„Not Only the Ulmas” – tribute to Poles rescuing Jews. Episode 10 „Mother of Four” – VIDEO

In September 1939, the German Reich and Soviet Union invaded Poland, launching WW2. The invasion led to staggering loss of life: throughout the war, nearly 6 million Polish citizens, 3 million of them Jews, perished. In occupied Poland, the Germans introduced capital punishment for every form of assistance to the Jewish population.

IPN’s educational series of short films „Not Only the Ulmas” presents well-researched examples of Poles who saved Jews under German occupation during World War II.

Each episode is focusing on a separate person, and most often a family or several families, whose members risked, and most often lost, their lives trying to protect their Jewish fellow citizens. The series was created by the IPN Spokesperson’s Office in cooperation with researchers at the IPN’s Historical Research Office. Next episodes on IPNtv every Friday at 10:15 am.

Today, we are presenting the episode 10 „Mother of Four”.

Maria Strutyńska took care of her four children and gave shelter to thirteen people of Jewish origin persecuted by the German occupiers. During the German occupation on Polish territory, Maria Strutyńska née Gajewska and her husband Klaudiusz lived in Drohobych in the Galicia district of the General Government. Maria worked as a Polish and German teacher, whereas Klaudiusz was a mining engineer. Together they raised four children: Teresa, Kazimiera, Lesław and Stanisław. It was a very pious and religious Polish family. Before the war, they maintained friendly relations with the local Jews. Klaudiusz Strutyński had an acquaintance named Henefeld. When the Soviet authorities evicted the Henefeld family from their home in 1939, they rented a room in the Strutyńskis’ house.

Klaudiusz Strutyński died at the beginning of 1941. Half a year later, on 22 June, Adolf Hitler gave the order to start the Operation Barbarossa, breaking the German-Soviet pact concluded two years earlier. German troops entered Drohobych on 3 July 1941, beginning the three-year period of German occupation. The Germans sought to liquidate the Polish elite and to completely exterminate people of Jewish origin.

In the spring of 1942, Maria Strutyńska was asked for help by a Jewish woman, Mina Hennefeld, who was looking for a hiding place. She was the wife of a Jewish acquaintance who had died shortly after the German occupation began. Driven by deep compassion, the Polish woman decided to take this Jewish woman under her roof, together with her daughter Lidia and cousin Szanka Kluberg. Shortly afterwards, at Mina Hennefeld’s request, Maria also hid her parents and three siblings, Lolek, Fryda and Sabina Zussman, in her home, along with her two children Mańek and Seweryn. The Pole also decided to help her friend Gustawa Liberman, along with Liberman’s sister Sabina and her husband. In total, 13 Jews found shelter in Maria’s house. 

The Jews were staying in a small hiding place under the floor of one of the rooms and in the attic. Together with her daughter Teresa and other children, Maria organized food and the most necessary everyday items for them. The hiding Jews tried to support their benefactors by giving them valuable items to exchange, e.g. a Singer sewing machine, which allowed Maria to collect food supplies for a few days. Those offering a hiding place, as well as those being hidden, lived in constant fear.

Apart from sheltering 13 Jews, Maria also helped Harry Zaimer, whom she gave the baptismal certificate of her son. This enabled Zaimer to obtain a passport and go to Switzerland. 

The Strutyński family was denounced by a neighbour of Ukrainian nationality. In June 1943, officers of the German gendarmerie and Ukrainian auxiliary police arrived one evening at Maria’s house. The Jews in the house did not manage to get to the cellar and were caught in one of the rooms and in the attic. The German officers arrested Maria Strutyńska and the hiding Jews. During the search, Maria’s daughter, Teresa, was also in the house, but she managed to escape. She was helped by one of the Ukrainian policemen – a former pupil of her mother Maria. As Teresa recalled years later, the young Ukrainian took her by the hand and led her into the entrance hall and then told her to escape through the window. She found shelter in a neighbour’s house, where she waited until the end of the search. The remaining household members, Maria’s two sons, Stanisław and Leszek, and Kazimiera’s daughter, were not at home then. 

It is worth adding that a few days before the search, one of the Jewish women, Lidia Henefeld, also left the house of the Strutyński family. After some time, however, she was found and shot in a local brickyard. Before her death, she managed to tell her aunt, Ida Rubinstein, the story of how she had been in hiding with the Strutyński family. Years later, Ida Rubinstein authenticated the story to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.  

After the house had been searched and ransacked, Maria Strutyńska was arrested and detained in the local prison. According to her daughter Teresa, she was held there for two months. In September 1943, the Germans took her to the prison on Kazimierzowska Street in Lviv, where she was murdered in March 1944, probably together with the Jews whom she had been hiding.

On 29 March 1990, Maria Strutyńska and her daughter Teresa were honoured with the title of Righteous Among Nations.

Historians estimate that during WW2 Poles rescued tens of thousands of their fellow citizens of Jewish origin. The German occupiers killed about 1,000 Polish rescuers. 

Historians estimate that during WW2 Poles rescued tens of thousands of their fellow citizens of Jewish origin. The German occupiers killed about 1,000 Polish rescuers.

Wojciech Hanus

Source: Institute of National Remembrance and publication about the Strutyński family – Kamil Bielas in: Persecution for providing help to Jews in occupied Polish territories during World War II, vol. 1, edited by M. Grądzka-Rejak, A. Namysło, Warsaw 2022, p. 301.

Photo: IPN

 

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