The Righteous Jadwiga
Jadwiga and her husband Zbigniew Kosacki lived in a large brick house at number 12 ulica Poludniowa in Lapy (pronounced Wapy) in Poland. They were a childless couple. Zbigniew worked in the town’s sugar refinery plant and Jadwiga remained at home cooking, baking and sewing. Bolts of cloth lined up against the walls revealed many colors of the rainbow. So creative was her sewing that Jadwiga began to sell her products at the weekly market in the main square.
Lapy was an old town in northeastern Poland in the county of Bialystok on the river Narew. It was on the main railway line from Bialystok to Warsaw. Its population in 1939 was 8,000.
Between 1918-1921, General Haller organized an army (“Hallerczyny”) to murder as many Jews as possible in the anti-Semitic pogroms of that period. It was a Polish protest against the Treaty of Versailles demand that the new republic of Poland was required to protect its minority populations (Jews, Russians, and Lithuanians).
Jadwiga’s husband, Zbigniew, was horrified and he gathered a group of friends from the sugar refinery factory and together they marched through Jewish streets of Lapy carrying wooden clubs which they used to beat General Haller’s foot-soldiers, and thus prevented the death of many Jews in Lapy.
When war broke out on September 1, 1939, the German bombardment in northeastern Poland began with fury. Bialystok, only 25 kilometers north of Lapy, was a main target. The Jewish population of Bialystok in 1939 was 60,000. Fifty percent of Bialystok was home to one of Poland’s largest Jewish communities, a center of Zionism, and a Hebrew-speaking community.
As soon as the Nazi troops entered the city, Szmul Braunsztejn, a leading member of the large Jewish community, placed a telephone call to Zbigniew Kosacki in Lapy. Braunsztejn had been a customer of the Lapy sugar refinery for more than thirty years. He and his wife Rivka had only one child.. a young seven-year old daughter, Suraleh. In the phone call, Szmul begged Zbigniew to save his daughter from the Nazis.
The Pole from Lapy consulted with his wife Jadwiga and they immediately consented to taking the child into their home. Zbigniew arranged for a transport of sugar to Bialystok where he met the girl at the Braunsztejn home. Wrapped in a blanket, he placed Suraleh in the wagon and shortly thereafter arrived on ulica Poludniowa where Jadwiga was anxiously waiting.
After the child was fed, the Kosackis sat with her and explained to her slowly the dangers facing Jews. They told her that her new name was to be Stasia and that they were her aunt and uncle from Jadwiga’s side of the family. If anyone ever asked, she was instructed to say that she was the niece of the Kosacki family and that her parents had been killed in a bombardment of Bialystok.
Fortunately, Stasia spoke perfect Polish and her Jewish identity was not in danger. When neighbors saw the child and asked who she was, Jadwiga told them that she was a niece from the Brzosko family, one of the most prominent Catholic families in the province. She informed them that the girl was her dead sister’s child and that she was now going to keep Stasia as her own daughter.
When the situation became more difficult and food was scarce, Jadwiga sold many of her sewed blouses in exchange for bread and a few slices of meat. Stasia was always the first one to be fed.
The love between the young girl and her new family was renowned throughout Lapy. On several occasions, Jadwiga would take Stasia to Sunday mass at St. Peter and Paul’s parish church and taught the child how to make the sign of the cross and how to respond to the Polish prayers.
The priest, Father Stanislaw, always welcomed them to church. He probably knew that Stasia was a Jewish child but he said nothing. Occasionally, he would hand Jadwiga a small package of bread, cheese and kielbasa with a wink and would kiss Stasia on her head as she was leaving church.
A year later, when Stasia was then eight years old, Zbigniew died of pneumonia and Jadwiga was left alone with her “niece”. Struggling to exist in war-torn Poland was immensely difficult but Jadwiga saw to it that the child was never hungry nor lacked for warm clothing.
In 1945, Lapy was liberated by the Soviet army. The entire Jewish population of the town had been transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. Not one Jew from Lapy survived the war.
Stasia was then a young lady approaching her 14th birthday. Jadwiga made several inquiries from the Polish Red Cross to determine if anyone from the Braunsztejn family had survived. The final reply was that none had.
Jadwiga was determined to provide Stasia (Suraleh) with the right to her Jewish identity and eventually she succeeded in making contact with the Jewish Agency’s Warsaw office. Stasia was taken by train with Jadwiga to Warsaw to the offices of the Agency and arrangements were then and there made to send the child to Palestine.
Hugs and kisses would be insufficient to describe the tearful separation of child from protector. Stasia was transported to Romania and from there by ship to Palestine where she arrived in 1946 and was sent to Kibbutz Matzuva in the north, adjacent to the Lebanese border.
She grew and prospered. She served in the new army of the new State of Israel, married a fellow Jewish survivor from Lodz, Poland, and by 1957 she was the mother of three children.
When the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial center was collecting data for determination of Righteous Gentiles, Stasia-Suraleh-Sara submitted Jadwiga’s name with full documentation of how she had sacrificed and cared for and protected a Jewish child.
One year later, Jadwiga Kosacki was presented with a medal of honor and a citation at a special ceremony in the Israeli embassy in Warsaw.
On her return home to Lapy she was scorned and ostracized by her neighbors for hiding a Jewish child during the war.
Jadwiga died in 1987.