Paulina Plaksej Poland
Kalusz, Poland… Summer 1941 – When the Germans occupied Kalusz, Poland (now Ukraine), in 1941, they murdered the town’s Jewish intellectuals, orphaning many children. One young Jewish girl approached Paulina Plaksej and her mother, Bronislawa, begging for food. Paulina and her mother felt sympathy for the child and gave her hot soup. The next day the girl returned with more children, and Paulina and her mother fed them. They knew that they could not stand by as children suffered.
At the end of 1941, the Jews of Kalusz were forced to move into the ghetto. Paulina and her father, Zacharias, acted as couriers, smuggling notes in and out of the ghetto. As a result, Jews trusted the Plaksej family – they knew that if they were able to escape from the ghetto through the sewer system, they could seek the family’s help.
The first family to escape was Sara, Solomon, and their son, Imek. They temporarily hid at Paulina’s house. When it became too dangerous for them to stay there, Zacharias found a safer place for them to hide. He brought Sara, Solomon, and Imek to a trusted friend who was already hiding Jews in a bunker beneath his barn. Later, another Jewish woman, Rozia, escaped from the ghetto and sought out the Plaksej family. They also brought her to the farmer’s bunker. Paulina regularly brought whatever food and supplies were needed. Sara, Solomon, Imek, and Rozia, along with thirteen other Jews, stayed in this bunker for over a year. To this day, the identity of the farmer is not known.
In 1944 Miriam, another inhabitant of the ghetto, learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and deport or murder the inhabitants. Miriam asked Zacharias to save her two-year-old daughter, Maja. Zacharias contacted Miriam’s former maid and arranged for her to come rescue Maja. The maid brought a horse and cart, and the Jewish police helped smuggle the little girl out of the ghetto. The maid told her neighbors that this little girl was her daughter who had just returned from living with her grandparents.
Miriam was in one of the last groups of Jews to be deported to Auschwitz. As her group was marched to the train, Miriam quickly took off her armband and joined the crowds in the street. She went straight to the Plaksej house asking for help. They hid her in their wardrobe for a number of months. Zacharias obtained forged papers for her and took her to another village where she would not be recognized as a Jew. There she was picked up as a Pole and sent to a German farm as a forced laborer. After the war, she returned to the maid’s house, picked up her daughter, and reunited with her husband. Due to the efforts of Paulina and her family, all of the Jews they helped survived the war.
Paulina Plaksej is in her 90s and lives in Krakow.