Monday, April 24, 2017 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I am in the process of completing the application for two Polish people to posthumously receive the “Righteous Among the Nations” award from Yad Yeshem in Israel. This distinction is awarded to gentiles who assisted Jews during the Holocaust. Please read the story and about the ways you can assist so the application and testimony would be favorably received by the committee. Maybe next year in Jerusalem?
A Tree is Planted in Israel for Each Recipient of the Award
The research for my next historical novel led me to a little-known story about a Catholic priest and a widow only known as “Pani Kotulova.” The details of their kindness and bravery took place in the small town of Kolbuszowa in 1942. Father Antoni Dunajecki, the priest from the town’s church and Pani (Mrs.) Kotulova” are the two rescuers of Norman Salsitz, a young Jewish man. Salsitz wrote about these courageous people in his remarkable book “A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa.”
“Pani” Kotulova was a friendly Polish widow who lived in Kolbuszowa. Salsitz spoke of her wisdom on page 260-261 in his book: “It was a Polish woman, a widow named Kotulova, who owned a small grocery store and who for years had bought from us. ‘If only the Poles would realize that the Germans are no less our enemies than yours,” she observed shaking her head, “we would all be much better off. We would join your people and fight together. But the Germans are very clever. They succeeded in turning us against the Jews and getting us to help them destroy your people; then, when they are finished with you, they will turn on us. They will kill many of us, and those they are left will be their slaves. But our people don’t want to see this, so we all have to suffer. May God have mercy on us all.’ Sad to say, Kotulova’s understanding of the situation was prophetic.”
Much later in his struggle to survive, Salsitz tells his story of how Mrs. Kotulova and Father Dunajecki helped in his escape. At the time, Salsitz was one of the last workers in the Kolbuszowa ghetto and knew that he would soon be transported to the nearby concentration camp in Rzeszow.
Salsitz remembered Kotulova, a widow who his family had entrusted with some of his family’s belongings and merchandise. He went to her and asked her to secure false identity papers, and she also provided a place for him to hide. Kotulova went to Father Antoni Dunajecki and explained Salsitz’s desperate situation. He promptly provided Salsitz with the birth certificate of Tadeusz Jadach, a young Roman Catholic Pole who had died. Father Dunajecki also provided a birth certificate for Saltsitz’s brother but asked to first meet with both of the young men.
At their meeting, Saltsitz described Father Dunajecki’s words expressing deep regret about his past inactions, “…I deeply regret not having made an effort to know your people better. What’s more upsetting to me is the thought that I could have saved scores of Jewish children by placing them among my parishioners; it would have been an easy thing to do. But no one said anything to me, and I myself have been remiss in neglecting what was going on under my very nose. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
We might criticize a person like Father Dunajecki and wish that he had acted sooner and more valiantly.But, his is an important story of a man who likely did nothing to harm the Jews, but acted bravely at risk to his own life when directly asked to help rescue Norman Salsitz. His is an important lesson to learn: It is never too late to do good for our fellow man.
Widow Kotulova’s actions were noble and faithful. She obviously enjoyed good relations with Salstiz’s family for many years. He knew she was an honest woman who could be trusted with not only the family possessions but with his life. She did not hesitate and risked her life to help. Pani Kotulova and Father Dunajecki are fine examples of the thousands of Poles who did what they could for the Jews when they had an opportunity to help.
If you have not read my article ” The Other Three Million Who Died in the Holocaust,”
please read it to understand the incredibly dangerous situations the Polish citizens were in if they attempted to help a Jew: the rescuer and their entire family would be shot. We need to put ourselves in their position. I might be willing to sacrifice my own life to help another, but would I risk the lives of my spouse, children, grandchildren and parents to do so?
I am not sure why Norman Solsitz neglected to nominate Dunajecki and Kotulova who were part of the chain of Polish Christians who saved his life at the risk of losing theirs. My theory is that he lost contact with them. Father Dunajecki died right after the war, and it is likely Kotulova also died soon after Solsitz escaped. Mr. Salsitz nominated four people whom he communicated with for many years after the war for assisting him after he escaped from a labor camp in Kolbusowa on November 18, 1942. However, Mr. Salsitz’s escape would likely have never happened if it wasn’t for the bravery of Kotulova and Father Antoni Dunajecki.
