A Commemoration of Leokadia Piątkowska - Instytut Pileckiego
A Commemoration of Leokadia Piątkowska
The Pilecki Institute commemorated Leokadia Piątkowska, who was murdered for helping Jews during the German occupation, as well as Mendel Klein and an unnamed Jewish man whom she tried to rescue.
Leokadia Piątkowska née Rybak was born on 12 April 1883 in Węgrów. At the age of 19, she married Antoni, who was two years older than her. They lived on Grudziach Street (currently Pogodna Street) in Węgrów, where they kept a farm. The couple had at least five children: Franciszek (born 1903), Jan (born 1906), Franciszka (born 1908), Stefan (born 1911), and Helena (born 1913). The family lived a modest life, making a living from farming. The couple experienced two personal tragedies: in 1929 at the age of eighteen their son Stefan died, and in July 1942 at the age of another son, the thirty-six-year-old Jan, who widowed his wife Stanisława and left her with five small children (the youngest daughter Krystyna was not even two years old at the time).
Mendel Klein, the owner of a mill in Węgrów, and another Jew unknown by name, found shelter with Leokadia and Antoni Piątkowski. They were brought by a relative, Mieczysław Piątkowski, and Leokadia did not refuse to help them even though it meant risking the lives of her whole family. There were nine people in total living in the two-room house: Leokadia and Antoni, their son Franciszek with his wife Stanisława and three children, and their daughter Franciszka with her husband Kazimierz Korczak. The family prepared a cowshed where the fugitives could hide, the entrance to which was located beneath a trough. Leokadia Piątkowska's daughter-in-law, Stanisława (Jan's widow), recalled that Mendel Klein hid at her in-laws' house in as early as November 1943. The family was warned about a possible search by German military police, but they did not expel the fugitives.
The news that the Piatkowskis were hiding Jews reached Germans probably as the result of a denunciation. On the morning of 27 January 1944, German gendarmes entered the house and knew exactly where to look for the Jews. They found a shelter in the barn, where Mendel Klein and another Jew were hiding. Everyone living on the farm was brutally led behind the cowshed, where they were ordered to dig a hole. Leokadia took sole responsibility in order to protect her family. She swore that no one but her knew anything about the hiding of the Jews. The Germans proceeded to interrogate and torture even the children. When questioned by the gendarmes, the Jews admitted that only Leokadia had provided them with food. Antoni assured them that he knew nothing about the fugitives staying at the farm. He said that he spent most of his time at the home of his widowed daughter-in-law Stanisława, whom he helped with the farm work and with caring for his grandchildren. After the interrogations, the German gendarmes shot Leokadia Piątkowska, Mendel Klein, and another Jew, whose name remains unknown. They were buried in a single pit. The rest of the family was spared, but the Piątkowskis hid their children for fear of further repressions. A few days later, Leokadia's body was exhumed by her son and husband and then brought to the cemetery, where the priest buried them in secret. The fate of the remains of the Jewish victims remains unknown. Antoni died in 1968, having survived to the age of 87 with his son Franciszek and his family.
The Pilecki Institute commemorated Leokadia Piątkowska on 26 October 2021.
Jolanta Bardadyn, the great-granddaughter of Leokadia Piątkowska, said: "This is a very important moment for our family. The story of our great-grandmother Leokadia has always been vivid in our family's memory. It was told by my grandfather Franciszek and other relatives, whom I was lucky to meet and listen to during my childhood. They recalled how our great-grandparents, risking their own lives and the lives of their entire family, gave shelter to two Jews. (...) I would like to thank the academic staff of the Pilecki Institute for researching the story of my great-grandmother, which thanks to them has been commemorated with dignity. It was with great emotion that we saw the documents confirming her heroic actions. We had never seen them before. They complemented our family message. Today we feel very happy and have great hope that the memory of Leokadia Piątkowska will last in the consciousness of the local community and future generations."
"We have come together here to recall a very tragic event that occured on 27 January 1944, when Leokadia Piątkowska and two of her charges were murdered. She was murdered for her heroic actions; she was an ordinary resident of Węgrów with an extraordinary heart and extraordinary courage. In her two-room house, nine members of her family lived, she helped, hid, and fed Jews condemned to death only because they were Jews. (...) When faced with death, Leokadia said: "I was the only one who helped. My entire family, the nine people living with me, knew nothing. I am the only one to blame." She took all the responsibility on herself and thanks to that her family survived. We meet here to remember this. Remembrance is our responsibility. That remembrance begins with the family. It is the family that has carried this tragic story so far alone, so let us help to carry it now," said Professor Magdalena Gawin, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage, initiator of the "Called by name" project.
"We base every commemoration on three pillars: 1. the family: its presence and remembrance; 2. the local community: giving this story back to the local community is an essential part of the #CalledByName project; 3. the location: we always try to make the location as dignified and as close as possible to the events that took place. Today we are in an exceptional location, right next to the roundabout of the Węgrów Righteous Among the Nations," stressed Dr. Wojciech Kozłowski, director of the Pilecki Institute.
The ceremony was attended by the family of Leokadia Piątkowska, including Krystyna Kluba (granddaughter), Elżbieta Chmielewska and Jolanta Bardadyn (great-granddaughters), the local community, Senator Maria Koc (Chair of the Parliamentary Group for the Righteous Among the Nations). Among other guests were: Ewa Besztak, the starost of Węgrów County, Paweł Marchela, the Mayor of Węgrów, Rev. Leszek Gardziński, the parish priest of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Węgrów, and Rev. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis recited the El male rachamim prayer on behalf of the Jewish community. All attendees observed a minute of silence in memory of Leokadia Piątkowska and the Jews who were murdered along with her: Mendel Klein and an unnamed Jewish man, as well as other Polish citizens, Jews and Poles, who were murdered during the German occupation.
After the ceremony, Deputy Minister Prof. Magdalena Gawin, Dr. Wojciech Kozłowski, Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis, representatives of local authorities and family members placed flowers on Leokadia Piątkowska's grave at the local parish cemetery and flowers and stones at the Jewish cemetery in Węgrów.