Originally from the Lviv area, Bazyli Łoza (1879-1939) and Stefania Duda (1890-1987) lived in Brzesko for most of their lives; it was here that they raised their six children.
Bazyli died in the first days of the war, on September 6, 1939. His widow Stefania and three children who were living in Brzesko at the time, Irena Nowak (1915-1999), Eugeniusz Łoza (1921-2001) and Helena Skrobotowicz (1925-2010), saved a Jewish boy, Jozef Flakowicz. Here it is described on the Jad Vashem website:
“In late 1942, after escaping from the Sandomierz ghetto, in the Kielce district, the Flakowiczes decided to split up. The father, Moshe, went to Warsaw, where he found a job on the Aryan side of the city, while his wife, Cesia, and seven-year-old son, Jozef (later Joseph Komem), moved to Brzesko, in the Krakow district, where they hid under assumed identities, and sold home-made rolls for a living. In late 1943, the mother’s identity was discovered by a Polish acquaintance who began to extort money from her. Cesia fled to Warsaw, but was caught and sent to a labor camp in Germany where she survived. The father, meanwhile, travelled to Brzesko, where, during previous visits to his wife, he had become acquainted with Eugeniusz Łoza, a young Polish tailor. Flakowicz told Łoza that they were Jewish and asked him to save his son. Łoza, who at the time was living together with his elderly mother, Stefania, his sisters, Helena Skrobotowicz and Irena Nowak, and her three little children, agreed to take in little Józef, who, although equipped with a Christian birth certificate, looked Jewish. Nowak, who had a child the same age as Józef, took the little boy under her wing, put him in the same room as her own children, and told her neighbours that the boy was a relative from a remote village, whose parents had perished in the war. Despite their straitened circumstances, Łoza and his family continued caring for their charge as if he were a member of the family, without expecting anything in return.
Józef stayed with the Łozas, who were devout Catholics, for almost a year, and after the liberation was reunited with his father. In time, Józef learned the circumstances of his early life, and after immigrating to Israel, he testified that Łoza, Łoza’s mother, Stefania, and sister, Irena, had saved his life, and for many years, kept up a close correspondence with them. On March 3, 1983, Yad Vashem recognized Stefania Łoza, her son, Eugeniusz Łoza, and daughter, Irena Nowak (Łoza), as Righteous Among the Nations. On January 26, 2001, Yad Vashem recognized Helena Skrobotowicz (Łoza), as Righteous Among the Nations.”
Memoirs of Jozef Flakowicz can tell us much more about the story of the rescue of the Jewish boy and the people who contributed to it. Jacek Filip corresponded with Jozef Flakowicz (later Joseph Komem), met him during his stay in Poland and recorded his testimony. The full text of this testimony was published in 2013 at https://brzesko.ws/DesktopModules/Articles/ArticlesView.aspx?tabID=0&ItemID=6556&mid=10640
“The house had an address: Brzesko, Bocheńska 159. This number was like a talisman for me. When reading books, I would always kiss the page 159. I remember we used to sit in a room downstairs where there was only a small window. There was a table under that window, I would put a stool on it and watch when my mother would come back. All I could see was her shoes and it was a great joy for me every time.
When we came to Palestine, we took the surname Komem, but I arrived here as Marek Wojciech Łągiewski, my mother was Mirosława Krystyna Łągiewska, the widow of Zenon Wiktor Łągiewski, a Polish Army officer who had disappeared in the war (a fictional character), while my father’s name was Mateusz Filipowski. I was not a Bresko resident, as my family roots originated in Kalisz.
My father, Moshe Flakowicz, was deaf. In 1917, when he was six years old, he contracted scarlet fever and lost his hearing. My father’s parents were by then wealthy enough to send their son to a renowned school for deaf children in Vienna for a period of about 10 years. The school was run by the Jewish community there. When he returned from Vienna, he went to the Jewish Craft School in Kalisz, from which he graduated as a locksmith. When my grandfather was buying machinery in Plauen (Germany), he signed such a contract with the German industrialist selling him the machinery that when my grandfather’s son, that is my father, reached the age of 18, he would come to Plauen for an apprenticeship. In this way, my father learned, among other things, how to make technical drawings and could later work as a professional foreman.
I was almost three and a half years old when the war broke out… We ended up in the ghetto in Otwock and then in Sandomierz. After a while a ghetto was established in Sandomierz and we had to move there. On one occasion, my father managed to get out of it and went first to the ghetto in Częstochowa and then to the ghetto in Warsaw to get false documents for himself and for us. However, I do not know, where he eventually obtained them.
