The story of Jadwiga Zowczak about her grandparents – Marianna and Andrzej Zawadka
IN MEMORY OF,
WHO ALREADY LEFT US,
AND WHO ARE STILL WITH US,
A WORD OF CAUTION,
SO THAT THE HOLOCAUST
COULD NEVER RETURN
The spring of 1940 – the time of war and occupation – the region of the city of Otwock, near Warsaw…
(…) The spring of that year was so beautiful and quiet here in the village of Głupianka, lying south of the Otwock - Mińsk Mazowiecki road. It is only about 40 kilometers from here to Warsaw. To the city where the cruel war reigns, where people live in constant fear of their lives, where every night and day and at any time human beings of different nationalities might lose their lives at the hands of the Nazi soldiers.
But here, in this village, the spring is so beautiful and still. There are no Germans here. Only sometimes a German airplane would cross the blue sky with a roar, disturbing the peace and tranquility of the inhabitants of this idyllic village, inevitably reminding them of the war, of terror and fear. But the village lives according to its own rhythm, and its people occupy themselves with farming, which bears fruit thanks to which they can live and survive.
(…) In the very center of this small village, the Zawadka family has its household.
The farmer – Andrzej – is a tall man of an authoritative figure, with a bushy mustache and a stern and serious look in his eyes. He commands the respect of everybody in the village. He has no enemies, but is a friend and adviser to anybody, both the young and the old…
His wife – Marianna – is called Marysia by her husband and neighbors.
She is a rather short woman of stocky build – the personification of warmth and kindness to the members of the household and its guests…
The couple has two children – the elder, fifteen-year-old Helena, and the younger, nine-year-old Genia.
(…) In such a small circle of local people no secret remains unknown. The time of happiness and the time of sorrow become common to everybody in the village.
One beautiful sunny day, a few-year-old boy is approaching the village, coming along a narrow field path. He is dirty, and his clothes are shabby, ragged and in tatters. The boy is slim and short, his curly hair is of dark blond color. He seems to be hungry and miserable. He has been traveling like this for many days and hours. He is very tired, looking for home and decent people, who would take him under their roof, providing him with love, affection and life.
Many a village and household has he passed in his journey, and he is growing more and more despondent. He is alone in the hostile world of wartime. Nobody wants to offer him a shelter. Sometimes a housewife would secretly give him a hunk of bread, but she is relieved when he goes away and passes out of sight. Nobody wants to take care of him, not because they do not want him or do not want to help him, but because they fear for their own lives and the lives of their families.
The boy is called Jakub – a Jew and a child. He is on his way from Otwock, from his home, from his parents and brothers, in search of a quiet and peaceful existence to survive the bestiality of the wartime.
The boy has been traveling for many a day, sleeping and resting in the roadside bushes. He tries to evade Germans, knowing that encountering a German Nazi is the surest way to death. Every day and every night in his life bring him closer to the beloved freedom, without Germans, without dangers and fear for his own life.
His parents and two brothers stayed in Otwock to meet certain death in the ghetto. They were deported and executed in the extermination camp in Treblinka.
(…) On that sunny day of spring 1940 the boy found himself in the village of Głupianka, in the family of Andrzej and Marianna Zawadka…
He came into the barnyard, hungry and exhausted, asking for shelter. He was devoid of any hope that people in this farmyard would show him mercy and that he would find love and protection to the very end of the war.
But the family accepted him, taking little heed of the fact that he was a Jew and that by hiding him they were risking not only their own lives, but the lives of all inhabitants of this small, calm village.
It was Andrzej Zawadka and his wife Marianna Zawadka who deserved credit for rescuing the boy. The farmer said the words which became a decisive factor in the boy’s stay in the household: “God has guided him on his long way and led him to us – so let him stay with us. Such is the will of God” – Jakub already knew that this would be his new home. Here he eventually found love and security. The housewife treated him like her own son, and nobody stood out against the will of father and man. Even more, everybody was pleased that a new helper in the household and companion for Genia and Hela found his place in the house.
(…) Hela and Genia taught the boy how to say a prayer as though he was a Catholic – in order to minimize the danger of finding out that he was a Jew. And he was a diligent student – after all, it was all about his existence and survival. Throughout the wartime he lived and worked in the village like the rest of its inhabitants. For the people outside the village he was a cousin in the Zawadka family, for the local people – he was one of them.
(…) In the summer of 1943 the villagers experienced the great German manhunt. The Nazi surrounded Głupianka so that nobody had the slightest chance of escaping…
This time the Germans invaded the place looking for partisans. Having searched the village and all of its households, they left, taking two farmers along with them. Nobody learnt about their whereabouts – whether they were deported or murdered…
The feelings of fright and terror permeated the inhabitants. They knew that this time their lives and belongings were spared, but for how long?
One thing was sure – the manhunt was organized to catch the partisans. The Zawadka family and the countrymen became now more careful and wary of strangers coming into the village in search of food.
(…) The year 1944 – marked the fifth year of World War II and the German occupation and the fifth year of Jakub’s stay in the village of Głupianka. These were evil times for the Polish population. The Jewish ghettos were liquidated and its inhabitants deported to the extermination camps, where their fate was sealed. The Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed.
(…) The summer of 1944 is hot and dry – it is the season of harvest and hard work in the field. The news about the Warsaw Uprising reaches the village.
The Soviet soldiers have already arrived in Głupianka, but they are dog-tired and wretched. They have pitched the camp and built a makeshift airport next to the village. A muffled rumbling of cannons from Warsaw reaches the ears of the villagers. At night a distant glow of fire emerges up in the navy-blue starlit sky. It is Warsaw – burning and fighting: the Warsaw Uprising is in full swing. In response, the Germans bombard the capital of Poland every night and day. They want to raze it to the ground.
The villagers can feel the upcoming freedom, desired for so long a time. Also little Jakub craves for liberty.
(…) After the liberation of Warsaw Marianna knows that the time for Jakub has come. She is aware of the fact that the world is waiting for him and that he will soon leave.
After five years of living with the Zawadka family, Jakub leaves the village along with the Polish and Soviet armies.
It is time for the farmers and their children, Hela and Genia, to say goodbye to the Jewish boy, with whom they have become so much intimate. The world is calling on him, the world which may have suffered war damage, but is now free from the Holocaust. Jakub knows that there is no place for him in this small village. He has to set out on a journey and “find a new place for himself”. Will he find it?
After Jakub’s departure, the village continued to live according to its own rhythm. But the Zawadkas would always be sick at heart, longing for their boy. The farmer longed for his child, and the housewife pined for her son. Jakub finished his journey far away from the little Polish village of Głupianka.
After many years he settled in Canada – the country of the maple leaf. During his journey he met Florencja, who agreed to set up “home” with him. He has two daughters and a son. The children are already grown-up and have their own families. Jakub is now a happy grandfather.
Jadwiga Zowczak, daughter of Genia Zawadka-Urbaniak