Commemoration of Michał Stasiuk murdered for helping Jews during the German occupation | 29th of November - Instytut Pileckiego


29.11.2022 (Tue) 11:00

Commemoration of Michał Stasiuk murdered for helping Jews during the German occupation | 29th of November

On November 29, 2022, together with the residents and authorities of Rzeszów, we will commemorate Michał Stasiuk, who was murdered for helping Jews during the German occupation.

Michał Stasiuk was born in 1890 in the village of Jakimczyce near Lwów. During World War I, he lived in Chmielnik near Rzeszów, where he and Wiktoria née Ciupak had their first son Marian, born in 1918. The family soon moved to the center of Rzeszów and initially settled in a tenement building at Króla Kazimierza Street 1. Wiktoria and Michał worked as caretakers in nearby tenement houses. Their second son, Franciszek Zygmunt, was born in Rzeszów in 1923.

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, around 40% of the inhabitants of Rzeszów were Jews, many of whom engaged in the political and cultural life of the city. The situation changed with the German occupation – in the very first months after they had taken control of Rzeszów, the Germans began a broad-scale persecution of Jews, aiming to alienate and destroy not only the city’s residents, but also thousands of deportees – mainly from Łódź and Kalisz. In late December 1941, the Germans established a ghetto, which was closed off at the beginning of the following year. In mid-1942, they resettled Jews from the neighboring towns and villages to the ghetto, increasing its population nearly twice, which further exacerbated living conditions. In early July 1942, as part of Aktion Reinhardt, the Germans began a large-scale liquidation of Jewish inhabitants by sending the majority of them to the extermination camp in Bełżec. From that point onwards the number of Rzeszów Jews was decreasing at a terrifying pace – the Germans spared only workers in forced labor camps. In spring 1943 they started killing forced laborers as well.

At that point, a group of Jews from a labor camp in Lisia Góra decided to escape and go into hiding in an attempt to save their lives. Among them were Natan Berliner from Kalisz, Bernard (Jesechiel) Kleinminc and his mother. They chose the underground area of the Rzeszów market square – a system of cellars and corridors located below the tenement buildings which had been partly demolished by the occupier. Cut off from the rest of the world, it resembled a maze full of nooks and crannies. Local Jewish tenants had been preparing the cellars in the market square area for some time, and rumors about the underground haven were circulating in the Jewish community.

The hideout dwellers named this location the “Bunker”. The number of Jews who sought refuge there kept gradually growing until it reached nearly forty people.

The Bunker was supervised by Jakub Jehoshua Springer “Sziko” from Jarosław. The tenants took turns keeping guard, established an alarm system using lights, and even organized a kitchen. Those in hiding had to somehow maintain contact with the outside world. This was done partly with the help of a Jew from Łódź by the name of Abraham Ojzerowicz. Assigned by the Germans to work as an undertaker, he was able to move around Rzeszów with relative freedom, but fearing the liquidation, at the beginning of 1944 he and his two daughters, Helena and Gusta, went into hiding in the underground area. From then on, the role of the outsider looking after the Jews in the hideout and facilitating contact with the outside world was taken up by Michał Stasiuk, whom they had met before on account of his job as a caretaker.

In 1942, the Stasiuk family lived in a tenement on Słowackiego Street 2, in the market square area, close to the entrance to the underground section. The Stasiuks’ house was a contact point and the place from which the Jews were smuggled into the Bunker. Involved in the aid operation was Michał’s son, Marian, who had been selected by the German labor office to work as a caretaker at the Rzeszów Gestapo headquarters. Thanks to him, the Stasiuks’ former neighbor Lejzor Torn – who had also been forced to work at the same building – managed to escape and reach the underground hideout.

The entrance to the underground complex was initially located in the corner of the market square, at Mickiewicza Street, underneath the tenement building which housed the pharmacy called “Pod Nadzieją”. It was later walled up for safety reasons, as too many people knew about its existence. This cautious approach, however, did not save the dwellers of the hideout from tragedy – in late February 1944, the laborers working nearby accidentally discovered the original entrance. The Jews panicked and rushed outside, as they assumed it was the Germans who had found the hideout. Some of the Jews headed to the only friendly place they knew – the Stasiuks’ home – but they were spotted by blue policemen. Others were immediately arrested by German gendarmes and Gestapo men. After being interrogated and tortured by Friedrich Pottebaum from the Rzeszów Gestapo, one of the female escapees revealed the details of the aid operation. All of the Jewish arrestees were murdered.

