Pawel Mika (1897-1958) lived with his wife Karolina née Majka (1901-1945) and their four children, Stefan (1927-2013) and his 3 younger siblings Genowefa, Maria and Jan, in Zaborów a small village in Brzesko poviat. The house stood far from the center of the village, close to the forest. Already before the war, Karolina was diagnosed with cancer, so the house was taken care of by her mother.
Karolina’s serious illness and having four children did not prevent the couple from deciding to hide two young Jews, Mendel Tider and Jozef Langdorf, in their house.
The Tiders were neighbours of the Mika family. Izak Tider, a tailor, and his wife Beila nee Mandel had a small house and a patch of field. Pawel Mika helped Izak with the farm work; the tailor repaid his neighbour by sewing clothes for his family. Between 1914 and 1927, four children were born to the Tider couple: Mendel (1914), Chaim, Peszka (Pesla, 1923) and Chana (Anna, 1927). Thanks to the photos that have survived in the family archive of the older daughter, we can imagine what life was like for this Jewish family in Zaborow before the war.
The children went to school together with their Catholic peers, and Chana was the classmate of the Mika’s eldest son Stefan. Most likely, the Tiders spoke Polish even at home. (After the war, when filling out documents, both Tider sisters listed Polish as their native language.) Particularly captivating is the photo of Peszka Tider taken in 1939, just before the war. We see a young beautiful girl in Polish folk costume. Could she have foreseen then that in just a few months she would be doomed to extermination? Just because of being Jewish?
After the outbreak of war, the Tiders still lived in their home for a while. But by summer 1942 (it’s hard to say when exactly) they were deported to the Brzesko ghetto. Izak Tider, his wife Beila and brother-in-law Menachem Mandel were soon murdered – most likely, they were taken to Bełżec during one of the actions in the Brzesko ghetto.
Their sons Mendel and Chaim – young and strong men – worked for some time paving the road to Tarnów. Here’s how Stefan Mika remembered the Tider family: “They took them to the ghetto in Brzesko. All of them, the whole family. The eldest son worked on the road, this road from Krakow to Tarnow. It was a gravel road, at that time there wasn’t yet any asphalt or anything, and the Germans created such a brigade that laid paving blocks and they were paving this road. Young Jews from the ghetto also worked there… They [the Germans] took the mother, father and probably the mother’s brother very quickly out of the ghetto somewhere and murdered them. The one who worked on the road survived. His brother Chaim arranged Aryan documents for many Jews, among other things he arranged Aryan documents for these sisters of his and they went to Germany to work, both of them. He often left the ghetto, as a rule illegally. So they just shot him. He died there in the ghetto in Brzesko. So, the two sisters were sent to work in Germany, the parents were murdered, and only that oldest brother was left.”
Mendel, the eldest brother, was left alone in the Bresko ghetto. After learning of the impending liquidation of the ghetto, he fled first to Bochnia, and after some time, together with a colleague from the ghetto, to his home village. It was then that the two young Jews turned to the Mika family for help.
Paweł and Karolina Mika knew Mendel Tider, but his colleague Jozef Langdorf, a native of Wola Przemykowska, was a complete stranger to them.
Jozef Langdorf married Blanka Finder from Szczurowa, in 1940. For some time they were hiding near Wola Przemykowska, but soon Jozef managed to arrange Aryan papers in the name of Maria Kijania and a hiding place in Krakow for Blanka. Unlike her husband, Blanka had unsuspecting ‘good looks’, so until the end of the war she worked in Cracow as a maid, a cook and later even in a German labor office. Jozef Langdorf’s semitic features made such an arrangement impossible. After some time, Jozef decided to return to the ghetto in Bochnia, since hiding in the vicinity of Wola Przemykowska had become too dangerous – policemen from the Szczurowa police station started active search for Jews in the area. It was then that he met Mendel Tider. Together they escaped from the ghetto in the summer of 1943. When they reached Zaborówand asked the Mika family for help, they were sure that the hiding would not last more than a few weeks.
Pawel and Karolina Mika decided to hide the Jews, although they were aware of the fact that not only they, but also their children could face the death penalty for doing so. They also did not count on any profit as they knew they were helping poor people.
From the testimony of Stefan Mika: “It was neither friendship nor anything like that. As for the parents, they treated the Jews as people who were condemned to death just for being alive, and they had to be rescued as neighbours, as people they knew. Maybe in case of this old Jew [the father of Mendel Tider], the father used to have some contact. My father did something for him, and for this he sewed him pants or some kind of jacket, and it was such a neighbourly friendship. But in case of that other man – he was rescued as an acquaintance of that other guy. As a man facing death… So, it was not any kind of cordial friendship. Simple human coexistence, that’s all you can call it.”