When my father was studying in Vienna, a Jewish girl studied together with him. She later married an also deaf man named Wassermann. The latter gave my father a letter of recommendation to a deaf bookbinder from Krakow, Jaworski, a Christian, who in turn gave my father the address of a deaf bookbinder in Brzesko, Antoni Herbert. After all, there are not that many deaf people, so it is not surprising that there are some connections between them, and most of them know each other directly.
He also got ‘false papers’ for my mother’s sister Frania, whose Jewish husband had been murdered in their rented room in Sandomierz by German soldiers. From then on, her name was to be Mila. I remember that my father bought a red beret and some clothes for my brother and also gave him a haircut. Aunt Frania and my brother, now bearing the name Marian, escaped from the ghetto; maybe father and aunt gave a bribe or arranged it in some other way, I don’t know. They went to Kraków, to Jaworski.
About ten days later, I too was given a red beret and my father also gave me a haircut. I left the ghetto with my father and mother, we got into a waiting horse-drawn carriage and rode it for several hours to Tarnobrzeg. My father didn’t want us to get on the train in Sandomierz, because someone might have recognised us. We stayed at Jaworski’s place in Kraków for a short time, from there we went to Brzesko. It was not long after the liquidation of the ghetto in Brzesko.
Antoni Herbert gave my father an address of Mrs Feliksa Gardziel, the wife of Jan Gardziel, a professor at the Brzesko Gymnasium, who had been murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mrs Feliksa was left alone with her two children: Janka, who was about eighteen at the time, and twelve-year-old Julian. No wonder they needed money to live. We didn’t have much, it was hard to live, but somehow we managed together.
At that time, my brother, as Marian Dąbrowski, together with my aunt Mila, or mum’s sister Frania, found a place with someone in Słotwina. They only lived there for a short time, however, because there was someone who started blackmailing them, saying that my aunt was looking after a Jewish child…. Auntie didn’t look Jewish at all, she was great looking and claimed to be a pure-blooded Pole. However, as a precaution, she left together with my brother for Warsaw. Like my aunt, my father also did not have a typical Semitic appearance. He had blue eyes, was blond, had a straight nose, was athletic.
My father was in Warsaw at the time, earning his living there as a sewing machine mechanic. He would only come to us on major holidays, that is, at Easter and Christmas….
When in Brzesko, I used to go with my mother to St James’ Church. We used to sing carols, mum was very fond of singing, I still remember some of them. My father painted beautiful Easter eggs when he came to visit us at Easter. People thought we were very pious. Mrs Gardziel would bake a variety of rolls, which my mother would take to various people and sell them. She would leave in the afternoon and return in the evening. As Janka told me after the war, her mum baked 30–50 rolls per day, and they were sold to Janoszek pharmacy, a doctor living by the Market Square, restaurant, grocery shops, and to the Germans. Julek Gardziel also sometimes brought rolls to the Janoszek pharmacy.
However, one time, when my mother went to deliver rolls, someone from Kalisz, who happened to be in Brzesko, recognised her. It was then that she gave me her brother’s address in Warsaw. She was afraid, that something might happen to her.
I had nightmares then. I was dreaming that the Gestapo were catching me, torturing me, and I was afraid I would tell everything. One day my mother told me about blackmail from that Kalisz man. She sent a letter to my father poste restante for him to come. My father claimed to know who that man was. He said that the blackmailer had lived in Słotwina and was a commissioner (Treuhänder) in some mill.
In this situation, father turned to a friend he had met in Sandomierz, a Home Army officer named Stanisław Kowalski, who was hiding in Kraków. Kowalski came to Brzesko and, together with my father, went to the mayor of Słotwina to find out more about the Kalisz man. Kowalski remained silent the whole time, giving the impression that he was German. The next day, they went together to the blackmailer’s house and told him that if anything bad happened to Krystyna, Marek or the father, the Kalisz man would be severely punished. I think, some kind of bribe was also given at the time, but fearing that the blackmailer might nevertheless talk, Kowalski helped to take me away from Brzesko and place with a family in Kielce for some time. I think it was the summer of 1943. I was there for about 2-3 months, after which I returned to Brzesko. This happened, as I remember, after some execution of Poles in Kielce. I think the family I stayed with got scared afterwards and demanded that I be taken away from them.
