07.03.2023 | Redaktor

Jan Wiktor Brzeski from Brzesko

Jan Wiktor Brzeski was born in Brzesko on July 17, 1909. His father, Jan Władysław Brzeski, was not only a doctor, but also the mayor of Brzesko and a prominent social activist. His son also became a doctor. During the Second World War the Germans arrested and imprisoned Jan Władysław Brzeski in Tarnów, Kraków and later in Auschwitz, where he died of pneumonia in March 1942. However, this did not stop his son Jan Wiktor from becoming involved in underground work and helping Jews. In recognition of helping Jewish families during the German occupation, Jan Wiktor Brzeski was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal on January 8, 1980.

Jan Wiktor Brzeski. Photo from the archive of Zofia Brzeska, Jan Wiktor’s niece, from the article on the brzesko.ws website

“Jan Wiktor Brzeski practised in his hometown of Brzesko and in the immediate vicinity. Before the war, as his wife Władysława pointed out in a letter to the Yad Vashem Institute, he was a man of nationalist views, and in his youth he was even active in an anti-Semitic youth organisation. However, these views did not prevent him from actively helping Jews during the occupation. For his activities and his nightly trips to those in need of help, he was arrested by the Gestapo as early as 1941 and spent several months in prison in Tarnów. He was released when an epidemic of typhus broke out in Brzesko. Germans ordered him to return to work as there was a shortage of doctors in the town.

Before the war, Brzesko was home to a large Jewish community which constituted about 60% of the town’s population. In the spring of 1941,  Germans established a ghetto there; about 6,000 people were confined in it. The ghetto was liquidated in September 1942, with the sick, elderly and those unable to work being murdered on the spot and the rest deported to the Bełżec death camp.

During those days, during the actions carried out by the Germans in the Brzesko ghetto, Jan Brzeski hid Naftali Schiff and a Jew from Bochnia in the basement of his house. He also provided medical assistance to Jews who managed to escape after the liquidation of the Brzesko ghetto and were hiding in the town and its vicinity. Regina Sperber (wife of Herman Sperber) was one of his patients. The couple lived before the war on the border between the villages of Dębno and Porąbka Uszewska. Brzeski assisted in Regina’s difficult childbirth.

Brzeski also treated Lili Matzner, who stayed in hiding with a farmer called Topolski in the village of Jadowniki. “I testify that in the years 1942-45 I was hiding in a bunker in a village near Brzesko. I was seriously ill three times [pneumonia, haemorrhage caused by a miscarriage] […], I called on Dr. Brzeski from Brzesko, who agreed to come to me. And indeed, he was secretly brought to me three times by people I trusted. I owe my life to him, especially in the case of haemorrhage. I would like to point out that Dr. Brzeski never once took a fee from me”. Lili Matzner survived the war.

Dr. Brzeski also provided medical assistance to Stefania Liban, her sister and niece, who were hiding on so-called Aryan papers in the village of Jasień. Brzeski also paid for medication for a Jewish boy who was hiding with his mother in the village of Pomianowa. In addition, during the occupation he kept Helena Taub-Jachcel’s clothes and valuables, which he returned to her when the war ended. Brzeski also helped her to organise a so-called Aryan kennkarte in the name of Helena Janicka and provided her with a baptismal certificate. The woman survived the occupation.

Jan Brzeski’s exact pre-war contacts with the Jews he helped are not known. It is therefore not excluded that some of them were his pre-war patients. After the war, Jewish survivors provided a testimony: “The undersigned Jews of Brzesko testify that Dr. Jan Brzeski of Brzesko went to the medical assistance of the Jewish population with all readiness during the occupation period, both in the first period and in the hardest times of hiding and the pogrom.” 

From Martyna Grądzka’s article on Jan Brzeski, https://sprawiedliwi.org.pl/node/6620

People who were helped by Jan Brzeski (all survived):

Chaskel Blonder; Jozef Glassner, Szymon Goldberg, Helena Taub, Stefania Liban, Bronisława Malawer, Lili Matzner, Naftali Schiff, Herman Sperber, Regina Sperber, Maurycy Zuckerman.

Jan Wiktor Brzeski died on 12 January, 1994.