A Hideout Behind an Oven. The Story of the Galas Family

On 12th June 2019, Stefan Galas (b. 1925) gave an interview to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in which he told the story of his parents and how they had hidden Jews in Strzeniówka near Nadarzyn (Mazowieckie Province). The Galas family has not as yet been honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, which is presented by the Yad Vashem Institute. We present their story here.

During the German occupation, Władysław and Józefa Galas, and their sons Stefan, Kazimierz and Henryk, hid Jews on their farm in Strzeniówka. They were Izaak Birenbaum and his daughter Rachela, who had escaped from the ghetto in Pruszków. They also hid their pre-War friend, Józef Jass, who had lived in nearby Nadarzyn.

In his interview with POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Stefan Galas said:

“A few years ago, I was interviewed, at the cemetery in Nadarzyn, by historian Ryszard Zalewski. He asked, ‘What do you know about the Jass family? What does that name mean to you’. I replied, ‘It doesn’t mean anything to me’. ‘How can that be? Your family was hiding Jews’. ‘Of course, but I didn’t know that their name was Jass’. At that time, it was better to know as little as possible or even nothing. I didn’t know that their name was Jass or Birenbaum. I knew that she was Róża, he was Józiek and the older man was simply ‘Sir’. Ryszard Zalewski was interested in the history of Nadarzyn, including the history of the Jews. He had reached the point of confirming names and who these people were. Thanks to that, I was able to make contact with the Jass family. 

Near Dębak – the Galas Farm

The Galas family lived in a secluded area, a kilometre from the village of Strzeniówka near Nadarzyn (Mazowieckie Province).

“On the north side, there was a forest – around fifty metres from the buildings and to the south, about two hundred metres away. […] The family had a section of the forest on the west side – four hundred metres. It was the Młochowski forest, the property of Młochów, […] the gamekeeper lived in Dębak. They said that ‘the Galas family lived near Dębak”. 

They shared their home with Józefa’s sister, Antonina Czajka, her husband Szymon and their son Witold. 

“Divided by the  hallway, the Czajka family lived on the right, while the Galas family lived on the left. The front part was where you entered the home. Straight ahead was the oven – before the War, my father baked bread for sale […] in order to improve the farm’s situation […]. It was small – six hectares. […] My parents were the farmers. The Czajka family were not involved in this. […] they received compensation from the pareents for renting a plot”.

During the occupation, Władysław Galas baked rolls: 

“To get the wheat, I would travel fifteen kilometres to Kaski, near Grodzisk Mazowiecki – we couldn’t grow it as the soil was too poor. […] I would buy fifty kilograms from a farmer – I couldn’t ride with that. I’d walk with the bike and the wheat to the mill in Guzów. In Guzów, a German – a local Volksdeutsch – had a mill. He ‘shared it’ with me. He would take twenty or twenty-five kilograms of the wheat – I would receive twenty-five kilograms of flour. […] a large number of rolls could be baked from that”. 

Found in the Forest – Help for Rachela Birenbaum and her father Izaak

Following the liquidation of the ghetto in nearby Pruszków in January 1941, Stefan Galas’ cousin, who at the time lived with the Czajka family. met a Jew in the forest – Rachela Birenbaum. She brought the woman with her to "near Dębak”. The girl received shelter together with her father, Izaak, who was a tailor. 

During the day, both remained inside the farmhouse. Róża helped the women in the kitchen, while the older man repaired clothes.

“[…] there were always dogs on the farm, if a dog barked during the day, it meant that someone was approaching. The Birenbaums would go out the back, through the rear entrancey to behind the oven and waited there until the neighbour who, for example, was bringing gossip, had gone”.

Overnight, in the summer, they moved to the barn where the family had, already before the War, created a storage room. “[…] we were preparing for war For example, grain was stored in containers there, pigs were slaughterd and meat was dried there after which it was hung in the attic”. The store room was located in the sąsiek (a barn attic):

“The barn consisted of three parts – the middle was concave where the grain was threshed with a flail, on the sides were storage areas for hay and straw. Under the hay and straw, there was a hiding place made from boards – it was suitable for them to go there for the night. The entrance was from the outside. The boards on the top were aligned and covered, while at the bottom they were detached from the nails, so that two boards could be parted, forming a triangle and that was the entrance. As they entered, these boards closed. A pile of bricks also masked off the entrance”.

For safety reasons, from time to time, Róża and her father changed places. 

“[…] my mother was the most afraid. […] as soon as the dogs barked, my mother would tremble like a leaf […] once, after leaving our farm, only Rachela returned. Old Birenbaum didn’t come back. We don’t know what happened to him”. 

Help for Józef Jass

The Galas family knew the Jass family from Nadarzyn from before the War. They were fruit traders. „[…]  fruit on the trees, often in the spring. When the fruit buds were on the trees, the farmer had work to do in the field, he sold them very quickly. The Jass family worked for the Woźniak family – it was the wealthiest farm in the village, which had an orchard – at harvest time, they would put up a tent”. One of the Jass family’s sons went to school with one of the Galas brothers – Kazimierz.

“We called him ‘Józiek’. […] he would look in on us. He had good paper and had connections, in the woods, the gamekeeper would employ him in the logging or when renovating the forest bridge. He was agile and did well. […] Rachela caught his eye and he probably caught her eye, because he began visiting us more and more often. We knew that they fancied each other”. 

Mr Galas does not remember parting with the survivors. His memory replaces photographs, which were kept by the family.

“[…] the moment to say goodbye took place on the road near our farm. With their suitcases, I can see our farm in the background, with the birch standing trees standing along the road, a dirt road, dirt where there is asphalt now”.

The Post-War Fate of the Rescuers and the Survivors

Those in hiding left for Dolny Śląsk, to the town of Niemcza. There, they married and set up a shop.

“The invited me and the Czajka cousins – Witold […]. We stayed with them for a few days. After a time, they invited us again – Witold went, […] met a girl, married and settled down there”. 

In the 1950’s, Józef and Rachela Jass, together with their two-year-old son, emigrated to Israel.

“They would send us fruit for the holidays. Czajka family established mail contact […] which was maintained for a long time”.

In the following years, they had another son. 

Meeting Years Later

In 2015, contact between the Jass and Galas families was re-established.

“Mr Zalewski told me this, ‘They’ll be in Warsaw and want to meet up with you’. We met at the MDM Hotel […] I drove them to Strzeniówka. […] I showed them this house again. […] it has been added to, but that part where they were in hiding stands to this day. The barn is gone”.