In 1943, the Nazis began to liquidate the ghetto in Podhajce, a Polish town now in Ukraine. 3,000 Jews were murdered by the Germans. However, a small group, mostly children and young people, escaped the ghetto and found their way to the nearby farm of the Bilecki family.
At the time, Julian Bilecki was a teenager himself, only 15 years old. On the night of June 6, which that year was the eve of the Jewish holiday Shavuot, or Pentecost, there was a knock of the Bilecki family’s door. The family took the 23 Jews in and soon built a bunker in the woods in which they could hide, covering it with twigs and branches. Even though food was scarce because of the war, the Bileckis managed to feed all of these extra mouths.
The Jews stayed hidden in the bunker for a year. During the winter, footprints in the snow would have showed the secret bunker. So young Julian would jump from tree to tree to get to it, delivering food to his Jewish friends and not leaving any footprints that the Nazis might find.
After the Jews in the Bileckis’ bunker were liberated, they stayed in touch, sending the impoverished family who had saved them food and clothing. Julian spent his career as a bus driver, and after he retired fifty years later was reunited with some of the Jews whose lives he had saved (and for which he was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1998). Meeting these friends who shared such a special bond, Julian said:
“I see you all have gray hair. I too have gray hair. I thought I would never see you again. I feel lost. I thought this would never happen. All I did was help. It is very pleasant that people remember. Now I am getting paid back by God.”Tags: Advocates and Allies