07.04.2023 | Redaktor

Franciszek Musiał, father Aleksander Osiecki and Stalmach family

Oskar Haber was born on March8, 1910 in Brzeźnica near Dębica. His parents were orthodox Jews; Oskar had 9 siblings. The family had a farm – horses, cows and a piece of land. They were the only Jewish family in the village. Oskar was a Polish patriot and was happy to serve in the army in 1935-36. After returning from the army, he worked as a dentist in Krakow.

The village of Brzeźnica in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship today.

When the war broke out, Oskar wanted to defend the country. He went to the east, but found himself under Russian occupation. He decided to return to Poland, to Krakow. At that time he was already engaged to Fryda Himmelblau, a native of Krakow, who had lived with his family in Brzeźnica since the end of 1939. Oskar returned to his home village and married Fryda on December 12, 1940. They lived in relative safety until May 1941, when they were deported to the Pustków forced labour camp set up near Debica. Both Haber and Himmelblau families were at Pustków.  Oskar worked as a dentist and thanks to this he could stay outside the camp. One of his patients was the priest Aleksander Osiecki (born in 1882). The clergyman prepared false baptismal certificates and marriage certificate for Oskar and his wife, so that they could receive kennkarts. The spouses got new identity – from that point on, they were called Roman and Anna Pawełek. The priest could help the couple because they did not look Jewish and spoke very good Polish. Oskar recalled that the decision to accept the documents and leave his family was the most tragic decision of his life. Only two Haber brothers  survived the Holocaust. Everybody else was murdered

Father Alexander Osiecki. Photo from ziemiadebicka.pl website

Recalling Father Osiecki, Oskar Haber shared: “Before the war, the priest preached in the church that Poles should support Poles, buy from Poles. He had antisemitic views, and yet he was the one who helped us. As a priest and as a human being he told us: “I want to help you”.

From the testimony of Fryda Haber: “Opposite the house there was a church and the priest was one of Oskar’s patients. After the treatment we always spoke to each other. It was maybe two months before deportation of all the Jews. He said to me: “You know, Mrs Haber, a terrible time is coming and I will help you”. So, I asked him, how he could help me. “I will give you a birth certificate and a marriage certificate in the name of the peasants who are now in Switzerland.” I said: “I can’t make such a decision myself, I have to ask my husband.” At first Oskar didn’t want to leave his family. He was a wonderful son and brother. But after two days he said: “You know, maybe it is good to have Aryan papers”. I went back to the priest and said: “If you could be so kind, we will accept these papers. But what will we do with the family? At least 12 people”. He replied: “My child (I was young at the time), you cannot help your family. The same fate awaits you. And I cannot help everyone. Why? Because no one speaks Polish like you. You don’t look Jewish, nor does your husband. So I can’t help your family, but I can help you. Because I want you to live.” He didn’t ask for  money. I told him: I know that the Christian religion is missionary. I am not religious, but I am Jewish. And if I survive, I will remain Jewish…”.

Oskar and Fryda escaped from Pustkow. Majority of their family members were murdered

Monument to the victims of the Pustków forced labour, photo from wikipedia

When travelling from Nowy Sącz, one passes in Jurków a wooded hill called Dąbrowa. Near the hill there is a brick house where the family of Michał and Stanisława Osiecki had lived with their children Aleksandra, Barbara and Kacper. At the request of their relative, Father Aleksander Osiecki, the family took in Oskar and Fryda Haber in August 1942. Until May 1943, the couple were employed at the Osiecki farm.

Fryda recalled: “When we decided to change our identity, we had to learn religion from a book. Because we were in the countryside, it was necessary for us to go to church. But I never took communion. We went to church every Sunday, but I prayed in my own language…”

During this time Oskar Haber joined the AK (underground Home Army). He said that he was from Poznań and was hiding because he was a Polish officer. He did not participate in the armed struggle, he provided medical assistance. “I experienced only one fight, when in 1944 our unit together with another unit attacked a police station in Rożnow by Dunajec river. There was a fight, some policemen escaped, others were killed, and our unit got weapons, me as well.”

From Oskar Haber’s testimony: “Stanisława Osiecka was a very noble person. She knew that we were Jewish. She knew because when we first came to their house, the priest’s brother was there and he was very angry. He said to the priest: “Why did you bring these Jews here?” And he ran away, he was very angry. So she knew. But she tried to influence her husband and she helped us a lot, with food, bread. Even when later we had to move elsewhere because of the denunciations, she would come and bring us bread and other things.” 

Oskar Haber

When the Gestapo came to search on May 8, 1943, Fryda and Oskar were outside the farm. They heard the car stopping next to Osiecki’s property and noticed four men getting out of the car. The couple fled into the forest. After an unsuccessful search, the Gestapo drove off. Stanisława Osiecka asked Franciszek Musiał to find the Habers in the forest and bring them to his house at night – which he did, because he had already known the Habers and they trusted him.

