The Koryzna Family
“We constantly feared for our lives” – the story of the Koryzna family
Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Koryzna family lived in the village of Puźniki (Buczacz District, Tarnopolskie Province), in which lived both Polish and Ukrainian families. The village had a Catholic church and a four-class school.
Stanisław and Wiktoria Koryzna had a farm and a small one-room house. Their son, Mieczysław, went to school in nearby Monasterzyska, where he had Jews as classmates. His three sisters, Józefa, Teofila and Stanisława, helped their parents run the farm.
“Before the War, everyone lived in harmony”, recalls Teofila Kamińska (nee. Koryzna). “No one cared if you were a Ukrainian or a Jew. I even had friends who were Ukrainian”.
There were no Jews in Puźniki, but Jewish merchants would visit the village. Stanisław Koryzna was on good terms with many Jewish families in the area, especially the Falk family of Monasterzyska. Szalom Falk would buy cereal crops from Stanisław and would lend him money when the Koryzna family needed it. One time, for example, he helped Mieczysław with textbooks when he was to study at the La Salette Seminary for Missionary Priests in Dębowiec near Lublin.
The Falk family were related to the Szechner family who, before the War, also lived in Monasterzyska and were engaged in trade. The daughter of Szalom Falk (1905-1943?) and his wife Cypora (Fajga)-Henia (1911-1943) married Emil Szechner (1911-1943), who was a cereal trader. At the beginning of 1942, they had a daughter, Rosa.
During the Soviet occupation, Wiktoria’s parents, as refugees from Kraków, were deported to Siberia, while Stanisław was arrested by the NKVD. After a few days, he was released.
After the Germans entered in July 1941, the Jews of Monasterzyska were made to engage in forced labour. At the beginning of October 1942, the Germans rounded up around 800 men, women and children, who were then deported to the extermination camp in Bełżec. On 17th October 1942, the remaining Jews of Monasterzyska were transported to Buczacz.
Most likely in October 1942, the Szechner family fled into the forest and hid there amongst a group of other Jews. Wishing to save the little daughter who was less than one year old, they turned to the Koryzna family for help. Under cover of night, the little girl was brought, hidden under straw. According to Mieczysław and Józefa, Stanisław, together with his son and eldest daughter, went to collect the baby from the Buczacz ghetto. The next morning, the Koryzna family staged a scene which implied that the child had been left by a woman who had stayed with them overnight. They also claimed that she had left a letter asking them to care for the child and that she had been baptised on Candlemas (2nd February 1942). For this reason, the girl, for whom the Koryzna were to care, was to be named “Maria”. They called her “Nusia”.
Stanisław officially notified the Sołtys (Village Administrator) of the abandoned child. The child’s appearance aroused no suspicion amongst the neighbours. As Teofila recalls, “She had blonde hair, just like us – maybe a little darker. She differed little from us”. So there was no need to hide Rosa from the neighbours. Teofila and Stanisława took her to church, treated her as their younger sister and slept with her in the same bed.
However, the Koryzna family felt under constant threat for fear of denunciation. In a 1989 letter to Yad Vashem, Józefa recalls, “When I went to learn dressmaking, I took her with me. I sewed dolls for her out of rags. My friends made fun of me, that I was playing with a Jewish child (...)”. However, denunciations did occur in their area. Two Jews, in hiding locally, perished due to denunciation. The child’s parents also died in the forest. Most of all, the Koryzna family feared the Ukrainian police.
Stanisław also helped Jews hiding in nearby forests. He left blankets in the barn for anyone who wanted to spend the night there. Teofila remembers that, probably in December 1943,”six Jews were with us over Christmas. On Christmas Eve, my father took them all in. My mother wasn’t all that happy because among them were very small children. They were covered in lice because they had slept in the forest next to a bonfire”.
The feeling of threat reached its height in the summer of 1944 when German soldiers were billetted in the Koryzna home. Stanisław and Wiktoria were afraid that the Germans would guess little Rosa’s true origins. Moreover, their son Mieczysław had to go into hiding to avoid being sent to Germany as a forced labourer. In July 1944, part of the family - Wiktoria, Mieczysław, Stanisława, Józefa and little Nusia – left for Radziszów, near Kraków. Only Teofila stayed at home in order to help her sick father gather in the last crops.
In Radziszów, Wiktoria and her children were evicted from two apartments because their landlords had guessed Niusia’s Jewish origins. Eventually, they were taken in by Franciszka Zięba, a widow with five children. Mieczysław remembers that period as especially difficult, “We constantly feared for our lives. There was not enough food and an overall lack of life’s essentials”.
On the night of 12th February 1945, the village of Puźniki was burned down by a unit of the UPA (the Nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army). Some of the inhabitants were murdered. Stanisław Koryzna lost all his belongings and, together with Teofila and his aunt, fled to Buczacz. There, he met Henia’s aunt, Jenta Lerch, who had survived the Holocaust with her son. They managed to get to Kraków, where Mieczysław located them.
In August 1945, the Koryzna family left for the so-called “Recovered Territories”, to Niemysłowice, near Prudnik. Emil Szechner’s brothers – Arie (Leon, 1907-1995) and Jonas (1909-2007) returned from the Soviet Union. Having learned that their niece had survived the Holocaust, they came to collect Nusia. At the beginning, her carers refused to return the child, even refusing to take money. “Mum understood that my father and we didn’t want to give up the child. But she thought that the child should be returned.My father thought that we should respect the wishes of the child’s mother who said that ‘if I don’t survive, don’t give the child to anybody. Bring up the child as one of your own’”, explains the Koryznas’ daughter. The decision to return the child was a painful one for them all.
In 1946, Rosa was taken to Legnica where her uncles lived, running a shoe shop together. With them, in 1950, she left for Israel.
Rosa (in Israel, she changed her name to “Shoshana”) and her family sent Wiktoria and her, already adult, children parcels and financial help. They also remained in correspondence contact. In 2008, Shoshana wrote to Teofila Kamińska, “I was a little girl during the War. I don’t remember you but, with gratitude, I remember your mother. I’m really sorry that didn’t meet with her more, but I remember many emotional things from those times”. In Israel, Shoshana established a family, raised two sons and worked as a teacher.
In 1988, the Yad Vashem Institute honoured Wiktoria and Stanisław Koryzna with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. In 1990, the same honour was awarded to Mieczysław Koryzna, Józefa Lisowska (nee Koryzna), Teofila Kamińska (nee Koryzna) and Stanisława Gryndział (nee Koryzna).