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“I met Poles who had great moral values”. The Story of Bolesław and Helena Janc

During the years of German occupation, Bolesław and Helena Janc provided shelter to Jews in the Warsaw suburb of Targówek. One of those hidden by them was Jakub Zyskind from Radom, a relative of Lejb Mincberg, the last President of the Jewish Community Council in Łódź and a long-term member of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) in the Second Polish Republic.

Bolesław and Helena Janc, together with their daughters Wiesława and Wanda, lived in the Warsaw suburb of Targówek in a villa at 55 Piotra Skargi Street. The house was also occupied by Helena’s parents, Mieczysław and Antonina Janiak, her brother Bronisław and his family, as well as their uncle Henryk and his wife. Bolesław Janc worked in the Warsaw Tramways. In May 1943, he learned, from his fellow tram drivers, that a Jewish family had been exposed and was forced to change their place of residence. He decided that he would take care of these people, despite – as he mentioned in his account in 1946 – “their Semitic appearance”.

Help Provided to Jews by the Janc Family 

At that time, in their home, the Janc family were hiding Azriel Rokman, his wife and daughter, as well as Miriam Moses. Less than a year later, twenty-year-old Jakub Zyskind from Radom joined them. He had survived the liquidation of the Radom ghetto and escaped to Warsaw, where he had often changed hiding-places on the ”Aryan side” (among them in Żoliborz, in a house on Puławska St., in a tenement on Krochmalna St., where, he claims, he was supported financially by the ”Żegota” Council to Aid Jews).

In 1965, in a letter to the Yad Vashem Institute, Zyskind wrote: 

“On 14th April 1944, I was forced to jump from the first floor of the building on Krochmalna St., fleeing from the Gestapo. The fall gave me a vertebra fracture. By some miracle, I escaped and, with the help of friends, ten days later, I found shelter with the Janc family”.

The Janc family ensured that he was cared for and that he had conditions appropriate for treatment and recovery. Over two months, he needed to remain lying down and so they gave him their own bedroom. As Zyskind recalled that Helena Janc “endangered herself by taking me to the doctor for an x-ray”. 

In the letter, Zyskind mentions a man from Modlin, probably named Lipman, who was also supposed to stay in the Janc home. Bolesław Janc also mentions this in his own account.

The Hiding-Place in the Villa in a Working-Class Suburb    

The detached Janc housem built in the 1920’s, was surrounded by a fence. There were no internal sanitary facilities and had a external toilet. Shortly after the arrival of the Rokman family and Miriam Moses, iBolesław arranged a special hiding-place for them.

“The increasing wave of inspections and denunciations forced me to build a small hiding-place in one of the rooms. It was hidden by specially built pantry shelves”.

Regarding the hiding-place, Jakub Zyskind wrote:

“You had to go quickly into this very small room in the kitchen. It had a bed. You could enter this hidden alcove from the right-hand side. There was not a lot of space, but you could fit five people standing”. 

The arrival of Zyskind in April 1944 was met with resistance from the others in hiding, who were reluctant to agree to the arrival of a child and an adult man. As Zyskind recalled:

“The difficulty was that the Jews staying there, in hiding, in no way would agree to the taking in of one more person. After many requests and after many hours of meeting together, they agreed […]. A cot was brought in and everyone waited for a seven or eight-year-old boy. My appearance, in the evening, was a painful exerience for those in hiding. I’m not surprised that everyone only looks after their own interest. Over time, my hosts came to like me and the Jews in hiding eventually were quite friendly to me”.

In his memoirs, Jakub Zyskind says that Helena’s brother, Bronisław Janiak, also hid Jews: “[...] three people, including two small children”. At the end of German occupation, Zyskind began leaving the villa: 

“During that period, on several occasions, I met Polish friends from Raadom. These meetings regularly took place on a Sunday morning, at the Bródno Cemetery, by the Roman Dmowski monument”.

A Tramways Family Helping Jews

Bolesław Janc worked with Kazimierz Stobiecki at the Warsaw Tramways depot on Kawęczyńska St. Stobiecki was a distant relative of Helena’s family. In an interview for POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Czesław’s grandson, Dariusz Stobiecki, said: “Kazimierz’s father, Czesław, as a tramways instructor, from time to time would travel to the ghetto. He helped Jews get to the “Aryan side”. His other son, Zygmunt, also took part in this activity”.

Bolesław’s father-in-law, Mieczysław Janiak, also worked for the tramways. According to Jakub Zyskind, during the Holocaust, he hid Leon Zwayer and Franciszka (nee. Feinmesser), the in-laws of Adam Czerniaków, President of the Warsaw Judenrat. Despite the family and professional connections, it is still difficult to determine whether the activities of Stobiecki and Janiak were directly related to the help provided by Bolesław. In the light of available documentsm however, there is no doubt that Bolesław was one of the Warsaw tramways personnel – instructors, drivers or conductors – whow were involvedin helping Jews.

The Soviet Army Enters Praga

People were hidden in the Janc home until the capture of Praga by the Red Army and the Polish People’s Army in September 1944. Zyskind recalled:

“At night, we coud alrerady hear the Soviet heavy artillery. For us, it was a beautiful overture, which we desired to hear clearly”. 

His account shows that he was already ambivalent about liberation:

“Personally, I felt the consternation of our host. His views about the future were radically different to mine. I saw a Russian soldier as a liberator, while Henryk [Mieczysław Janiak, also called ‘Dziadunio’ by those in hiding – ed.] saw that the liberator of Poland then, would later become it occupier against its will”. 

Azier Rokman and Miriam Moses remained with the Janc family for some time after liberation. At that time, they as yet had no financial resources. These had run out before the Soviet troops had entered. As he wrote in 1965: “On the eve of liberation, our resources had run out and, for two months, we were dependent on them [the Janc family – ed.]. We received both material and spiritual help”.

They also received support in the form of clothing and money after leaving the Janc family home.

The Post-War Fate of the Rescued and the Rescuers

After the War, the Rokman family and Miriam Moses left for Israel. Jakub Zyskind married the Jancs’ daughter, Wiesława: “I got married with a wonderful Polish woman”. In 1957, the couple emigrated to Israel and, a few years later, Helena, by then a widow, visited them. In 2007, during a meeting with young people in Poland, Jakub said:

“To this day, I still feel Polish […]. By a miracle, I survived the occupation. It was a huge miracle, but my luck was that I met Poles who had great moral values, people who selflessly saved me at the risk of their own lives and the lives of their families”.

On 19th October 1965, the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem honoured Bolesław and Helena Janc with the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Their grandson and the son of the rescued, Daniel Zyskind (Ziskind), visited POLIN Museum in 2018 where, after many years, he met his Polish relatives – the Stobiecki family. He admitted that “Jewish emigrants usually have very few relatives”.

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