Story of rescue

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“At the time, my family was at great risk”. The story of the Zięcik family

Kazimierz and Julia Zięcik with their four children and Kazimierz's brother Władysław, lived in Tarnopol during the War. Their home was on the outskirts of the town, at the railway crossing to Wołoczysk, towards the border with the USSR. Kazimierz owned a quarry, a sand pit and three acres of fields.

When, in July 1941, the Germans occupied the city, the situation for the Jewish residents of the town and the surrounding villages deteriorated significantly. In September, the Germans established the Tarnopol ghetto into which they crowded 12-13,000 Jews. There, they carried out executions and, from August 1942, they began deportations to the extermination camp in Bełżec.

Kazimierz Zięcik's son, Józef, recalled: “Sometimes, I would go to look at the ghetto which was located in the town centre. It was surrounded by a wall. Jews had knocked holes in it, through which they would leave to get food. We would also climb up it and look to see what was going on in there. Once, I witnessed an execution of Jews. It was in May 1943, during the murder of the Jewish population. I saw them lead a large group of Jews to the wooded Petryk pits. I followed them with my friends, but not letting the SS officers see us. We only went as far as the bridge. We were afraid to go further. We heard the shots and saw the SS officers returning”.

During the liquidation of the Tarnopol ghetto, in August 1943, thirteen people came to the Zięcik family, asking to be given refuge. They were probably Jews who had previously worked on the railway track by the quarry.

The Zięcik family took in the fugitives. For the first few days, they hid the Jews in the barn. Later, they were hidden in two hiding-places which were prepared by the Zięciks. Józef Zięcik tells how the hiding-places were created: “At the time, my family was at great risk. If it got out, we would have lost our lives. The atmosphere in our family was nervous and stressful. Over the course of several nights, with the whole six-member family, two hiding-places were dug out. One of them was in the family home, in a cell with the entrance covered over by floor boards. Four people hid there – Seweryn Hirschberg (Salomon-AN), Laub (a photographer), Markus Horowitz and the widow Rózia Schapira (nee Bernstein), who later became Hirschberg's wife. We dug the other hiding-place in the stable, the entrance to which was hidden by a pigpen. It was large, measuring 3-4 metres. It was ventilated through a window camouflaged by old cart wheels, sleds and scrap metal. During the winter, nine people stayed there – Ginsberg Isaak, Mass H., Vogel Jakub, Albert Malwina, Gehler Berl, Gehler Jakub, Lichtigfeld Sinaj, Laufer Anna and a ninth person whose name I don't remember. In order for the neighbours not to suspect anything and so as to remove any trace of having dug the hiding-places, during the day we pretended that we were levelling the yard using the dug-out soil. At night, the Jews were about to leave the hiding-places for some air”.

Accodring to Józef Zięcik's account, it was most probably Markus Horowitz who indicated their home as a possible place of refuge: “As I recall, one of them, Horowitz, knew my step-mother who came from the same village as he did – from Borek Wielki – even from before she got married, when she was his housekeeper. […] The next group of Jews who came put pressure on us, saying that they knew we were hiding others. My father was afraid that what he had done would be revealed”.

 

 

Some those in hiding paid for their food, but when the money ran out, the Zięcik family took on themselves the cost of maintaining the entire group. Julia cooked for them, washed their clothes and cared for them. Józef Zięcik recalls: “We had plenty of bread, since my father had provided stone and sand for the expansion of the private bakery, which provided baked goods to the Germans who were in a different part of the town. Instead of money, the bakery owner gave my father bread. My father also took on work in the grain storehouses which had been built near our home. As payment, he took grain from which we made flour using a small grinder. For fuel, we used wood and coal, which we took from railway wagons heading from Śląsk to the East”.

According to Józef Zięcik, those in hiding prepared a document in which they declared that the Zięcik family would be given a piece of land as compensation for the help which they had provided. However, the assignment of the land never took place: “For seven long months, my family suffered enormous stress and fear. Realising this, the Jews unilaterally decided to make a written obligation towards the family which had saved their lives. Hirschberg was a lawyer. In September 1943, at the instigation and in the name of those in hiding, on their behalf, he wrote a contract, only signed by them, without the participation of anyone from our family. The proof of this is that there is a lack of signatures of anyone from our family. In those letters, those in hiding had assigned the land to my family. My father received the documents. He decided that these documents could be invalid, as these people were strangers to him. The realisation of that obligation never happened”.

In March 1944, the Germans forced the Zięcik family to leave their home. The Jews, in hiding at the time, also had to leave the cell underneath the house. The group in the stable left some time later, when the battle over the town was taking place, after which they went to that part of the town occupied by the Red Army. According to Józef Zięcik: “When we returned to our farm at that time, in order to provide food for those in hiding and to water the cattle, the Jews had already left. After the War, we managed to establish that, for certain, nine of them were still alive – Laub, Horowitz, Ginsberg, Vogel, Albert, Mass, Laufer, Schapira and Hirschberg. We couldn't find any trace of the others. Perhaps they died in the siege of Tarnopol”.

After the War, the Zięcik family settled in Bytom.

In 2013, Julia and Kazimierz Zięcik were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.