The story of Andrzej Majsterek’s family

POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews presents a story, by Andrzej Majsterek, about help provided to Jews by his family – his mother Maria and his grandparents Stefan and Stefania Lesisz – in the village of Kotłówka near Żelechów (today, it is a part of the city). Precise information about those in hiding and the period of assistance is not known.

I come from Żelechów (Mazowieckie Province). My mother’s parents, Stefan and Stefania Lesisz, lived near the Żelechów forest, on the border between the village of Kotłówka and the Letnisko-Warda settlement. Before the War, my grandfather would often work as a carpenter for local Jews and he was on friendly terms with some of those families. The village used to be visited by Jewish vacationers. They would bring their children to my grandparents who would spend time together with my mother and her six siblings.

During World War II, Jews, fearing for their lives, hid in the local forest1. For my family, the War was extremely traumatic. For this reason, in later years, that period was talked about reluctantly. The constant famine and fear which accompanied them at that time meant that it was just before her death that my aunt told me that our family had helped Jews. My grandfather would take food into the forest and my mother took clothing and milk for a newly born child there.

When winter came, one of those Jewish friends came to my grandfather asking him to help the family survive the cold. My grandparents’ barn and stable were located next to the forest, so a hiding place for six people was created under the straw. Grandma said that, one time, she was carrying food in a basket when Germans appeared on horseback. She froze in fear. She turned to them and offered a loaf of bread in order to allay any suspicion.

Those in hiding wrote letters. My grandfather would take them to a Jewish partisan unit stationed in the forest. When spring came so did the partisans in order to take the family to another hiding place. Of those in hiding, only one elderly woman did not survive. She died in the hiding place and, under cover of night, was buried near the barn where no one would notice. Grandpa was scared of his nearest neighbour.

They were a rich family.  When they left, they took many of the things which they had left with my grandparents for safekeeping. They intended to get to Romania through the forests. After the War, none of them kept in contact with my family.


The Germans opened a ghetto in Żelechów in November 1940. It contained around 10,000 local Jews and others transported from Garwolin, Łaskarzew, Warsaw and Łódż. At the start, it was an open ghetto, but then, in October 1941, it was separated from the Aryan side by a wall and barbed wire. The liquidation of the ghetto began on 29th September 1942. Around 300 Jews were shot on the spot, with the remainder sent to the German extermination camp in Treblinka. Polish and Jewish partisan units were active in the Żelechów area, the Jewish unit being led by Szmuel Olszak.