As a young girl, I participated in my family’s efforts to help the Jews … Several Jews were temporarily sheltered in our home, then taken to other locations. Five lived with us until the Warsaw uprising in August, 1944. When the uprising was crushed, we all went into hiding, anticipating the arrival of the Soviet Army. In November, 1944, one of the Jewish women we saved argued with a group of Jews and brought the Germans who then killed 18 people, including her nephew and her elderly sister. One man survived. He came at night to the place where I and 10 others were hiding, informed us of the tragedy and warned us of our own imminent danger, probably saving our lives. For us, and the Jews who passed through our home, the greatest fear was that someone from the ghetto would betray.132 Stefania Podgórska, who rescued thirteen Jews in Przemyśl, faced threats from a Jew who wanted admission into her home where she was sheltering Jews.
One day Stefania received a letter delivered by two street urchins, who demanded that Stefania read it, sign it, and return it to them so they could be paid. The letter was from a Jewish woman in the ghetto; it named all the people she had in hiding and threatened to tell the Gestapo everything unless Stefania took in the author of the letter and her children.133
Angrily, Stefania accepted them. A Jewish family in Drohobycz accepted another Jew into their hideout because they were fearful he would denounce them.134
A Jew in the hiding in the forests in the vicinity of Sokoły near Białystok urged two brothers to separate from their group to increase their chances of receiving help from local farmers.
The Todras boys did not want to listen to what I said. They threatened that if I would not allow them to come with me, they would cause such a scandal that my son would be driven out and his hiding place exposed to everyone.135 A group of Jews broke out of the labour camp in Kolbuszowa after receiving a warning from a Polish policeman of its imminent liquidation. Unexpectedly, two Jews arrived at the small, overcrowded hiding place some of the Jewish escapees had pre-arranged and demanded to be let in.
…the Stub brothers announced that they had no place to go and they intended to remain right where they were in Vichta’s house. “If you force us to leave, and we are caught, we will inform the Germans that you are here, and they will catch you as well.”
Vichta and Leibush had no choice. The Stubs would remain, but that raised the number to eight … Eight Jews, six of whom had no money, in a tiny cottage attic near the main road. Impossible. … After three weeks. Leibush and I were forced to leave Vichta’s home and joined a group living in the forest. Froim and the Stub brothers remained at Vichta’s house until the liberation. … The Stub brothers behaved brutishly, bullying their way into the security of Vichta’s home.136
Some Jews were hostile to the idea of accepting into their places of refuge other Jews who might put them at risk,137 and Jews were often taken in by Polish benefactors over the protest of their other Jewish charges. Bella Bronstein, an orphan from Drohiczyn, recalled the reception she received when she arrived in a strange village: the church warden “suggested that we go in to see the priest who might take me in as help to his housekeeper. It turned out later that the priest’s housekeeper was also a refugee Jewish woman who was not too anxious to have another Jewess around … (not unusual in those terrible days).”138
Issur Wondolowicz, who was hiding in the forests near Sokoły, recalled: “There was a struggle among our group. Simply, they did not agree that the girl and I would join them.”139 Jews hiding in a bunker in the Garbów forest northwest of Lublin refused to take in even one additional, wounded Jewish partisan on the run.140 A Jewish woman from Lublin who went to Warsaw to obtain false identity documents ran into a Jewish friend of her father’s who was already installed on the Aryan side: “He tried to seduce my wife, at that time not my wife yet. Tell [sic] her he would help her only if she would stay with him. Of course, she rejected the whole thing and she left him.”141
Lena Küchler, who hid in Warsaw, was abandoned by her husband for a German woman because he thought his chances of surviving with his wife, given her appearance, were not good.142 The teenager Dora Brick (Kislowicz) was not accepted in the house where her Jewish friend’s family was hiding, and later she encountered her brother, who was hiding with a group of Jews near Zamość, but he too would not let her stay with them despite her pleas.143 Golda Ryba, a 12-year-old girl from Sokołów Podlaski, was allowed to stay in a farmer’s barn where she found several Jewish families hiding. No one took the slightest interest in her and they would not even share a blanket for protection against the cold.144 Luba Bat was hiding with a former teacher of hers, when a friend knocked on the door and asked to stay. Luba Bat confronted him: “For heaven’s sake, how can you say such a thing?” “But I have no place where to go and I’m not going to move,” the friend retorted. Luba Bat replied: “For heaven’s sake, do you realize that it’s terribly unethical what you’re doing?” Her landlady let the friend stay for a few days while she made other arrangements for him.145
Nelli Rotbart, who together with her family hid in a bunker under a pigsty on a farm in a village near Kałuszyn, recalls the sudden and unexpected arrival of a Jewish acquaintance.