The Gestapo eventually arrested Wiktoria, Michał and Marian Stasiuk for helping Jews – a charge punishable by death under occupation law. Marian was released thanks to the fact that he worked as a caretaker at the Gestapo headquarters and that blue policemen intervened on his behalf. His mother Wiktoria was also released. Michał Stasiuk was brought before the German “special court” (Sondergericht). On 22 March 1944, posters were put up around Rzeszów, informing the public that he had been sentenced to death “for aiding elements hostile to the Reich”. Probably several days later, he was killed at the Rzeszów castle by a Gestapo executioner Alois Zieliński – a Volksdeutcher from Katowice.

The body of Michał Stasiuk was most likely buried in an unmarked grave at the Pobitno cemetery in Rzeszów. The remains of the Jews whom he was helping were transported to the Jewish cemetery in the Czekaj area and buried there. Very few of the Jews who had sought refuge in the Rzeszów cellars survived the Holocaust – among them were Natan Berliner, Lotka Goldberg and Helena Ojzerowicz.

On 19 June 2019, Yad Vashem awarded Wiktoria and Michał Stasiuk the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”.

There were rumors that the camp in the ghetto would be liquidated, so on 8 February we fled from the ghetto to the Aryan side, where a bunker was waiting for us. There were 36 people in the bunker. We tunneled a passage to the grocery store whose owner promised to provide us with food. There was a flat above the bunker. One day as we were digging the tunnel, an iron rod fell into the bunker and someone shined a flashlight inside. We were frightened and thought that we were discovered by the Gestapo, so we ran away in panic. The tunnel was low and narrow, so we had to move on all fours, and only a few of us managed to escape, including me and my sister. Our father remained in the bunker. Those fleeing found out that it was not the Gestapo, but some workmen in the basement above the bunker, and informed the others that they were safe. One of the women, Mrs. Klein-Minz from Rzeszów, left the group and sought shelter at the attic of her house. She was denounced by the tenants. During cross-examination, convinced that it was by then empty, she revealed the location of the hideout. Then everybody was caught […]. My sister and I survived. Our father perished in the bunker.

Account of Hanka Gross, 1946.
Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute, file ref. no. 301/4044.

We worked in the basement under the pharmacy. In one of the holes, the smell of carbide was so strong that we went dizzy. We began to search for it – during the war, carbide lighting was very much sought after. Suddenly we saw a newly built wall. The clay was still wet. Since there were rumors about hidden Jewish treasures, a few men rushed to dismantle the wall. When a number of bricks were removed from the top, we saw loose yellow clay. One of the workmen had a long iron rod and began prodding the mound. The rod entered the mound easily, which surprised us, as the clay under the tenement houses was generally solid and hard. At the same time, we heard muffled murmuring or mumbling, as if from under the ground. Suddenly something pushed the rod back. When the workman again prodded the mound, something pushed it back once more. We were a little uneasy… At one point, as if on command, we all run away. There were too many of us, so soon rumors spread among the workmen that there was “something” in the basement.

Account of N.N.

Cited after: Tajemnice rzeszowskich katakumb, „Nowiny Rzeszowskie”, 24 January 1961.

There was noise all day long. It was a bunker complex, and it so happened that nobody was present in that particular corridor. Of course a sentry was posted there, a girl. She looked up and saw a flashlight. It turned out that the ground slid down at the top of the wall and someone put a flashlight inside. The girl came to us running and shouting, “We are lost!”.

Account of Nathan Berliner, 26 June 1996.
USC Shoah Foundation, interview 16013.

In June 1944 [probably should be 1943 – author’s note] Lejzor Torn escaped from the Gestapo and found shelter at my father’s place along with another Jewish man. Later on he was hiding in a bunker in a demolished tenement house on the same street, or rather on Mickiewicza Street, with about 10 other Jews. Their hideout was discovered by Pottebaum when its location was betrayed by one of the Jewish women who had also been hiding there. All those Jews, including Torn, were shot. Before the execution, the Jews named my father as the person who provided them with assistance. As a result, the Gestapo arrested me and my parents, and then shot my father. I was arrested only for 48 hours. I was saved by Polish policemen whose surnames I no longer remember; they testified that my father and I lived in discord. I managed to convince the Germans to spare my mother, but my father was executed.

Testimony of Marian Stasiuk, 8 September 1969.
Rzeszów District Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, file ref. no. S 8/80 p. 149.

