The Witz family

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The story of the Witz family

Before the Second World War broke out, Helena (née Pilz) and Szymon Hahn lived in Cracow. Helena was a pianist and her husband was a graduate of legal studies and worked as a photographer. When the war began, the Hahns fled eastwards, to the town where Szymon was born - Jaworów near Lviv. The Germans invaded the town as early as in September 1939 but they withdrew close to the end of the month.

During the Soviet occupation, the Hahns moved to Liviv where Helena found employment with Trembita, a Ukrainian song and dance company, and her husband became a blue-collar worker at the Lviv opera house. The husband and wife were assigned to an apartment in a detached house managed by Katarzyna Chytra.

In 1940, they had a son they named Arno. Katarzyna helped them look after their child, particularly after Helena went on a turnée of the Soviet Union. During the summer of 1941, she was en route in Kazakhstan and was separated from her family.

Szymon Hahn, left only with his son, returned to his native Jaworów and his grandparents, Szlomo and Fajga (née Stachel Amtman), helped him look after the child. When the grandfather was murdered close to the end of 1941, Arno was delivered to Helena’s parents - Izrael (a watchmaker) and Brucha Pilz (née Gernstenfeld) - who were at the Cracow ghetto.

Szymon found himself in the ghetto in Jaworów which was closed in December 1942, after around 1500 Jews were transported to the death camp in Bełżec. Until that time, he worked at a tractor repair shop where he met Kazimierz Seko, a bookkeeper at the same shop. They became friends.

During the liquidation of the Jaworów ghetto, Szymon hid in a cistern at a railway station. Kazimierz found him there, helped him get out of his hiding place, and obtained forged documents for him, issued for the name of Tadeusz Górski. Using those documents, Szymon volunteered to Todt for work at the eastern front and waited on islands on the Dnieper until Soviet troops came. He was arrested by them.

Szymon’s younger brother Bernard (1904-1944?) - who had been an artist and a drawing teacher before the war - became the chief of Jewish police services in the ghetto. His other brother Izaak (1911-1944?) - a surgeon - also ended up in the ghetto. They both died under unknown circumstances. Their mother Fajga, together with a daughter and the grandson, managed to survive, hidden by a Ukrainian peasant.

In the summer of 1942, Katarzyna Chytra came to take Arno away from the Cracow ghetto. She found him with the neighbours. The boy’s grandparents together with a younger daughter of theirs, Blaka Pliz (1921-1942), had already been transported to the death camp in Bełżec.

Katarzyna took the child to Lviv and looked after him. His name was changed from Arno to Adam and Katarzyna also had him baptised. She told the priest that she had delayed the ceremony, waiting until her fiancée returned, but that he was killed in the meantime. 1941 was recorded as the child’s date of birth in his documents.

Katarzyna earned additional money by sewing. She had to move from apartment to apartment several times as she was under supervision and it was suspected that she was hiding a Jewish child. During the occupation, she married Jan Witz, a railroad man. Jan took care of the boy, taking him for trips of Lviv. They looked after the child right until the arrival of Soviet troops in July 1944. It was then that Helena Hahn returned from the Soviet Union.

In 1946, after Szymon was released from a camp in the Donbass, the Hahns moved to Silesia as part of repatriation. They changed their surname to Han-Górski. Adam started learning to play the violin in Katowice. In 1946, his younger brother Jerzy (Uri Han-Górski) was born. In 1948, Adam made his debut as a violin player with the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra in Katowice and his performance was recorded as part of the Polish Film Chronicle. He maintained cordial relations with the Witz family who also moved to Silesia - to Gliwice - as part of repatriation. In 1957, after Adam’s secondary school-leaving examination, the Han-Górski family emigrated to Israel where their son continued his musical studies at the Musical Academy in Tel Aviv. He then moved to the USA to learn from Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987). Adam worked in the USA and in Vienna for many years.

After the war, Kazimierz Seko worked for the Central Photographic Agency. He was the first Polish juror of the World Press Photo competition. After his death, Kazimierz’s widow, Barbara Karwat-Seko, found photographs and letters from his friend Szymon Hahn dating back to the occupation period.

Kazimierz’s daughter – Tekla – found Adam Han -Górski in Minneapolis and wrote to him in 2007: “Among the precious mementoes left by my father, I found a file folder containing materials dating back to your childhood and youth. There are newspaper clippings and a photograph commemorating your first successes. Perhaps you already have those materials in your own collection but, if not, I thought that you might want to have them.”

Adam then decided to ask the Yad Vashem Institute to start the procedure for awarding the Righteous Among the Nations title to Kazimierz and the Witz family. They were awarded the title on 2 May 2011.