The Mika Family

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Story of Rescue - The Mika Family

Righteous

Stefan Mika, a son of Paweł and Karolina, was born in Zaborowo, a Galician village about 60 km east of Krakow, near Bochnia and Brzesko. When World War II broke out, he was a 12-year-old boy and had 3 younger siblings: Genowefa, Maria and Jan. Since Stefan’s mother had cancer, his grandmother was in charge of the house.

The Mikas’ property was pretty big – around 18 hectares. Their house was located on the fringe of the village and was the last one on the side of a forest.

Jews

There was only one Jewish family living in Zaborowo – the Tiders. Stefan recalls: “He was a poor Jew who worked as a tailor (…) Everyone knew what his clothes were like, but at the time they were enough for him to make a living.” He also remembers that Tider and his father, Paweł, used to help each other from time to time: “My father had horses, so sometimes he did some work for this Jew. He plowed his field, or something. And Tider would come and sew something for us. So this acquaintance began earlier and was rather constant.”

The Tiders had 4 children: Mendel, Chaim, Maria (called Peszka) and Anna (called Hania). Stanisław knew all of them by sight. He went with Anna to the same school. People in the village liked the tailor: “When the first teacher in Zaborowo, the director of the school, had died, Tider went to church as if he was a Catholic. He went simply because his teacher had died. So people liked Tider the Jew.”

This is how Stefan describes his relationships with the Tiders: “We were not close friends, just like with anybody else (…) I knew them only because their father used to come to my father. So we had contact. And I also went to their house whenever it was necessary. They had a small house. I’m not sure if they had any more cows – I think they had just one.”

World War II

As Zaborów was far from a city and train stations, it was a relatively quiet place. Stefan recalls that despite obligatory deliveries of food to the occupying army, there were never shortages on his father’s farm.

The Tiders were confined in a ghetto in Brzesko, which Nazis established in 1940. Stefan tells their story: “It was probably 1940 were the War broke out, and the Tiders were taken to the ghetto in Brzesko. They took all of them, the whole family. And the oldest son, Mendel, was assigned to build a road. The road from Cracow to Tamowo was covered with gravel then. Nazis formed a crew to pave the road with stone. And Jews were paving it. Mendel’s parents and probably his mother’s brother were quickly exported from the ghetto and killed. And Mendel survived. His brother, Chaim, was very resourceful. I think he was also the prettiest boy in the whole family. He used to obtain so-called “Aryan papers”. He had obtained these fake documents for both his sisters, so they could go to Germany and work. Chaim used to leave the ghetto from time to time, both legally and illegally. And one day he was simply shot dead when he was leaving it. So the sisters left, the parents died…Only Mendel survived.”

After Mendel had lost his whole family, he escaped from Brześć and was imprisoned in a ghetto in Bochnia, where he met Józef Langdorf, a Jew from Wola Przemykowska, a village near Zoborowo.

Józef and his wife Blanka (married in 1940) were also in the ghetto in Brześć. They had escaped and were hiding in Wola for some time. Then Blanka was offered a hiding place in Cracow (for more information see the article about the Righteous Anna Milczanowska and Wanda Adamczyk). Józef’s  “Semitic features” prevented him from going to the city. For some time he was hiding in the vicinity of Wola. He was eventually imprisoned in the ghetto in Bochnia.

After some time, Mendel and Józef decided to escape. One night they turned up at the Mikas’ house. They asked for help and a hiding place for a few weeks. Both the family and the Jews were convinced that Nazis would capitulate soon, and this hiding would not last more than few weeks…

Help

Hiding place

The Mikas hid the Jews in a stable. Stefan recalls: “The father decided to help them (…). The stable, where we used to keep cows and horses, was pretty big. And the whole attic was packed with straw. We had to cut an entrance in the roof, so they could enter the attic directly from the stable, and not from the outside. So there were horses, there was a crib for food, and there was a ladder over it. They would go up the ladder and lift the roof boards. The boards had been cut out. And they would enter their shelter, which had been arranged among this straw. It was small, no more than 2 meters by 2 meters. And whenever they wanted, they could move the boards away and go down. The door was closed then. So they could also shut themselves from the inside and spend some time in the stable.”

