WATCH: Family reveals WWII Jewish hideout and its grim history

Members of 2 families sharing a farm were executed by German troops in December 1942 for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of a Jewish family hiding in the cellar of their house.

By REUTERS
July 23, 2015 16:23
3 minute read.

Family reveals WWII Jewish hideout and its grim history

Family reveals WWII Jewish hideout and its grim history

 
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A hideout in the home of a Polish family who sheltered Jews hiding from German forces during World War II is now a national monument, but was kept a secret for 70 years - little wonder, considering the price paid by members of the Skoczylas family for refusing to reveal its inhabitants.

According to archives of the Institute of National Remembrance in Kielce consulted by the From the Depths foundation, 10 members of two families sharing one farm were executed by German troops in December 1942 for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of a Jewish family hiding in the cellar of their house.

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According to witness accounts gathered in the archives, they were herded into a barn that was later set on fire. Those attempting to run away, including an 8-year-old boy, were shot. There is no information about the fate of the Jewish residents.

Today, the site has been given the status of a national monument by local authorities and is under protection.

"This site isn't just important for Jews, this is important for humanity. Who would believe that one person would risk and end up giving their lives to try and help another? … I wouldn't, I couldn't imagine myself risking my family to try and save somebody else, even a friend or a neighbor," President of the "From the Depths" Foundation, Jonny Daniels, told Reuters. The foundation, which aims to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, uncovered the history of the site and was involved in registering its status.

"This site gives us a hope in humanity. This site gives us an understanding of what people can do. This is why it's so important. This is why we were so lucky and honored that the heritage department for Poland put this as a heritage site. So that forever it will remain as this symbol. And this is what we must look for and search for more. We've got to search and we've got to look for these people who were hidden there to give some kind of closure to the remaining members of the family," Daniels, who was the first Jew to enter the cellar since World War II, added.

The fear installed by the family's experiences during the war and from persecution by communist authorities afterwards created a stigma that lasted for decades. Descendants of those murdered were also afraid of neighbors who denounced them to the German authorities in the first place or common criminals chasing myths about Jewish gold left behind during WWII.



Despite the fact that Poles are the most prominent nationality amongst the Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem's list of people who rescued Jews during World War II, many names have been forgotten, says the grandson of one of the victims, Tadeusz Skoczylas.

"I just feel a little hurt that not only Poland, but the whole world has forgotten families like ours or Kowalski's or Obuch's or Wojewodkow's and other families where for helping (Jews) the whole family was punished," Skoczylas said.

"My aunt was telling me that Jews were kept here and this was a transfer point, because she observed that more food than for one family (was consumed)," he said about the secret passed on through generations.

"I would like to know if any one of these Jews are actually alive, so that maybe they could come, show themselves, talk to us. It would really be such a nice memory for us and maybe also to them. I don't really know what it would be like," another Skoczylas family descendant, Janina Szczepanowska, said.

Today, "From the Depths" is trying to locate descendants of the family who were hiding in the house and bring them back to visit, if possible.

"We have found one trace given to us by the daughter of Bronislawa Skoczylas. She informed us that during the war, a Jewish girl who was hiding here received documents from the local priest for the name of Bronislawa Skoczylas. It is the first trace we have found which gives us any information for commencing our search," project coordinator for the foundation Robert Skorupa said.

Around 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust during World War II in a plan by German leader Adolf Hitler to exterminate Europe's Jewish population.

Most of the killed came from occupied territories in eastern and central Europe, with Poland being one of the main centers for the Jewish diaspora before the war.

Occupying German forces informed local communities that aiding in the escape of Jewish families would be punished by death.

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