Safety in the Sewers

Leopold Socha, Righteous Gentile who worked in sewers of Lwow

Credit:Yad Vashem

A poor blue collar worker in then-Polish Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine), Leopold Socha toiled in the city’s sewers. But this look into Lwow’s daily life gave Socha a front-row seat to the Holocaust.

As they did in most Polish cities, the Germans first pushed Lwow’s Jews into a ghetto. There, the sewage inspector Socha met and befriended many Jewish Poles. In 1943, the Nazis began to liquidate the ghetto, sending Jews to death camps to be murdered. Socha decided to act.

One night while he worked, Socha found a group of Jews trying to escape through the canals flowing with human waste. Headed toward the mouth of the river, the Jews didn’t realize the danger. The Nazis waited at the river’s mouth to kill any escapees.

Socha stopped the group and saved them. He told them to stay in the sewers. As the Jews hid, Socha, his wife, and a fellow sewage worker brought them the food and necessities they needed to survive.

Life in the sewers was hard, however. One pregnant woman lost her baby, and another elderly Jewish woman died. Their Christian friends gave both bodies proper burials. Several other Jews died when they tried to escape the sewers. Again, Socha and his helpers buried their deceased Jewish friends.

As the Jews hid, Socha brought them newspapers and even a prayer book. When Passover arrived, the impoverished sewage employee brought them a valuable sack of potatoes.

After more than a year in the sewers, the hidden Jews rejoiced at the liberation of Lwow from the Nazis. The rescuers and the rescued celebrated at the Socha home.

Only a year after the war ended, however, the Socha home plunged into mourning. While riding bicycles with his daughter, Leopold noticed a Soviet military truck headed toward them. Selflessly throwing his own bike in front of the little girl, Socha died while saving his daughter, one last heroic act. In 1978, Yad Vashem finally recognized Leopold Socha and his wife Magdalena as Righteous Among the Nations.

Tags: Advocates and Allies History Holocaust Leopold Socha Righteous Gentiles

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