Two rescue stories
Pictured above, from left to right: Jadwiga Wlodek with Janusz and Krystyn (1938), Stanislaw Wlodek, Teofila Kowalik (Aurelia's mother), Aurelia Kowalik
This is a bit of personal history in an otherwise professional context, and for that reason I was somewhat reluctant to include it. I do so only because it is an inspiring tale of courage, love and sacrifice at an otherwise horrible time and as such it deserves to be widely known. I was the fortunate recipient of these gifts in 1942 - 45, aged 2-5, and will be forever awed by them. They are all the more remarkable because the people you see in the photos risked their own lives and those of their families to save a complete stranger, for no apparent gain -- a member of a tribe considered by many at that time to be evil and despicable. A central question in my life has been whether I, or anyone I know, would measure up to this standard under similar conditions. I’m afraid the answer cannot be known until such conditions arise, as we have learned once again from New Yorkers in September 2001.
The stories take place in two small Polish villages named Wegleszyn and Przylek, and they are best told by their actors, the younger of whom are fortunately still alive to tell them. The following links give the recently translated recollections by Krystyn and Janusz of the first family, in Wegleszyn, and by Aurelia (Renia) of the second family, in Przylek. These recollections were written in Polish in 1993 and are housed at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC. A brief synopsis is available at the USHMM, where one of the above photos is hosted. To view the files, click on the links below.
Austin, September 2006
PS: Janusz Wlodek passed away on January 21, 2008 and Krystyn Wlodek passed away on October 28, 2015. As the reminiscences below attest, they were good men and will be missed by their families and friends.
PPS: The above photo of Jadwiga Wlodek with Janusz and Krystyn has appeared in the PBS documentary film Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers (2011). As told in the memoir by Janusz and Krystyn, Jadwiga was arrested by the Nazis as a result of Stanislaw's underground activities, and she died in Auschwitz. Had the Nazis further discovered that I was Jewish, Janusz and Krystyn would also have died.
Dedication to my book A Friendly Guide to Wavelets
To Jadwiga-Wanda and Stanislaw Wlodek,
to Teofila and Jan Kowalik,
and to their children Janusz, Krystyn, Mirek, and Renia.
Risking their collective lives, they took a strangers’ infant
into their homes and hearts. Who among us would have
the heart and the courage of these simple country people?
To my mother Cesia, who survived the Nazi horrors,
and to my father Bernard, who did not.
And to the uncounted multitude of others, less fortunate than I,
who did not live to sing their song.
Above, from left to right: With Aurelia in front of the school in Wegleszyn where the Wlodeks lived and taught, Aurelia’s thatched roof house in Przylek - painted by her from memory as a gift to me, The house across the street from Aurelia’s - which became the SS HQ at the end of the war.
Above, from left to right: With Aurelia at our first reunion in 1985, Krystyn (left) and Janusz in 2003, Aurelia (right) with her uncle and aunt in Przylek (1985)