Józef Berman was born on 15th of December 1915 in Kałuszyn village as the youngest child of the third wife of his father. He had nine sons and three daughters, and at the time of Józefs’ birth, the oldest of his sons, had his own children. Mr. Berman opened in their house coats manufacture made from sheep skins. After the death of the family head in 1926 the responsibility over business fell to one of his sons, 17-year-old then Naftal. Over the years he expanded their manufacture and developed it into a factory.
After war, the occupiers ordered the entire family to work only for the German army.
In 1942 has spread the news about liquidation of the local ghetto and about the transportation of people to Warsaw. After some time, new information got to the public opinion: the Gestapo was taking Jews out of the Warsaw ghetto and at this moment no one knew to where they were taken. Berman family understood that their fate will be the same. In the surrounding area were already other ghettos – one in Kałuszyk and one in Węgrów.
Once to the family came Stanisław Boruc and told them a story about what he have seen during the liquidation of the ghetto in Węgrów.
Families Berman and Boruc were friends from many years – the fathers of men fought together during the first world war. Stanisław brought for Bermans’ some food and warned that if the liquidation of their ghetto really happens, they should flee to his home in Żarnówka village. He assured that he will do anything to help them. To Bermans came back hope: they collected all their money and valuables and put them in a glass jar. Józef buried it during night in the factory. Members of the family knew where that jug was hidden.
After the evacuation of ghetto in Węgrów many women escaped to nearby labor camp. It was believed that at least labor camps were safe then. The next day to the ghetto in Kałuszyn entered German officers and ordered everyone to check in the market.
The manager of Berman’s factory tried to negotiate with the officers. He wanted to let his employees to stay as they had a lot of orders to prepare. But the men had an immutable order to gather all. Bermans went to the market, but after some time the head manager finally convinced the officers to his idea, and the family was able to return to work. In December of 1942 the Nazis began the elimination of the surrounding labor camps and created a new ghetto in Kałuszyn. Bermans understood that this means the final elimination of the local Jews. Sister of Józef (Fejga and Chaya with her daughter) and brother Aria with his son Alter escaped deportation during the liquidation of the camp in Miernia.
On the morning of December 9th, the German gendarmes ordered the Jews from the ghetto in Kałuszyn to again check in at the market. Absent were supposed to be shot. The order applied also to the factory workers. All those present were ordered to march to the Mrozy railway station, located about 5 km away from Kałuszyn. In the evening came train to pick them up. Bermans knew that they would be deported to Treblinka, and so they took some tools – they wanted to open the wall of the car and run away. Luckily most of the family was placed in one car. When the train started from the station, Józef managed to make a hole in the wall through which jumped out first his brother Naftali, and then the son-in-law Ephraim Radzyński, and in the end, when the train was already on full speed – Józef himself. The man hit himself and lost consciousness. He woke up a few hours later.
Berman family agreed that those who will survive would meet at the farm of Stanisław Boruc. When Józef arrived, there was already Naftali and Efraim. A few days later joined them their brother Mendel, and then his daughter. After six days in the village arrived Fejga, wife of Efraim and Berman’s siste. When after some time no one else came, Mr. Boruc suggested that he could find them a shelter, but Bermans’ would probably have to pay for the service. Stanisław lived with his family in the center of Żarnówka, what didn’t make his own house the best safe house.
Bermans’ had no money as all of them were buried at the factory in Kałuszyn. They decided to ask for help their former employee – Mr. Kaczorek. As they remembered him a very decent person they trusted him fully. When he came together with his wife they asked him to dug out the jar and bring it to them.
The marriage was glad that the family survived, and agreed to help. As the territory on which was located factory was closed for men – because it was area where women could do laundry – only Mrs. Kaczorek went. The gate of the factory was guarder by the dark blue policeman but woman asked him to let her use the toilet which was inside.
After two days marriage Kaczorek returned with a jar of jewels.
Boruc found for Bermans’ many good shelters, but because of safety reason they often changed it. Every time they asked Boruc family for help.
In late February 1943, when Bermans learned that their current host became very ill, they went again to Stanisław to ask him for help. On their way, they noticed a farm, standing on the sidelines. They felt that this could be a good place for another safe house. They asked Boruc family if they know the owners of the farm. It turned out that they are distant relatives of Stanisław – Jan and Teofila Boruc. Their farm was a colony, and at a distance of several kilometers there weren’t other buildings.
On the way back, Józef came into the house and asked Jan, if he could hide his family. A man had to discuss the matter with his wife and sons. He asked Berman to came back in two days.
Jan agreed to hide the three men but as didn’t have enough space women were supposed to go to his brother’s house in the village.
At the beginning men were hiding in the barn. Later together with son of Jan and Teofila, Czesław, they built a bunker, near to the barn. Only then they felt that maybe they will be able to survive that difficult time of the war.
In this bunker, Józef, Naftali, Mendel, Fejga and her husband Efraim lived to see the liberation. The oldest daughter of Mendel died during the war from natural causes.
After the war Bermans moved to the United States.
On 24th of November 1992 Jan and Teofila Boruc and their son Czesław were awarded by the Institute Yad Vashem with title of Righteous among the Nations of the World.
- FLV, Autobiography of a survivor by Joseph Berman, Michigan, listopad 1994 r.
- I. Gutman, Polscy Sprawiedliwi wśród Narodów Świata, [w:] Księga Sprawiedliwych wśród Narodów Świata. Ratujący Żydów podczas Holocaustu. Polska, cz. I, red. wyd. pol. D. Libionka, R. Kuwałek, A. Kopciowski, Kraków 2009.
- FLV, Nagranie audio, sygn. 811_0793 D, relacja Boruc Wiesława [córka] z 30.01.2014 r.
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