A War Memory (World War II) written by Anna Grabiec
From Donna: This story will tell you about the bravery of the Polish people who assisted the Jewish population who lived in the forests during WWII.
This photo was taken by Donna in Niwiska in 2016. It is the rebuilt barn on my ancestor’s property. A fifteen-minute walk through the woods leads to the Blizna Historic Site where the Nazis built and researched.
(Preface from Donna Gawell: the village of Niwiska and the adjoining village of Blizna were evacuated so the Nazis could build a research facility and testing site for V1 and V2 missiles. I will write another story about this important part of WWII history. Many villagers, including Anna Grabiec were active in the Polish Army’s covert activities.)
During the time of the evacuation of Niwiska, the manor house of John Hupka became the living quarters for German officers. In the main palace lived the officer in charge, Ludwig Heiss.
Hupka Manor House in 2016
On the manor lands and on the lands confiscated from the people who were evacuated, the Germans established a German farm directed by SS men who trained in serving the front. They realized in this way their plans to settle Polish lands with a German populace. In Niwiska the head of that effort was Ludwig Heiss. On that farm the resettled Poles from the surrounding villages were forced to work.
Note from Donna Gawell: My great grandfather, Andrej Cudecki who was the former mayor of Trzesn, was forced to work as a carpenter building barracks and other structures for the Nazis.
The officers joined in the action of resettlement of the village and oversaw the quality of the work of the Poles assigned to them and others as well. On the farm of Ludwig Heiss, people who resettled worked, in the fields and gardens. Marysia Bernacka and Helena Tetlak worked there.
Beyond the fields there stretched a beech tree nature reserve. In Lwow these forests were called “Ossolineum” in other words those were the remnants of the Sandomierz sands. In the words there was a dugout in which two Jewish men were living. One was named Jankiel Lejba and the other was from the end of the village and his name was Fula Bizgajer. When the resettlement happened they became aware of what was going and what awaited them. So they hid in the forest with the beech trees.
Janiel was married and in that dugout hut a boy was born, and somehow they all managed to survive. The mother of the child would tell him in the dark evenings that when the war was over she would buy him a nice shirt, short pants, a horse and carriage. The child opened his eyes but in the dark hut he could not for the time see anything. She rocked him in her arms and sung to him melancholy tunes and that’s how their days passed one after another. Sometimes when she would go out in front of the dugout hut in the bright sun she would conceal the boy’s head. Sometimes deer would happen by and they would be able to steal a rabbit, that is how their difficult days went.
In order to get by in some fashion, under the cover of darkness in the evening, the “boys” (resistance) would scurry to Przyleka, Zabienca and Niwiska and chase through the villages hunting for something to eat that could be taken from the farms of good people like Zofia Grabiec and Karolina Bernacka. These ladies and others packed up what they could for them, a bottle of milk, a loaf of rye bread, a few potatoes, there things were precious treasures bundled up in rags as they tied to a stick behind the barn. They took it and clutched what they could to their chests and ran back into the woods. Their joy was immeasurable. Sometimes they had to wait a bit during the night, so they hid in the stable under the crèche, on top of the rafters or somewhere under the manger.
Janiel’s wife came to the village one evening and the SS men caught her−they didn’t beat her and they didn’t say anything to her, but they took her to the officers’ quarters. They put her in the basement and closed the doors.
Helen and Marysia’s children saw this−they were sorry for her and they determined that they would defend the attractive young Jewish girl at all costs. They did not dare to open the doors on their own, but they began to plead with Heiss and after a lot of thought about it (he supposedly was a good man) he waited until evening and opened the cellar door. He called the young woman who was frightened to death. Helen and Marysia took her in their arms and put a piece of bread and marmalade into her hands and in the darkness got her off beyond the gardens where they showed her the way to the road. She ran across the fields to where she could see the dark forest at the distance. There wasn’t ever time for a thank you.
Time is fleeting and echoes of the war are still heard although they are distant now. Nobody is sure how the Germans knew but they went into the forest on horseback and with a dog−they didn’t get lost at all, but made it right to the dugout hut. They threw in a grenade. It detonated. The earth was leveled. And there was a grave of the mother and child. They left peacefully.
After a moment the “boys” (resistance) returned, they wept bitterly and together with them sadly rustled the trees.
“What a fortune people have prepared for people!”