The Righteous without a medal - about Gregorious family

A short story by Gabriela Gregorius, a student from the Jan Paweł II Junior Secondary School in Kudowa-Zdrój about Stanisław and Cecylia Gregorius, her great-grandparents who kept four Jews in hiding.

April. The year 1944. A cold and wet night had already fallen in Wojcza. Milk-white fog had already crept onto the fields and into the forests. The lights had already been turned off and the inhabitants had long ago fallen into a restless sleep. This was a starry night, though maybe in fact it was darker than usual. The air had no smell of spring, but it was spring, so every place smelt the same way – of smoke and iron. Four shadows flitted through a nearby forest. Those to whom the shadows belonged were exhausted with the fear that had been constantly following them; however, nothing surprising about that. They were Jewish, and it was so dangerous to be from under the Star of David at this time. A few days earlier they jumped off a train that was transporting prisoners from the Montelupich prison in Kraków to a death camp. They needed help, some shelter, and Wojcza seemed so peaceful, so tempting. Having decided that they would seek help with the people living in the area, they went out of the forest and into deserted streets. 

They chose a small house looking exactly the way other houses did. Prompted by hunger and fear, they knocked on the door, or maybe they rang the doorbell. There is no information about whether the door had a bell. A moment of silence. Some hesitant movements could be heard inside the house, and a faint light was put on upstairs. The four people standing on the porch were overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. What if they made a mistake? Not all Poles were noble-minded; some sold death their Jewish neighbors and back then everybody associated death with a uniform of a German soldier. Maybe they should have run away before it was not too late. But right at this moment the door was being opened.

A man in the prime of life stood before the four wanderers. He must have been wearing a nightgown, maybe holding a candle. For the group of escapees the man proved to be a friend. For me he is just a great grandfather. Stanisław Gregorius and his wife Cecylia lived in Wojcza (Świętokrzyskie Province, Pacanów Municipality, the region of Busko Zdrój). A good, straightforward man with a good heart. A fan of motorcycles and an opponent of communism. In April 1944 he already had four out of seven children: Jerzy, Aleksander, Henryk and small Janek.
One night some Jews of Russian origin knocked on his door and Stanisław let them in with no hesitation. In fact, someone could see them, and it showed that they were not ordinary visitors. Dirty, emaciated, and pale, they quickly told their story and asked for help. In the meantime, Cecylia woke up and as befitted a woman, she invited the wanderers to the kitchen. Probably she made them some tea with raspberry juice. Who knows? Maybe she also had some currant juice which was left over after the winter. All of them sat down at a plane Polish table. The Jews drank the tea and kept talking about what they had been through. They used Russian, but that was all right, because the great grandparents knew the language. It was still before the sunrise when the decision was made that the four of them would stay in the house.

Stanisław and Cecylia offered them a roof over their heads and other necessary things. There was no need to persuade the visitors of the rightness of the decision too much. Besides, the vision of one’s own pillow and a full plate was probably too hard to resist. They developed a taste for Cecylia’s tea, agreed to the decision, and… stayed. At the beginning they virtually did not leave their beds, as they were gathering strength. Later on, they tried to help in the house. They needed to stay cautious, as the fact that Jews had been hiding in the house could be easily let out. It was hard times back then, and had somebody found out, it could not be ruled out that soon German soldiers would knock on the door, and they knew nothing about mercy.

Days and weeks passed. “The Jews” became friends. They helped in the house and took care of the children. By the way, I wonder how children reacted to their presence. The children were very well brought up and from the earliest childhood they knew what was most important. The life in the Gregorius family’s house went on without any changes noticeable from the outside. And the Jews turned from “friends” into brothers. Four months had passed since the arrival of the new members of Stanisław and Cecylia’s family. Situation looked different on different fronts, yet, the fact remained that the Germans were growing weaker. The Soviets began to approach Poland. Their attitude toward escapees – such as our four heroes – was not better that the Nazi soldiers’, namely, they killed them. Those living in Wojcza had been always aware of that.

When the Russians were literally a few kilometers away from this serene, as for this time, place, the four Jews of Russian origin, under cover of darkness, left the house which, for the last couple of months, they had been fortunate to be able to call “home”. They vanished just as they appeared. They did not say a word to anybody, as they thought my great grandparents would not let them go away, no matter what. It was a warm July night. Dew adorned the tufts of grass, and the moon glittered on thousands of tiny droplets. You got the impression that the stars were lying on the ground, and that the sky extended across the fields and between the forest trees.

The door of the small house, which looked just like other small houses, was opened quietly. The four shadows went into the street. Their owners were walking close to the walls of the houses, avoiding the middle of the street. Their quick steps echoed back from empty shutters. Changes hung in the air. All of a sudden the escapees could hear a noise. They stopped and grew terrified. There was still some time for them to escape. Luckily, it was only a cat crossing the street. The sky was clear. Yes. It can be said for sure it was cloudless. The four people headed toward a path and disappeared in the forest. They stopped for a while in a place where the shadow was deep and turned around. They looked at the roof under which they felt safe. Maybe with tears in their eyes they kept walking. Or no, with no tears. They were brave people.

In the morning of July 29, the whole house belonging to the Gregorius family was awakened by Cecylia’s cry. They disappeared. They are gone. They escaped. Yet, they left a letter, as it was not a right thing to leave without saying goodbye after all they had been through together. The piece of paper showed cursive intricate writing:

“On my own and my three companions’ behalf, we would like to warmly thank our dear friend Stanisław Mikołaj Gregorius for keeping us in hiding before the Germans for four months, risking his own and his family’s life. No words can express our gratitude. My dear friend, I will put it briefly: honor and glory to our Polish friend!
July 28, 1944 Mikołaj Karpiena”

Today, after 66 years from these days I discovered this amazing story. My grandfather (the son of Stanisław and Cecylia), when asked about some mementos from World War II, went to get a box with some objects. He returned with a letter, an old, yellowed, and a bit holey letter with slanting and intricate letters written in green ink. We took a piece of paper and translated the letter.

It remains unknown what happened to Karpiena and to his three, unfortunately anonymous, companions. My great grandfather never found out what happened to his friends. He never knew the truth. Did they survive? Did they live to see better days? Did they get in the Soviets’ hands? All this makes up a fascinating mystery, a mystery that my grandfather and I were trying to solve sipping warm tea with raspberry juice. A mystery created by a letter, probably the only trace of Mikołaj Karpiena and his companions’ life.