Story of rescue

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„When the villagers discovered that the Setlik family had saved Jews, at night, they threw rocks onto the roof of their home” – the story of the Setlik family

Jan Setlik, his wife Maria and their two children, Anna and Stanisław, lived in Święcany, a village lying near Biecz. Also living in that location were Jan’s brother, Alfons with his parents, his wife Joanna and their two children, Józef and Stanisław.

Both Setlik families ran small farms. Before the outbreak of war, they had been friendly with the local Jews, especially with the Sturm family, who ran a grocery store in Święcany. Chaim and Debora Strum had four children – a son and three daughters.

Before the War, Joanna went to the local school with one of their daughters, Sal. In 1933, Sala married Abraham Stein, a merchant from Biecz, who owned a hardware store. They had a son, Szabtaj. Her older sister also married and settled in Tarnów. There, together with her whole family, she perished during the War. The younger sister, Mania, lived in Święcany with her parents. Her brother emigrated to South America.

The outbreak of war found Sala Stein with her father-in-law, Nathan Stein, in Brzeżawa, a village lying in, what is today, the Podkarpackie Province. When the Soviet army entered in September 1939, Sala and her sister-in-law managed to return to Biecz. By that time, the hardware store and their home had been commandeered by the Germans.

In May 1942, the entire Strum family were moved into the Biecz ghetto. Soon after, on 14th August 1942, the ghetto began to be liquidated. Five members of the Sturm family managed to escape – Mania and Sala, with her eight year old son Szabtaj. They escaped into the forest near Szerzyn and Swoszowa.

There, a group of about twenty hid for several weeks. Autumn arrived and with the rain, chill and lack of food, the family began looking for help. They contacted Jan and Maria Setlik, asking for shelter.

The Setlik couple agreed to help. They did not have enough room to hide all five, so Sala and her son Szabtaj were taken to Alfons, who arranged secret bunker for them. It was under the stable beams, with a concealed passage, leading to a nearby forest in case of danger.

One day, Polish police surrounded Alfons Setlik’s home. They were looking for unregistered domestic animals. Right then, Joanna was bringing bowls and spoons out of the stable, following a meal she had provided to the Jews. At the last minute, she hid them under her blouse. However, Sala and her small son did not manage to return to their hiding place in time. Their lives were saved by a dog, which barked and would not allow the Germans to approach the farm buildings. During the confusion, Sala Stein and her son hid in a cowshed.

The Setlik families looked after the fugitives with dedication, providing them with food and shelter.

However, Chaim’s wife, Debora, found life in hiding difficult. She was psychologically broken. Without the others knowing, she left the hiding place. On the night of 11th November 1942, barefoot (she lost her shoes along the way), she managed to reach her home and demanded to be let inside. She was taken to Gestapo headquarters in Jasło and tortured, trying to force her to disclose the hiding place. Despite her critical state, she did not betray the whereabouts of the family members. She was murdered by officers of the German police.

In the meantime, the terrified Setlik family and the hidden Jews awaited the arrival of the Gestapo.

The Strum family remained in hiding until the Soviet army entered in January 1945. After the War, they left for South America – to Bolivia and Peru. Eventually, they settled in Israel.

Because they had hidden Jews, after the War, the Setlik family experienced a great deal of unpleasantness from their neighbours. Mania Sturm (Knobler) wrote, “After the end of the War, when the villagers discovered that his (Stanisław’s) parents had saved Jews, at night, they threw rocks onto the roof of the home in which they lived. Because it was an asbestos-sheeting roof, the roof broke into pieces”.

On 23rd December 1987, the Yad Vashem Institute honoured Janina and Alfons Setlik with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. On 22nd February 1989, Maria and Jan Setlik were honoured with the same title.

Bibliography

  • Archiwum Instytutu Yad Vashem, Relacje Sary i Mani Sturm, Grażyny Setlik-Skoplak, 3779
  • Gutman Israel red. nacz., Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata, Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu, Kraków 2009