Reality of rescuing

The Mikas had such a big farm that there were no major problems with food. Grandmother prepared meals: “Grandmother, the mother of my mother, was the best. She did most things. She cooked, she prepared. I only brought the food to the stable. I would often go to there because of the animals. I had to go back and forth, and nobody suspected that people were living inside. Anyway, we had to be careful.”

Langdorf’s wife, who knows the story of his rescue, wrote in a letter to the Jewish Historical Institute: “The Mikas didn’t expect any material rewards for rescuing. Food was delivered according to the householders’ current supply. The rescued received hearty meals and ate the same what Mika family ate. Obviously, they couldn’t pay, since they didn’t have any money. They didn’t have any belongings at all.

Stefan describes hygiene issues: “They changed trousers when they had to, but we didn’t wash clothes. Since it was cold, there were no lice or fleas. No vermin at all. Washing was not a problem – we brought a bucket of water and they washed themselves. They could wash their whole bodies whenever their wanted.” And what about diseases? “Diseases were not allowed”.

Winter was the hardest time because of minus temperatures. In the winter evenings Mendel and Józef had to leave the stable and come to the house. During their stay, the doors were shut. And in the village it was quite unusual to shut the door. Stefan recalls: “In the winter evenings they used to come to the house. We would talk, play cards or chess. The windows were curtained and we had normal conversations. The children went to beds earlier and we sat together. We used to sit in one place, mainly in the kitchen, as the fire for cooking warmed up the room. Other rooms were cold. And we had to close the house, so that nobody could get in. The whole family knew about it. Even my 5-year-old brother knew. But we were not allowed to talk about this.”

Danger

The situation got complicated when a bomb disposal unit, securing the withdrawal of Nazi troops, quartered in Zaborowo. A few Nazi soldiers stayed then at the Mikas’. There were also many of them in the neighborhood. It became very risky to hide Jews in the presence of such guests. Having had discussed the situation with the Mikas, Józef and Mendel decided to leave the stable and find a new hiding place on their own. It was December 1943. Stefan believes that they stayed in the village and found a safer place. Józef and Mendel came back to the Mikas in May 1944. They stayed until the end of the War.

After World War II

In January 1945, Soviet troops entered Zaborowo.

“After the liberation, Tider (…) stayed in Tarnów. He was afraid to come back home. Someone moved to his house. People say that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist anymore. But then it still existed. So he didn’t want to go home because he was afraid of this new person. First he stayed in Tarnów and then he emigrated to the United States.” He did not stay in touch with the Mikas.

It was Józef’s wife who applied for the title of the Righteous Among the Nations for Mika family. Why did she wait so long? Stefan recalls: “Polish-Israeli relations were not very good at the time. Moreover, since I held a high office, I didn’t want to reveal the whole story. I didn’t want anyone to disturb me. But after I retired, the wife of this rescued Jew [Langdorf] applied for the medal Righteous Among the Nations for me. We kept in touch and I simply told her when I was ready. Then she applied and I was awarded the title.

Rescuing Jews was extremely risky. Did it frighten Stefan? “I could’ve been scared at the beginning, when I was making the decision. But people get used to situations as time goes by. So I simply stopped thinking about fear, about this responsibility.”

Would he repeat his altruistic behavior today?  “My sister once said: >> I’m surprised that our dad decided to hide Jews – it was so dangerous<< And I said: >>Hey, listen. If you knew an innocent person, who is not a criminal, but can be killed for absolutely no reason, wouldn’t you help him?<< And she replied: >>I don’t know.<< So I said: >>I would rescue this person. No matter the danger.<<” 

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Bibliography

  • Kacprzyk Marta, Interview with Stefan Mika, 16.05.2009
  • Archiwum Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 349, 1858
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009