Pstrusiński Henryk

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Story of Rescue - Pstrusiński Henryk

Before the war, Henryk Pstrusiński was the owner of a bakelite factory at Powiśle St. in Cracow. His wife Antonina Zofia (née Wiśniowska, 1915–1992), a graduate of the teachers college, taught Polish language and history. The Pstrusińskis lived at the Na Groblach Square. They had many Jewish friends and acquaintances.

During the German occupation the Pstrusińskis were involved in underground activities: Henry (nickname "Pik" [Spade]) operated in a sabotage unit of the Home Army, in "Żelbet" group, whereas his wife (nickname "Dama Pikowa" [Queen of Spades]) kept secret documents and carried packages with ammunition. Jews went to the Pstrusińskis' apartment – mostly old friends, who received various help from the family. Their daughter Jadwiga remembers, among others, two sisters who sought refuge with them after escaping from the transport of the Częstochowa ghetto. After a while they were arrested and probably died.

The Jewish friends who were helped by the Pstrusińskis were family members of merchant Mosze Rotbard (1889–1945). Mosze and his wife Chawa (née Cuker) and four children: a blind Dawid (Dudi 1918–1941?), Eugenia (Genia (later Rotter), Helena (later Weiss) and Szmuel, before the war living at 2 Straszewskiego St., also in Cracow.

At the beginning of the occupation, the Rotbards were deported from Cracow – first to Prądnik and then to Wieliczka. The blind Dawid was left there under the care of a paid Polish family. But soon the boy was thrown out from home by them and shot by a German patrol.

The Rotbards together with the three remaining were placed in the Cracow ghetto established in Podgórze in March 1941. Genia Rotbard was arrested shortly before the liquidation of the ghetto and thrown into the Montelupich Prison. She was taken for transport, but managed to jump out of the train to Auschwitz. The peasants who found her near the tracks took care of the girl. After recovery, Genia went to Cracow and found refuge with Pstrusiński.

Soon Genia's brother Szmuel also arrived there. During the liquidation of the Cracow ghetto in March 1943 his mother, Chawa Rotbard bribed a Ukrainian policeman who allowed Szmuel to escape from the Plac Zgody (Concord Square), where the selection was taking place. Henryk hid Genia and Szmuel in the building containing workshop that belonged to him before the war.

Meanwhile, Mosze, Chawa and Helena Rotbard were deported to the camp in Płaszów. Helena was taken to the camp in Skarżysko Kamienna; she then managed to escape it with the help of Pstrusiński and join her siblings. Mosze was deported in August 1944 to the camp in Mauthausen, where he was murdered in January 1945. His wife was taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

After the war, Chawa Rotbard returned to Cracow and there she met with Szmuel and his daughters. Pstrusiński help them to find a small apartment.

Shmuel enrolled to a school organised by the Jewish Committee in Cracow, and moved from Poland to Israel in 1946. He arrived there in August 1947, and was detained on the way in Cyprus. In Israel, he married a Holocaust survivor – Fridja (b. 1935). He taught there and lived in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, and he still is its member. For many years he worked as a teacher and then began studies in the field of zoology; he is a specialist in marine fish farming. In 2000 he published his autobiographical book titled The Green Horsemen. He also translates Polish books into Hebrew.

The Pstrusińskis stayed in Cracow. Shortly after the war, their second daughter was born – Jadwiga (later a professor of the Institute of Oriental Philology at the Jagiellonian University and Warsaw University). In 1951 Pstrusiński was arrested for his underground activity. He was interrogated and sent to the Montelupich Prison for a year. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Home Army, the Cross of Valour and the Bronze Cross of Merit with Swords. He was also a social activist – inspector of school motorcycle sections at the Municipal Committee of Physical Culture in Cracow.

In 2008 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Henryk Pstrusiński the title of Righteous Among the Nations.