Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hero who defied the Nazis

A Polish pensioner honoured for risking his life to hide Jews during the Holocaust told his remarkable story on a visit to Manchester.
Jozef Mironiuk, 85, joined the ranks of Oscar Schindler - the inspiration behind the film Schindler's List - when he was awarded the title Righteous among the Nations. The honour is given by Israel to those who saved Jewish lives during the Second World War.
Mr Mironiuk risked the death penalty for his entire family to hide three men on their farm for 18 months, creating a secret room and an underground bunker to keep them from concentration camps. He was 19 at the time and the eldest of eight brothers and sisters.
Speaking at Manchester Jewish Museum, where he was launching the Polish Heroes exhibition, he said: "I was constantly afraid. I slept in my shoes and clothes, ready to escape if the Germans came to arrest me. In such times there are a lot of heroes. But I do not consider myself a hero.
"It was a natural thing for us. These Jews in the camps were Poles. It was a natural thing to help other Poles.

"A few times we were close to being caught. One time my young sister was playing in the courtyard and keeping guard. The Germans came and the dogs were leading them to the barn. She knew what it meant and was so scared she started crying and trembling and shaking.
"She wet herself and the Germans felt like they were kings of the world because they had made this young girl so terrified. They laughed and kicked her and forgot about the dogs. That was the closest moment."
Mr Mironiuk, who became the head of his family after his father was beaten to death by Nazis, gave shelter to the three men, who had escaped from a slave labour camp. They stayed in hiding until 1944 when the front line moved.
The three men survived and eventually moved to the US. Mr Mironiuk, a retired engineer, now tells his story to groups from around the world. "The message is simple," he said. "Do whatever you can to make sure there's peace. War is evil. It takes the best years of people's lives and never gives it back. It's much harder to find a friend during war so have friends now then they will help you. It was not bread or milk these people needed, it was survival."

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