The Schnitzer Family

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Story of Rescue - The Schnitzer Family

In 1920, Józef Sznitzer, a Jewish man, married Józefa Stopka, a Polish woman. They had three children: Eugeniusz, Julian, and Maria. The family lived in the village of Majdan Pieniacki (Brody county, Tarnopol province, currently Ukraine). The Sznitzers’ house was located farther away from other households, next to a deep valley, behind which was a dense forest.

At first, their house consisted of only one room with a dirt floor. When the children grew up, Józef began to expand the house; he planned to add two rooms and build a floor. Soon, the war broke out, and, in 1941, the Germans occupied areas in eastern Poland. In 1942, Józef finished constructing a cellar, which served as a shelter. A storage filled with construction materials located above the cellar masked the shelter.

In spring 1942, German gendarmes entered the Sznitzer household and drafted Eugeniusz for forced labor in Germany. Fourteen-year-old Julian tried to intervene on his brother’s behalf. A German officer hit him on his face with a whip with such force that the scar remained on Julian’s face until today.

Jews lived in the nearby towns of Brody, Sasów, and Złoczów. In 1942, when the Germans initiated their plan to annihilate the Jewish people, the local Jews began to escape to nearby forests and to look for help in villages, such as Majdan Pieniacki, Huta Pieniacka, Huta Werchabucka, and Dzwoniec. Besides Jews, there were also Russian partisans and armed groups of Ukrainian nationalists who operated in the forests.

Józefa Sznitzer’s cousin, Katarzyna Kulczycka, lived in Brody. In spring 1943, her husband Franciszek brought Hersz Frid (called Hrycio), a Jew from Sasów, on a horse-drawn wagon to the Sznitzers. The Kulczyckis believed that a Jew would have better chance of hiding in a house located out of view. Józef put up Hersz in a den in the barn, which housed two horses, a cow and a heifer, and sheep. Hersz helped Józef around the farm. Familial ties between the Sznitzers and the Kulczyckis guaranteed mutual help and absolute discretion. The neighbors were told that Hersz was Józefa’s nephew.

In November 1943, two Jewish escapees from the Lwów ghetto knocked on the Sznitzers’ door. They were emaciated, cold, and hungry; at the end of their tether. They had no documents. One of them was named Wilhelm. They asked for help.

Józef Sznitzer often repeated the phrase “to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty.” The Sznitzers fed the visitors a hot meal, gave them warm water, and provided them with shelter. In the winter, the two men together with Hersz slept in the den in the barn. The second hiding spot was created inside the barn in case of emergency. As tailors, the two newcomers made clothes while in hiding. They also helped with household chores.

In late fall 1943, Hersz Frid came across an 18-year-old girl and a boy in the nearby forest and brought them to the Sznitzers. They were extremely exhausted, cold, hungry, and sick.

The girl, Klara Brill, and her brother Handli escaped from the Brody ghetto and wandered in the nearby forests for a few months. Klara suffered from a strong cold. Jóżefa Sznitzer cured her with homemade treatments consisting of garlic, and hot milk with butter. The girl also received a special warm place to sleep in a nook above the tiled oven. A Jewish dentist, Isak Kupferman, who hid nearby, helped in treating Klara. Thinking that Klara suffered from pneumonia, he applied suction cups on her body.

Isak hid at the house of the Margazyn family, with whom the Sznitzers retained friendly ties. The Margazyns also hid Philip Chalfin, Greta Grunfeld, Herman Achtentuch, and Lusia Skulska and her cousin Mańka. The Polish families and the Jews hidden by them helped each other. For example, the Jews who stayed with the Sznitzers made clothes for the Margazyn family.

The Sznitzers’ children, Julian and Maria, were involved in helping Jews, too. Their task was to warn about every stranger who appeared in the village. The barking of dogs also signaled possible danger. Hearing it, the Jews escaped to the barn (in the winter) or to the forest (in the summer). When the danger passed, the Sznitzers opened the doors to the barn’s den, which served as a sign that the Jews could return to their hiding place.

Despite the far-reaching secrecy, someone informed the Germans about Józef’s Jewish origin. On 25 February 1944, gendarmes entered the Sznitzer household. Everyone, except for Józef, managed to escape and hide. The gendarmes ordered Józef to undress to his shirt and underwear. Hitting him with rifle butts and kicking him, they asked about the remaining members of the family. Józef did not betray them. The gendarmes then shot him.

Bolesław, the son of Katarzyna and Franciszek Kulczycki, recalls, “In 1975, I was at the wedding of Maria Huzarska in Wiązów near Strzelin (Wrocław province). There, in a conversation with my aunt Józefa Sznitzer I asked, ‘In what circumstances did your husband Józef die?’ She answered, ‘They denounced him! The neighbors denounced him!’”

The residents of the village suspected their neighbor, JS, to be a collaborator. German gendarmes frequented his house, brought him food, cigarettes, and vodka.

After the tragedy in the Sznitzer house, Wilhelm and his friend left their hiding place to join Russian partisans. Hersz, Klara, and Handli stayed in hiding. After the Red Army passed the eastern front in March 1944, they returned to Brody and Sasów. And they soon left Poland. Klara and Handli Brill went to the United States. Handli (Harry) settled in Pennsylvania. Klara (Clara) established a family and settled in Florida. She has four children and six grandchildren. She is a well known and liked person, active and respected in her community. It was on Clara Dreier’s request that the Sznitzer family was awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations.

In 1945, the Sznitzers moved to the Recovered Territories in western Poland; they settled in Głubczyce in Lower Silesia. In 1947, Eugeniusz returned from Germany.

Edited based on documentation provided by Bolesław Kulczycki in October 2010.