03.10.2023 | Redaktor

Józef Topolski from Jadowniki

Józef Topolski was born in Jadowniki in 1913.

Baptism of Józef Topolski, extract from the parish book.
Józef Topolski, son of Stanisław and Petronela, born March 18, 1913, was baptized on March 24, 1913 in the Parish of St. Prokop in Jadowniki

The Topolski family had a large farm. Because of untimely death of Stanisław Topolski, young Józef had to take care of the farm.

In 1942, Józef Topolski joined the Peasant Battalions – the underground resistance movement which was active in rural areas. Together with several colleagues – Józef Hudy, Wincenty Cebula, Stanisław Czarnecki, Wincenty Tyka and Jan Marmul – he delivered food to the Brzesko ghetto.

Lia (Lili) Matzner was born in Bielsko in 1920, she was the daughter of Herman Matzner and Miriam née Grunbaum. Her first husband, Henryk Hirschsprung, was murdered in Lviv in 1941. In October, Lia, together with her several-month-old son Wilhelm, came to Brzesko, where her sister Sabina Weinberg and her children lived at that time.

From Lia Matzner’s testimony: “I met Topolski in June 1942. At that time, I lived with my sister Sabina Weinberg and three children, Wolfgang and Uzjas Weinberg, aged 10 and 12, my sister’s children, and my son Wilhelm Hirschprung. Topolski started coming to us systematically. When the ghetto was established, he was still coming. He brought food for all of us because we were starving at that time. He wanted to save me and my child and at least one of my sister’s children. But the sister’s children did not want to leave their mother, they were ready to die together.

In September 1942, I and my child, yielding to Topolski’s requests, went to the village of Jadowniki to hide and be saved. However, the neighbour’s children heard the baby crying. There gathered a crowd of people, some were shouting that there was a Jewish woman with a child hiding in the house, others that there was a Gypsy woman, because no one saw me.

It was completely impossible to leave the child there. My noble guardian made every effort to place the child somewhere. He went with his brother-in-law, Józef Stelmach, to various people, he wanted to pay for the child’s upkeep and use his estate to guarantee the sum of 15,000 pre-war zlotys so that the child would be accepted somewhere, but no one wanted to take him in.

Not wanting to unnecessarily endanger the child, myself and the Topolski family, I decided to return to the ghetto to my sister with the understanding that Topolski would come for me as soon as he found a suitable place to hide the child.

The area where the village of Jadowniki is located is very uneven, there are places that go down very steeply. The three of us went out at night, my guardian, me and the baby. Not knowing the terrain, I slipped out on one of the steep places, and broke my leg. My faithful companion took the child in his arms, while helping me move forward, and we crawled with difficulty 3 km to my sister.

An x-ray taken the next day showed that the leg was broken and a plaster cast was applied. It was on Thursday.

Every day we expected an action in the ghetto, but with a broken leg I couldn’t hide because the entrance to the bunker was very small. I was supposed to meet Topolski by the barbed wire, but as I couldn’t walk, my sister went to meet him and told about my condition. Then Topolski came to our place. I didn’t want to be separated from my sister and the child, but it was physically impossible to hide me in the ghetto. My sister put it this way: if I don’t go with Topolski and hide, then she and the children will stay with me and won’t hide either. So, I agreed to  leave my sister so that not to endanger everyone. Topolski took me on his back and carried me in the dark to the barbed wire, then dragged me under it, carried me across the Uszwica River and brought me home. He also intended to save my sister and the children by providing them with false Polish papers. However, these plans came to nothing as the liquidation took place right away. The next day, my guardian went to the ghetto with the intention of taking my child, for whom he had already found a place, but he could not enter the ghetto because it was heavily guarded by German police on all sides. Liquidation has already taken place inside.

Initially he kept me in the attic while it was warm. When it got cold, I was hiding in the kitchen which was carefully locked. Later  a carpenter from Jadowniki  Jan Zych made a bunker under the floor in such a way that no trace of it could be seen.

House of the Topolski family in Jadowniki, 2023.

In case of danger, I was to enter the bunker. My guardian was supposed to be in the kitchen at that time so that no one would have any suspicions. During this period, the Germans also deported Poles to forced labour to Germany. Topolski was also to be deported, because of it he could no longer show up at home. He only went out in the evenings and set up several bunkers in farm buildings and in the field. We hid there together. His mother brought us food under the pretense that she was feeding pigs… This is how I stayed until I was released.” (ŻIH, ref. no. 301/5188)

On January 19, 1945, Lia gave birth to a son in the hospital in Brzesko – she was registered as Maria Topolska, wife of Józef. After liberation, Topolski’s mother persuaded the young couple to have a church wedding. On April 21, 1945, Lia was baptized and given the name Maria. On the same day, Joseph and Leah’s son was also baptized.

Kazimierz Topolski, born January 19, 1945, baptized on April 21, 1945, son of Józef Topolski and Maria Matzner. Extract from the parish book of the church of St. Prokop Abbot in Jadowniki

Lia’s wedding took place in the parish church in Jadowniki on November 5, 1945. From then on, Lia was called Maria Topolska.

Wedding certificate of Józef Topolski and Maria (Lia) Matzner, extract from the parish book of the church of St. Prokop Abbot in Jadowniki

It’s hard to say why this marriage didn’t work out. After a few years, Lia Matzner – Maria Topolska – left for Israel together with her son. There she remarried and gave birth to her second son. Later the family emigrated to the USA. Lia died in 2004, had several grandchildren.

Lili Matzner, 1951, photo from the USHMM archive

Józef Topolski died in Jadowniki on September 19, 1963, and is buried in the parish cemetery.

From the testimony of Lia Matzner: “My guardian during the occupation showed towards me the greatest nobility, constantly caring for me more than about himself.” (ŻIH, ref. no. 301/5188).

Jozef Topolski’s grave at the parish cemetery in Jadowniki.

© Anna Brzyska, 2023