I screamed. Yes, I screamed when I saw the name – Marian Styś.
I saw his name in a book – Such a Beautiful Sunny Day: Jews Seeking Refuge in the Polish Countryside, 1942-1945 – that details the murders and betrayals of Jews during the war. Marian Styś is the name of Helena Styś’ children. Helena was Sam and Esther’s “angel” – without whose help they surely would have died in those dark years. So, when I saw that Marian Styś had molested and murdered a Jewish woman and her five-year-old daughter in March of 1943, just 7 kilometers from Stoczek, I screamed. Marian Styś was convicted of these murders by a Soviet court in 1953 and went to jail for eight years.
Could the original family legend that one of Helena’s sons was a Jew Catcher be correct? Had the Styś family lied to our faces when we asked whether anyone in the family was involved in turning in Jews and they answered, “absolutely not.” This had to be investigated and quickly. My manuscript was getting closer to completion and this would alter how the story is told.
I found an e-mail address for the author of the book – Barbara Engelking – and I wrote her a long e-mail explaining my urgent need to know. I found a picture of Marian Styś (above) among the letters that were found in Sam’s condo after his death, scanned it and sent it to her. The letter indicated that Marian was going to come and visit Sam and Esther in the US in 1976, but before he could come, he died of a heart attack. His wife sent Sam and Esther his passport photo. Was a Jew killer coming to visit the Goldbergs in Brooklyn? Oy!
Professor Engelking wrote back that she does not know if this is the same Marian Styś, but I could write to Jan Grabowski who is doing research in the Wengrow area (near Stoczek) and perhaps he could help me. I knew Jan Grabowski from his book that I recently completed – Hunt for the Jews – all about how the Jew Hunt permeated the Polish countryside between the end of 1942 and 1945. I e-mailed him immediately, but still have not heard back from him.
I had to know if the murderous Marian Styś was Helena’s son. I wrote again to Professor Engelking asking if perhaps she could tell me how to access the court records and one of my friends in Warsaw could look up the court file. Perhaps they could determine if these are one in the same. Professor Engelking informed me that only academics and government officials have access to these records and my friends would not be able to see the files.
In the meantime, I was obsessed with having to find out if the killer was our Marian Styś. I lost sleep and couldn’t stop thinking about it.
In the end, as always, Joanna Millick came to my rescue. I sent her the cryptic information in Polish that Professor Engelking had sent to me from her notes on the case. Joanna told me that these notes indicate that Marian Styś – the killer – was born in 1912.
“How old was our Marian Styś?” Joanna wanted to know.
“No idea,” I replied.
“I will ask Grzegorz what the age difference is between Marian and Janina,” Joanna said confidently. “Since we know that Janina was 90 in 2016, we can figure out his date of birth and then we will know.”
“Great idea,” I said.
A message came from Joanna:
“Our Marian Styś was born in 1933!”
He was not the killer! I let out a huge sigh of relief. I would have been so sad to learn that indeed one of Helena’s children spent his time hunting and murdering Jews, while Helena and Wladyslawa and the rest of the family spent their time feeding and protecting them.
I am sleeping much better and working even harder to complete the book. Stay tuned.