From Oskar Haber’s testimony submitted on June 27, 1946: “Initially my wife and I worked together on a farm as supposedly displaced persons from Gdynia. In May 1943 one of the neighbours found out that we were Jewish, he wanted to get rid of us and out of a desire for profit reported to the Gestapo that I was a Jew. The Gestapo first came to the village leader who denied it. Then they went to the address where we lived, but fortunately I was not there. When seeing from afar a German car and Gestapo men walking towards our house, I ran away together with my wife. The local peasants did not believe that we were Jewish and so we managed, with their help, to get the things we needed and find another hiding place. This was because they thought we were underground Poles, and we pretended to be such. Only one family from the village knew that we were Jews, but nevertheless they continued to help us, that is how we survived until the end of the war.” (Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute, ref. 301/4523)

The Habers moved to the basement of the house of Franciszek and Bronisława Musiał. The entrance to the hiding place was in the kitchen, covered by a wardrobe. Mr and Mrs Musiał’s house stands on the right-hand side of the road from Nowy Sącz. Oskar and Fryda stayed there for about a year.

Franciszek and Bronisława Musiał with their son Bronisław. Photo from the testimony by Eugenia Motak, daughter of Franciszek Musiał, in the issue “Jurków – history and present day”.

Fryda Haber on Franciszek Musiał’s family: “It was a wonderful family.  He said: ‘I will help you’, even though it was a threat to his family, to his home. He made a bunker in his house for us. He helped us until the last moment of the war, until liberation. And didn’t take any money.”

After a while, it became clear that due to the immediate vicinity of the busy road, the Jews and the Musiał family were in great danger.

When the Germans came to Jurkow enquiring about the Habers, Fryda and Oskar, thanks to the help of Franciszek, managed to escape and found shelter in the house of his sister and brother-in-law, Anna and Jan Stalmach, who lived in the forest in Łacnowa – on the border between Tworkowa and Jurków. Oskar and Fryda felt safer there. When the Habers fled from the Germans, they took nothing with them beyond what they were wearing. Franciszek Musiał provided them with documents and also supported them in difficult times The children of Mr and Mrs Musiał, Maria and Bronisław, walked to Łacnowa, delivering food.

Anna and Jan Stalmach lived in a secluded location, which helped to hide the Jews. Their son, the post-war priest Adam, who finished high school in 1943 during the occupation, was a member of the Home Army (AK). Oskar Haber: “Thanks to my involvement in the AK, I could find a place after I had to flee because of the Gestapo. The people who were hiding us knew that I was involved in the AK, but they didn’t suspect that we were Jewish. They were very simple people. Before the war they went to the shtetl, they knew Jews and bought things from them. But their son was planning to become a priest. And he was taught that the Jews killed Jesus, so it’s no wonder that he hated Jews.”

Fryda Haber: “There was this young boy, very talented, he was preparing to become a priest. But he was an anti-Semite. Many years after the war he asked us for some papers that would confirm that his parents had helped us. They were wonderful people, they never said a word against the Jews, but they didn’t know we were Jewish. He didn’t know either. He was recognised by Jad Waszem as Righteous because he asked for it. His parents helped us. They gave us food, shelter. They were wonderful people. And we didn’t pay them – we had nothing. They knew Oskar was in the AK, they were patriots, so they helped both of us.”

Fryda Haber. Photo from the testimony at the USC Shoah Foundation

Thanks to the generosity and heroism of Franciszek Musial, his family and other good people, the Jewish couple survived until the end of the war.

After the war, Oskar and Fryda Haber moved to Krakow, then to Belgium, where their son was born in 1949. In April 1951, the Habers emigrated to Israel, and in 1980 they moved to the USA.

They did not forget the Poles who had helped them during the war. They stayed in touch, sent letters and photographs. And in 1990s, they came to Poland, primarily to see the Musiał family. Oskar Haber recalled: “We wanted to see our saviour, Franciszek Musiał, who at that time had already been awarded the title of the Righteous, and his family. He was older than us and we wanted to see him still alive. We supported him from Israel. We sent him parcels and money from time to time.”

Fryda Haber: “After the war, as soon as we could, we started helping him, we sent parcels. But when we came to Jurków, he told us: “Please don’t send us anything. Everything you see comes from your money, from what you sent.” Can you imagine a man of such character, of such honour? We will never forget him”.

In 1990. Franciszek Musiał, Father Aleksander Osiecki and the Stalmach family were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Diploma of recognition for Franciszek Musiał, Righteous among the Nations.

Fryda Haber died on October30, 2005, Oskar on April 5, 2014, he was 104 years old. They are buried in Lexington Cemetery, Kentucky, USA. Their descendants, grandchildren and great-grandchildren still live in the USA.

The gravestone of Oskar and Fryda Haber. Photo from findagrave.com website

When writing this article, I used the testimony of Eugenia Motak, daughter of Franciszek Musiał, written down by Helena Karecka in the edition of “Jurków – history and present day”. The quotes from Oskar and Fryda Haber’s testimonies come from the May 17, 2000 recordings, which are part the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum,

https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn508262 i https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn508263 

© Anna Brzyska, 2023