The Story of the Janoff (Janow) Family

This is a story sent to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews by Anna Radecka. In it, she tells about the help, provided to Jews in 1942-1943, by her family – her father Sergiusz and his parents Przemysław and Aniela Janoff (Janow) in Motkowice near Jędrzejów.

Since 1936, my family, named Janoff (Janow), lived in Motkowice, a small town 14 km east of Jędrzejów (Świętokrzyskie Province). My grandfather, Przemysław Janoff, a forester, was the administrator of forests on the estate of the Górski family. Together with his wife Aniela and son Sergiusz, he lived in a forester's lodge called “Karolówka", located on the eastern edge of the Motkowice forest. His duties were varied, also involving relations with Jews. He was on good terms with them, maintaining friendly relations and was respected as a reliable partner.

During the War, Przemysław Janoff (pseudonym “Stary”) and son Sergiusz (pseudonym “Set”) were sworn-in soldiers of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army). They were active in intelligence, sabotage, organising transfers and the storage of weapons. The Janoff family's forester's lodge was full of secrets and people sought by the Gestapo. It also held Jews who had escaped from the ghetto.

The ghetto in Jędrzejów was set up by the Germans in 1940. Prior to the transportation of Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp, around six thousand people, from the Jędrzejów and Busko Districts, were held there. The Germans liquidated the ghetto on 16th September 1942. Several hundred Jews fled. The less than 250 individuals still alive, were put to work in the so-called “small ghetto”, which was also liquidated on 22nd-23rd July 1943. Some escapees found refuge with the Janoff family. Przemysław prepared a special hiding-place for them under the floor of his office. The entrance to it was hidden by a rug, on top of which he placed his desk. Janoff brought Jews from Jędrzejów straight to his home and, after a short stay, would transport them to safe places around the area. According to my latest findings, the help of the Janoff family could start well before the liquidation of the ghetto.

It is not known just how many people found refuge in the forester's lodge and if any of them survived. The last living witness to those events – the forester's niece Krystyna Strachocka-Zgud – remembers that when Przemysław brought Jews, she and Sergiusz, his son,would stand lookout on the road. One such event was described in Andrzej Ropelewski's research paper and concerns a doctor, Hirsch Beer, who had probably been hiding for a long time in a hiding-place, especially prepared for him, in the forest. In 1943, Dr Beer, in a crate covered with hay and a wall-hanging (a kilim), was taken to Kielce, to an address he had provided. Aniela Janoff sat on the crate and spread out various items on it, playing the role of a farmer's wife going to market. Her son Sergiusz led the horses. Dr Beer reached Kielce, but his fate remains unknown.

In 1945, the Polish Communist authorities arrested Sergiusz Janoff and, as a political prisoner, sentenced him to death. The sentence was commuted to ten years' imprisonment. He ultimately spent five years in prisons in Kraków, Sieradz and Rawicz. In Rawicz, he encountered the prison governor Kazimierz Szymonowicz, called “Bloody Kazik because of his cruel treatment of political prisoners.

Przemysław wanted to protect his son from harassment. So he asked a friend of Dr Beer's, from Kielce, to testify about the involvement of the Janoff family in helping Jews. Szymonowicz, who was himself a Holocaust survivor, ceased persecuting Sergiusz when he receivd the letter. The only witness to these events is a request by his father in 1951, recently discovered in the case records of Sergiusz Janoff (Rec. No. IPNBU 915/497), requesting the release of a testimony by Jadwiga Papińska, given in 1946, confirming Przemysław's help given to Dr Beer. The document itself could not be found.

After the War, the Janoff family left Motkowice. They settled in Marcule (Iłżecki District) and later in Libertów near Kraków, where they spent the rest of their days.