There Is So Much More to Tell.

There is so much more to tell.

Last week, I was handed two thumb drives with the raw video data.  My superhero Joanna Millick carefully tucked them away in her suitcase and brought them across seven time zones to Seattle.  She was visiting family in Warsaw after she led an impressive trip for the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity to Prague and Vienna.

I sat glued to my chair for the next two days – watching, reviewing and cataloguing each and every video clip.  It is all that I had hoped it would be.

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June 21, 2016 – our videographer, Gawel Jozefczuk, shadowed us.  First in Bagatelle, then as we visited Grzgorz’s elderly grandparents – the Maleshevki’s – and of course, visiting the Stys family.  This video will create a document for history –  for our family, for the Stys family and for the world.  I intend to send the relevant parts of the video to Yad Vashem as part of my application for the Stys families to be recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.

*****

Details, details, details – give me all the details.  Well, here are some that were not included in earlier blogs posts – either because of space constraints or because the details became clearer as I watched the video.

DANGERS:

Why did they do it?  So many others stood by, turned Jews in to the Nazis, or killed them on their own.  The Stys family’s answer:  because we knew the Kwiatek family[1] before the war – “we had a relationship with them,” they said.

Although this is true, during this dangerous time, knowing Jews before the war did not lead to mass numbers of people helping, feeding, and hiding them.

The Stys family knew of the danger.  They told us of another family, living in the village, who were found to be hiding Jews.  A neighbor informed the Nazis of the family’s transgression.  The Jews and members of the family that were at home were murdered.  Only two or three survived – because they were elsewhere.  The road near the Stys homes – the one we walked down to reach the path to the pit – was constantly traveled by Germans.  Nazis patrolled the forests too –  including the forest where Esther, Sam and Chayim were hiding.

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The Nazis did not stop at the forest border; they came to the Poles’ homes.  One time, a German soldier came to the home of Stanislaw and Wadyslawa.  Only Jan and his grandmother were home at the time.  They did not speak German.  The soldier wanted something, but neither Jan nor his grandmother could understand.  Exasperated, he drew a picture in the dirt – an egg.  He wanted an egg from them.  Well, they did not have chickens, only geese.  The grandmother tried her best to convey in her broken German that they only had geese eggs, but what came out in German was: “we have cat’s eggs.”  As this family story was retold by Eugenuisz in Polish, raucous laughter erupted from the whole Stys clan.  It was not nearly as funny in translation.

In an attempt to keep the Nazis off of their property and out of their homes and barns, the Stys children wore headbands outside with bold letters – “TYPHUS” – plastered across their foreheads.  This kept the Germans away. Brilliant!

Stanislaw built a fake hay stack in the barn to shelter the hidden Jews during the bitter winter months.  But he also built it to protect his family.  If the Jews were safely hidden, the family was safer.  The structure had a wooden frame – 4 meters by 4 meters.  It was covered with hay – making it look like any old hay stack.  There were ropes attached to move part of it as needed.  Small openings were cut to allow the hidden to peer out.  To access the hiding place was through the main barn door – there was no secret entrance.  Inside the lair, the ground was not covered in scratchy hay, but softer, dry grass.  DSC_0372

Because they were hiding the Jews from both the Nazis and the peering eyes of neighbors, food deliveries had to done without raising suspicions.  When delivery was too dangerous, they left food in the dog pail outside the barn door.  But when personal deliveries were possible, it was still carefully concealed.  Wadyslawa would wear a Polish hooded poncho.  She covered her head and placed food items behind her neck – held there by the hood.  Because the poncho amply covered her body – she also hid food under her arm pits.  Once inside the barn, or deep in the woods, away from prying eyes, the life-saving sustenance was delivered.

MOISHE KWIATEK AND THE BABY.

This one is hard.

The Nazis came to Stoczeck to “liquidate” the Stoczeck ghetto in September of 1943.[2]  Before the round up, when the Nazis closed the soda factory, the Kwiateks brought their equipment to Helena Stys and asked her to store it for them.  She agreed.

The Nazis took some Jews to Treblinka – by foot or car.  Others were shot in a pit they were forced to dig.  This massacre was witnessed by Jan Stys, age 11, as he looked from the school window, which overlooked the Jewish cemetery.  Moishe, Esther, Chayim, and their father, David, avoided the round up by hiding in the tiny attic of their house.  The roof was slanted and there was not much room to move around – especially with five people crammed in.  After a day or two, like Rapunzel’s hair, they let ropes out the window and descended to a new reality – an empty, eerily quiet town.  They ran to the nearby forest.

The Kwiatek’s mother, Chaya Leah and her daughter, Chana, did not want to hide in the attic and ran to some friends. Janina told us that she and Chana were friends from school (she called her Hanka).  Hanka told her that her mother had prepared a hiding place with the Czarnecki family – next to the pond.  They ran from their home to the hiding place.  But “she fell into the devil’s arms.”  Chayim Kwiatek later testified that the “friends” sent them to Treblinka.

Janina heard that David Kwiatek went to Wielga (I am not sure if this is a place or a family), while Chaim, Esther and Moishe ran through the forest to the Stys home.  Janina said: “it was cold.  It was August.” (Esther said it was the day after Yom Kippur – sometime around September 22.)  They hid in the barns and in the forests around the two Stys homes.  While out in the nearby Toporski Forest, Moishe was killed.  When Esther heard of his death, she “cried and cried,” Janina said.  On top of her grief, Esther had no money and Moishe had sewn his valuable watch into the groin of his pants.  Esther thought about going to find his body and retrieve the watch, but she did not. She was scared and wanted to respect his body.  Janina does not know who killed Moishe, but she speculated that it may have been the Polish man in charge of the upkeep of the forest.

When Moishe died, Esther was pregnant with her first child.  She gave birth to the child in Helena and Janina’s home.  The baby died during birth.  Previously we had heard that a child was born before Moishe died and that the child was killed in the forest together with Moishe.  This is not Janina’s recollection.  She was very clear that Esther gave birth to the baby after Moishe died and the baby did not survive the birth.

ESTHER AND CHAYIM – YEAR ONE.

After Moishe’s death, it was just Esther and her teenage brother-in-law Chayim hiding in the forest.  Edward Stys, who was handicapped, lived with his brother Stanislaw and sister-in-law Wadyslawa.  The Nazis paid no heed to him because he was handicapped; they left him alone.  He was free to roam the forest unmolested.  He took walks into the wood pushing a cart and leading a cow on a rope.  He would find Esther and Chayim and give them bread and allow them to milk the cow, provide them with fresh milk.  The Stys children were unanimous in their opinion that Edward was a central character in this story.

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Esther tells of the day she went to pick blueberries (see blog post May 13, 2016).  She was stopped and questioned by the forest man.  This event terrified Esther so much, she must have come and told Janina the whole story.  Without prompting, Janina retold the same story – 74 years later.  “Esther was very hard working,” Janina said at the end of the story.  “G-d gave her help.  Times were hard.”

In the summer, they washed themselves in the nearby river.  In the winter, Janina has no idea what they did.  But in the winter, they hid mostly in the barns of the two Stys families.  Helena, Janina’s mother, would tell them where to hide and how to move around to stay safe. Esther came into their home on days it was safe to do so and helped Janina with house chores and they would cook together.  Esther used the Stys’ sewing machine to repair their torn clothing.  A bigger problem than torn clothing, explained Janina, was old and broken shoes.

SAM ARRIVES – YEAR TWO

Nearly a year had gone by and now it was earl August 1943.  The Stys family believes that Helena found Sam wandering in the forest after his escape from Treblinka and that it was she  who introduced Sam and Esther.  This is not clear from Esther and Sam’s testimony.

Regardless of who introduced Sam and Esther, Helena allowed all three – Sam, Esther and Chayim – to hide in her barn for the three days after the Treblinka uprising.  (see blog post January 15, 2016).  After they survived the German dragnet, they emerged and decided to dig a pit out in the forest.  It was around 2 meters by 1.5 meters, but Eugeniusz explained it was deep.  The hard part, he explained, was not digging the pit, but distributing the dirt around the forest in such a way that no one would notice that there was freshly dug dirt.  That would lead to suspicion of hidden Jews and a search.  Janina referred to the pit as “so clever.”  It was clever because it was camouflaged well.   It had boards on the top and there were some kind of black ropes used to climb in and out and pull the juniper branches on top of the boards. The branches were prickly, adding to the genius.

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In the winter, they sat in the cold, unheated barn, looking at the world through small knife slits – day after day.  They must have had many long talks, played many a card game and had monumental naps.  Remember, at this point, Esther knew that her entire family was dead, including her husband.  Chayim knew his brother was dead, but may not have yet known what happened to his parents or his sister.  Sam, had been in Treblinka for 13 months.  He last left his parents in Kovaluvka.  He likely had no idea what happened to them.  Living in such conditions, unable to escape the weight of the world around them, would have made me mad.

Helena must have liked Sam right away.  First of all, she allowed him to hide with Esther and Chayim.  Second, she told Esther – “Krisha, you should stick with Sam.  You’ll be happier and better.”  Well, soon after liberation in June or July of 1944, Esther and Sam were married in what was left of the burnt out town of Stoczeck.

The three surviving children, Janina, Jan and Eugenuisz, all remember Sam, Esther and Chayim with great affection and deep emotion.  I could feel it when we met them and spoke to them.  I could feel it when they met Esther Goldberg, my daughter, who carries her grandmother’s name.  I think they almost wanted to call her Krisha, but they held back.  I noticed that the hugs for Esther were a little bit longer and a little bit tighter than the rest of us.  [photo on top -Esther and Janina]

[1] Esther’s first husband’s last name was Kwiatek.

[2] Esther said that the round up was just after Yom Kippur, which in 1942 was September 21.

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