Mutual help was the way to survive, Marianna Sowiar Chodnikiewicz, Kielce
Marianna Sowia was born in 1918, before the war she had undergone ZHP scout military training. Marianna began helping Jews from the Kielce ghetto as early as 1941. She secretly delivered food for a Jewish boy. Soon after she got involved in the conspiracy movement. She was transferred to the intelligence services – her responsibility was collecting information about the troops movement. She also passed German feldposts to the Polish underground commanders. She also smuggled weapons from Skarżysko to Radom, Pistols were hidden in a violin case. In November 1942, as a result of the Home Army intelligence’s failure Maria Sowiar was arrested in Radom. After a brutal investigation and a three-months custody of the Gestapo headquarters in Radom, she was sent to Auschwitz in February 1943.
I was a terrible condition when I arrived. There were the two of us from the same transports. We were terribly battered and bruised. When we were stripped naked, the SS people asked: Who has done it to you? We were black because of bruises. I said that it was the Radom Gestapo. And the SS-man says: no, the Gestapo does not resort to beating … – these are Marianna Sowiar-Chodnikiewicz’s memories recorded on tape. The interview was originally broadcast on Radio Kielce in 1981.
In Oświęcim she worked in the kitchen. When peeling potatoes she met her peer – Jarosława Zahorujko. One day Jarosława admitted she was a Jew who had Aryan documents. She told her story. Hana (that was her real name) came from Lviv. She came to Krakow with her family. Everyone lived separately. They all had Aryan papers with different fake-names. One day Hana was going to meet her sister. She was arrested after a Jewish boy had revealed the truth to the Germans. It was not possible to prove she was Jewish, so she was sent to Auschwitz with a group of women arrested in Krakow. There no one suspected that Hana was a Jew. . Even other Jewish women who came to the kitchen begging for food in exchange for clothes were certain that Hana was a gentile – says Mirosława Banaś, Marianna Sowiar-Chodnikiewicz’s daughter.
My mother saved Hana, when some women became suspicious. Mum stood up to her and said Hana was her schoolmate. The prisoners did not want to believe it. The situation became really dangerous, but my mother was adamant. She kept repeating her version – recalls Grażyna Kaczmarska, Marianna’s daughter. Marianna and Hana stayed inseparable for the rest of their lives. In the camp, whilst peeling potatoes they related the books they had read before. For Hana, Marianna’s support was very important. She suggested her friend that after the war she could live with her and her family. Hana was sure that all her family perished.
After the war Hana lived with Marianna in Kielce for some time, then she left for Łódź and then for Palestine. During the communism times the letters sent by the women did not reach the addressee, they lost contact. They meet as late as the 1970s. Since then, they had been maintained constant contact until the end of their lives.
Marianna Sowiar-Chodnikiewicz, thanks to friend – Hana Szlomi’s efforts was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations title in 1989. This is how she commented upon receiving the distinction:
I thought that what I did was natural. I feel that those who survived the hell of concentration camps were saved because we used to help each other.