As though we didn’t have enough problems, a new calamity befell us. Aside from all the torture, discomfort and hunger, we now had to make room for another person—Mojshe. How he was able to trace us, we would never know, but one day he came to [their host] Michalina’s and blackmailed her and us; if we wouldn’t take him in, he would tell the Germans. The parasite was with us for an entire month, and our portions of bread were smaller because of him. One night, father caught him stealing our bread …146 Regina Biesam recalled her experience while hiding in Sosnowiec and the attitude of her Polish benefactor and fellow Jews.
Stanisława Cicha … at the risk of her own life gave shelter to sixteen Jews in her home. I myself was among those she concealed. It was 1943. … When I found myself in her home I discovered that I was not the only one she was rescuing. Anyone who came at night to tap at the window of her house was sure to find shelter. Some of the Jews rebelled and grumbled that too many people were there already, which might lead to discovery. Mrs. Cicha replied that everybody wants to live.147 Another such case is recorded by a rescuer from Brzeżany, in the Tarnopol region, whose decision to bring in more Jews met with anger on the part of her Jewish charges. Previously, these charges had insisted adamantly that no other Jews were to be brought to the hideout.148 A similar story from the Lublin region is recorded by survivor Thomas Toivi Blatt.149 A Polish rescuer from Miechów faced stern protests from two of his Jewish charges when more Jews arrived.150 Jews hidden by the Beck family in Żółkiew protested the arrival of two young children to be with their aunt:
During this period, 16 fugitives were concealed in the hideout. In April 1943, during the final liquidation of the ghetto, seven-year-old Zygmund Orlender and his four-year-old sister also sought refuge in the Becks’ home, and despite the opposition of those already hiding in the bunker, who protested against the increased overcrowding, the Becks stood firm and took in the children.151 When some Jews reached the house of a Polish forest ranger in Konińsk, in Volhynia, who gladly took them in, they “found other Jews from our town, but we could see that they were not pleased at our coming, fearing the Germans would discover our coming.” After a few days, they were taken to a different hiding place.152 When some more Jews arrived,
We joined Moshe Rosenfeld, a man of 60, after Slovik [Słowik, the ranger] instructed him to take us to the group of Jews. … Moshe Rosenfeld hesitated to bring us to join the group and started to argue with Slovik. Rosenfeld, of course, gave in in the end and did not stop us from going on. …
Our arrival caused arguments and anger over whether we were entitled to join the group. Sensing we had food with us, the men took it from us, sat down, and finished it. This was like a bribe for permission to stay with them. … Slovik’s son, Kazik … would also bring a bit of food, but not one bit of this reached the small, weak ones in the group.153
A Jewish policeman from Sandomierz named Morgen persuaded a Polish farmer to take him in for a substantial payment on condition that the farmer evict a large group of Jews he was sheltering.154 Marcus David Leuchter recalled his experiences in Warsaw:
I remembered the Polish name of a friend of mine who had escaped from the Ghetto before we did. … We walked over to his place at curfew time. He greeted us very cordially, but then his Jewish girlfriend showed up; she was a personification of fury, and wanted us to leave immediately. Without her knowledge, the [gentile] landlady allowed us to stay a couple of days, until mother found a room in the apartment of Mrs. Eugenia Sawicki. … The Sawicki family suffered with us for two years, risking their lives for us without any financial advantages.155 A group of Jews who were given shelter at the convent of the Benedictine nuns in Wilno had to be persuaded by the Sister Maria Mikulska, the Mother Superior, to allow more Jews to come into their hideout. According to Samuel Bak,
