During the Second World War, many Poles helped their Jewish compatriots. Such assistance was offered both institutionally and spontaneously, at grass-roots level. But irrespective of what exactly they did, those who aided Jews in any way risked their very lives, risked being arrested, or simply risked being deported to a concentration camp. To illustrate this point, we would like to present the history of the Lubkiewicz family, which similarly to the Ulms paid the highest price for saving their co-citizens.
On 13 January 1943, a German penal expedition arrived in the village of Sadowne in the district of Wągrów. The settlement was located along the route taken by the trains that ferried Jews to the German death camp of Treblinka, which was only some fifteen kilometers distant. The residents of Sadowne helped escapees from these transports and the camp itself, and also local Jews who hid in the nearby forests. The expedition had been tasked not only with catching any runaways, but also with punishing those who had lent them a helping hand.
On 15 October 1941, the authorities of the General Government had introduced the death penalty for aiding or providing shelter to people of Jewish ethnicity. This decision was preceded by the closure of Jews in ghettos, a host of deceitful hate campaigns, seizures of property, and the levying of forced contributions for the occupier. In March 1942, the Germans commenced the liquidation of these ghettos, transporting their residents to the death camps.
Under such circumstances Leon Lubkiewicz, a baker from the village of Sadowne, together with his wife, helped Jews who had hid in the vicinity, selling them bread so that they could physically survive. The family’s fate is not only a testament to the cruelty of the Germans, but it also shows that even the smallest gesture of human kindliness towards their Jewish neighbors brought terrible repressions upon ordinary Poles. For it was the cornerstone of German occupation policy to bring about the severance of all ties of solidarity between the citizens of the former Second Republic – ethnic Poles and ethnic Jews.
Leon Lubkiewicz had four children. Years later one of them, Irena Kamińska, recounted the history of her family. In a letter to the Jewish Historical Instituted, dated 12 June 1969, she wrote thus: I went home and immediately said that there were gendarmes present and that they had stopped me, and so I quickly hid my clandestine secondary school textbooks, whereupon two Jewesses from Sadowne – Eliza and Czapkiewicz – came up to my father’s bakery. Just behind the gate they were caught by gendarmes from the Penal Expedition, who asked from where they had bread, and they replied that from the Lubkiewiczs (…). They shot the Jewesses on the spot (…). Whereupon the gendarmes, without waiting for a pit to be dug for the bodies of the murdered Jewesses, barged into my parents’ house; I remember that one of them had the surname Schultz (…) He lunged at my mother, screaming: «What! You gave bread to Jews?» (He hit my mother strongly in the face with his fist, so that she staggered; in a flash, a blackish bruise appeared on her cheek).
Whereafter Schultz walked up to me and kicked me with great strength with his hobnailed army boot. He next hit me with his pistol in my back, on the spine – with such force that I suffer from permanent pain there – and bellowed: «Tell me that your mother gave bread to Jews!» Schultz, enraged, now stood right in front of my mother, and started pushing her towards the door of the second chamber, some three meters away, near the dresser, shouting: «I will count to ten – if you do not admit, I will start to shoot!». He aimed his pistol at my mother, standing there in the room, and started counting. I meanwhile, although in great pain, tried to think quickly, but could only come to the following conclusion: «If I place myself before my mother, the bullet will pass through me and kill us both». But even though my arms and legs went stiff, I knelt down between my mother and Schultz – the German criminal – and his pistol. A senior officer of the Penal Expedition ordered Schultz to stop counting, however, but the investigation lasted until 10.00 p.m. (…). At 10.00 p.m. on 13 January 1943 the gendarmes from the Penal Expedition shot dead my
parents and my brother, beaten and exhausted, in the backyard – for saving Jews in Poland. They left me alive for I was a minor, but what is my life worth, with no health and no will to live.¹
Not only Irena Lubkiewicz survived – she was joined by her elder brother, Stanisław, who somehow managed to flee their home. Another witness to the crime was Franciszek Rutkowski, who described it in a letter dated 14 March 1979, which he sent to the Main Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite Crimes in Poland: I was carrying some milk to the dairy, where I was told that Gestapo men had shot dead Mr Lubkiewicz – the baker, his wife and his son for selling bread to the Jews. At the time, Jews were hiding in the forest near Sadowne in the district of Sokołów Podlaski, and were provided with bread on a daily basis (as I determined later) by the said baker. I took with me a pitcher of milk and walked towards the spot where the Lubkiewiczs lay dead. People were so afraid of the Gestapo men that I did not meet anyone along the way. It was around ten in the morning. (…) I myself was hiding from the occupier and lived at the time in Sójkówek, commune of Sadowne. Two Jews lived with me in my house, but when they learned of the whole incident they went off east. These were young people, a Jew and a Jewess.²
The bodies of the murdered victims lay there the whole day. The Germans clearly wanted to show the remaining residents what would happen if they dared to help Jews. In 1997, Leon, his wife Marianna and their son were named Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Institute.
1 IPN, GK, file no. P. 1896, pages 260-262 [from:] Kopówka E., Rytel-Adrianik P., Dam im imię na wieki (Iz 56,5). Polacy z okolic Treblinki ratujący Żydów, Oxford-Treblinka 2011, pages 183-184.
2 IPN, District Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation in Lublin, file no. S.67/01/Zn [from:] Kopówka E., Rytel-Adrianik P., Dam im imię na wieki (Iz 56,5). Polacy z okolic Treblinki ratujący Żydów, Oxford-Treblinka 2011, pages 184-185.