The Mikas hid Mendel and Josef in the stable. From the testimony of Stefan Mika: “The safest place to hide was the stable, spacious, cows and horses were there, and it was warm in the winter. There was a door to this attic from the outside; so it was necessary to cut an entrance in the ceiling of the stable so that they could enter [the hiding place] not from the outside, but directly from the stable. So, there was such an arrangement there, that the horses were there, and behind their manger there was a ladder, when you climbed that ladder and reached the ceiling, the boards were cut at the top. You could lift them and get inside, there was a hiding place made there, in the straw, not big, about two meters by two meters. They slept there, sat there and stayed there during that time, and when they wanted to get out, they just pushed back the boards and went down. They could close [this hiding place] from the inside and stay there.”
Stefan Mika recalled that meals for the Jews were cooked by his maternal grandmother, a wonderful, warm and hard-working person, and he carried these meals to the hiding Jews. None of the neighbours or acquaintances could suspect the Mikas of providing shelter to the escapees from the ghetto. The situation was the worst in winter because of the cold weather. That’s when Mendel and Jozef would leave the stable and come to the house to talk, play chess and cards. In such times the Mikas would lock the door and tightly cover the windows so that no unauthorized person would notice two strangers in the house. The Mika children, Stefan’s younger siblings, knew who the men hiding in their house were, but they were not allowed to talk about it with anyone.
It became very dangerous when a group of sappers securing the retreat of German troops deployed in Zaborów. The soldiers were quartered in houses, and in December 1943 several of them were sent to the Mikas. Tider and Langdorf’s continued stay became very risky, so the men decided to leave their hiding place and hide on their own. Most likely, they did not leave Zaborów, as they returned to the Mikas in early May 1944 and remained in their original hiding place until the end of the war. On January 17, 1945, Soviet soldiers entered Zaborów. Jozef and Mendel were free and could leave their hiding place. Mendel Tider did not return to his home in Zaborów, but went to Tarnów. He no longer had a family in Poland, so he soon left for the United States. The Mikas never heard of him again. In 1950, in the US, Mendel married Anna Horowitz. He had two children, six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren. Like many Holocaust survivors, he never spoke to his family about his war-time experiences. Mendel Tider died on March 26, 1989. His tombstone in the Cedar Park cemetery, New Jersey, USA, bears the inscription: “Mendel Tider, Holocaust survivor, devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle.”
The courage of the Mika family saved not only this young man, but also his children, grandchildren and all subsequent generations of his descendants. “Whoever saves one life, it’s as if he saves the whole world…”
The post-war fate of the Langdorf family was different. Jozef and Blanka Langdorf settled in Krakow and adopted the surname Długowiejski (which is the direct translation into Polish of their original Jewish last name). Blanka kept the given name from her Aryan documents, Maria. Two daughters were born to them, Jadwiga and Halina. Stefan Mika, when studying in the university in Krakow, almost every Sunday visited Jozef and Blanka. Mr. and Mrs. Długowiejski lived in Krakow for the rest of their lives. Jozef died in 1970, his wife passed away 37 years later. They are buried in the Podgórze cemetery in Krakow.
It was the wife of Jozef Langdorf who submitted testimony to Yad Vashem applying for the Mikas to be recognized as the Righteous among the Nations. Paweł, Karolina and Stefan Mika received the title of the Righteous on August 7, 2000.
In 2013, when asked if he was afraid and if he would act the same way today as he did 70 years ago, Stefan Mika replied: “Fear is only at the beginning when decisions are being made. Later a person gets used to it and doesn’t think about it. At the present time I would act the same way as I did then. I would hide, regardless of whether there is a threat or not.”
Karolina Mika died of cancer on February 19, 1945, her husband Pawel passed away in 1958. They are buried in the parish cemetery in Zaborów.
Stefan Mika died at the age of 85 on June 6, 2013 in Krakow. His tombstone bears the inscription: “Righteous Among the Nations”.
In October 2020, the Mika family was commemorated with a plaque placed on the building of the primary school in Zaborów.
May the memory of the Righteous be an eternal blessing.
When preparing this article, in addition to the sources mentioned in the text, I used materials from sprawiedliwi.org.pl website and the article by Mieczysław Chabura “The Mika Family” in the magazine “In the bend of the Raba and Vistula,” #4, 2014.
© Anna Brzyska, 2023