It was Maria who convinced the group in hiding to take in a woman and a child. She exclaimed to them our state of total despair. Sending us back would have meant our death. The nine people had a hard choice to make, and they vacillated, as clearly we would take up a part of their space as well as some of the very limited portions of available food. Moreover, a few of them were afraid our presence could increase their chance of being detected. But Maria made it clear how much she cared about us. The group could not afford to alienate her.156 Leon Kahn (then Leib Kaganowicz) and his father sought refuge in the countryside near their hometown of Ejszyszki. An acquaintance of the family, named Rukowicz, gave them a warm welcome, but seemed somehow uneasy. “We were poised ready to flee when the reason for his uneasiness became evident: another Jewish family—Sholem Levo, his wife, two sons and a niece!” While Rukowicz invited the Kahns to share the Levo family’s quarters (an unfinished wing of the house), the Levos were not very enthusiastic about the arrangement and asked Kahn’s father to look for some other place to hide.157 A Jew who had arranged for his son’s escape a work camp in Nowogródek found that his plan was foiled when his brother, who was aware of these plans, prevented his nephew from leaving and sent his own son in his nephew’s place. The son later perished, and the nephew survived.158
Gutshe begged them to let her hide in one of the deserted Jewish flats, but the terrified Jews of Chintshin [Chęciny] told her to hide somewhere else. “For God’s sake,” she said to them, “Why should a Christian hide a Jew if you yourselves won’t take him in?” “We won’t jeopardize our lives for you, and if you keep hanging around here, we will inform the Gestapo,” Abraham Ring, the Jewish militia captain, threatened.159 The same source describes how a Jew fell into the hands of the Gestapo, was broken by torture, and betrayed his earlier Polish benefactor. The Gestapo later tortured the captured Pole to get him to betray names.160 Samuel Drix recalled how Icek Hoch, with whom he was hiding with a Polish family in Biały Kamień near Złoczów, refused to help his own father come to the safety of their hideout.161 Drix had also provided Hoch with a considerable amount of money which Hoch did not want to return to him when it looked like they were on the verge of going their separate ways.162
The following examples are particularly disconcerting. After staging a revolt in the Sobibór death camp, hundreds of Jewish prisoners managed to break out. They decided to form smaller groups to increase their chances of survival. In the larger group that Toivi (Thomas) Blatt was first part of, each smaller group was asked to take with them a vulnerable escapee. One such person was Mendel, the head of the bakery in the camp, who proved to be helpless when he arrived in the forest. The escapees with whom he was to go, Shvartz and Karolek, first tried to leave without him and then broke Mendel’s leg so that he could not walk. The leader of the revolt, Aleksandr Pechersky, a Soviet officer, took with him all of the men who had weapons. He also took up a collection for money from the other Jews for the stated purpose of buying food supplies from villagers for the larger group. Pechersky and his armed men disappeared, leaving the other Jews behind without arms to defend themselves and little funds.163
Some Jews contrast their treatment at the hands of fellow Jews with the kindness they experienced from Poles. A young Jewish woman recalled that she and her brother survived begging food from Polish villagers in the Lublin area after several bad encounters with fellow Jews.164 Then in her early teens, Dwojna Woszczyn, from the village of Korost near Stepań in Volhynia, managed to escape from a death squad and wandered through the countryside begging for food. One night she happened to encounter a Jewish doctor from Stepań hiding in the forest. When she awoke the next morning he had left taking her food provision.165 When Rachel Shtibel was sheltered with her family in a bunker in a barn of a farmer near Kołomyja, she was repeatedly sexually molested by a family friend who hid with them.166
Dwojra Frymet, from Włodzimierz Wołyński, born in 1930, often sneaked out of the ghetto to obtain food from Poles and worked on a farm herding cows, even though everyone in the village knew her to be Jewish. In the ghetto, a rich Jew had refused to give her any food and threw her out the door, and the Jewish police chased and beat her as she tried to sneak in and out of the ghetto through the wire fence.167 On one occasion, she was saved from the hands of a Jewish policeman who was administering a severe beating by a Ukrainian policeman.168
