WACEK

WACEK

Yes. That is true. My father survived the occupation in Poland. On Aryan papers. If he told me about it? No. He never talked about it. He claimed that he would like to erase that period of his life from his memory. But he couldn't. Whenever it was mentioned, his face got a weird expression, and sometimes he did not speak to us for days.
If I tried to get to know anything that time from him? No. When I was young, these things did not interest me at all. It was the past. Gone. You have to live your life today. Tomorrow may be too late. Yesterday has already gone and will never come back.
For whom are these stories? Who cares? To tear up the wounds? To find the guilty ones? These people are no longer alive. Besides, their descendants have nothing to do with it.
My father only came back to this story once. However, what he said did not quite fit into the normal survivor template. One can say that it deforms it a bit. I can tell you the story, although it is likely that after all these years I will not remember the exact details.
Our surname, Stabbich, is my father's Americanized Polish Aryan surname, Stabicki. With this surname, my father came to the States, although his family name was completely different.
My father's family lived in Warsaw. They were well assimilated Jews, but they observed the Jewish holidays. They belonged to the upper-middle class. It had some significance after the Germans invaded Poland because my grandfather was able to buy some real Aryan papers for my father and my aunt, who did not survive the war. The documents belonged to the deceased siblings from Kresy (the eastern part of the old Poland), where the Soviets burned their manor house and sent all survivors to the Gulag camps in Siberia.
My father's family had to move to the ghetto, from where my father and his sister escaped by the end of 1942. It was then that my grandfather bought these Aryan papers and told my father and his sister to run away and save themselves. The rest of the family stayed in the ghetto. My father and his sister got the address of someone in Rawa Mazowiecka town that - against payment - would confirm their identity as Waldemar and Jadwiga Stabicki. In that town, my father joined the local branch of the Polish Home Army.
The man who recommended him was captured by the Germans shortly afterward and sent to the concentration camp. In that way, the last person who knew about the name hoax disappeared. It was important because some Home Army members, though eager to take revenge on the Germans, did not hide their dislike of Jews.
To reduce the risk, my father's sister lived elsewhere, but my father visited her frequently. Life went on as normal until mid-1943. Then two misfortunes happened. My father's sister broke her leg and my father met Wacek. This broken leg caused my aunt to be grounded in her apartment. My father was busy with his underground activities, but he always found time to go shopping for her, because there was no one else to do it.
And once on the street, he met Wacek. Wacek was the son of Mrs. Leokadia, who was a housekeeper in my father's parents' apartment. Mrs. Leokadia lived in the same tenement house and my father and Wacek played together when they were children. Then their ways parted, but they still knew each other. When the family moved into the ghetto, Mrs. Leokadia was supposed to take care of their apartment.
The meeting with Wacek was very unfortunate for my father because suddenly there was someone who knew about his true origin. Wacek who recognized him shouted immediately, on the street, "Mietek! It's you?" My father denied it and said that it had to be a misunderstanding. Wacek apologized and left. But two days later he knocked on the door of the apartment where my father lived. Father had no choice but to let him in. Wacek was very happy and started to ask about the parents and the sister and to remember the old days. Then he mentioned that he was in financial trouble. When my father asked Wacek where he lived, what he was doing, and what was the trouble, Wacek said that it would be safer if neither my father nor Wacek knew anything about themselves, and that his financial troubles were for now only his business. My father asked if he could help and how much money was involved. It was about 500 zlotys. Wacek got the sum and left. But it didn't stop there. Wacek "stopped by" from time to time to see my father. And he never "refused" when my father offered him money. Sometimes it was 100 zlotys. Sometimes 200 zlotys. Wacek newer came with any threats, but it was as if both of them knew what was going on. Wacek even found my father when he moved to another place. And he found my aunt's place, where she was still grounded because of her leg.
One time he came and said he needed 10,000, and it had to be provided quickly, otherwise, human life would be in danger. Father told him to come again the same evening. It seemed that Wacek was an ordinary blackmailer. To get rid of such a person was almost impossible. Due to his false identification papers, my father could not involve the Home Army. Because of his sister's condition, the escape was out of the question. My father made a decision. When Wacek came again, my father told him to go with him to get the box with hidden gold, because he had run out of cash. That night they started digging together in a nearby grove, as shown by my father. When the pit started to look a little too deep, my father pulled out a pistol and shot Wacek! Wacek looked completely surprised and managed to say "It's not what you ..." when my father shot a second time. My father finished digging the grave with the trembling hands, put Wacek into it, and covered it with the earth.
Both my father and his sister seemed to have escaped the danger of the denunciation. My father involved his sister in the work with the Underground. She managed to get to Warsaw where she later died in the Warsaw Uprising. My father was left alone in the world. After the liberation of Warsaw, he went there. The house in which they lived before the war was demolished, but he met Mrs. Leokadia. She was very happy to see him, and she said it was nice to see at least one person she knew who had survived the war. Because neither her son, Wacek, nor her daughter survived. She took care of the parents' apartment until the Germans who began to move into the building threw her out. The time was hard. Wacek tried to find some jobs, but that was not always enough to pay all expenses. One time they risked being expelled from that place they lived. Fortunately, Wacek provided those 500 zlotys they had to pay to stay there. Wacek said then that he had met someone who would always help them, but he didn't want to say anything more. Even when they caught her daughter in a round-up, and she risked being sent to work in Germany. Someone said that it is possible to bribe one Volksdeutsch, but the bribe amount was a horrendous sum of 10,000 zlotys! Wacek said only that he would get it. He went out and never came back. He wanted always to join the Underground. But they used him only for some leaflets' transportation errands. Anyway, he felt and acted like a real conspirator. At least in his mind. And her daughter was taken away.
My father realized that, in principle, Wacek never asked for money. That he always thanked him profusely for the money my father gave him. Only this last time he insisted very much, and he was in a hurry with these 10,000. But why did he never say anything about their financial situation? And why didn't he mention his sister? Was he afraid that my father would not believe him? Did it happen only because of Wacek's idea of conspiracy? Did my father really kill an innocent man who just wanted to save his sister from deportation?
My father left Poland, but he did not forget Mrs. Leokadia. As soon as he could, he started sending her money. From her letters, he learned that her daughter survived the deportation and returned home. And that's how 30 years passed.
But my father still felt guilty. Finally, he wrote a letter to Mrs. Leokadia. He did not get an answer. He sent the second letter. Without an answer. So he sent a registered letter, which returned with the note "the recipient refused to accept the parcel".
My father told me this story just before he died. He said that he truly regretted his confession. He didn't know whether he expected forgiveness or just wanted to ease his conscience. He had to live with it anyway. It did not bring Wacek back to life. It only opened Mrs. Leokadia's old wound.

Alex Wieseltier
August 2020