The story of my father, Kazimierz Sikorski

For over a year, the Sikorski family had hidden in their home Etia, a Jewish girl, who was able to escape from the ghetto in the Borszczów area (today’s Ukraine) in 1943. Helena Jeżewska, the daughter of then 20-year-old Kazimierz Sikorski, relates the history of the girl’s hiding and the help that Kazimierz has later received from Etia’s brother, Fijał, whom he had met in the Soviet army.

My dad, Kazimierz Sikorski, together with his father – Józef (born in 1879) and his step-mother (Józef’s second wife), Maria Kramczyńska-Sikorska, lived in Babińce in the Borszczów district in the Tarnopol province (today’s Ukraine). During the war, they provided help to a young Jewish woman, Etia Engel.

Etia was born in the 1920s. Her mother’s name was Zoja, her father’s – Juda (he had died before the war), and her brother’s name was Fajbisz (born in Kudryńce in 1915). The girl also had a sister, but my dad does not remember her name. The Engels lived in the village of Kudryńce, also in the Borszczów district. They ran a shop with fabric, clothing, and leather; there were rolls of materials in the store. They possessed two hectares of land; they grew tobacco.

During the Nazi occupation, a ghetto was created near Borszczów, and Jews were resettled there. In the ghetto, in a field, ditches were dug out and covered with planks. Jews were brought there with the use of deception. The Germans gave them each a piece of bread and told them they would take them into the field, where they would be able to exchange items for food. Once there, they were ordered to strip naked; they were beaten, and shot to death. In Kudryńce, where many Jews had lived, they were forcibly removed from their homes, rounded up on streets and in fields. Ecia and her family (mother, sister, and cousin) were taken away. Her brother was not there at that time, because he had been drafted into the Russian Red Army earlier, in 1941.

After reaching the field of the ghetto, people were mixed up, and Ecia was separated from the rest of her family. Her mother, sister, and cousin were shot to death before Ecia’s eyes. German and Ukrainian military men ordered Ecia to undress. She was terrified, asked them to let her go, cried, saying that she only wanted to exchange goods with the Jews, because that is what she was told she could do. She said she was not a Jew, but a Ukrainian. Then, one of the Ukrainian military men said something to his colleague; she was kicked, hit with a lead-ended lash; and they yelled: “Raus! Raus!” [Out! Out!]. Scared, Ecia began to run through the fields to her house. She escaped death, but it was still dangerous in Kudryńce. After a few days or weeks, she had heard from someone to go to Babińce, to my grandfather’s, dad’s and his step-mother’s house. And that is what happened.

At night, on 14 July 1943, someone knocked on the door. Everyone got scared, but they had to open it. Ecia stood in the door. She asked for help, to let her in, because she had just escaped from an action in Borszczów. She said she had deceived the Ukrainian and German police; that her mother, sister, and cousin were murdered. The family was afraid to take her in, but they did. They decided they would bolt the doors and cover the windows with woven curtains. In case someone saw Ecia, they would say that she was a poor member of the step-mother’s family. My dad’s step-mother had siblings in another village; so they would say that Ecia was her sister’s daughter, working as a servant.

Grandfather had a farm; the family worked in the fields. Ecia cooked for them, and grandfather or dad brought this food from home to the field. One entered the house through a room, behind which there was a kitchen, so when someone approached, Ecia ran to the kitchen. When it was someone from the family, she bustled about the kitchen; and when it was someone outside of the family – she hid under the stove. In the kitchen, there was a stove with a deep niche – one could lay there hidden. In the kitchen, she also had her bed and that is where she slept. People who came to the house sometimes asked why they were closing the door that way; so father, grandfather, and my dad’s step-mother responded that different strangers wandered around, so it was better to lock the door. A wooden barn stood near the house; it had a somewhat second wall made of planks – that is where Ecia was hidden when there were rumors about dangerous actions. Grandfather found out that her house was taken over by Ukrainians, so she was afraid to return there. She was saying that she really wanted to escape to America, and that she would not forget what the family had done for her: took her in at night, did not refuse, saved her from being dragged again to the ghetto and face death, that they treated her well, and gave her food; and she would repay them once she was in America.

