Paulina Plaksej Kisielewska was recognized in 1987 as Righteous Among the Nations, as she and her parents helped save numerous Jews from the hands of the Nazis in Ukraine. This is her story.
Kisielewska and her parents lived in a small city called Kalusz in what is now Ukraine, which the Nazis invaded in 1941. Once the Nazis arrived, they started murdering Jews and left a lot of children homeless.
The Nazis hung posters throughout Kalusz that said that if anyone helped the Jews, he or she would be sentenced to death immediately.
One day while walking down the street, Kisielewska saw a girl ask passersby for food. Despite the fact that the girl was hungry, people would just walk by because they were too afraid to help the girl. Kisielewska then saw a lady give the girl something to eat. A Nazi soldier saw this act of kindness and killed both the lady and the girl.
“I was so afraid, I ran home and told my dad,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła on March 24 in a lecture at Krakow’s Jewish Community Centre. “My dad explained to me that this was how the situation looked. He said that this was happening in our city now, when Nazis saw that Polish people were helping these Jewish people, these Jewish children, that this was what they were doing.”
One day, a little girl came to Kisielewska’s house and asked for some food.
“I saw that she was really hungry,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła. “And of course my mom gave her something to eat, and something warm to drink, it was very cold.”
Kisielewska’s mother told the girl to come back the next day at the same time, and they would give her some soup. The next day, the girl came along with four other children. Kisielewska’s family had a lot of this soup, and so the children were given some to eat. This came to be a daily routine.
“Every day these children were coming to our home,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła. “Sometimes it was four of them, sometimes it was seven, and sometimes 10. This happened for months.”
However, one day, the children stopped coming. In 1942, the Nazis created ghettos in Kalusz where they forced all the Jews to live. At first, the Nazis only killed the elderly Jewish people, since they were unable to work. As the rest of the Jewish people filled the ghetto, they were forbidden from leaving and forced to work.
“The Jewish people in the ghetto had no idea what was going to happen to them,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła. “They were very afraid, terrified. And they were trying to figure out how to escape from the ghetto.”
According to Kisielewska, the young boys were the first to escape from the ghetto. They went to the Polish people, including Kisielewska’s father, Zacharias Plaksej, to ask for directions to the forest. Kisielewska’s father told the boys about his friends who were partisans and who were in conspiracy.
One day, a family, consisting of a woman, her husband, and their seven-year-old son, came to Kisielewska’s home. Kiesielewska’s father decided that the family needed to help them.
“We needed a safe place, but our home didn’t have good conditions to hide them,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła.
Kisielewska’s father knew a farmer who did not live far from their city and decided to contact him. The farmer was already helping Jews at his farm, as he had an underground bunker with seventeen people hiding in it.
Kisielewska’s father then took the Jewish family to the farm to hide them, where they would be safe and have enough food for them to eat.
Kisielewska’s family stayed in touch with the Jewish family throughout the war and sent them clothes, blankets, and medicine when they could.
“This family was safe by this farmer, and they survived the Second World War,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła.
Then there was a twelve-year-old boy who escaped the ghetto and came to Kisielewska’s house. Kisielewska’s father wanted to drive the boy to the farm, but was afraid that the Nazis would realize the boy was Jewish because of his peis, and his mother would not allow him to cut them. Thus, in order to both save the boy and respect his mother’s wishes, Kisielewska’s mother decided to cover the boy’s head in bandages. The young boy also managed to survive the war and was hidden away in the farmer’s bunker.
Then one day a young woman who was seventeen years old when she escaped from the ghetto came to Kisielewska’s house, where she lived with Kisielewska and her family for a few months before Kisielewska’s father took her to the farm where she managed to survive the war.
The people in Kalusz knew that the war would be ending soon and that the Soviets were coming.
“The front was moving to this side, and Nazis decided to kill all the children in the ghetto,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła.
A woman in the ghetto with whom the family was in contact, Miriam, had a daughter who was two-years-old. A Jewish police officer, who would smuggle food given to him from Kisielewska’s home back into the ghetto, told the woman about the Nazis’ plan to kill the children. This spurred Kisielewska’s father to send Miriam’s former maid to the ghetto and the maid snuck the small child out and took her to Kisielewska’s house for hiding.
The Nazis then started taking people from the ghetto to the train station to deport them to concentration camps and Miriam was in line.
“She decided to save herself for her daughter, and when she was already at the train station, she took off her armband and went into the street,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła.
Miriam then found herself at Kisielewska’s house where she ended up staying. Kisielewska’s family would claim that Miriam was a member of their family.
“Many people were coming to our house, and she was sitting in our wardrobe,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła.
Kisielewska’s father got some Polish documents and Polish IDs. While in other cities, these documents would be enough to save someone, Kalusz, where Miriam and Kisielewska lived, was small and everyone knew each other, so it would be impossible for Miriam to leave. Kisielewska’s father then decided to move Miriam to a city where she would be safe with the Polish documents.
However, the Nazis were catching Polish people in the street and sending them to Germany for labor. Miriam was caught and sent to work by the Nazis. Miriam worked in Germany until the end of the war as a Polish girl, and after the war, she came back to Poland and got her daughter.
After the war, Kisielewska’s family moved to Krakow.
“So, I want to add also that I won this medal in 1990,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła. “I was working in the office, and I got the medal from Israeli ambassador. I went to my boss and said that I was going to receive my medal; and he asked what kind of medal. He told me that when I came back, I had to meet with everyone and tell them my story.”
So Kisielewska went to go get her medal and came back to Poland where she had a meeting with her coworkers and told them the history.
“Of course they were very happy,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła “They were clapping, they were so happy me and my family did such a thing.”
Kisielewska explained that her family had no doubts about doing such dangerous tasks.
“We never had any doubts, we were living in a very safe area in the city,” said Kisielewska, spoken through the English translator, Anna Maria Baryła. “It was only our house and a forest around, so when people were coming, we were always helping to them.”
Kisielewska ended up meeting her husband, a Polish Catholic, who died in 1992, after the war, but the couple was unable to conceive because of the fact that when her husband was a child, he was in a Nazi camp, where he was experimented upon and made sterile.
Today, Kisielewska lives alone but frequently meets with other righteous gentiles and students to share her story.