Meanwhile, rumours spread in Brzesko that Mrs Gardziel was hiding someone. But she behaved fantastically. She said that those who were living with her had kennkarts and food cards, and that therefore everything was fine. She was not afraid of anything. Again, however, it was necessary to keep a cool head, so my father took me to Warsaw to Mrs Kuropieska, with whom my brother had been staying for a year by then. My mother stayed, but, fearing the consequences of being blackmailed by a Kalisz man, she left for Warsaw in May 1944. She said everywhere that she had come from the east and that her husband had been in the army and had been murdered in September 1939. My departure from Brzesko took place in the spring of 1944. I happily reached Warsawa, but I was there only for a short time.
While visiting Brzesko, my father met the Łoza family, including Stefania Łoza’s deaf son Eugeniusz. After my hiding place in Warsaw had been discovered, my father went to Słotwina to the Łoza family, confessed that he was a Jew as well as my father, and asked this family for help, because he did not know what to do, and it was becoming very dangerous for me to continue staying in Warsaw.
Stefania – the head of the family – called a family meeting and afterwards the Łozas agreed to take me in. I moved into their small double house; there were two kitchens, and next to each kitchen there was a large bedroom.
One part of the house belonged to Irena Nowak (née Łoza), a widow with three small children, and the other part to Stefania Łoza (mother of Irena, Helena, Eugeniusz and Emil, who was in Warsaw) – by then already a widow. This was a brick house. At the back of the house there was a fairly large garden surrounded by a high fence. I often visited it.
I was afraid, of course. My father came once or twice, then he stopped coming. I thought that the Germans had captured him, that I had become an orphan, and that there were no more Jews in the world. Anyway, at that time I didn’t know what Jewishness was. I only knew that it was bad to be Jewish.
I wanted to be part of that family. Since I was already eight years old, I was supposed to set an example for Mrs Irena’s younger children: Adam was six years old at the time, Bogusia was four and Basia was two. We all stayed in one room, which was the bedroom. One day Walter, a German soldier, turned up and was assigned quarters here. A bed was put up for him in the kitchen. Only a wall separated us. He slept on one side and I on the other. After some time we were quartered with another soldier. We children liked them because they sometimes got parcels and shared sweets with us. I was afraid that the children would say something about me, because these soldiers understood some Polish.
My father came back in January and took me to Kalisz. For me, it was as if he had risen from the dead, because I had not heard from him or from my mother since the summer of 1944. I thought they were both dead. It turned out that my father and mother had passively participated in the Warsaw Uprising, after which my mother, who had been taken prisoner by the Germans, was deported to Stutthof concentration camp, but she managed to escape together with another Polish woman from the “death march”. I don’t remember exactly, but she returned to Kalisz at the beginning of May 1945. My brother also survived.
I already felt like a Catholic and a Polish patriot; I sang Legion songs, knew carols, patriotic poems, because Helena taught me all this. She had such a book about Pilsudski’s Legions and she taught me from that book.
When I came to Brzesko in 2005 and visited Helena, she told me that she had Jewish books in the attic of her house. It turned out that they came from a Jewish library (there were prayer books, among other things), and there was a Binder shop stamp on them. Helena gave them to me, my grandson took them, because I visited her together with my son and grandson, and we took them to the Remuh synagogue in Krakow. I wondered how those books could have ended up in that house. After all, during the Nazi occupation, even keeping Jewish books was punishable by death.
Shortly after the end of the war, the Kalisz factory resumed production under my father’s management, but after it was nationalised in 1946, the family decided to emigrate from Poland.
In December 2012, my book entitled “Courage and Grace”, was published in Hebrew. It is a collection of memories, documents and evidence, as I felt an honourable obligation to immortalise and publicise the courage of my parents and the grace and sacrifice of several different families to save my brother and me, despite the threat of losing their own lives and the lives of their children. I wanted to pay tribute to the Polish families involved in saving our family. Eight people from these families have been recognised by the Yad Vashem Institute as Righteous Among the Nations: Leopolda Kuropieska in 1967, Stefania Łoza, Irena Łoza-Nowak and Eugeniusz Łoza in 1983, Helena Łoza-Skrobotowicz in 2000, Stanisława Kolska in 2005, Zofia Kałuszko and her son Jan in 1983.”
Testimony of Joseph Komem was recorded by Jacek Filip, October 21, 2013