Etia stayed in my dad’s family home until November 1944. It was then that my dad received a thank you letter from her for the help she had received and with information that she had just moved to Mielnica, because she received work there. After the end of the war, in 1945, she sent another letter, in which she mentioned again that she wanted to leave to America and that she was grateful, that she must repay them.

My dad, Kazimierz Sikorski, was drafted in 1944 into General Berling’s Polish Army, created in the Soviet Union. A month later, he joined a unit in Sumy. In this military company, heading towards Germany, a Soviet Army soldier had appeared, and he soon became the company’s chief. This man was Franciszek Skosowski, son of Józef and Zofia, born in 1915 in Kudryńce. It was only towards the end of the war that dad found out that this man was in reality Fajbisz Engel, Ecia’s brother and Juda’s and Zoja’s son!

The letters that dad received while in the army from Ecia and his father were always handed to him by Skosowski. Dad had noticed that this man was particularly interested in him; helped him by sometimes bringing him bread or canned food. Dad was surprised, but thought that this man was doing it out of pity, because my father was emaciated and pale. Skosowski always told my dad not to tell anyone about those gifts; not to admit it. So dad never mentioned anything to anyone and was internally grateful.

Once the unit reached the front on the Vistula, dad stood on the observational point. Skosowski then came up to him and directly asked my dad with these words: “Who is at your house, Sikorski?” Dad responded without hesitation because there are no insinuations during war, thinking about what to say – there is life and there is… death…. . He responded that they hid a woman of Jewish origin in their home, because she was in danger. But dad did not disclose her information, not even her name. He clearly saw that Skosowski intensely thought about something, bit his lips, pondered, and after a short while walked away. After this conversation, he continued to sometimes bring dad a piece of bread and canned food. Dad was still surprised why he was so favored.

Before the company entered Berlin, they had made a stop in Oranienburg, and then retreated in the area of the town of Petershagen. The soldiers were accommodated in the nearby forest. Dad was in the 16th Artillery Regiment at that time. Nearby, the 15th Artillery Regiment lodged, in which dad’s uncle, Władysław Monasterski, had served. He came from the village of Michałówka, 2 km away from Kudryńce. Uncle knew Fajbisz Engel, Ecia’s brother. One Sunday, uncle came to dad’s regiment, they sat down on some old bench and talked. At some point, Skosowski came in their direction, and then uncle whispered to dad pointing at him: „Do you, Kaziu, know that this is Fajbisz Engel from Kudryńce, the brother of Ecia, whom you had hidden?” Dad was very confused and replied to uncle that maybe he made a mistake, that this was his regiment’s chief, and that his name was Skosowski Franciszek. Uncle responded that Engel had changed his name to a Polish one, because people of Jewish origin were persecuted. It was then that dad understood that the food which he had been receiving was connected with Ecia, because that was her brother! After some time, dad received a letter from her – she was already in Mielnica. Dad replied to Ecia that he might have met her brother, that he was in his company (in case they were not in touch), and that she should write to him addressing him as Skosowski.

One day, discreetly smiling, Skosowski asked my dad: “Who was sitting next to you on the bench, Kaziu?” He responded that it was the brother of his now-dead mother, Monasterski, from the 15th regiment. Skosowski stood there, smiled, and walked away. After his return to Poland, to Krzeszowice near Kraków (the division had already retreated from Germany), Skosowski vel Engel was demobilized and contact with him broke off.

During the Communist times, my dad used to write to the Red Cross, searching for Etia and her traces. But not to ask her for anything. He was only curious if her dream had come true; if she went to America. He also thought about meeting after those years. He was told that in order to find Etia, they needed her picture. But no one took any photos of her at that time, because that would involve calling a photographer from the town, and that would have been dangerous. My dad has only found from the Red Cross that Etia’s brother had died most likely in Duszniki Zdrój in 1958. Father had also sent a letter to the Central Committee of Jews in Warsaw, and attached a letter to Ecia. He sent the letter from Namysłów. He received a letter back saying that her address was unknown – neither in Poland nor in the Soviet Union.

Translation: Joanna Sliwa