The Zero Family

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Story of Rescue - The Zero Family

Janina and Józef Żero married in June 1942 and settled in Józef’s family’s small manor house in Smarklice in the former Province of Białystok, together with Józef’s mother, Zofia, and his siblings, Franciszka and Edward. Janina came from impoverished gentry and was the sixth of the seven children of Bolesław (nee Miłkowski) (Ślepowron nobility) and Michał Klepacki (Korwin nobility). Józef Żero (Dębno nobility) worked in Warsaw as a locksmith. He took part in the defence of the capital and, after its capitulation, he returned to Smarklice. He suggested to Janina’s family that they protect her from being ordered to go to work in Germany.

In the autumn of 1942, a fugitive from the Drohoczyn ghetto turned up at their door. She was a school friend Józef’s, the daughter of the slaughterhouse owner, Hinda Sroszko. According to others, Hinda was already hiding in Józef’s home in the summer of 1942.

Because of Hinda’s “Semitic appearance”, she never left the house and, during times of danger, she hid under the floor in the attic. In March 1943, due to the increasing number of Gestapo patrols and frequent searches of the Żeros’ home, Hinda was moved to trusted relatives in the village of Obniże. She survived the War and, in 1956 or 1958, with her husband Chaim, who came from Jedwabne, she left for Israel. She maintained correspondence contact with the Żero family, In 2005, she died.

In November 1942, shortly after the liquidation of the Ciechanów ghetto, 11 year old Benajmin Blustein also turned up at the Żeros’ home looking for work. He was sent there by the local miller with whom Benjamin’s father, a baker, had had business dealings. In an interview with the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Janina Żero recalls. “I was 19 and alone at home. I couldn’t tell him to go away. I asked him if he was hungry. He said that he was. I gave him food and he sat and ate, My husband came home and I asked what were we to do with the boy? He said that it was the same punishment for one or two Jews”.

Earlier, Benjamin and his brother had hidden for a few months with a Polish family who were friends. But when the Germans threatened the death penalty for hiding Jews, the boys were sent away to the ghetto. Benjamin decided to escape. His parents (mother Cila – nee Jaskułka and father Abraham) and his siblings (Zalman born 1928, Meir born 1936, Małka born 1937 and Fajga born 1940) were all transported to Treblinka where they perished.

Even though the Żero family guessed his Jewish origins, they took him under their roof. They introduced him to the neighbours as Staszek Nowak, a relative, who had escaped from an occupied village. Because of his “acceptable appearance”, he didn’t need to stay hidden, so in the spring and summer, he helped out on the farm and looked after the cows. He was treated as one of the family.

The Żero family also helped other Jews hiding in the area, as well as partisans and members of the AK. The danger was increased when the Żero family was occasionally forced to provide rooms for German officers.

In December 1945, (according to others, the middle of 1944), Benjamin left the home of Janina and Józef Żero with a group of Jewish survivors and went to Israel (at that time – Palestine). In the 1980’s, he renewed contact with them and frequently visited these Poles who had saved him from Nazi occupation.

Bibliography

  • Zubkowicz Rafał, Interview with Janina Żero, 7.03.2009
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009