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Escape from the Hospital

Yad Vashem tree-planting ceremony (Photo: Yad Vashem)

As they did with so many concentrated Jewish populations throughout Europe, the Nazis decided to liquidate (murder) the Jews of the Stolin ghetto in 1942. And to add an anti-Semitic touch to their mass murder, the Germans rounded up Stolin's Jews on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

But while most of the town's Jews were gathered and shot, the Nazis left some behind to run the local hospital. These included Dr. Hersh Rotter, his wife and three-year-old son; Dr. Marian Poznanski and his wife; Dr. Ernberg and his wife; and two Jewish nurses. These remaining Jewish employees were held at the hospital, and were under no illusions that their lives would be spared forever - sooner or later, they would be murdered, too.

The town priest, Franciszek Smorczewski, helped Dr. Rotter plan the escape. Smorczewski also gave Mrs. Rotter a Christian birth certificate, and gathered local Christians to help.

On the morning of November 26, 1942, the Jews were ready to escape. Their planning was fortuitous, as that very morning a group of Nazi SS soldiers arrived to execute the remaining Jewish people.

Dr. Rotter and the rest escaped to the home of a Christian doctor. There, a woodsman named Wladyslaw Kijowski and his wife Maria smuggled the escapees away in their horse-drawn wagon. The Jews hid in the forest for a few days before being taken to Ukraine, where they later joined the partisans fighting the Nazis.

After the war, all of the Jews who had escaped from the hospital immigrated to the United States. And in 1979, the Christians who had saved them - Franciszek Smorczewski and Maria and Wladyslaw Kijowski - were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem during the tree-planting ceremony seen above.

Tags: Advocates and Allies

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