How can you help?
1. I need to know if Pani Kotulova had any descendants, and also I do not know her first name or any other historical information. The application would be so much better if I knew her full name!
2. Do you have any contacts with people in Kolbuszowa? Can you write a letter in good Polish (I don’t speak or write Polish) that I can send to the church in Kolbuszowa? Or, better yet, do you have any contacts near Kolbuszowa who could work with me on this project? Please send me their names and emails.
3. Have you ever helped to write a testimony for Yed Yeshem? Can you offer any advice?
4. Do you know anything else about Father Dunajecki from Kolbuszowa? Did he have any siblings who might have descendants?
5. Please send this story to anyone you know who might be interested in sharing it with others.
If you have any advice, please send me a private email through my website.
You might be interested in learning more about Yed Yeshem and the Righteous Among the Nations distinction. Search the database and learn more about the award:
Here are excerpts from an article written about Norman Salsitz
Norman Salsitz, whose harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust by posing as a Christian took a particularly bizarre turn when he killed Polish partisans who were about to murder a group of Jews, died Wednesday in Boston. He was 86 and lived in Springfield, N.J.
With his wife, Amalie Petranker Salsitz, who died in 2003, Mr. Salsitz wrote: “Against All Odds” (Holocaust Library, 1990), an account of how, following different paths, they pretended to be Christians to stay out of the death camps.
With a certificate of baptism given to him by a priest in his small hometown in southeast Poland, Mr. Salsitz joined the Polish underground to fight the Nazis, though well aware of the virulent anti-Semitism among the partisan ranks. In March 1944, when a group from his unit was organized to go to a nearby farm where a Jewish family was hiding, Mr. Salsitz volunteered for the mission. At the farm, Mr. Salsitz turned his rifle on his squad.
He then fled to the east and joined Russian forces as they fought to oust the Nazis from Krakow. There, in another strange twist, he met his future wife.
Mrs. Salsitz, although Jewish, had managed to be hired as the assistant to the head of a German construction company operating in Krakow. As the Nazis prepared to flee, they ordered the company to blow up the city’s most important buildings.
“The Germans mined all the beautiful, historic buildings of Krakow,” said Amy Hill Hearth, the author of another book about Mr. and Mrs. Salsitz, “In a World Gone Mad,” (Abingdon Press, 2001). “Here was this beautiful Jewish girl who spoke fluent German and was masquerading as a Christian and had earned the trust of the company that was ready to blow up the city.”
When the company officers fled, Mrs. Salsitz volunteered to stay and relay the telephone order to set off the bombs — with no intention of doing so.
Mr. Salsitz, meanwhile, had received a tip from the underground about the plan and went to find the German girl at the construction office.
“So he gets there, and he’s ready to kill her, and she speaks to him in Hebrew,” Ms. Hearth said.
While in the Polish underground, Mr. Salsitz saved many Jews, Ms. Hearth said.
“He was living not just a double life, but a triple life,” she said, “masquerading as a Christian, but also working for the underground while protecting Jewish families any way he could from not just the Germans, but people in the underground who were anti-Jewish.”
Mr. Salsitz also saved hundreds of pictures of Jews.
“Any time he found a Jewish home that had been ransacked,” Ms. Hearth said, “he collected the photographs and hid them in barns and attics.”
Mr. Salsitz donated more than 1,000 photographs to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He wrote two other books, both published by Syracuse University Press: “A Jewish Boyhood in Poland” (1992), and “Three Homelands,” (2002).
In June 1941, after the Nazis occupied his town, Mr. Salsitz was forced into a slave labor battalion, but not before watching his father being shot to death.
“He heard his father scream, ‘Revenge, revenge!’ ” his daughter said. “And that was my father’s mission.”