Authors: Martyna Bodek, Anna Maciaś, Sabina Jaworska; Wojakowa grade school.
The main prize in the 5th edition of the project “We know your names. Commemoration of the pre-war Jewish community of Brzesko and vicinity”.
“Man was created for man, so that man can help man.” St. Ambrose
The commune of Iwkowa flooded with sun, covered with snow, in an explosion of spring freshness or an abundance of autumn colors always delights and stimulates residents in their daily work. This is a unique place on Earth, an extremely picturesque area enchanting with the beauty of the landscape, varied terrain, landscapes as if from painters’ canvases. Here its residents led a quiet, hard-working life. However, the year 1939, September, disturbed the idyll and peace of the Iwkowa farmers.
The community’s population learned of the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, from radio announcements and from German air raids that had started at dawn. There was a mobilization of local men, and on September 3 about 30 horse-drawn wagons from Iwkowa showed up in Slotwina, but they were bombed and shot at by German planes. As early as September 5, German patrols appeared in the village and the army arrived in neighboring Tymowa. Proclamations to the population were posted on the walls of roadside houses, in which the first German orders were given. The new reign began – the night of the Nazi occupation.
This is a time of human drama, shocking suffering and martyrdom of Polish citizens of Jewish nationality, and the persecution of the residents of Iwkowa and the surrounding area who tried to help them. In this paper we will present the family of Stefania and Tadeusz Zapiór, who devotedly helped Jews during the occupation. We will present only a small part of the enormous campaign of help dictated by the need of the heart, love for one’s neighbor, in which, in addition to the Zapiór family, engaged peasant families, priests issuing birth certificates, or doctors, the intelligentsia and the entire society of the Iwkowa Commune.
To illustrate the relations prevailing during the occupation in our municipality, a few words should be devoted to the extermination of Iwkowa Jews. One of the first actions of the German gendarmerie was the deportation in July 1942 of Jews from the entire municipality (comprising the villages of Iwkowa, Wojakowa, Dobrociesz, Porąbka Iwkowska, Drużków Pusty, Kąty and Połom Mały) to Zakliczyn, where the ghetto was located. Fifteen Jewish wagons with all their belongings left from Iwkowa. In Zakliczyn, the older Jews were shot, while the younger ones were transferred to Brzesko. Some of them escaped from the ghetto: Tellerman took refuge in Druzkow, another Jew in Tymowa, and another, Schün Joseph, in Iwkowa, where, however, he was betrayed. These Jews fell victim to the German commandant Wagner. In addition to those mentioned, three Jews were kept in Iwkowa itself and found shelter with Michal Zapiór who lived by the forest. However, after some time the news spread through the village. The policeman Antkiewicz went to Zapiór warning his wife of the danger from the Germans, who applied the death penalty and burning of the house for helping the Jews. In view of this, the Jews moved to Jan Urbańczyk’s house, where a hiding place was made for them under the floorboards. They stayed there for a long time, after which they moved to Tymowa, where the peasant Salamon arranged a hiding place for them under the manure pit. Despite the denunciations of another peasant from Tymowa, two Jews survived (the Geminder brothers). The third, named Leipzik, took refuge with Wójcik in Połom Mały. However, Wójcik’s son-in-law, living in hatred with his father-in-law, reported him to the Germans. The Gestapo arrived, a search was conducted, after which both Leipzik and Wojcik were shot, while Wojcik’s house was completely burned down.
Certainly, thanks to this paper, we will bring from oblivion people, residents of “our small homeland”, whose lives and professed values are significant in shaping attitudes and building the identity of the young generation. We intend to show how Stefania and Tadeusz Zapiór from Dobrociesz, two modest, simple people who lived by the words of writer Zofia Kossak-Szczucka: “This silence can no longer be tolerated. Whatever its motives, it is despicable. In the face of the crime one must not remain passive. Whoever remains silent in the face of murder becomes an accomplice of the murderer. He who does not condemn it acquiesces.”
The heroes of our paper are the spouses Stefania and Tadeusz Zapiór, who lived in Dobrociesz, and were awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal for their heroic acts. Let us share a few words about them.
Tadeusz Zapiór was born on July 5, 1903 in Dobrociesz, in the house number 48, as the son of Józef and Maria née Mleczko. On May 22, 1927, he married Stefania Prytko. In 1930 Tadeusz went to France, where he worked as a miner in a coal mine. He returned in 1932, “with a case taken on departure and without a case of money”. He used the money he earned to buy land in Wojakowa.
Tadeusz Zapiór died in 1955. He was buried in the parish cemetery in Wojakowa.
