The Siek Family

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Story of Rescue - The Siek Family

Before the war, the family of Meir and Szewa Urman lived in Krzeszów (Nisko County, Podkarpackie Province). Meir and his sons Chaim, Efraim, Getzel, Abraham and Aaron Israel all worked as tailors. The Urmans also had three daughters: Etel, Chana and Gitl.

Meir's siblings had left their hometown for Warsaw and Paris, while he himself planned to go to America. One of his brothers, Efraim Urman, started learning the tailoring trade when he was 10 years old and moved to Warsaw at the age of 20 to join his older brother working at their uncle's suit factory. After the outbreak of World War II, the two brothers returned to their hometown to be closer to the family.

Andrzej and Józefa Siek with their six children: Katarzyna, Kazimierz, Karol, Bolesława, Zofia and Anna lived in the village of Lipiny Dolne, Biłgoraj County, where they had a large farm and apiary. Andrzej Siek was a beekeeping instructor. The honey from the family farm was sold through a partner, a Jew from Leżajsk.

The Sieks knew the Urmans as the tailors who made their clothes. Meir and his sons stayed at the Siek family home whenever they came to Lipiny Dolne to work. They made coats for the girls and jackets for the boys. In an interview for the POLIN Museum in July 2014 Bronisława Szabat mentioned the pre-war relationship between the families: “Yes, we knew each other because they were tailors, and we were six children and two adults, eight people, so there was always a lot of sewing to do”. The Sieks knew Efraim, called “Froim” by his loved ones, since childhood. They called him “Franek”.

After the outbreak of World War II the Sieks helped the Urmans. Bronisława recalls that her parents selflessly delivered flour and potatoes to Krzeszów: “They were in a very difficult situation, you know how persecuted they were by the Germans during the war, but they were very honourable people, those Jews”.

On 2 November 1942, Krzeszów was surrounded by the Germans and about 500 of its Jewish inhabitants were deported to the death camp in Bełżec. Efraim managed to escape with his life because, at his mother's request, he volunteered to make German uniforms. During his escape, he was shot in the ear.

For the first month, he hid in the forest. Dorothy Urman Denburg, daughter of Froim, said in a speech she delivered on 13 May 2014: “Years later, he recalled that his only motivations were fear and hunger. His actions were determined by what was stronger at a given moment”. With the coming of winter, he turned to the Siek family, begging them for help, and they agreed to hide him for a few days.

The Sieks were moved by the fate of the Jews; Józefa Siek could not bring herself to eat for three days after seeing the Aktion at the Tarnobrzeg ghetto. When asked about her parents' motivation, Bolesława explained: “It was simply compassion for that unfortunate man; he had no one, but he was human, he wanted to live. He said he would not be any trouble. Whatever we could give him, he would eat. Well, in truth, it was not about food, it was a matter of his life”.

Froim arrived at the Siek house barefoot, wearing nothing but long johns and a shirt. Józefa Siek gave him old clothes and shoes and Bolesława knitted him socks of thick sheep's wool. Froim made his own duvet. During the day, he stayed in the barn, and at night he often came to the house to alter old clothes. He remained under their protection for 23 months.

The Sieks shared everything they had with Efraim. Bronisław recalls: “And on Easter he had eggs, just like we did, we gave him food from our Easter basket. On Christmas, the wafer, we shared the Christmas wafer with him; he was very happy when we visited him there”. The Sieks gave him not only food, but also books and comfort when Froim was giving in to despair. At such moments, Siek reminded him of the promise he gave to his mother.

The sons of the Siek family spent the war in Germany. Józef, who spoke German, kept good relations with Germans. As a result, the family managed to avoid any suspicion of harbouring a Jew on their farm.

After liberation, Efraim went to Krzeszów, but “no traces of Jewish families were left there”. He lived briefly in Łódź, where he found two survivors from Krzeszów, then left Poland for a DP camp in northern Italy. In the camp, he married Musia, who survived the Holocaust with her sister. There he was found by his uncle Charles, the only surviving member of the Urman family, who invited him to Paris. Since bureaucratic procedures were prolonged and Efraim wanted to be close to his only relative, he decided to cross the border illegally, going across the Alps with a guide. In Paris, where the Urmans stayed for five years, Efraim changed his name to Felix, and Musia became Michelle. They became close friends with Jakub Bokser, who also survived the massacre of the Krzeszów Jews. In the late 1950s, the Urmans migrated to New York with their daughter Dorothy. There, their son Mark was born.

Whenever he changed his place of residence, Efraim wrote to the Sieks. Bolesława recalls: “And he always wrote a letter if he went somewhere, immediately he would write a letter saying where he was going. He always let us know where he was”. He also sent the Sieks parcels and medicines.

Froim's daughter recalls: “When my parents were finally able to afford their own house in 1962, Mr Siek carved a wooden picture for them, depicting a couple under a flower arch.” On the back, Siek wrote: “In memory of our difficult years together”. Dorothy says: “To my father, this picture was a valuable treasure. It used to hang in his house until his death, and now it adorns my home”. Correspondence broke off in the early 1960s; Froim's letters were returned undelivered.

Froim told his children about his wartime experiences and the fate of his loved ones. In 1998 he was interviewed by the USC Shoah Foundation. In her speech at the ceremony to grant the Sieks the title of Righteous, Dorothy stressed that it was her father's wish for her to “contact the Yad Vashem Institute to honour the heroism of the Siek family. Although it took me a long time, now I am remembering my father and by paying homage to the Siek family, I salute him as well”. Thanks to the heroism of the Siek family, Froim survived the war and “was able to enjoy his life, family, and every day to the fullest”.

In 2013 the Yad Vashem Institute decided to award Andrzej and Józefa Siek the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Bibliography

  • Dorothy Urman-Denburg, Przemówienie podczas uroczystości honorowania rodziny Sieków tytułem Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Warszawa 2014
  • Klara Jackl, Interwiev with Bolesława Szabat, 1.07.2014