Bełżec (Lublin Voivodeship) from the beginning of its existence, was a city in which lived together with each other people of different faiths and religions. In the spring of 1944 Germans organized there first labor camp and then one of the most recognizable death camps. Here were developed methods of destruction, which were then used in the German death camps of Sobibor and Treblinka. It’s here, right in the vicinity of Hitler’s death camps, Julia Pępiak saved the Jewish Salomea Hellman, and her daughter Bronisława.
Julia Pępiak (from family Natyn) was the wife of Jan, mother of Mieczysław, Adela and Zygmunt. Before the second World War each of the children have started independent life: Mietek joined the army as a volunteer, Adela was a teacher in Janów Lubelski, Zygmunt had studied in Cracow. In 1941 in the Pępiak family occurred a tragedy – Mietek was killed by the NKVD.
On an August evening in 1941 to the window of the family house someone knocked: „Salomea asked them for help just with her look, without words. She begged. In a split second I realized how much of me God requires, how cruel is the commandment of love. Recently died in the underground army, the oldest son. In the house lived two members of Gestapo. They will kill my whole family. They will burn my house. Oh, my God! Not too much demand?! Suddenly I had a thought: this is the virgin Mary with her child seeking refuge in me before Herod! That ended the discussion with a conscience. „Come,” I invited warmly” – recalled years later Julia.
Julia Pępiak, despite the fact that part of her house, involved two Gestapo from the death camps, led the woman to the barn. There women dug down the shelter. The earth Julia was taking away in pockets of her robe and threw it into the field. On the hole they put boards and straw. The barn was in a convenient location because it was connected with a pigsty – noises of pigs covered any sounds. The need to care for the animals justified also frequent visits of Julia in close proximity to the pigsty. Woman brought Jewish woman and her three year old daughter food and took care of necessities.
Despite that she didn’t even told her husband. But in the village have quickly spread the news that Julia is hiding Jews – someone have seen her washing children’s clothing, someone noticed that the woman was preparing more food.
„The more I loved, the more I feared: when I heard in the night, someone else steps I holden my breath. I started listening. Attacked me fear that they can detect and burn me in a concentration camp, from where the wind brought the sickly, sweet smell of burned corpses. I was one unceasing prayer. Words are too weak to convey the tragedy of my experiences. Today it seems to me that what happened is a dream.”
Julia loved Bronia as her own daughter. The woman was sure that God sent her a girl, to soothe the pain of losing the oldest son. The child, despite the difficult conditions, growned properly. Bronia looked at the world through a crack in the barn. Once she asked: „Mommy, why are those children playing, running around after the sheep, and I should continue to hide in the barn?”. After response of Saloema sounded another question: „why did you born me Jewish?”
The situation became increasingly dangerous. Throughout the village spread the rumor of aid granted by Julia, with rumor about a transport from which escaped Jew – this all carried with them the threat of revision. Julia hid Salomea with her daughter in nearby fields, and on an appointed time she was bringing food for them. Soon after this to Pępiak’s came Volksdeutsch and accused them of hiding Jewish women. Julia calmly told him that a Jew is not a pin, so if he want, he can look for her. The man was gone without having to do a search.
But after all, a woman and her daughter were discovered by someone who then brought them to the municipality. Secretary Mr. Nowosielecki wanted to save them, said he did not know and asked them to leave. Salcia and her daughter hid in the crypt, in the cemetery. There Julia found them, and took them again to her barn. From this point Salomea called this place a Palace. In August of 1944 Bełżec was liberated by soldiers of the Home Army. After the war, Salomea married again and emigrated with her family to Israel. She wrote to Julia letters full of gratitude and warmth.
In December 1999, for her heroic actions during the occupation the Institute Yad Vashem awarded Julia Pępiak with the title of Righteous Among the Nations of the World.
- A. Madejski, Bohaterka z Bełżca, „Słowo – Dziennik katolicki”, wydanie z 26-29.05.1994 r.
- A. Madejski, Sprawiedliwa z Bełżca: Julia Pępiak 1890-1971, Warszawa 1996 r.
- Urząd Gminy w Bełżcu, [strona internetowa:] http://www.belzec.pl/index.php?historia,0,0,pl, dostęp: 24.04.2017 r.
- Wirtualny Sztetl – portal Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN, [strona internetowa:] http://www.sztetl.org.pl/pl/article/belzec/13,miejsca-martyrologii/6555,oboz-zaglady-w-belzcu/, dostęp: 24.04.2017.
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