When my parents died, they left behind many puzzles. One of the most profound is of the woman who hid them for a year and a half in the cellar of her villa in Grochów, Warsaw.
Magdalena Socha Wife
Anna Wróblewska Wife
Icchak (Ignacy) Chigier Husband
born 8 December 1906
Paulina (Pepa) Chigier née Gold Wife
Halina Cypora Preston née Wind
born 1921 – died 1982
Klara Margulies née Keler Wife
Edmund Margulies Husband
January 2012, Aneta Szeliga/ translation Andrew Rajcher
During the occupation of Lwów, Leopold Socha, a petty thief, found employment as a city cleaner. He worked there with Stefan Wróblewski. Among their duties was maintaining the sewerage system within the ghetto area. In May 1943, within the sewers, they met Icchak Chigier, whose idea it was to hide there to avoid the approaching liquidation operations. The ghetto was located nearby the underground Pełtwa River, which was covered by a vault and into which flowed tributary canals carrying waste from the entire city. Icchak Chigier, together with a few other Jews, had dug a tunnel from the basement of a barracks within the ghetto, all the way to the Pełtwa canal. They planned to hide there. The canal workers met them just as work on the tunnel was almost finished. The Jews told them of their idea and asked them for their help.
Of greatest interest was when Leopold Socha took them along the tunnel to the basement in the ghetto where the Chigier family was hiding – his wife ans two children – seven-year-old Krysia and four-year-old Paweł.
“(…) He saw my wife and the children hunched by their mother. You could tell that it touched his heart greatly. He began talking with us, asking about everything (…). It was apparent that he had some sort of internal conflict. He was greatly moved”, writes Chigier in his memoirs. Socha promised that he would help them.
On the night of 30th May 1943 the ghetto liquidation began. A group of twenty one people hid in the canals. Ten of them survived, among them, Icchak Chigier with the wife and children, the Margulis family and Halina Cypora Preston-Wind. They spent fourteen months below ground. Leopold Socha and Stefan Wróblewski brought them food and clothing. At first, they bought them using money provided by the Jews. Later, they used their own resources. Leopold brought them a prayer-book which he had found in the ghetto ruins. One of the Jews, Mrs Weinberg, gave birth to a child in the canal. When the child died shortly afterwards, Leopold organised his burial. They also buried an older woman, as well as a few Jews who were not able to bear the living conditions in the canal. They began searching for a new hiding place and were murdered by Nazis.
Lwów was liberated by the Russian army on 27th July 1944. Those who had been saved celebrated the end of the War together with Socha and Wróblewski. Shortly after, Leopold Socha left for Gliwice. He died there, on 13th May 1945, having been run over by a Russian lorry. Those who owed their lives to him were plunged into a great sadness and sorrow.