A teenaged Jewish girl had wandered in the forests near Lublin and encountered Jews in hiding, but they would not let her join their group. She survived by working as a shepherd for local farmers. Afterward, she found her way to the home of a police officer where she worked as a nanny for the family’s little boy. When a representative of the Jewish community along came along with her aunt to remove her from the home after the war, the girl refused to go with her. She lashed back to the Jewish representative that the Jews had abandoned her in the forest, whereas the Poles had saved her, so she had no desire to return to the Jews.169 There are other accounts authored by Jews who turned to Poles for assistance after being turned down by fellow Jews.170
Jewish indiscretion was also a source of danger. The cover of Bruno Shatyn (Bronisław Szatyn), a Jewish lawyer from Kraków who had been hired to work as an administrator of a Polish estate (and acquired the reputation of an anti-Semite even among Poles), was exposed by a Jewish girl, herself in hiding among Poles who knew her true identity. This Jewish girl could not resist gossiping even when other lives depended on her discretion. The employees, however, agreed to keep him on as their administrator, fully aware that in doing so they were endangering their own lives.171 Shatyn noted the following precautions taken by Jews who decided to pass as Christians:
Most important, other Jews should be avoided. By this time all Jews had been officially relegated to ghettos or concentration camps. Those we saw on the outside either were living on false papers like us—and so would also try to avoid running into friends from the past—or were working for the Gestapo as informers on other Jews.172 So, too, the cover a Jewish dentist who posed as a Pole in Piszczac, a small town near the Bug River, was exposed by a young Jewish woman soon after he arrived in town with his family. However, despite widespread rumours and suspicions among the Polish population, no one betrayed them.173 The unexpected arrival of a relative of this family from Kraków caused more turmoil: “‘When your father heard that I’d given Izio our address and that he was coming to stay with us, he could have killed me,’ my mother recalls. ‘How could you endanger us like that? How could you tell him where we were, when we agreed that nobody must know? He’ll be the death of us!’ Henek reproached her.”174
A Polish carpenter by the name of Piotr Morawski and his family gave shelter to Lilka Goldberg, a young Jewish woman with Semitic features, on his farm in the Lublin region. Her frequent forays into town resulted in a warning from the local Polish police commander that her reckless behaviour would lead to a raid and their execution. Terrified, the carpenter asked the Jewish woman to leave, which she refused to do saying that if she perishes they all should. She finally agreed to leave after extorting 70,000 złotys from the Polish family as well as taking the valuables of Mrs. Morawska.175 A Jew from Opatów carefully recorded the names of all his Polish benefactors in case he should be caught, so that they too would be brought down with him.176
A forest bunker near the village of Wola Przybysławska, northwest of Lublin,
wasn’t found out until the Shohet went out by chance and was caught. He led the Germans to the entrances of the cave. The military police didn’t have to shoot a single shot. They merely stuffed the entrances with straw and set it afire. All the Jews were strangled by the smoke. Only one little remained alive.177 A Jewish woman who had converted to Catholicism before the war was captured by the Germans and taken to the ghetto in Rzeszów. One night some Jews tried to persuade a tipsy Ukrainian guard to shoot her: “The Jews told him: ‘She is a convert! She has to be killed and shot!’ They said so in my presence. They didn’t care at all.’” But the Ukrainian soldier told the Jews that he had not received an order to shoot her. Instead he beat her in order to appease the Jewish mob.178 Dobka Sztrum, who had converted and married Pole, was denounced by a Jew; pregnant, she was executed by the Germans in front of her home in Uniszowa near Ryglice.179 Hatred and vengeance inspired a rabbi to denounce a Jew by the name of Jakubowicz who had converted to Catholicism and lived unmolested in Siedliska near Tuchów, south of Tarnów. The Gestapo arrested the Jakubowicz family because one grandparent was a Jew.180 As many accounts confirm, the general sentiment toward Jewish converts to Christianity and “assimilationists” living in the ghettos was one of loathing and hostility.181 A snitch of Jewish origin in the Warsaw office of the Main Welfare Council (Rada Główna Opiekuńcza), by the name of Stefan Idzikowski, is believed to have handed over to the Gestapo a list of Jewish Christians who remained outside the Warsaw ghetto.182
Although historian Lucy Dawidowicz has stated that the Poles have only themselves to blame for the fact that the Germans executed so many Polish benefactors and their Jewish charges,183 examples of betrayals by Jews (including Gestapo agents184) and by others (Ukrainians,185 ethnic Germans,186 Gypsies187), often with fatal consequences for Polish rescuers, are plentiful. Jews who fell into the hands of the Germans were interrogated about their benefactors and frequently succumbed. Jews wrote letters to the German authorities denouncing Jews who had remained outside the ghetto or concealed their possessions, who were involved in illicit trade or in illegal political activities, and for other reasons.188 Jews also sent denunciations against Poles involved in the anti-Nazi conspiracy.189
A Jew, illegally outside the ghetto in Warsaw, was caught by a German gendarme; in exchange for his own life, he offered to denounce other Jews on the “Aryan” side—scores of Jews were tracked down and executed in the Jewish cemetery as a result.190 A young Jewish woman by the name of Celina who was captured by the Gestapo disclosed the hiding place of another Jewish woman, Wanda, who had helped her find a placement in Warsaw. Both women were executed in the Pawiak prison.191 Wacław Łada, who has been recognized by Yad Vashem, was betrayed to the Gestapo by a Jew named Heniek, to whom he provided false idenity documents in Warsaw. He was sent to Auschwitz in April 1943, and luckily survived two years of incarceration in various German concentration camps.192 A Jew who was seized during a Gestapo raid on an apartment in Warsaw, where he was sheltered by a Pole, broke down under torture and betrayed another apartment where Jews were hiding.193 Another Jew, by the name of Natek, succumbed to torture and revealed to the Gestapo several apartment hiding places in Warsaw.194 Simha Rotem (Ratajzer or Rathaiser) recalled that, on a food smuggling expedition, upon joining a group of Jews who were returning from work on the Aryan side to the Warsaw ghetto,
The Jews suspected I wasn’t Jewish, that I had been planted among them as a provocateur. They whispered among themselves about turning me over to the German [guard]. I begged them to believe that I was a Jew, and to prove it I started speaking in Yiddish and muttering prayers. Finally, they gave in …195 Joseph Dattner, who was passing as Christian in Warsaw on Aryan papers, was fingered by Jews in the company of Gestapo men. He was seized and taken with three other Jews to a nearby cemetery where they were to be shot. Miraculously, the German officer who was assigned to execute Dattner, deliberately shot his gun into the air and Dattner survived.196 Ignacy Gotfryd, who was passing as a Christian in Warsaw, was arrested after he was denounced by Jan Kasprzak, a Jew from Gdańsk, who was in the services of the Gestapo.197 Roman Kierszniewski, a Polish rescuer from Warsaw, recalled the fate of one of his charges:
I helped a Jewish man, Mieczysław Prożański, who concealed himself in a mechanic’s workshop on Leszno Street in Wola, next to the Warsaw ghetto. He hid in the garret, where he did the bookkeeping for the shop. Working in the same shop as a watchman, I often gave Prożański food or clothes. Once I even participated in an action to ransom him from the Jewish militia, which had seized him after he was denounced by another Jew in the ghetto. Prożański was seized and shot by the Germans on the second day of the Warsaw Uprising.198