17.03.2023 | Redaktor

Residents of the Dębno commune who helped Jews during the war

While researching the history of Dębno commune in the period  of 1939-1945, one may come across various references or memories concerning help provided by local residents to Jews who were hiding in the area.

At the outset, it should be noted that before the outbreak of the war, the Israelites were an indispensable part of our community, and it was largely thanks to them that taverns and trade flourished, whether people liked it or not. Today, there are no longer any Jews in our area, and few people realise just how large a community they once formed and how much the situation has changed after the outbreak of the Second World War. It is worth mentioning, for example, that in the year 1900, according to the Schematyzm of Tarnów Diocese, the number of Catholics declared in the parishes of Dębno and Porąbka Uszewska was 8,249, while the number of Jews was 166. In the first half of 1939, only 20 people declared as being Jewish in the same parishes.

It is impossible today to reconstruct the wartime fate of all Jews from our region, but it has been established that during the occupation a dozen or so of them were hiding in the villages of Dębno, Wola Dębińska, Biadoliny Szlacheckie, Porąbka Uszewska, Doły, Łoniowa and Niedźwiedza. Archival materials and conversations with witnesses of those events have also made it possible to learn the names of the people who provided some help to the Jews. It should be assumed that the number of such people was higher, but it seems to be impossible to learn more now. In this article, I will present the results of my research.

To begin with, let us start with the people who secretly delivered food to the Brzesko Ghetto. These included the owners of the Łoniowa mill, Jadwiga and Juliusz Kolarzowski. It is certain that throughout the entire period of the Ghetto’s operation, they brought large quantities of food to the Ghetto. Jadwiga showed great courage – very often she personally took parcels by cart, which contained, among other things, groats, potatoes and, of course, flour, which was in abundance in her mill. The parcels were thrown over the wall of the old Jewish cemetery.

Jadwiga and Juliusz Kolarzowski (photo from the collection of Cecylia Burnóg)

The resident of Porąbka Uszewska named Pałucki also delivered food to the same place; he did so for a certain Josek Glassner and his wife, who came from the same village and volunteered to go to the Ghetto so as not to endanger the rest of the inhabitants. They never returned from the ghetto….

As I’ve mentioned above, we know some facts about the Jewish families that were hiding in the 1940s in individual villages and about the people who were helping them to survive. Here are the names of some of them:

Mr. and Mrs. Potępa from Wola Dębińska, who were hiding in their house a Jewish woman, a certain Imberger, and her two daughters, Pola and Ewa. Apart from this information, however, their further fate is not known.

In Łoniowa, a young Jewish girl who had been brought to the village in 1944, was hiding on Teofil Kluska’s property. Teofil placed her in the cellar behind his house, where she was to stay for two nights, after which two men arrived and took her to another place.

Teofil Kluska’s family, his house is in the background (photo from Antoni Kluska’s collection)

A group of Jews was hiding in Niedźwiedza, they were coming at night to get food from the farmers they knew. After some time, the Germans located the hiding Israelites and organised a raid, during which the Niedźwiedza resident, Teofil Dudek, helped a 17-year-old boy who was part of this group. Teofil hid him in wicker baskets dismantled from horse carts. Reportedly, the German gendarmerie later captured this boy and most likely he was murdered.

Herman Sperber was hiding in the villages of Dębno and Porąbka Uszewska with his family of 7 people. The Germans tried hard to find his family, as the Sperbers had escaped from the Brzesko Ghetto during its liquidation. The first person to give them shelter and food was Jan Wróbel from Porąbka Uszewska. The fugitives sought shelter in the surrounding forests, in the fields and in the barns of local people, until they finally found shelter on the farm of Jan Sacha. On October 26, 1942, Polish police officers and German gendarmes came to Sacha’s farm, suspecting that Jews were hiding there. The Germans murdered almost all the members of the family on the spot – only Herman managed to survive. Jan Sacha and his family were taken to the police station in Brzesko, from where they were released after some time.

Józef Sacha on the left (photo from the collection of Stanisław Wróbel)
Józef Sacha’s house (photo from the author’s collection)
Józef Sacha’s barn (photo from the author’s collection)

After this event, the gendarmerie focused even more on finding Herman Sperber, who from then on was in hiding together with his cousin Regina Glassner and her brothers, Karol and Zygmunt. It is known that throughout the time they remained in hiding, the Germans carried out 15 unsuccessful manhunts, accompanied by intimidation, detentions and beatings of local residents. They also appointed hostages who were supposed to capture Sperber, but it yielded no results. It has been possible to establish that between 1942 and 1943 Sperber and the Glassners were assisted by, among others: Stanisław Jakubas from Porąbka Uszewska, the aforementioned Jan Wróbel from Porąbka Uszewska, Wojciech Paryło from Porąbka Uszewska, Karol Biliński from Porąbka Uszewska, Jadwiga Buziak from Doły, Józef Chodacki from Dębno, Józef Michałek from Dębno, Stanisław Michałek from Dębno, Tadeusz Żółty from Dębno, and Józef Gurgul from Doły.

Karol and Zygmunt Glassner were finally discovered and murdered on July 28, 1943 in Doły.

Józef Chodacki (photo from the collection of Celina Mleczko)
Stanisław Michałek with family (photo from the collection of Józef Michałek)
Tadeusz Żółty (photo from the author’s collection)
Tadeusz Żółty (photo from the author’s collection)

At the very end, I would like to mention Wiktoria Mleczko, who was born on January 18, 1910 in Porąbka Uszewska. She was a person who paid for her help to others with her own life. Wiktoria was caught hiding Jews. She was arrested and on  January 18, 1943 she was imprisoned in a German prison in Tarnów. On January 29, 1943 she was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she died on  April 1,1943. Germans reduced Wiktoria, like many others, to a meaningless number, in her case number 32410. Typhoid fever was given as the official cause of her death.

Wiktoria Mleczko (photo from the Archives of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim)

Fortunately, there was no shortage of people in the Dębno commune who, despite of possible consequences, tried to help Jews at all costs. Let us hope that such times will never return….

© Szymon Smaga-Kumorek, 20