‘The house of my saviours’

In the world there are over 20,000 people who have been awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medals. But who among them hid Jews closest to the German camps? It turns out that some farmers from the vicinity of Treblinka hid a Jewish woman at a place that was only over two km away from the camp for three years (1942-45). The saved woman Maria Nirenberg recollects, ‘It was in 1942. Closed in the Warsaw ghetto. Facing death everywhere. When Mr Gustaw Diehl (a son of a Protestant pastor) heard about the matter he did not hesitate a minute to ask me to get ready. I had no idea where he was going to take me. Approaching the farm we went past a place that made me stand still. I heard dogs barking fiercely and saw the sky dimmed by smoke. Scared I asked Gustaw where we were. ‘It is an Arbeitslager (labour camp) in Treblinka, which is some two km away from the farm, separated only by woods.’ It is hard to describe my pain and fears I experienced then.
Kazia, Gustaw’s wife (a Catholic from Poniatow near Treblinka) waited for us with two children. When I saw her I felt I found a family. On 24 October 1943 we experienced a moment of great fear. Gustaw was not at home. Kazia and I were standing in the porch, enjoying the last beams of autumn. Then we saw a Ukrainian patrol that worked for the Germans. Kazia got frightened very much and told me to go in. After a while the Ukrainians came to the house and said that they had seen two women. They asked where the other woman had gone. Of course, they found me immediately and took to the commander’s office in the labour camp in Tremblinka.
We walked some two kilometres. The first question of the commander was whether I was a Jew. I did not answer, pretending that I did not understand the question. At that moment Gustaw came in. When he had returned home and learnt what had happened he drove quickly almost at the same time when we were walking.
Mr Diehl was a known and respected person and that’s why he could enter the commander’s office. Irritated he addressed those who were there, speaking in excellent German, ’How could you have taken my niece here. She is an orphan and has been with us since her childhood.’ The Germans asked him whether he was sure she had no Jewish blood. Gustaw answered that it was inconceivable to ask such a question. Then I heard them saying, ‘Frei lassen’ (set her free). It was a load off my mind. Kazia waited for us in the field and repeated with tears in her eyes, ‘God has answered my prayers for you life.’
I stayed with these beloved people until the end of the war. Then I left the home of my saviours. But they did not stop caring for me throughout my stay in Poland. They sent me parcels with food.
It would be dishonour and shameless ingratitude if I did not remember the Diehl family with great love till my last breath. They offered me their help in that tragic period of my life, risking their own lives.’ Maria Nirenberg

From the editorial board

After three years of research a book entitled ‘Dam im imie, ktore nie zaginie (Iz 56,5). Pomoc Zydom przez Polakow z okolic Treblinki’ [An Eternal, Imperishable Name Will I Give Them (Is 56:5). Help for Jews offered by the Poles living in the vicinity of Treblinka], edited by Dr. Edward Kopowka, the director of the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom in Treblinka, and Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, a graduate in Jewish studies at Oxford University.

"Niedziela" 11/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl