I only really found out about all this when my father scanned his father’s pictures. Suffice to say… The odds for my existence seem like they might be lower than usual. I’m a lucky guy. Thanks to all those that helped.
“NOMINATIONS FOR RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS
TESTIMONY OF MARIA CLARA L[REDACTED]
IN THE NOMINATION OF: JOZEF POLINSKI, JOZEFA POLINSKI, WLADYSLAWA KUZILEK.
A. Data on witness:
1. My name is MARIA CLARA (RECHEN) L[REDACTED], born October 25, 1918, in Lwow, Poland. My current address is [REDACTED STREET ADDRESS], Alexandria, Virginia, [REDACTED ZIP CODE], USA. I am a housewife.
2. Before and during WWII, I resided at Zimorowicza 16, Lwow, Poland, until October 1941. From October 1941 to August 1942, I lived on Marcina Street, which was that part of Lwow later known as the ghetto. From August 1942 until June 1943, I lived with my rescuers, the Polinski family, on Longina Street, Lwow. From June 1943until May 1945, I was in a Labor Camp in Erkersreuth/Selb, Bavaria, Germany.
3. I was single during the years of World War II and married in 1947.
B. Data On Rescuer
1. My rescuers were JOZEF POLINSKI and his wife JOZEFA POLINSKI, both approximately 42 years of age at that time, and their daughter, WLADYSLAWA, approximately 13 years of age, all of whom lived on Zamarstynowska Street, Lwow, Poland. The family owned and operated a small variety shop on that street and lived in an apartment above the store. In October 1942, the family moved to a villa on the outskirts of Lwow, on Longina Street.
I was in constant contact with the POLINSKI family until their death some years ago. They resided at 51/3 Monte Cassino St, 51-681 Wroclaw, Poland. Their daughter, WLADYSLANA (POLINSKI) KUZILEK, currently resides at that address.
2. JOZEF AND JOZEFA POLINSKI were husband and wife. They had two children, WLADYSLAWA, as indicated above,and LESZEK, 7 or 8 years of age. The family lived together, as indicated.
C. Data on rescue story:
1. I was born of JAKUB and JOZEFA RECHEN, an only child, while living at Zimorowicza 16, Lwow, Poland. When the war started in 1939, we continued living at that address, initially under Russian occupation, utnil the Nazis invaded our town in 1941. On October 1, 1941, my father was “arrested” by the Gestapo, and disappeared without a trace. Shortly thereafter, my mother and I were forced to vacate our home and were forced by the Nazis to move into the disgnated ghetto.
2. In January 1942, while I was trying to purchase some food in the street, I was told by another Jew that I might find food in the shop of Mr. POLINSKI. Although he was Catholic, he was described to me as the “Jewish King” because of his unselfish help to needy Jews. I was told that he had volunteered as Janitor at Nazi quarter so that he could and did steal food for the Jews. I went to him and asked his help in finding potatoes. He disappeared for a while and came back with a sack of potatoes on a sled. He asked my address and pulled the sled to my house and personally delivered it to my mother as the ghetto was still in an open state. He refused money for the potatoes.
The next day, he came with his wife JOZEFA. They brought more unobtainable food for us and adamantly refused payment. They offered further help to us.
A few days later, they brought their two children, WLADYSLAWA and LESZEK, to meet my mother and me.
3. The actual physical rescue performed by the POLINSKI family occurred on August 10, 1942, when I and 3,000 other Jews were taken during an “action” and moved to Janowska Camp in Lwow, where the train took daily groups to unknown destinations.
4. On the movement to Janowska Camp, I was fortunate to be able to pass a message to the POLINSKIS, through a by-stander. Mr. POLINSKI got in touch with a friend inthe “Jewish Militia” which was attached to our Jewish Council. In the very last moments, when our train was loading, my name was called and I was released. On that day, only I and a young mother with a little son were miraculously saved; the rest went to one of the death camps.
5. Upon my release at the train station, the “Jewis Militia” friend was waiting for me and advised me not to return home. He took me to the POLINSKI home, where they hid me. During the next few weeks, the POLINSKI family kept me in hiding. Some of these days, JOZEF POLINSKI had me moved to the home of JOZEFA’s brother, JANEK, and his wife, ANNA, in a different part of town, where I was kept during the days in a small chimney space. On at least one occasion, while i was in the chimney, the Gestapo looked down the chimney from the roof, but could not see, in the poor light, where I was hiding. During September 1941, JOZEF POLINSKI moved me to the home of distant relatives of his family, in a town called Brody, near Lwow, for two weeks. These relatives did not know I was Jewish, but were told that I was hiding for political reasons. I do not remember their names or addresses.
In October 1942 JOZEF POLINSKI bought a villa on the outskirts of Lwow, on Longina Street, and moved his family and me there. During this time, the POLINSKIS acquired “aryan” papers for me. I posed as “Maria Rak”, the daughter of a school janitor. The papers had belonged to the janitor’s decased daughter, who was a nun. I was never asked to pay for these papers. JOZEF POLINSKI was attempting to get papers for my mother, also, but could not get them before she died in the ghetto. In the spring of 1943, the Nazis confiscated POLINSKI’s villa on Longina Street, and we moved, as a family, to an apartment in the same area. I do not remember the street name.
I stayed hidden with the POLINSKI family unti June 1943, when I voluntarily moved, as indicated below, to a Labor Camp.
6. I was never asked to pay for food, lodging, or the false papers provided me. I had no money and could not have paid.
7. I bleieve that their motivation was simply one of desire to help those of us who were being eliminated on the basis of religion. At no time during or following our relationship, and to this day, have they ever exhibited any motivation other than cmopassion.
8. All of the above named and their associates unnamed were in peril of their lives for any one of their many, many acts in my behalf and on behalf of others. The result would have been certain death for all of them, should their actions have been discovered at that time.
9. JOZEFA POLINSKI told others that I was her distant cousin and that I needed to hide because I was married to a Polish officer who was wanted by the Gestapo.
10. My relationship with the family at that time was very warm and our mutual feelings could only be described as that between closest relatives. They were fully protective of me and made sure that I had all available basic requirements.
11. In addition to JOZEF and ZJOZEFA POLINSKI and their daughter, at that time WLADYSLAWA, their son, LESZEK, who was only 7 or 8, did contribute marginally to my maintenance. JOZEFA’S sister, LOLA, married to a Jew, whom she was hiding at the same time and saved, was involved to a degree, in the cover up story. JOZEFA’S brother, JANEK, and his wife, ANNA, were involved in sheltering me. There were others involved, in Lwow and in Brody, but I have forgotten their names now because of the elapsed time.
12. By June 1943, the situation becamse too dangerous because there were groups of Nazis going through apartments, one by one, close by, searching for innocents. Again, JOZEF POLINSKI was able to put my name on a list of “volunteers” for a labor in Germany, where I would pose as MARIA RAK, and would undoubtedly be more safe than in Lwow. On June 10, 1943, I arrived in Erkersreuth/Selb, Bavaria, and was assigned to a labor camp near the Rosenthal factory, where I was put to work. I survived in the labor camp until April, 1945. As the American armies approached, our “Lager fuhrerin” decided to send a few of us trouble-makers to Flossenburg, a death camp. When we arrived there, we found that the Nazi guards were running away and they paid little attentiont o us. They released us and we met the American Army on our return trip to Selb. Having some English, I was able to get a minor position in the Field Red Cross of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, where I met the Assistant Ajutant, CWO James B. L[REDACTED], whom I married in 1947, in Austria. We returned to the USA in June 1947 and 3 years later I became an American citizen.
13. I witnessed the POLINSKIS delivering false papers to “ZOSIA” and her brother, “ADAM” (last names unknown). Both were from Krakow and they later departed for Warsaw, where, I understand, they both survived the war. There was no payment made to the POLINSKIS for these papers.
14. (See Paragraph 5, above.)
15. I wish to nominate the following to the “Righteous Among The Nations”:
WLADYSLAWA (POLINSKI) KUZULEK
They are all three most deserving of the award.
Dated Feb 8 1993
Maria Clara L[REDACTED]
[STREET ADDRESS REDACTED}
ALEXANDRIA VIRGINIA [ZIP CODE REDACTED]
PHONE: (USA) 703-[REDACTED]
[notorized by City Of Alexandria]
Ronnie L, born Maria Clara Rechen, is Clint’s grandmother (dad’s mom). Born 10/25/1918 in Lvov, Poland. Died 11/13/2003 in Alexandria, VA.
Daughter of Jozefa and Jacob, she was the only survivor of the holocaust in her family. She was liberated from a work camp by Clint’s grandfather (James Bernard L.), who stormed Normandy 20 minutes into the D-Day invasion.
Furthermore, here is what she wrote about her father:
“My father: Jacob Rechen.
Born 28 August 1880(circa) in Lwow,Poland and deported by Gestapo on 1 October 1942,died on or about that time in the prison, at the age of about 64 years.
He was born as a son of a well-to-do family, his father being chief cantor in the Temple and his mother being one of the best and most known at the time fashion designer and owner of a fashion house. My Father started his early career working with printing houses, later changed to advertisement field and through most of his working years kept this line, parallel to other enterprises.
He was director and representative of “Piast” Insurance Co. for the whole region of Southern Poland, he had exlucisve representation of French Movie Corp. “Goumont” for Poland, later was co-partner in “Fox” representation for this part of Poland. While having those positions, he edited and published several publishments in the theatrical, radio and movie fields and from those and advertisements had a very handsome side-profit.
In very early Thirties he was elected a representative and director of P.A.P. (Polish Publicisttic Agency) which had at that time the exclusive right to advertisement in radio, a novelty in those years. This position was very lucrative, with a high permanent pay plus percentage from advertisements from So. Poland’s regions.
His income in the last 15 years, before the war was very high, he owned, bought and resold serveral houses, with a good profit and at the beginning of war was an owner of a apartment and commercial building on Pl.Bernardynski and apartment house on Galaba Str., had several hundred of stick in mineral and petroleum fields around Drohobyez-Boryslaw, and two of his personal friends owed him at that time $10,000 and $7,000 repsectively–which never were returned to him or his family. Many of his profits were invested in jewelry for my Mother and myself, quite a few were also inherited from grandparents.
Both of my Parents traveled every summer to foreign health-resort while I traveled separately, also abroad. My Father never refused any of my requests and had our family in all available luxuries. (I had my 1st fur-coat at the age of 12 yrs.) We have led active social life, attending all possible concerts, theatre, movies, horse-races, having visitors from other cities, visiting them in return, etc., etc.”
And here is what Germany said back, 35 years later:
“Dear Mrs. L[REDACTED]: Today I received the following letter from BLEA in your matter of compensation:
‘In the application of compensation your client claims that she was forced to stay in Ghetto for the period 15 July 1941 till October 1942 for wearing the jewish star. From October 1942 until she was liberated in April 1945 she had to live under inhumanly circumstances – illegal – and with an assumed name.
The applicants time in arrest however has only been proved partly so that a full recognition of the claims can not be approved of. The office feels that a comparable agreement on the basis of anadjudgement of the claims of DM 4.500.–would be suitable to liquidate all compensation claims. Should you agree with this settlement you are kindly requested to sign the inclosed draft on the lower left hand corner and to send it to the office as soon as possible. This proposition, however, bears no obligation for either side, it is rather a possibility to come to an agreement.’
I kindly ask you now to inform me whether you would want me to sign this proposed settlement of DM 4.500.– for the liquidation of all your claims for compensation in accordance with the ‘Republic-Compensation-Law’ or if you wish to reject this proposal. I would strongly recommend that you accept this agreement.”
Yea, when you hear about restitution for Palestinians who were kicked out of their family homes — or Japanese-Americans put in concentration camps in America during WW2 — this is what I tend to point to. Restitution is bullshit. It is a pittance given decades later. It is never what was taken. Too little, too late. It is just so that people can say, “Oh, they paid restitution, they’re absolved of all sin now, and everybody’s all better.” NO. This *doesn’t* make it fine.