The Wrobel Family

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Story of Rescue - The Wrobel Family

“You were never free from the fear – not even for a moment. And there was only ever one thought in your head: are the Germans going to show up any minute now, are the Germans going to show up any minute now?” That is how Stanisław Wróbel recalls the Nazi occupation. Together with his elderly parents, Karolina and Stanisław Sr., he worked a tiny, two-hectar farm in the village of Wola Załężna, outside of Opoczno (in Radom district). They were assisted by Rozalia Salaj. To make ends meet, Stanisław also hired himself out to wealthier farmers.

The terror began on 22 November 1942. The Germans had just liquidated the Opoczno ghetto. A group of Jewish escapees came knocking on the the Wróbels’ door: Jakob and Sara Frankiel, with their six-year-old son Herszel, and Sara’s sister Bela Rosenberg.

They had chosen the Wróbels because they knew them. Despite their own poverty, the Wróbels took the family in. „We were at the end of our tethers, but we also understood that the lot of Jewish family was even worse,” recalls Stanisław.

The Wróbels hid the Jewish family in their attic. It was a poor choice for a hiding spot. Says Stanisław: „You got up there from a ladder in the foyer. And all it took was climbing up three rungs to be able to see who was up there.”

After a week, they changed hiding places. Stanisław dug the Frankiels a hole under the floor. This idea proved problematic, as well. People were constantly dropping by the house. There was a child under the floorboards; it could start to cry at any moment.

After a month, Stanisław dug a new hiding spot in the stable – all in one night. The Jewish family found itself living under wooden planks, a horse, and manure. The „ceiling” over their heads was in constant danger of caving in. More nighttime digging from Stanisław, and a new underground shelter – this one by the barn.

This shelter also had its flaws. „There was a river flowing nearby, so the ditch kept soaking through with water.” Stanisław had to carry it out twice a day. Twice a day he also brought out a meager meal. His family took turns standing on the lookout at night. He would come to the shelter with a pot concealed in a pale. At night, he carried away excrement and brought in a fresh change of straw…..

„There was never any reason for joy during their stay – not even for a second. If I ever laughed in those days it was faked – in my soul I felt something altogether different,” says Stanisław. Winter or summer, he slept in the barn every night – right by the road. He did not want to be caught by surprise if the Germans showed up. They often came to the village. „Once, the guards drove to the very last house. They had dogs, they tore up the floor and searched the barn. They didn’t find anyone.”

Stanisław left the household less and less often: „I didn’t keep up any social life, for fear of outing myself in conversation […] Once, I went to the store. Some farmers started talking about Jews, and I feel my face getting red. I walked out.”

18 January 1945 was a day of great joy.  In Wola Załężna, the War came to an end. The Frankiel family came out of hiding. Stalisław recalls: „They hadn’t seen the sun in two years. Now they had to learn to walk all over again. But for them it was a cause for great joy – and for us, too. It was all done, the fear was over.”

The Frankiels soon left – at first, for Łódź. By 1948, they were already in America. Bela Rosenberg and Herszel (Hershel) Frankiel are still living in the U.S.A., today. Hershel works as a university lecturer; he has five children. He has stayed in touch with Stanisław Wróbel.

In 1989, the Wróbel family received the title of „Righteous Among the Nations.” In 1994, the title was extended to include Rozalia. „All these years later,” says Stanisław, „not a day goes by that I don’t think of them, and of the fear from those times.”