07.04.2023 | Redaktor

Piotr and Janina Ogonek

Gizela Levy née Epstein was born in Tarnów in 1935. Her parents Sara and Moshe and her younger sister Sabina were murdered by the Germans during the war – the family of the survivor is still trying to establish the circumstances of their death. For some time Gizela was hiding with her aunt Blanka in Kraków, but it became necessary to find a new hiding place for her – she was in danger of being denounced.

Janina and Piotr Ogonek lived with their three sons in the village of Biskupice Melsztyńskie near Czchów in the Brzesko area. In 1942, they took in little Gizela who was brought from Krakow to the Ogoneks’ home by Franciszek Karaś.

Janina and Piotr Ogonek. Photo from sprawiedliwi.org.pl website

The hosts dyed Gizela’s hair blonde. At first, she was only hiding behind the stove when someone was coming. Later, because the neighbours began to suspect something and the Germans often appeared in the area – she had to hide all the time, also in the barn, in the dugout and in the attic. Janina brought her food.

The Ogoneks were harassed by blackmailers, Gestapo searched their house, and Piotr was arrested and severely beaten by the Germans – probably as a result of denunciations from neighbours. However, Gizela was not found and the girl stayed with the Ogonek family for three years, until the end of the occupation.

The house of the Ogoneks, 2009. Photo from the Yad Vashem archives

After the war, Gizela’s aunt Blanka sent her to Bratislava, and later they moved together to Belgium. In 1951, Gizela emigrated to Israel. She married in 1958, changed her name to Levy and had two children.

Her aunt was in contact with the Ogoneks after the war, but Gizela did communicate with them. It was only in 2009 that she found and visited their descendants.

Gizela Levy with Mr and Mrs Ogonek’s granddaughter Wioletta Wawrzonkowska and a neighbour in Bickupice Melsztyńskie in 2009. Photo from the Yad Vashem archives
The house of the Ogoneks, 2009. Gizela Levy shows Mr and Mrs Ogonek’s granddaughter the place where she was hiding during the war. Photo from the Yad Vashem archives
Gizela Levy by the grave of Janina Ogonek, 2009. Photo from the Yad Vashem archives.
Gizela Levy and relatives of Piotr and Janina Ogonek at the farewell dinner, 2009. Photo from the Yad Vashem archives

Piotr Ogonek died in 1974; his wife passed away in 1996. Thanks to the efforts of the survivor, in March 2010 the couple were honoured with the title “Righteous Among the Nations” .

Violetta Wawrzonkowska, granddaughter of the Ogoneks, assured during the ceremony that her grandmother had never forgotten the Jewish girl she had hidden during the war. She added that her grandparents “didn’t feel that they had done something great, they didn’t make statements like that, it was a normal event in their lives. They were very happy that they could save Krysia – that was the name they gave her. My grandmother didn’t take particular pride in this deed, no, she was a humble person. I admired grandma and grandpa for what they did, for me it was a great deed and certainly not everyone would have been able to do something like that.”

Wioletta Wawrzonkowska with her husband and Gizela Levy with her husband during the ceremony of honouring the Ogoneks. Warsaw, March 7, 2010. Photo from sprawiedliwi.org.pl website.
The ceremony of honouring the Ogoneks with the Yad Vashem Medal. Warsaw, March 7, 2010. Photo from sprawiedliwi.org.pl website.

Gizela Levy expressed her regret that she had not contacted Piotr and Janina Ogonek before they died – war-time memories were too difficult for her, she tried to suppress them. She admitted that she would have felt better if she had met Janina Ogonek after the war. “What hurts me the most is that I was not in contact with her. It is very hard for me, if I had known that she had forgiven me, that would have been the best medal for me,” – Mrs Levy said.  She came to the ceremony together with her husband, son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. Levy shared that she was now in very good contact with the Ogonek family. “We have become very close, a real family, more – a very warm family, really unbelievable,” – she said. She added that she has never forgotten her saviours.

Wioletta Wawrzonkowska and Gizela Levy, Warsaw, March 7, 2010. photo from the sprawiedliwi.org.pl website.

Based on materials from  sprawiedliwi.org.pl website.