The fundamental Jewish attitude toward death, says Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, is that it ”is of the utmost importance to treat the body with respect and care.” Further, ”Jewish tradition mandates burying the dead as soon as possible…It should not be delayed any longer than is absolutely necessary.” One must sympathize, then, with the sorrow and concern Miriam and Gustav Blajchman experienced when their son passed away and, ”for a week, his body remained in the apartment” where they were hiding.
Gustav Blajchman, his ten-year-old niece Irena Machenbaum and her mother Tova escaped from the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943 and joined Gustav’s wife Miriam and their two sons, Natan and Efraim, who were hiding in an attic apartment on the Aryan side of Warsaw. The attic apartment and its false wall, built by Antoni Wieczorek, was rented by Antoni’s sister Zofia to hide Jews. Zofia, Antoni, and their mother Aleksandra knew their guests prior to the war and, for more than one year afterward, looked after the needs of their hiding charges.
Other refugees, including Gustav’s ”sister-in-law and an escapee from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw, Lilian Stern” also found safe haven in the Wieczorek apartment. (Jews who entered Pawiak prison were not prisoners for long; for, ”as a rule, both Jews and Soviets” were shot soon after arrival. The prison itself did not last long either. It was blown up by the Germans on August 21, 1944.) The Jewish refugees (except young Efraim Blajchman who died while in hiding and whose body remained with his family until Aleksandra arranged to have him buried under a false name) stayed with the Wieczoreks until the Warsaw Uprising (a 63-day struggle, started on August 1, 1944 by the Polish Home Army to free Warsaw from German control and which, for various reasons, failed and left a great deal of Warsaw destroyed). After the war, the Wieczoreks’ charges moved to Israel, save Liliana Stern, who moved to Australia. When Malka Drucker, author of Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, spoke with Zofia years later in Israel (where she had moved after marrying a Jewish man who was rescued during the War), she ”calmly told how she and her mother took in six Jews…[and] how she tried to amuse the [little girl] with books and by knitting lessons.” (The ”little girl,” in her late 40s at the time of the meeting, attended the interview and, listening, began to cry).
On Christmas Day, 1984, Zofia Marta Avni-Wieczorek (whose name can also be found under the spelling ”Sofia Wieczorek-Awni”), and Aleksandra and Antoni Wieczorek were given the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Zofia passed away in 2006.
- Gutman, Israel, Sara Bender, Lucien Lazare, Jozeph Michman, Bert-Jan Flim, and Shmue Krakowski. ”Avni-Wieczorek, Zofia Marta – deceased 2006.” The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations; Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust. Volume 3, Poland. Yad Vashem Publications, p. 62. 2003.
- Scheinerman, Rabbi Amy R. 2006. Temple Emanu-El of San Jose. Retrieved July 20, 2007
Katie Kellerman is a Volunteer for the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.