Stefania Zapiór née Prytko was born on December 18, 1909 in Wojakowa as the daughter of Józef and Anna née Karpiel. On May 2, 1927, she married Tadeusz Zapiór. During the war, from October 1942 to January 1945, she and her husband risked their own lives to save persecuted Jews. They helped them by providing food and hiding them in the barn and under the floorboards of the rooms of their own house. In this way they bore witness to their deeply human attitude and boundless generosity.
On September 15, 1991, the Council for the Righteous Among the Nations at the Institute of National Remembrance , “YAD VASHEM” in Jerusalem (Israel) awarded Tadeusz and Stefania Zapiór the Medal of the Righteous Among the Nations and inscribed them on the Honorary Plaque in the Righteous Among the Nations Park on the Hill of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Tadeusz Zapiór died in 1955, and his wife Stefania – on March 3, 2002. Both of them are buried in the parish cemetery in Wojakowa.
Thanks to Stefania, Tadeusz and their family, several innocent lives were saved from death. That is a certainty and that is really important. We base our paper on the documentation of the Yad Vashem Institute, as well as on the memories of the family and the accounts of witnesses.
In the house of Mr. and Mrs. Zapiór, between October 1942 and January 1945, a group of Jewish people found shelter: Mojżesz Riegelhaupt with his son Zygmunt Riegelhaupt, and periodically several other Jews including Izaak Tauger and “Michal”. From Stefania Zapiór’s memoirs, written down for the Vad Vashem Institute, emerges a picture of the hard, harsh life of a Polish peasant family of the early 20th century. “Our life was marked by hard work from dawn to dusk and the nightmare of the early spring starvation. That’s what life of all the people there looked like – all were born into poverty. From the age of 6 I attended the local three-grade school. Actually, my education at that time was reduced to primary education, and my knowledge of the surrounding reality was complemented by life. I faced its hardships from an early age. Along with my numerous siblings, I helped in all the farm work in the field. However, this effort did not change our material position in any way. In 1928 I married Tadeusz Zapiór.” Children were born one by one (Marianna, Józef, Aleksander, Kazimierz, Anna, and after the war, Alicja.) Life for the new family was very difficult. There was a shortage of the most basic things. They subsisted from a small piece of land. According to Michalina Janowa raised by Stefania and Tadeusz, their life was hard and modest. When asked if she thinks back to those times, Michalina replied, “I don’t even want to remember them… from the earliest age we had to go and work in the fields. We ate mostly potatoes and sour whey soup, and sometimes even that was missing. Often we had to suffice with bread alone and sour milk. Only at Christmas a rabbit was killed, and its meat had to be enough for everyone.” Marianna Waligóra, the eldest daughter, confirms Michalina’s statement about their difficult life and hard work on the farm. In search of better living conditions, Tadeusz went to France in 1930, where he worked as a miner in a coal mine. He returned in 1932 and used the money he earned to buy land in Wojakowa. It was in this village that he met Mojżesz Regielhaupt, later known as “Mosiek” and “Grandfather”. “Moses Regielhaupt resided in a neighboring village. We knew him as a righteous and helpful man, worthy of respect. We only came into contact with his son Zygmunt during the occupation, when they found themselves facing extermination. It was after the escape of the “grandfather” from the Zakliczyn ghetto” (this form of referring to Moses Riegelhaupt was adopted by the entire Zapiór family). Together with her husband, Stefania decided to help them survive.
From the first moments of hiding, i.e. from the autumn of 1942, they tried to bring this help by all means, until the end of the occupation. Everything they did was the result of their conscious certainty about the people whom Nazi fascism was condemning to death. They considered providing help as their most sacred duty drawn from religious values and beliefs. The need to support the family’s deeds was also understood by their eldest children. We would also like to mention that they were reached by cruel revenge from wicked people who attacked their home, in the summer of 1944.
This is how Marianna Waligóra, the eldest of the siblings (born in 1929) recalls the situation: “I was returning home when I saw a group of several dozen armed men in our yard. We recognized eleven of them, they were recruited from several villages in our municipality and from other places. After terrorizing the household members, they searched the house and outbuildings. I together with my mother and siblings, prayed the rosary during this time, because there was hope in God. They brought my thirteen-year-old brother Józek out in front of the windows of the house, threw him on his knees, put a rifle to his head, and asked about the Jews. They thought that the child will tell the most. We continued to pray.
