A Letter of Gratitude From 2 Jewish Sisters and the Brave Stranger Who Hid Them From the Nazis
If anyone was found to be hiding Jews, severe punishment was enforced under the Nazi regime, including the death penalty, a report said.
It was a letter that unlocked a family secret and a poignant story that showed the best of humanity when a Polish farmer risked his own life and saved two orphaned Jewish sisters by hiding them from the Nazis.
The story began in 1942 in a village, called Gostchorz, about 68 miles east of Warsaw, when a 12-year old boy named Stanislaw Jurzyk noticed two young women in their 20s on his family's farm. He later learned from his parents, Helena and Stanislaw Senior Jurzyk, "the secret" — his parents were hiding sisters Jadwiga and Felicia Kejzman from the Nazis. Before they were taken in by Stanislaw Senior, the sisters had been hiding in a field on their farm, CNN reported.
Under the Nazi regime, if anyone was found to be hiding Jews severe punishment was enforced, including the death penalty, Stanislaw Senior told his young son that he was never to tell anyone the secret, the news outlet reported.
That same year, the young boy's mother, Helena, died in childbirth -- leaving Stanislaw Senior to raise the children alone, while still protecting the women. The sisters eventually left the home, but no one knew where they had gone.
Many decades had passed and, the young Stanislaw was no longer that 12-year-old boy playing in the field, he had a family of his own. One of his children, a son named Wojciech, now 60, found a handwritten letter that was written in old Polish and was difficult for Wojciech to understand. The letter sparked the interest of Wojciech's daughter, Karolina Jurzyk, 35.
Karolina said she had never got to meet her great grandfather, Stanislaw Senior, who passed away in 1989 but remembers as a young girl growing up in Sweden hearing stories about her grandfather and great-grandfather’s bravery, CNN reported.
”I was very close to my grandparents," Karolina told the news outlet. "I spent every school holiday with them in Poland and World War II was very present because they both survived it."
She remembers her grandfather told her that the sisters were orphans and that they “were badly beaten and very weak,” but never provided more details.
Wanting to know more about the sisters, Karolina would later do her own investigating and turned to MyHeritage. Their names appeared on the genealogy site. Karolina told the news outlet she was excited and nervous but sent a message to the tree’s family host and waited. A woman by the name of Karen Norman, a 42-year-old real estate agent from New York responded. She is the granddaughter of Jadwiga, also known as Jadzia.
Norman had told Karolina, that she had known of the rescue, but said her grandmother and great-aunt hardly ever spoke about their early lives in Poland. She told Karolina that both sisters eventually did get to North America. Her grandmother in Toronto and her great aunt, Fela, short for Felicia, settled in Chicago, CNN reported.
Upon hearing the news, Karolina said she was overcome with emotion. “I had tears in my eyes, I was so glad to hear they survived,” she said.
When MyHeritage heard the story, they translated the letter and soon the family would learn a story that will likely never be forgotten.
The letter that was dated February 10, 1948, was sent from a displaced person camp in Bamberg, Germany.
The letter said: "A lot of time has passed since the day we said goodbye to you. However, we did not express our cordial thanks to you for all the good that you did for us. We will never forget this noble act of saving our life."
Fela wrote that her sister, Jadwiga had gotten married and had a child and that she had a “much-loved husband." She wrote about "a new stage in life" on "blood-soaked German soil," but outlined plans to emigrate "beyond Europe's borders,” CNN reported.
In the letter, Fela expressed her "most profound gratitude," to Karolina's great-grandfather, Stanislaw Senior, and called him "a person who has done the best and grandest act of saving human life."
At the letter's closing, Fela said she and her sister intended to stay in touch, adding “the bond of our friendship should be unbreakable."
Meanwhile, Norman, whose great aunt Fela died in December at age 103, told the news outlet that she too was overcome with emotion when Karolina reached out to her, and said she “believed it was her great-aunt sending us a sign."
In March, Karolina's beloved grandfather, Stanislaw Jurzyk, passed away after suffering from dementia. Before his passing, Karolina said her grandfather knew his family had made the connection with the sisters. It was a sentimental moment, she explained, “deep inside he knew they were safe," CNN reported.
Earlier this year, Karolina's father discovered a second letter that was found in the grandfather’s belongings. The letter was dated, November 22, 1949, and written by Fela. In the letter, Fela wrote that she and her husband had arrived in the United States after what she described as a “treacherous sea crossing.” She said that her sister and family were still in Germany but, "hoped to leave the country soon.”
To help keep their story alive, both women in collaboration with MyHeritage hope to apply to Yad Vashem -- the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, so Karolina's great-grandfather can be part of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from the Holocaust. Those recognized receive a medal and a certificate of honor and their names are commemorated on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, according to the website.
Today, there are thousands in the Righteous Among the Nations database, among them are Oskar and Emilie Schindler, who helped to save the lives of 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories, and giving them protection from the Nazis, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). The Schinder's were recognized on June 24, 1993, as Righteous Among the Nations.
Miep Gies helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Nazis during World War II, according to the USHMM. Yad Vashem recognized Jan Augustus Gies and his wife, Hermine (Miep) Gies-Santrouschitz, on March 8, 1972. And, Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat, saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest by issuing protective passports and creating safe houses, according to the USHMM. On November 26, 1963, Yad Vashem recognized Wallenberg as Righteous Among the Nations.
Since Karolina and Nelson have connected the pair now share an "unspoken" bond.
"I would not be here if it wasn't for her [Karolina's] great-grandfather," Norman said.
She added: "They lived because of him. Someone who just saw them as people and worthy of saving. How do you thank someone's family for something like that generations later?”
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