The Tomek family

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Story of Rescue - The Tomek family

In 1932 the Tomek family moved from Kraków to the nearby Radziszów, where they rented the wooden villa “Przyroda”, situated on the edge of the forest. Adrianna Tomek did not have a career, but occupied herself with looking after the household and raising her daughter. She was educated and fluent in German and French. Her husband Franciszek was a retired colonel of the Polish Army. He earned extra money working part-time as a technician. The Tomek family belonged to the local social elite and their house was always alive with guests.

When war broke out, Franciszek lost his retirement pension and the previous comfortable living conditions of the family deteriorated. Because of his former service in the Austro-Hungarian Army, Franciszek received an offer of collaboration from the Germans, which he refused. Meanwhile the household grew larger, as Adrianna's parents and her brother Ottokar Skibiński moved into the villa.

It was probably in the second half of 1942 that the Tomek house gave shelter to the Jewish family Wassermann from Tarnów – Paula and Oskar with their little daughter Lidia. Paula and Oskar were deaf. The woman had lost her hearing after a fall down stairs, and also suffered problems with her eyesight and motor difficulties. Her husband had gone deaf at the age of 5 as a result of meningitis. They got married in 1935. On 21 December 1939 Paula gave birth to their daughter Lidia, and their son Henry was born on 31 January 1943, while in hiding.

Before the war Oskar Wassermann was president of the Kraków branch of the Association of the Deaf. When a ghetto was established in Kraków, he had to move there with his wife and child like all the other Jews. While in the ghetto, he worked hard, and thanks to his knowledge of German and his lip reading skills, the occupiers never became aware of his deafness. The fact that he did not hear screams and the threats of his supervisors allowed him to maintain composure.

Paula and Lidia escaped the ghetto and hid themselves in Kraków. A little later Oskar also managed to run away. The circumstances of their escapes are unknown. Once on the “Aryan” side, Oskar obtained counterfeit documents for himself and his family in the name of Kowalewski. The family found their way to Radziszów.

To the neighbours, the Wassermanns were introduced as relatives of the Tomek family. Oskar grew a moustache to make himself look more Polish. Sometimes the hideaways went out to buy milk from the neighbours. Stanisława Rak, née Maślanka, who grew up in the neighbourhood, remembers that the older Wassermanns were always silent while their daughter spoke flawless Polish. Mrs Tomek would take the child to church with her. According to Mrs Rak, no one knew of the Wassermanns' deafness, but people suspected they might be Jewish.

The Home Army was active in Radziszów and the surrounding area. For the local residents, every partisan action directed against the occupiers resulted in searches and roundups, therefore the Wassermanns often needed to hide in wardrobes or in the basement. During one of the searches, another Jewish family hiding in the neighbourhood was given away. They were murdered.

The Wassermanns were not the only ones to find shelter in the Tomek house. Adrianna mentioned providing assistance to 16 people. In a letter she wrote in 1965 to Moshe Flakowicz, a friend of Oskar's who visited the Wassermann family several times in Radziszów during the war, she said: I remember you from those times of atrocities - in particular the letter which you once wrote to me, in which you acknowledged the help I gave to the W. family and asked for further care for them. I did what I could then, and today I am pleased with my decisions. W. were not the only ones. I sheltered a succession of people (some stayed longer, some shorter). I shared my home with 16 Israelites. I do not remember the exact dates – who came when – my house was like a hotel after the Warsaw Uprising. I accepted as many as the house would hold. I was quite preoccupied with feeding the whole party.

Finding food for all the tenants was a very difficult task. The oldest residents of Redziszów recall Franciszek going door to door asking for support. He was given vegetables and flour. Although it was illegal, they milled grain at night for bread to feed the household. During the occupation, Colonel Tomek visited Kraków regularly at least once a week.

In late 1943 Adrianna and Franciszek Tomek spent a month in a German prison. Adrianna recalls: For counterfeiting residence registration cards, I was taken away and arrested in Radom. My knowledge of German allowed me to lie my way out, and besides I was bailed out by influential people from the Home Army. I have a lot to think about when I remember those times.

The Wassermanns lived with the Tomek family until January 1945. The circumstances of their departure from Radziszów are unknown. For some time they stayed in Kraków, where their third child, Helena, was born in 1946. They left for Sweden the same year. There, Paula died in 1950 after being hit by car. After the tragic occurrence, Oskar moved with the children to the United States, where his sister Sophia lived with her husband Zygmunt Rohlik. In 1955 they migrated to Israel.

The Wassermann children remember that their father never parted with a picture of Adrianna Tomek and the book she gave him when he was leaving in 1945. From 1950 the Colonel's wife lived in poverty in Barwałd Dolny. Oskar would sometimes send her food parcels.

Oskar's children did not like to hear stories of the harsh wartime years. However, many years after their father's death, the siblings decided to show their gratitude to the family from Radziszów. One of the main pieces of evidence submitted by the Wassermanns to Yad Vashem to testify to the assistance given to them by the Tomeks was a family memento: a book Oskar received from Adrianna, bearing a dedication mentioning the period of hiding.

On 13 November 2011 the Yad Vashem Institute awarded Adrianna and Franciszek Tomek the title of Righteous Among the Nations.