"Our neighbor reported on the Jews my mom was hiding to the police" – the story of Regina Tkaczenko from Żółkiew

My family lived in Żółkiew since the 1920s. My father, Jan Sobczyszyn, worked in Kopernika Street, in an oil mill owned by Jewish families. Mr. Melman was the manager of the mill and Mr. Altman was the production engineer. In 1937, an accident happed in the oil mill that killed my father. I was four months old at that time.

My illiterate mother Katarzyna had to take the whole responsibility for the fate of her six children. Mr. Melman took care of us. He helped us arrange an apartment in the basement of one of the nearby Jewish-inhabited houses. The basement was prepared accordingly and equipped with furniture and other necessary everyday items. Other Jewish oil mill workers also helped us, for example they gave my mom oil so that she could support her family by selling it.

After Żółkiew was taken over by the Germans in 1941, severe repression against Jews started. Tenants living on the first floor of our house told us that if they were displaced we can to move into their apartment to help protect it from being looted.

In early 1942, a ghetto was established in the vicinity of the Jewish cemetery. Jews, including Melman, Altman, his young wife and their several-months-old child were forced to move there. Then our family moved into one of the apartments left by our former Jewish neighbors.

A Pole we knew was one of the guards in the ghetto. She asked him for help in organizing an escape for Mrs. Altman and her child. My mom waited for the woman and the child and took them to the basement in which we had lived before.

The next day the guard was also to help Melman and Altman escape. However, it turned out that Jews were taken to the White Forest and executed early in the morning.

A few days later a gendarme we knew came to us and told us that our neighbor reported on the Jews my mom was hiding to the police. Mrs. Altman’s child was crying, which most likely gave out their presence in the basement. My mother quickly told the woman to leave the hideout and, being afraid of the Germans, sent us to our family who lived in the nearby village of Smereki.

Me and my five sisters went to Smereki on foot. My mom with Mrs. Altman and her child went to Lvov and then by train to Częstochowa. During German checks, my mom said Mrs. Altman was her daughter Janina, born in 1925. She had her birth certificate with her. My mom left her at the train station, just as the woman wished. Mrs. Altman had some friends in Częstochowa who were supposed to take care of her.

Mrs. Altman kept my sister Janina’s original birth certificate. Documents in the office went missing during the war, so my sister had trouble with establishing her exact date of birth.

In 1947, the KGB were informed (most probably by a neighbor) that we were Polish and were hiding Jews during the occupation. One night they wanted to deport our family to Siberia. At the last moment we were helped by a local militia commissioner who owned us a favor. However, we had to leave the apartment near the oil mill. Then another Jew we knew, told my mom that some Jews from the oil mill were looking for us. However, my mom was so scared by all of this that she asked not to tell anyone where were staying.

Before she died in 1984, my mom wanted me to establish whether the Jews she had helped survived. Unfortunately, I don’t know until this day whether Mrs. Altman and her child survived and what her fortunes were.

The only remainder of the Jewish community of Żółkiew is a synagogue that has been falling into ruin.  The Jewish cemetery was demolished. The remains of the Jews executed in the White Forest were moved to the Żółkiew cemetery. A monument with a plaque describing the 1943 events was erected there.