The Matusiewicz family

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Story of Rescue - The Matusiewicz family

Fiszel (1905–1943) and Etel (Edzia) (née Gottlieb) Helfgott lived in Synewódzko, Stanisławów Province (currently in Ukraine), before the war. Fiszel worked as an accountant in a chain of sawmills. Their daughter Anita was born in 1934. Under the Soviet occupation the family still lived in the old house, and the father worked in his profession. At the beginning of the German occupation, in the summer of 1941, the Helfgotts had to move to Skole, where a ghetto had been established. In October of 1942 Edzia was captured and probably died in the extermination camp in Bełżec.

Fiszel asked Józef Matusiewicz, a Polish storekeeper whom he met while working in a group of Jewish forced labourers during the construction of a bridge, to help in rescuing his only child. Matusiewicz agreed to transport the girl out of the ghetto and to keep her. He indeed carried Anita in a potato bag and took her hidden in the car to his home.

Anita was presented to the neighbours as an orphaned niece whose parents died of the flu. Matusiewicz's daughter, Emilia, mentions the following in a letter of 1998: "parents treated her just like one of their own [...]. When the father brought [her], he said: »we have yet another daughter«". Emilia taught the girl writing and reading as well as Catholic prayers. Fiszel sometimes visited his daughter.

In February of 1943 the Ukrainian police came for the girl, most likely as a result of denunciation. The house was surrounded, but before the police entered the apartment, the child managed to hide. Emilia remembered this event as follows: "At that time I was in a different room with Anitka; it had a window with the view of the orchard and garden, and in a second I threw her out of the window like a ball and she hid in the bushes. Her rescue was really a miracle".

After this event, Anita returned to her father, who lived with a group of other surviving Jews engaged in forced labour. When the men left for work, Anita hid in the closet. Seeing this, Józef again decided to save the child. Emilia recalls: "My father had a very kind heart, he worked with her father at one desk, and she was always locked in the closet. He could not stand the suffering of the child and brought her home. He did this selflessly for religious reasons".

Matusiewicz got a birth certificate for Anita, who was now "Anna Jaworska" and took her to his nephew, Father Michał Kujat in the village of Liczkowce near Husiatyn. The girl stayed in his parish as an orphan. After the arrival of Russian troops in March 1944, she returned to the Matusiewicz family, who told her about her father's death. But she could not stay there for long. According to Emilia's statement: "Before going West she went back to us. We tried to arrange the trip quickly, because they again started checking us".

Anita's father left a letter to his brother in the Congo and the addresses of his and his murdered wife's siblings in the hope that the relatives would take care of his child. Matusiewicz wrote to
C. Begleiter – the sister of Anita's mother, who lived in New York. She notified the third sister, Sala, who survived thanks to Oskar Schindler. In April of 1946 Sala found the girl, but she initially did not want to leave her caregivers. "It was really hard for us. She cried a lot, and so did we. I had to ride with her and aunt Sala to her family so that she could get accustomed to a different environment", said Emilia. Anita stayed in Katowice and Łódź with her family, and then in August 1946 she went with her aunt to Paris, and two years later she left for Canada. In Toronto she went to school and started a family. The Matusiewicz family lived in Kluczbork, where Emilia got married and raised three children.

Both families have remained in close contact. Emilia wrote in her letter: "And so the great love and friendship have remained to this today. I was in Canada once, she invited me and one of my daughters to meet Anitka's family. We meet whenever she is with young people in Poland".

In 1998 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Józef and Paulina Matusiewicz and her daughter Emilia Młot the title of Righteous Among the Nations.