The Paluch and Rybak families

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“When we come to Warsaw, their home is our home”. The Story of the Paluch and Rybak families

The tenement at 100 Pańska Street in Warsaw was built in 1910 for the “Własność” private company, whose shareholders were mostly employees of the Warsaw-Vienna Railway. Over one hundred years later, the building is still standing, even though it is in an abandoned state. Here and there, the beautiful floors have been preserved and the wooden stairs, leading to the floors above, may be the same which served the building's residents during World War II.

One of Pańska 100's secret tenants, during the occupation, was Izaak Steger, who came there in December 1942. He was born on 20th November 1924 in Mosty Wielkie (Lwowskie Province). In the autumn of 1942, following deportations, Izaak's parents learned that a relative's business partner, Grzegorz (Grisza) Milonas, was able to create false documents and could arrange a hiding-place in Warsaw. In his testimony to the Yad Vashem Inistitutein Jerusalem, he wrote:

“My parents convinced me that I should take advantage of this opportunity, regardless of the fate of the rest of the family. My mother used the argument that if a house is on fire and a family member gets burned, the rest of the family don't jump into the fire also”.

 

Grzegorz Milonas lived in Apartment 9 at 100 Pańska Street. He was around forty-five-years-old. He worked with the Home Army and in the underground with, among others, Władysława Rybak née Paluch, the daughter of the tenant in Aprtment 2. At the time, she was a student. Józefa and Wawrzyniec Paluch lived in one room with their daughters Władzisława and the older Janina. They used the toilet in the yard. Wawrzyniec Paluch was a carpenter.

Władysława went to collect Izaak. She gave him an identity card under the name “Zygmunt Czarnecki. She brought him to Warsaw and placed him with her parents. At the Żółkiew railwy station, she found out about Janeczka, a twelve-year-old Jewish girl. In 2001, she recalled:

“(…) I received information that a girl had been left, by her mother, with the stationmaster, with the request that she be looked after. I went to the stationmaster and arranged with him to keep the girl and that, in two weeks, someone with come to her with an appropriate birth certificate”.

In Warsaw, she told Grzegorz Milonas about Janeczka. The brought the girl to Warsaw and placed here at 23 Sienna Street. However, that address was not safe.

Izaak Steger vel Zygmunt (Jerzy) Czarnecki slept on the mexanine floor with the Paluch family. After a month, he was moved to a neighbour. The widow Józefa Rybak, a dressmaker, lived with her son Wacław (Władysława Paluch's future husband) in Apartment 7, which was comprised of a room, a kitchen and a toilet. In 1998, Jerzy Czarnecki, who retained that surname after the occupation, wrote: “Even here, I had the opportunity to work on a press extruding metal boxes for radio capacitors (the Rybak family ran a mechical workshop). My parents probably paid a very affordable price for the false documents. For around a year, I survived on the gold crowns from my father's teeth. Fearing the Germans and Ukrainians, he'd extracted them himself. I sold them in Warsaw and, as I recall, paid around 1,500 zł for my upkeep. I felt like part of my rescuers' family. My care was never conditional upon material matters. These people protected me, simply because I was a member of their family”.

After two months with the Rybak family, Janeczka and Jerzy Czarnecki were moved, for a short time, to Maria Jędrzejczak, on Krzyżanowskiego Street. He later recalled: “In June, Mr. Milonas arranged for me to go to Germany to work, in exchange for a farmer's son from the Skierniewice region”.

After a time, Janeczka lived on the other side of the Wisła River. Władysławaa recalls: “Mr. Trojanowski 'Prezes' [most probably Witold Rutkowski, pseudonym “Trojanowski” – ed.) found Janeczki a place to stay in Praga, with two ladies who gave French lessons and baked cakes. Mr. Milonas covered the costs of keeping Janeczka, meeting with her carers. Very shortly, the ladies thanked him for the payments – they claimed that Janeczka worked together with them”.

Grzegorz Milonas perished before the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising.

After the War, the girl looked for Władysława. “When a bridge had been created from Praga - a pontoon bridge – Janeczka came. (…) They greeted each warmy with tears in their eyes!”. The girl came asking for advice. “KIBBUTZ [probably Kibbutz Grochów, active since 1920 in the Warsaw suburb of Witolin, was, after the War, moved to Dolny Śląsk – ed.] registered Jewish children and was sending them to other countries, while her aunties were crying and pleading for her to remain. I told Janeczka that the War was over. She had to study and make a life of her own, to take care of her aunties and to love them. I also had to leave and didn't know where I would live”. Janeczka left and was never heard from again.

Jerzy Czarnecki settle in Switzerland and remained in contact with the Rybak family. They visited each other. “When we come to Warsaw, their home is our home”.

Many years after the War, he endeavoured to have his rescuers honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. A year before the ceremony, he wrote: “In communist Poland, the rescuing of Jews was not a topic for praise and could have even harmed my rescuers' professional lives [it was not, however, connected with the “communist” i.e. the socialist and authoritarian character of the PRL – ed.]. I mentioned to Mr. Rybak the possibility of being honoured with the title of 'Righteous Among the Nations', with a request to describe details of their ativities during the occupation. It turned out that, now, during the Rybak family's stay with us in Switzerland, it was easier for us to return to that period together and for me to write a testimony”. 

On 25th July 1999, Wawrzyniec and Józefa Paluch, Janina Kłos née Paluch, Wacław and Władysława Rybak, Józefa Rybak and Grzegorz Milonas were all honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

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