Maria Wojciech lived with her husband and their three children: Stefania, Hieronim and Longin, in the village of Wijewo. In 1941 for help provided to the Polish exiles in Małopolska, her husband, Paweł was taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 1942 Maria was kicked out of her home and moved to a small apartment on the edge of Wijew.
Early on the morning of 24 January, 1945 someone knocked at their door. Maria saw a half-naked woman in the doorway asking if they were Poles. Wounded woman was covered with a blanket, her legs were in wooden shoes and she was speaking Czech language. Maria let her in, fed, gave her first aid, dressed. The woman warmed up next to the stove and told her story. Her name was Waleria Straussow and she was a prisoner from the Silesian camp.
On 22 of January, 1945 the camp was evacuated. The unit moved in the direction of Ostweide. Severely ill prisoners were transported by others on wheelbarrows. On 23 of January, 1945 at about four o’clock, the procession reached the forest near Ostweide. At the command of Commander Jeschke, 40 women were unable to go further. Among them was Waleria. The rest of the walk went on – Waleria and the women from the wheelchairs stayed. They were guarded by four officers. Some of the women were ordered to dig the pits at a distance of about 100 m. After dark they were discharged down to a group of six people. Two guards watched the women, and the next two shot them. Waleria was about seventeen in the queue. She was shot from behind, but fortunately for her, the shot was not fatal. The woman fell down on her back to the hole and pretended to be dead. When guards went to bring the fourth group of women, Waleria crawled from the bottom and hid behind the trees. When the guards departed after the execution, Strauss reached the nearby straw stack and spent the night in it. On the morning she went in the direction of the glow, as she guessed that they were coming from nearby homes. So she reached Wojciechow’s apartment.
On the next day, Maria wrapped Waleria in a thick blanket and with her children she carried her on sled to Jadwiga Wojciechowska. The woman did not have the right conditions at home to keep Strauss, and the matter was aggravated by the fact that she was neighbors with the Germans. Nun Jadwiga Wojciechowska was the sister-in-law of Maria, before the war she worked in a social care home. Her monastery was occupied by the Nazis and so she stayed with the family. Wojciechowska knew that she would know how to care for the sick and that she would be able to deal adequately with the wounded, exhausted Jew. The nun agreed to take care of the woman. The next day, Maria and her children were passing by the house where Waleria was, and they saw her through the window. They began to wave at her to come to them. The woman hugged Maria and thanked her in tears for saving her life.
Sister Jadwiga took care of the woman until liberation by the Red Army. Only then could Waleria go to the hospital in Wolsztyn, where she was waiting for her professional care. After a few weeks of treatment, Strauss became a nurse – along with the Red Army – headed to Berlin. Later she moved to Prague.
After the war, Maria’s husband returned home. Of the fifteen people who were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp together with him, only three survived. Maria, asked later by her children about the reasons for helping answered: „I would do that at any time, and with each such next decision I would also not hesitate, because I know worth of life.”1.
Maria’s action may seem trivial, but it should be remembered that Waleria was shot, finished with camp life, in poor physical and mental condition. In their neighborhood lived Germans and it is not known what they would do to a Jew. Maria’s behavior on that day, saved Waleria’s life.
On 27th of November 1997 The Yad Vashem Institute, in recognition of her support for Waleria, granted Maria Wojciech with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
- FLV, List od Józefa Wojciecha (protokół przesłuchania Marii Wojciech z 02.03.1970 r.), Wijewo, 10.02.1998 r.
- FLV, List od Józefa Wojciecha (protokół przesłuchania Walerii Straussowej z 21.12.1977 r.), Wijewo, 10.02.1998 r.
- FLV, List od Józefa Wojciecha (relacja Marii Wojciech z 10.02.1998 r.), Wijewo, 10.02.1998 r.
- FLV, Nagranie audio, sygn. 811_2107, relacja Stefanii Herkt (córka, naoczny świadek) z 20.06.2014 r.
- FLV, Nagranie audio, sygn. 811_2121, relacja Józefa Wojciecha (syn) z 24.06.2014 r.
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