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They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust

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Hitler’s attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews almost succeeded. One reason it fell short of its nefarious goal was the work of brave non-Jews who sheltered their fellow citizens. In most countries under German control, those who rescued Jews risked imprisonment and death. In Poland, home to more Jews than any other country at the start of World War II and location of six Hitler’s attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews almost succeeded. One reason it fell short of its nefarious goal was the work of brave non-Jews who sheltered their fellow citizens. In most countries under German control, those who rescued Jews risked imprisonment and death. In Poland, home to more Jews than any other country at the start of World War II and location of six German-built death camps, the punishment was immediate execution.             This book tells the stories of Polish Holocaust survivors and their rescuers. The authors traveled extensively in the United States and Poland to interview some of the few remaining participants before their generation is gone. Tammeus and Cukierkorn unfold many stories that have never before been made public: gripping narratives of Jews who survived against all odds and courageous non-Jews who risked their own lives to provide shelter.             These are harrowing accounts of survival and bravery. Maria Devinki lived for more than two years under the floors of barns. Felix Zandman sought refuge from Anna Puchalska for a night, but she pledged to hide him for the whole war if necessary—and eventually hid several Jews for seventeen months in a pit dug beneath her house. And when teenage brothers Zygie and Sol Allweiss hid behind hay bales in the Dudzik family’s barn one day when the Germans came, they were alarmed to learn the soldiers weren’t there searching for Jews, but to seize hay. But Zofia Dudzik successfully distracted them, and she and her husband insisted the boys stay despite the danger to their own family.             Through some twenty stories like these, Tammeus and Cukierkorn show that even in an atmosphere of unimaginable malevolence, individuals can decide to act in civilized ways. Some rescuers had antisemitic feelings but acted because they knew and liked individual Jews. In many cases, the rescuers were simply helping friends or business associates. The accounts include the perspectives of men and women, city and rural residents, clergy and laypersons—even children who witnessed their parents’ efforts.             These stories show that assistance from non-Jews was crucial, but also that Jews needed ingenuity, sometimes money, and most often what some survivors called simple good luck. Sixty years later, they invite each of us to ask what we might do today if we were at risk—or were asked to risk our lives to save others.


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Hitler’s attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews almost succeeded. One reason it fell short of its nefarious goal was the work of brave non-Jews who sheltered their fellow citizens. In most countries under German control, those who rescued Jews risked imprisonment and death. In Poland, home to more Jews than any other country at the start of World War II and location of six Hitler’s attempt to murder all of Europe’s Jews almost succeeded. One reason it fell short of its nefarious goal was the work of brave non-Jews who sheltered their fellow citizens. In most countries under German control, those who rescued Jews risked imprisonment and death. In Poland, home to more Jews than any other country at the start of World War II and location of six German-built death camps, the punishment was immediate execution.             This book tells the stories of Polish Holocaust survivors and their rescuers. The authors traveled extensively in the United States and Poland to interview some of the few remaining participants before their generation is gone. Tammeus and Cukierkorn unfold many stories that have never before been made public: gripping narratives of Jews who survived against all odds and courageous non-Jews who risked their own lives to provide shelter.             These are harrowing accounts of survival and bravery. Maria Devinki lived for more than two years under the floors of barns. Felix Zandman sought refuge from Anna Puchalska for a night, but she pledged to hide him for the whole war if necessary—and eventually hid several Jews for seventeen months in a pit dug beneath her house. And when teenage brothers Zygie and Sol Allweiss hid behind hay bales in the Dudzik family’s barn one day when the Germans came, they were alarmed to learn the soldiers weren’t there searching for Jews, but to seize hay. But Zofia Dudzik successfully distracted them, and she and her husband insisted the boys stay despite the danger to their own family.             Through some twenty stories like these, Tammeus and Cukierkorn show that even in an atmosphere of unimaginable malevolence, individuals can decide to act in civilized ways. Some rescuers had antisemitic feelings but acted because they knew and liked individual Jews. In many cases, the rescuers were simply helping friends or business associates. The accounts include the perspectives of men and women, city and rural residents, clergy and laypersons—even children who witnessed their parents’ efforts.             These stories show that assistance from non-Jews was crucial, but also that Jews needed ingenuity, sometimes money, and most often what some survivors called simple good luck. Sixty years later, they invite each of us to ask what we might do today if we were at risk—or were asked to risk our lives to save others.

40 review for They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth Cook

    The narrative is about Jewish individuals and families who were rescued/hidden and supported in Poland during WWII and the heroes who hid, aided and rescued them. "The most important thing is to teach people that there is no difference between people. Under our skin we're all the same. If you understand this, you understand that you will do whatever is possible to help people. " Maria Bozek Nowak rescuer quoted p. 179. All in all as the book is titled They were Just People and they needed help. The narrative is about Jewish individuals and families who were rescued/hidden and supported in Poland during WWII and the heroes who hid, aided and rescued them. "The most important thing is to teach people that there is no difference between people. Under our skin we're all the same. If you understand this, you understand that you will do whatever is possible to help people. " Maria Bozek Nowak rescuer quoted p. 179. All in all as the book is titled They were Just People and they needed help. Being aided and rescued even though those who helped risked their lives and those of their family members.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Debi Emerson

    The authors state in their introduction that they chose to share these compelling stories because they found them fascinating and illuminating, and believed their reader would as well. They were right!! This is an inspiring book about survivors and those that risked their lives as well as the lives of their families because it was the right thing to do; after all, "They were just people."

  3. 4 out of 5

    SuperNinja

    Heroes are everywhere. Ordinary people who do the right thing at the right time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ingrid

    The writing is stilted, but the stories are incredible.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scotty54703

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex Stoll

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Ferdinand

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

  10. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Marincel

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erica Thompson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Barb Krizman

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paula Hess

  16. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

  17. 5 out of 5

    Shelly (Michele) Smits

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jahnathon Larson

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy Sagbakken

  21. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brenda

  23. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lola

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Pener

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brent Schondelmeyer

  31. 5 out of 5

    Melynn Sight

  32. 4 out of 5

    Michele Holifield

  33. 4 out of 5

    Carrie M

  34. 5 out of 5

    David

  35. 4 out of 5

    Jeanie

  36. 4 out of 5

    David Folender

  37. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  38. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

  39. 4 out of 5

    Baskintm

  40. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

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