times. From there, they were moved to Villach. Wacława continued to support them by sending them food packages.

During the occupation, the Latos’ also provided help to the Mamloks’ acquaintance, a Czech ophthalmologist, Dr. Maksymilian Dreifus. Wacława helped him find shelter in Sosnowiec and establish contact with his sister. They also helped the Mamloks’ cousin, Stella Kipmann and her husband.

After the war, the Latos’ moved to Katowice. Józef Latos died in 1967 and Wacława – in 1991. Adela, who lived in Great Britain after the war, had visited Wacława a few times – in 1966, 1980, and 1985. The two women documented their conversation about the war time on tape. In 1984, Wacława and Józef Latos received the Righteous Among the Nations award. Wacława, together with her son Janusz and his family had visited Adela in Great Britain numerous times. Until her death in 1997, Adela remained a close friend, practically an informal family member of the Latos’, a beloved “distant” grandmother and great-grandmother. In Great Britain, she helped the needy, worked on a volunteer basis, and did much good for many people.