The Germans knew that the Bunker existed and searched for it. But it was camouflaged very well indeed. In the Bunker there were underground tunnels and all the time we kept on digging new tunnels so that we could escape if they were to find our hiding place. Our lives were based on discipline. Each one of us had his own duty. Watch was kept by day and night and everyone had his turn, so that we should not be surprised by the Germans. Siudek’s younger brother fixed up alarm lights instead of bells and he was also responsible for keeping watch. Mrs. Kleinmintz ran the kitchen. We had a stock of commodities and Ojzerowicz supplied us with fresh foodstuffs until he came to the Bunker together with his family. […] Several months passed like that until one day, while we were digging a fresh tunnel, it seemed to us that we had being discovered. In the evening we left the Bunker and then they really did discover us. We had nowhere to go. We were worse off than homeless dogs. Some of us decided to stay with Stasiuk. Before morning we already knew that they had caught somebody from the Bunker, so that Stasiuk’s place spelt immediate danger. Together with Avrumek Landau we left Stasiuk’s house at once.

Account of Lotka Goldberg,

Cited after: idem, I Shall Not Die, But Shall Live, (in:) M. Yaari Wald (ed.), Ḳehilat Resha: sefer zikaron, Tel-Aviv 1967, pp. 105–107.

As for the execution on 27 March 1944, I can say that […] it was carried out by a Gestapo man named Zieliński. I watched through a peephole as he escorted selected prisoners to the execution cell. After the victims were shot, a German guard ordered me to help remove the bodies from the execution cell. I entered the cell with Ignacy D. from Pobitno to take out the corpses. Then I noticed that one person was in a sitting position. We didn’t manage to convince that man to lie down and pretend to be dead, as at the same time Zieliński returned to the cell and shot him.

Testimony of Wojciech C., 8 October 1981.
Rzeszów District Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, file ref. no. S 8/80 p. 836.

I stayed in various cells at the prison, and finally I was assigned to the carpentry workshop. Death sentences were carried out both next to the cells where I had previously been incarcerated and by the carpentry workshop. I witnessed six such executions or else saw the corpses of the executed. […]. I witnessed an execution of 10 or 12 prisoners, including Lampart from Chmielnik [he was named on the same poster with information about the death sentence as Michał Stasiuk – author’s note]. It was conducted in the afternoon, and I saw the bodies of the murdered being removed – they were swollen and contorted. I also remember an execution of about a dozen Jewish men and women who were discovered in a basement of a house at the Rzeszów market square. I saw the prisoners carry their naked corpses to a special van standing in the prison yard […]. For what I could observe, the executions were often carried out by the Gestapo man Zieliński.

Testimony of Józef B., 7 September 1982.

Rzeszów District Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, file ref. no. S 8/80 p. 950.

A German poster from March 1944 with information about the people who were given death sentence, including Michał Stasiuk punished for helping Jews described as “elements hostile to the Reich”.

Archive of Modern Records, file ref. no. 2/1335/0/8.2/130

The Rynek 15 tenement house (“Esterka House”, “Schipper House”), under which a Jewish hideout – called a “Bunker” by its tenants – was located during the Holocaust. During the occupation, the building housed the “Pod Nadzieją” Pharmacy.

Public domain

Houses on Mickiewicza Street during demolition (in the center). The exit from the “Bunker” was located beneath.

Public domain

A view from Matejki Street towards Rynek. The balconies on the left belonged to the tenement house where Wiktoria and Michał Stasiuk lived. Their son Marian Stasiuk lived with his family in the opposite tenement house. A fragment of the Rynek 15 tenement house, under which the main part of the Jewish hideout was located, can be seen in the background.

Public domain

The tenement house at Króla Kazimierza Street 1 during demolition. The Stasiuk family lived in this building until 1941.

Public domain

Helena Kramberg, née Ojzerowicz, with her husband Wiliam (Wolf) Kramberg. She was hiding under the market square together with her sister Gusta and father Abraham. After they fled the “Bunker”, they received help from Cecylia and Józef Cisek, among others.

Collection of Arthur (Aaron) Goldman (b. 1912 in Kańczuga) / The Historical Institute of Kańczuga

Marian Stasiuk (1918–1985), the son of Wiktoria and Michał. During the occupation, he was assigned to work as a caretaker in the building of the Rzeszów Gestapo. Together with his parents, he engaged in helping Jews.

Collection of the Stasiuk family

Wiktoria Stasiuk (1890–1962), Michał’s wife, also engaged in helping Jews.

Collection of the Stasiuk family

See also