The Kopeć Family

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You Have to Save Others. The Account of Piotr Kopeć

During the German occupation, Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć helped Jews – Mirla Medman (née Izraelewicz) and her daughter Małka (postwar surname: Mala Gastfriend) who, during the Holocaust, had escaped from the liquidated ghetto in Proszowice. In 1942–1945, the women hid in the Kopeć home in nearby Szczytniki (at that time in the Miechowski District). Initially, Mirla’s sister, Rejzel Izraelowicz,  hid with them, but she died in the hiding-place in the attic. The Kopeć couple buried her body on their farm property.


On the 16th February 2018, the son of Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć, Piotr (b. 1929), gave an interview to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Below, we present selected fragments of that interview, particularly regarding the hiding of the Jews by the Kopeć family (original spelling, additions and headings added by the editorial staff):

The Kopeć Family of Szczytniki near Proszowice

“We lived in a village, in one room – four metres by five metres. It was a timber house with a straw roof. Our family had a hectare and two morgs of fields, [which is today] two hectares and twelve acres. This was what we lived from. We had our own grain, our own flour, our own potatoes and our own bread. Dad had a small farm – he was best farmer – a simple peasant, illiterate, but before the War he had already begun using artifical fertilisers. For a hundred kilo of rye, one could buy a hundred kilo of artificial fertiliser. From sowing this one hundred kilograms of fertiliser, he harvested half a ton of grain.

I went to school about a kilometre away somewhere. It had six classes. Later, I helped my parents at home with their work. We were four children – Irena [born in] ’27, me in ’29, Józek in ’31 and Adela in ’33. My parents were mother Marianna and father Stanisław Kopeć”. 

Poland Before the War – Life in the Village

“Now, […] people talk about how good it was before the War. […] I remember poverty, poverty, poverty... The gentry, the clergy and the rich lived well. For the rest, it was poverty and the priest instructed people to have a lot of children. It didn’t bother anyone as to how the parents were to feed those children.

[…] There was tuberuclosis and other sicknesses, even in my village […] whole families were dying. That tuberuclosis – well, it wasn’t very pleasant...

There were people who complained that Jews were swindlers. My parents didn’t get involved in that”.

The Beginning of the War – the First Bombings

“There was a field airport three hundred metres from our home. It was once an estate field – flat. In ’38 or ’37, they levelled it and planted grass.

In ’39, planes flew in, perhaps eleven, ‘Karasie’ [PZL.23 Karaś bomber – red.], they flew to bomb the Germans as they invaded. The bombs were white, small, green. 

On Friday [1st September] ’39, the War broke out and those planes flew out on the Sunday. Where to? I don’t know. That was the first time in my life that I saw a triple-axled truck”.

The Liquidation of the Ghetto – Helping Jews

“It was probably in ’43 that the Germans began evicting Jews from Proszowice […] They took the healthy to Słomniki. They loaded the grandparents and children onto trains and segregated them [the liquidation of the ghetto took place on 29th August 1942 – ed.].

From what I was told, I know [that] they were shot in Błonia and they buried [them] there.

They also shot at those who ran away. There was a small river Ścieklec – two people crossed it, [but] a German or the navy blue police shot [them]. Later, grass grew where the blood had been spilt. 

When the first deportation happened from Proszowice, dad was in the toilet. He hears the rustling of straw. When he emerged, he went to the barn and finds three women – two middle-aged women and a girl. Later, I found out that they were born in ’25 or ’26, Marysia [Małka Medman, postwar surname Mala Gastfriend, b. 1925 in Proszowice – ed.].

Dad told them to go away, but they began crying, that if they left the Germans would shoot them. He let them stay. They remained for two or three weeks. Things calmed down and some Jews returned to Proszowice. They went also but, when the Germans made a second purge [in November 1942], they returned to us and stayed”.

In the Kopeć Attic – Daily Life in Hiding

“In the attic, dad [...] lined it with straw so that it would be warmer. […] We fed them. They didn’t go out during the day, only at night into the orchard. 

There was poverty. Yes, there was bread, there were potatoes, lard, dressing [a dressing made with fat – ed.], rapeseed oil. In return for a hair clipper, which didn’t want to clip, the neighbour’s son gave me an adult rabbit. From that rabbit, I got other rabbits – the only meat we had was from the rabbits. Chickens were registereded and it was forbidden to kill pigs, for fear of the death penalty. If […] a neighbour reported that someone had killed a pig, the Germans would come, lead them out to the manure pit and shoot them.

Mum and my older sister did the cooking. My sister would take the food up [to those in hiding]. There was no electric light and kerosene could not be used in the straw. There was only  a window in the attic. One could only read during the day in the sunlight”. 

The Neighbours Regarding the Hiding of Jews

“A neighbour suspected something. He said to dad, ‘Kumoter (as dad was the godfather of his child), what I know, I know. But I won’t squeak a word – not even to my wife and daughter’.

However, after a certain time, a guy, who was probably from the Home Army, says to dad,

You know what, Stach? I was coming here to you to shoot Jews, but I went back because I didn’t want to emabarrass you

[More information about the murdering of Jews by the AK in that regions: Dalej jest noc. Losy Żydów w wybranych powiatach okupowanej Polski, t. 2, Warsaw 2018, p. 180 – ed.]

Mun was very frightened that someone would denounce them. She knew what that guy had said to dad. He would inform the Germans who would shoot everyone. She told the women to find somewhere else [to hide]. Later, I found out [that they tried] with someone 500 metres away from us. They went there, but he refused to take them. They went to another village, where someone had said that they could come. When they returned to us, dad asked:

– Did you find another place?
– Yes.
– Where?
– In Czuszów.
– With whom?
– In T******’s home.

Then dad says:

– No, don’t go there. He’ll kill you. 

These women had an uncle. He was 500 metres away from us with some guy. I don’t know what happened to him. […] After the War, [that guy] sold his whole farm. He bought a house and land in Proszowice. [...] His sister-in-law said, ‘Jews come to my dad, but he wouldn’t take them in. They went to S******. After the War, S****** built a beautiful brick home’. Who knows where he got the money for that. But no one will say if Jews were saved there. I heard those types of things…

The truth should be told about how it was, how many Jews were murdered by cunning to ron and murder.

Death and Burial in the Kopeć Field

“The sister of the child’s mother [Rajzel Izraelewicz] fell ill with pneumonia. You couldn’t go to the doctor in Proszowice. The doctor also couldn’t be brought here. She died.

Dad buried [her] in our field. Trees grow there now, no one digs there. With Jews, it is forbidden to disturb the bones of the deceased.

The mother and daughter survivedy. When the Russians entered [at the beginning of January 1945] they were still with us for a time. The Russians shot from us to Proszowice, so that the Germans would retreat, but Kraków was still in the control of the Germans”. 

A Memento From Those in Hiding

“A broken watch, a gold case from a bigger watch, bit without the cover, just the base, a chain, a watch-chain and a gold chain – that’s all.

My parents didn’t make a fortune from this. But my dad was a person who belived that , regardless of religion, a human being [...] was always a human being. 

Human life is always the most important – it must be saved.

Dad was always compassionate. He said, ‘Don’t go there – stay here’, meaning that he put a cross on our family”.

The Rescued and the Rescuers After the War

“When I was fourteen years old, I was digging trenches for the Germsn. I knew what hard work was. After the War, they opened a high school in Proszowice. This went to enrol, this one enrolled, that one enrolled and I said:

– Mum, I’m going too.
– No son, don’t go.
– Mum, this one has enrolled, another one...

And my older sister said:

– Mum, if he wants to go, let him go.

So I went, for four years, to the old-style junior high school and [later], two years to senior high school. After matriculation, I thought of becoming a priest, [...] but I attended AGH (University of Science and Technology in Cracow).

Marysia [Małka, Mala – ed.] met a young Jew named something like Gastrolit [Gastfriend – ed.], and left for the United States [...]. There was some contact with [her]family. Marysia had two sons”.

* * *

Interviewee: Piotr Kopeć (a witness to history);
Interviewers: Mateusz Szczepaniak (researcher), Filip Pakuła (operator); POLIN Museum (2018);
Selection and text editing: Karolina Dzięciołowska, Mateusz Szczepaniak (2019).


Afterword

After the War, sixty-five Jews returned to Proszowice. However, in July 1945, eleven Jews were murdered in the Miechowski DIstrict and two individuals were killed in the forest near Proszowice. These and subsequent murders were one of the reasons for nearly all of the Holocaust survivor Jews leaving the district, fearing for their own lives. Mirla and Mala Medman emigrated to the United States.

On 29th April 2019, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem decided to honour Stanisław and Marianna Kopeć with the title of Righteous Among the NationsOne of the source materials which supported the grating of the title was this interview which Piotr Kopeć gave to POLIN Museum.