The story of the Zorski family

Before World War II, my grandfather, Jakub Zorski, ran a well-known photography shop, established around 1900, at 11 Modrzejowska Street in Sosnowiec. Grandma Róża was the daughter of a well-to-do merchant, Abram Jasny. He employed domestic help – a woman from a nearby village, Florentyna Nowak (nee Kasprzycka). When, on 28th February 1915, my father Zygmunt was born, Florentyna became his nanny. After Abram's death, she went to work at the Zorski home. For this young family, she became much more than just domestic help.

The Germans occupied Sosnowiec in September 1939. After the ghetto was established in 1942, in the northern district of Środula, my family organised a hiding place for themselves in the photography shop. Florentyna and her husband Franciszek arranged another hiding place, exaggeratedly called a "bunker", at their home on Dekerta Street. It was located beneath the floor of the basement and its dimensions were such that only a few people could lie under the floorboards – able to lift themselves onto their elbows, but unable to sit up.

My father's family remained in the ghetto for almost a year under very bad conditions. Constant deportations, hiding from the next "aktion", bad living conditions, a lack of food and hygiene - all this hastened their decision to escape from the ghetto.

In the spring of 1943, when the deportations intensified, my father planned the escape. He knew that only he and two of his siblings, but not his parents, would be able to leave the ghetto (his other sister, Mietka, perished in unexplained circumstances). There was no room for them in the "bunker". My father never spoke of the decision he made at that time. He escaped from column marching to work outisde of the ghetto. He did that first and the, after a few days, his sister and brother did the same. They all met up in the Nowak home.

The Zorski siblings – Zygmunt, Tadeusz and Lusia – hid beneath Florentyna and Franciszek Nowak's floor for close to eighteen months. Throughout that time, they had to be extremely careful so as not to arouse suspicion amongst the neighbours. They spent time in a corner behind curtains, where they could only squat, or in the hiding place beneath the floor, where they could only lie. Often they would remain there the whole day, afraid that someone may discover their presence. They were hungry the whole time. Most often, they would eat boiled potato peels, bread less frequently. Buying bread in a quantity exceeding what was on a ration card was difficult and risky. Florentyna said that people noticed when someone bought more bread, suspecting them of hiding Jews.

The Zorski siblings had a little money from the sale of  their mother's rings. A jeweller, who bought a ring, probably suspected that the Nowaks were hiding Jews, but he never betrayed them. For the last ring with a diamond, Franciszek could barely buy four loaves of bread.

One day, their host brought home a bucket full of lime. Together with my father, he planned the killing of any possible intruder who might discover those in hiding. Fortunately, it never came to such a maccabre situation, even though, as my father recalled, it was very possible.

At the end of January 1945, the surrounding area became quiet. The Germans had fled from the town. Shortly afterwards, the Red Army entered. For another few days, my father and his siblings lacked the courage to leave the Nowaks' basement. When they finally went out onto ulica Dekerta, the light of the sun so irritated them that they could not see clearly and they could walk only with difficulty. My grandparents and the other members of the family perished in Auschwitz. My mother, Helena Zorska (nee Schächter), also lost her parents in the Holocaust.

After the War, my parents took over Jakub Zorski's photography shop. When I was born in 1947, my parents raised me together with Florentyna, whom my sister Irena and I called "Florcia". As a result of the antisemitic campaign of March 1968, we emigrated to Sweden in October 1969 with enormous sorrow for having to part with Florcia. She was like an adoptive grandmother. She had taken the place of our grandparents. But what was most important, she had saved three human beings from certain death.