The Zygadlewicz Family

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The story of the Zygadlewicz family

From the time they were born, Kazimierz and Marianna Zygadlewicz had lived in Bodzentyn (currently świętokrzyskie province), a town in which Jews constituted 1/3 of its residents. Kazimierz, a carpenter’s son, was a carpentry apprentice, but worked in a foundry in Starachowice. Having had served in the army, he completed non-commissioned officers’ school in Przemyśl. Marianna was a seamstress; and she took care of the household. Kazimierz and Marianna got married in June 1940, and lived with Marianna’s parents. In January 1942, their daughter – Wiesława, was born.

In December 1939, the Rubinowiczs, a Jewish family, which had left Łódź out of fear of war, had settled in Bodzentyn. Róża and Nachman (who operated under the false name – Józef), together with their daughter Elżbieta, lived in a house rented from Marianna Zygadlewicz’s parents. The Rubinowiczs had known the Polish family from the prewar time; Róża was born and raised in Bodzentyn, and Kazimierz was her schoolmate.

The Rubinowicz family had led a relatively calm life there. When rumors about Nazi actions aiming at extermination of Jews spread in the area in spring 1942, the Rubinowicz family decided to change their location. Kazimierz Zygadlewicz had helped them obtain false papers, thanks to which they could move about freely. Upon leaving Bodzentyn, the family separated – mother and daughter went to Warsaw, while Józef left for Sandomierz. Since that time, Kazimierz served as a intermediary, passing correspondence between the husband and wife.

Marianna inherited the house, which had been previously rented to the Rubinowicz family. After their departure, she settled there with her husband and their daughter. Kazimierz had built a carpentry workshop in the courtyard and a storage for wood. Carpentry was the main source of income for the family.

On 1 June 1943, the wood storage served as a hiding place for Kazimierz and his cousin Zygmunt. On this day, during the pacification of the town, the German army had gathered part of the population of Bodzentyn in the town square, and shot 39 people to death. Among those killed were Kazimierz’s two brothers – Bolesław and Bonifacy, as well as his brother-in-law – Tadeusz. Kazimierz and Zygmunt hid in the storage, thereby avoiding death. 

Józef Rubinowicz had found work at the shipyard in Sandomierz, where he had worked for a few months. In June 1943, he was arrested and imprisoned. He was able to escape after a month. German soldiers had looked for him even at the Zygadlewiczs’ house. Józef decided to search for ways to survive in his former environment – in Bodzentyn. After a along journey, he reached his destination, and hid in the świętokrzyskie forests in Miejska Góra. One day, a Bodzentyn resident encountered him; and she informed Kazimierz about it. She knew that the men had known each other well.

In the evening, Kazimierz went into the courtyard and heard whispering in the darkness: “Kazik [dimunitive of Kaizmierz], help me.” Initially, Józef hid in the field, and Kazimierz had regularly brought him food. Marianna knew nothing of the help; she was pregnant at the time. Her husband had told her everything once he decided to bring the escapee home. Józef was sick and exhausted; his health was improving very slowly. At first, he stayed in the attic; and later in a hiding place located in an area between the walls of the house and the workshop, which was prepared by Kazimierz. The gap was sufficiently big for him to lay down there. The entry to the hiding place was appropriately camouflaged.

Kazimierz Zygadlewicz had a carpentry workshop, so clients visited him often. No one, however, had found out about Józef; not even Kazimierz’s closest family that lived in the same town. Despite the danger, Józef was very active. He passed on to Kazimierz the knowledge about how to make soap and initiated a joint home production. Selling soap had considerably improved the financial situation of the family, to which a baby was born in February 1944.

Józef remained with the Zygadlewicz family until the end of the war. He left their house at night so that the fact that he was hidden there would not come to light. He then went to Warsaw, where he was able to find his wife and daughter. His daughter, under the changed name – Kazimiera, was raised in a Polish home during the occupation, while his wife – living on Aryan papers – had worked in a laundry. Soon, the three of them moved to Łódź. They persuaded the Zygadlewiczs to move, too. Kazimierz, Józef, and his brother Mieczysław, had renewed the production of soap there – they restored the “Lotnik” factory, created by Józef’s grandfather, Jakub Rubinowicz, before the war.

In November 1945, the Rubinowicz family experienced a tragedy. Róża, who was exiting the apartment, saw two masked men, who asked about Józef. Scared, she began to scream. The men shot her to death. They crossed over her body and entered the apartment. In the room they saw the daughter, who, having heard shots, began to pray loudly, which she had been taught to do during the war. Hearing the child’s prayer, the murderers assumed they had made a mistake and – instead of killing a Jew – they killed a Polish woman. Most likely these were members of the nationalist organization – National Armed Forces. After this tragic event, Marianna Zygadlewicz took care of little Kazimiera.

Shortly after the tragedy, Józef Rubinowicz moved to Wałbrzych, where, together with Mieczysław, he established a soap factory – “Rapid.” He met a woman from Warsaw, Zofia, in the factory’s office, and remarried. Owing to state politics, the partners had to close both factories. Józef and his new wife moved to Łódź. In 1952, their daughter Ewa was born. The friendship between Józef and Kazimierz continued.

In 1957, the Rubinowicz family had left to Israel. The families kept in touch until the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian war (in 1967, Poland broke off diplomatic relations with Israel). They renewed their contact in the 1980s. In 1984, thanks to the efforts of the Rubinowiczs, the Zygadlewiczs received the Righteous among the Nations title. The award came unexpected for Marianna. Her husband, Kazimierz, had been dead for 15 years then.

Shortly after the award ceremony, Zofia (Józef’s wife) visited Marianna. A few years later, in 1989, Józef and his wife came to Poland to “kiss his savior’s hands.” He used to send holidays greetings to Marianna until his death. The Zygadlewiczs’ and Rubinowiczs’ daughters remain in touch: they correspond with, and – to the extent possible – visit each other.