At that time, Michal the Jew from Nowy Sącz was hiding in the attic, he was about 20 years old. He came to us that night and stayed until the next day. They did not find him. When they left, Michal jumped down from the attic (hardly alive), kissed us and then fled in the direction of Grabie. Unfortunately, the persecutors returned the same day. For us it was the end of the world. They wanted to eat. My mother gave them bread and told me to bring milk. They followed me with rifles, because they thought they would find something. They questioned the children, separated us from our parents. Some of us were in the stable. We didn’t say anything, dad taught us that.”
Marianna also recalls the beginnings of her acquaintance with the “grandfather”, Mojesz Regielhaupt. When her dad returned from France he used the money he earned to buy a field in Wojakowa. The Jew living in Wojakowa with his wife and children helped him buy the land. Later Marianna’s uncle Wladek also asked dad for help in buying land, and he again asked “Mosiek-Mojżesz” for help, and they bought the so-called “wedge” in Porąbka. This was their first contact with the Jews living in Wojakowa.
This is how one of the survivors Zygmunt Riegielhaupt (Rygiel) recalls that time: “In July 1942, on the eve of the deportation of several Jewish families from the Iwkowa community (including my entire family) to the Zakliczyn ghetto, I escaped into the woods. Along with me went into hiding the brother of my sister Maria’s husband, Izaak Tauger (who was murdered in 1943 by German police in Iwkowa). In October 1942, right before the deportation of the Jews from the Zakliczyn ghetto to the Belzec death camp, my father, sister with a child, and my sister-in-law with two children escaped from the ghetto due to the help of Wincenty Tucznio and Andrzej Piechnik. From that time on my father and I were hiding with the help the Zapiór family (it lasted continuously for more than two years). Throughout this time, only the forms of help and its extent changed. We were hiding in the basement under the cottage, and at the end of the war we changed our place of hiding, but we always returned to the Zapiór family for help and food.
Tadeusz Zapiór built a hiding place under a pile of straw in the barn and another one under the floor of the room in the house, to serve as a spare hiding place. There were periods (in the winter of 1942/43) when Jews stayed there for months. Isaac Tauger was also hiding there with them, but usually only for several days. Everything was dictated by security reasons. The Zapiors shared with the Jews whatever they had: loaves of baked bread, a piece of butter, a pinch of salt, a grain of saccharine The Zapiórs took their dirty underwear and returned it, washed and repaired by Stefania’s hands. When their old shoes began to fall apart, Tadeusz made new ones from the last piece of leather he had. The family shared everything with the Jews, although they themselves lived on the verge of poverty and in constant hardship.
When, in the spring of 1943, numerous forces of German troops (as part of their penetration and anti-partisan operations) were marching from early morning through Wojakowa in the direction of Dobrociesz, the local people fled into the woods. The Zapiór family decided that under no condition did the Jews could leave their hiding place in the barn. Tadeusz went out so that to learn, for example, whether the actions were carried out with the use of tracking dogs. He returned laughing, and considered the situation harmless, he did not allow doubt, that was his character.
Suffering, fear and apprehension accompanied the Zapiórs and the people they were hiding 24 hours a day. In the village of Połom Mały, located less than two kilometers from Dobrociesz, the local resident Jozef Bryniak paid with his life for hiding a Jewish boy. He was shot along with the boy, and his house was burned down by Gestapo men. The person in hiding was the son of Lajbek from Iwkowa, Henoch Goldfinger. The Zapiór family saw danger all around them at all times. For their eldest children, it was both a time of accelerated maturing. Despite the utmost foresight, suspicions began to fall on their house. These resurfaced somewhere in the second half of 1943. From then on they were to recur. Therefore, they could not hide Jews for continuous long periods of time. Getting to the Zapiors from other hiding places, which were often many kilometers away, became increasingly dangerous as time went on. The situation worsened dramatically in late autumn 1943, when a group of , blackmailers began tracking down those in hiding. In December 1943, Izaak Tauger was handed over to the German police and murdered.
Let us return to the memoirs of Marianna Waligóra. This is how she recalls those hiding in their home: “I remember when my father brought home the Jews, “Mosiek” with his daughter-in-law Rywka and her children Pesia and Marysia (school age). Then Zygmunt came, and later he brought his sister Regina with a tiny baby. I remember how tiny Ania cried. Her mother covered her mouth with her hand so that it would not be heard. However, the baby’s cries could be heard more and more often and were becoming louder. Regina agreed to give Ania to our aunt in Połom, who agreed to raise her as her own. The help did not last long. The neighbors began suspecting that it was a Jewish child. My mother could not go to get the girl, so they sent me – I was about 14 years old. I walked alone at night, twice I had to cross the river, but I brought the child back. “Grandfather” led Regina and her daughter to a hiding place on Stańkowa. Rywka and her children went with them, and Grandfather returned and was still hiding with us.”
Returning to the hiding place that Tadeusz Zapiór made for those in hiding. The first hiding place was the stable and the attic. Then he built a shelter under the floor of the barn, measuring 2m x 2m x 2.5m. This room was covered with straw and hay. Then in the house, under the boards in the kitchen, there was a small room resembling a well. Small children often saw Jews there wrapped in a sheet and swaying while praying. Sometimes Jews hid in the barley husks in the attic of the house.
“Touching the human layers of Stefania and Tadeusz Zapiór’s personalities, it should be emphasized that they received no education beyond elementary schooling. However, they combined all the qualities of mind supported by rich experience, as well as exceptional character traits. True human kindness and unparalleled subtlety in expressing their feelings and thoughts. They considered bringing us help as their moral duty (drawn from their religious convictions) and they persisted unwaveringly in this, without fear, even in the most difficult moments. We experienced it repeatedly for more than two years. Heartfelt hugs every time we went to them and the farewell words of blessings permeated by a fervent desire for our survival. At parting, a word of caution was never uttered, they always dispersed everything carried by that evil time. They never uttered words that would breathe gloom or sadness, because they only wanted to give us confidence,” – this is how one of the rescued and after the war their close friend Zygmunt Riegelhaupt remembers the Zapiórs. “7 members of my family survived in Stańkowa. Of the other 42, of whom we knew that they remained in hiding in the “death triangle” of the municipalities of Iwkowa, Lipnica Murowana, Żegocina – only two survived. The others were murdered.”
As we mentioned earlier, Zygmunt Riegelhaupt stayed in Poland, as did his sister Regina. He often visited the Zapiór family, especially Mrs. Stefania, as her husband had already died in 1955. He participated in various family celebrations and became a member of their family. We would like share some memories from the funeral of Stefania Zapiór. During the sermon the parish priest Father Józef spoke about one episode from the life of our heroine. When he went to dying Stefania with Holy Communion he found such a sight. The old woman was lying on the bed waiting for the priest, and an old bent man was sitting next to her, holding her hand and speaking to her: “Mommy, mommy, my dearest one.” The sight captivated the priest’s heart, because it expressed the enormity of the survivor’s love to his savior. And at the funeral, the old man followed the coffin like a beloved child behind his mother.
This paper presents the attitude of two people who selflessly saved human lives during the war. We should not forget that there were many such people in Poland who can teach us the value of life of each human being. Thanks to this, we learn that human life is the most precious, and through this we also learn to love for our homeland.
- Tokarski Stanisław, Znani i nieznani z parafii Wojakowa, słownik biograficzny tom 1, Mała Poligrafia Redemptorystów w Tarnowie, Dobrociesz 2004, s.190-191.
- Tokarski Stanisław, Znani i nieznani z parafii Wojakowa, tom 2, Mała Brzeska Oficyna Wydawnicza, Dobrociesz 2017, s.90-91, s.,98-106,
- Piechota Jan, Dzieje Iwkowej 1325-1960, Wydawca Gminna Biblioteka Publiczna w Iwkowej, Iwkowa 1995, s.248-264,
- Tokarski Stanisław, I i II wojna światowa na terenie Gminy Iwkowa, Brzeska Oficyna Wydawnicza, Dobrociesz 2006, s.29-64, 129-158.
- Pałosz Jerzy, Odyseja 1942,”Gazeta Krakowska”, 6 października 2006, s.12,
- Pałosz Jerzy, Twarze z wyblakłych fotografii, „Gazeta Krakowska”, 8 grudnia 2006, s.11.
- Zeznanie złożone przed Żydowską Komisją Historyczną w Krakowie przez Reginę z Riegelhauptów Kempińską – nr sygn. 301/3733.
- Relacja ustna Marianny Waligóry, córki Stefanii i Tadeusza Zapiórów zamieszkałej w Nowym Sączu z dnia 26 listopada 2021 r.
- Relacja ustna Jadwigi Brończak, wnuczki Marii i Tomasza Bielów zamieszkałej w Krakowie dnia 15 listopada 2021 r.
- Dzieje gminy Iwkowa fotografią malowane, Brzeska Oficyna Wydawnicza, Iwkowa 2011, s.26-29
- Dzieje gminy Iwkowa, Iwkowskie Role, Gminna Biblioteka Publiczna, Iwkowa 2014, s.191-196,