EXCLUSIVE: Holocaust Hiding Place for Jewish Sisters Revealed for First Time Intact in Home of Polish Christian Family (PHOTOS)
A hideout used by Jews during the Holocaust was recently discovered still intact in the home of a Polish Christian family whose ancestors risked their lives and were ultimately killed for concealing two Jewish girls from Nazi officers.
The Kowalski family, who live in the small town of Ciepielow, about a two hour drive south of Warsaw, hid the Jewish girls for no money or reward in a purpose-built cellar under their kitchen.
The girls were from the same village as the Kowalskis and were friends with the family even before World War II started, according to Andrzej Ossowski, a specialist in the field of forensics and genetics, and the head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin.
One of their neighbors became suspicious and reported the family to the local SS. When the Nazis then arrived and found the Jewish girls they took them, along with the seven Kowalski family members who lived in the home, to the backyard barn and burnt them alive.
The Kowalskis were among a number of families in Ciepielow who were captured by Nazi commanders and killed for hiding Jews, Ossowski said.
The entire family perished besides for one son who was out of the house at the time of the raid. He died a few years ago and his daughter and grandson now live in the decrepit home, which barely has running water.
The story was first revealed by Ossowski and Jonny Daniels, founder of From the Depths, an organization committed to Holocaust memorial and commemoration, who met with the remaining Kowalski family members last week.
“Someone from the village told us this story and we went and found the family,” Daniels told The Algemeiner, adding that he was “overcome with emotion to meet such a special family.”
“It was a truly overwhelming experience. I deal on a daily basis with the most horrendous things… and to meet this family that did something so truly remarkable really brings back one’s faith in humanity. They did the highest possible act of bravery that could be done: they gave their lives trying to save two Jews and they deserve really our highest respect.”
The hiding place used by the Kowalskis is surprisingly still largely unchanged, which Daniels explained is a rare occurrence.
“In Warsaw, for example, where thousands of Jews were hidden, none of these sites are currently intact. They’ve all been ruined and disappeared and the fact that there is still a place were Jews were hidden is in itself remarkable,” he told The Algemeiner. “I entered this tiny hole under their kitchen, really it was a very powerful and emotional experience to feel even for a micro second what it may have felt like [for them].”
The surviving Kowalski family members grew up aware of the story of how their kin died saving Jews but had never been visited by a Jewish organization, nor received any accolades from Yad Vashem, Daniels said. He added that there is a plot of land behind their house with irregular foliage, which they say is where their family members and the Jewish girls were murdered.
Daniels’ group From the Depths works to locate, memorialize and preserve mass Jewish graves in Poland. Daniels said that of the 1,300 Jewish graveyards in Poland pre-war now only dozens remain, with millions of tombstones already desecrated and used as doors of homes and churches and for pavements.
Daniels said it took some time to convince the Kowalski family to allow his team to see the hiding place in their home. The mother and son, he said, did not want to draw attention to what their family had done.
“For them it was just something that should have been done. I’m the first Jewish person that they’ve met and there was no sort of ‘Look at us and what we did.’ They were incredibly humble and quite shy about it,” Daniels recounted. “They’re like…’what happened happened. Everything’s OK.'”
“Really they were so kind. They bred rabbits and chickens in their garden and were kind enough to offer me rabbit for dinner… It shows you what kind of honest, simple decent people they are,” he added.
From the Depths is currently working with local and federal authorities to investigate and positively identify the bodies buried behind the Kowalski home. Daniels said his team will also work to extricate the bodies and make sure the two Jews are buried in a Jewish cemetery in Poland in accordance with Jewish law.
With the recent wave of anti-Semitism taking Europe by storm in light of the Israel-Hamas conflict, Daniels said the Kowalski family serve as reminders that “there are decent honest people out there who, in my opinion, [are] one of the bravest kind possible.”
“The family died as a result of the fact that they tried to save two of us, it’s something that’s really important to remember and honor them for,” he added. “These are incredible people we have to thank and honor, I know I will be going back there with something for them, I’m still just not sure what exactly.”