Run away – The Szeles family, Rytwiany
During the Second World War, Genowefa Szeleś with her two children lived in an 8-hectare farm in Rytwiany. Ryszard was born in 1935, and Zofia in 1932. Her parents-in-law: Jan and Rozalia Kalina lived there too. Genowefa’s husband died in the Polish defence war of 1939.
In the autumn of 1942, Genowefa agreed to take in a group of Jews and hide them in her farm.
Mama kept these Jews … we knew them, these were Staszów Jews. Even before the war, they would buy milk, eggs from us. And she let them hide in. We all wanted to live – recalls Zofia Czerwiec, Genowefa Szeleś’ daughter.
Neither the exact number of Jews who were kept in the hiding in the Szeleś’ farm nor their names are known. Zofia remembers that there were two groups in hiding. The first in the barn, but they stayed there for some time only. Later the other group, consisting of 4 men, a woman and a small child were hiding in the attic over the stable. She was such a little Jewess, younger than me. My mother would bring her to our house every morning. Me and her would sneak under a duvet to make her warm up – Zofia smiles when telling the old-time story.
At night, the Jews probably left the hiding place. They climbed up the ladder to enter the attic. Then the ladder was dragged in for cover up.
Zofia knew that Jews were hiding on the farm and that no one was allowed to talk about it. She helped her mother get food for the Jews; she had to do it not raise suspicions. The Szeleś’ aunt who lived in Staszów was also involved in helping the Jews, she was the one to do shopping. Buying extra products would immediately arouse suspicion among the villagers. I was in the third grade I think. My aunt bought bread in Staszów. I did not go back home from school with my friends. I went to my aunt and I carried bread for these Jews. And my mother fed the Jews. She had to clean and cook too. Once a day the Jews were given soup – Zofia recollects.
Unexpectedly, the Germans called in the Szeleś’ farm in autumn 1943. They were looking for a man who had run away and hid in the buildings in the area. It could have been one of Jews in the hiding. However, according to the residents, it might have been one of the neighbours, a Pole. The Germans mistook him for a Jew, he started running away and inadvertently led them to the Szeleś’ farm. This resulted in the farm search. That day, corn was threshed at Szeleś’ farm. There was a young girl working there too. She might have been unaware of the situation and said she saw someone moving in the barn attic. The Germans found Jews, deported and probably killed them.
One of them ordered Genowefa Szeleś to take the child and run away. Ryszard was the only child at home, because Zofia was at school at the time.
Everyone except Jan Kalina, Ryszard and Zofia’s grandfather left the farm. The next day the Germans returned to punish the Polish family for helping Jews and they shot Jan …
Szeleś’ farm was looted. The family returned home as late as in 1944. Genowefa Szeleś and her two children had to start from scratch.
Mom did not say “do your homework” – she said “do the chores” instead. That was the need, we had to accept that – Zofia says today in her emotional statement.