Stefania Podgorska

 

Stefania (otherwise known as Fusia) Podgorska was born in 1925 in Poland. She grew up on a farm in a good Catholic family. Because her father died in 1938 from an illness, their mother was left to raise seven children alone.

In 1939, she moved with her sister in Pryzemysl, Poland. At the time, she was 14. She found a job at a grocery store run by a Jewish family, the Diamants. When the Germans invaded, she moved in with them. The Germans occupied Pryzemysl in June 1941, when Stefania was 16.

All roads were blocked, so to Stefania’s despair, she could not go home to see if her family was okay. Months later, when she finally left the Diamants, she rushed home, only to find out her mother and brother had been taken to Germany as slave laborers. Her terrified 6 year-old sister, Helene, was staying with neighbors. Stefania and her sister stayed in their home comfortably. 1942 brought news of the liquidation of the ghetto and Stefania desperately wanted to help her friends. At the time, she was helping trade the Diamants’ valuables for food.
Time passed. Stefania heard a knock on the door, and in came a strange man – crying and bleeding terribly. It was the son of the Diamants, Max. He had frantically jumped out of a cattle car headed to the concentration camp Belzec, with only a loaf of bread underneath his shirt cushioning his fall. He had gone to multiple non-Jewish friends, but none would help him. Max begged Stefania to hid him, and Stefania readily agreed. Helene, although a bit uncertain at first, agreed to keep the secret.

Stefania planned to hid him for the night, but a night soon turned into days and days quickly turned to weeks. As anyone, Max had friends and family he was desperate to save. Much to Stefania’s distress,  Max promised his brother’s fiance that Stefania would hide them. Those people began telling others that Stefania would hide them, and those people told “just one or two” others. Stefania began praying, looking for a bigger house. Her search led to renting a large cottage with two rooms, a large kitchen, and a large attic. Max built a fake wall in the attic, concealing the Jews. When one looked in the attic, one would see the fake wall. Pretty soon, Stefania and Helene had thirteen Jews hidden in the upstairs attic.
The most notable part of Stefania’s story was one of the rescues. Stefania was hiding two Jewish children, and the children’s fathers bribed a postman to help them escape from the ghetto and take them to Stefania’s house. A few minutes after they were supposed to be there, two Polish police officers and two German police officers surrounded her house! Stefania and Max anxiously awaited for three hours before Stefania decided to ask them what they were doing.

The officers wouldn’t tell her, but Stefania was firm and undaunted. They finally told her they had a tip that two Jews were going to escape the ghetto, but they didn’t believe it. “Orders are orders,” one of them said.
Stefania went to a church to pray. When she went back to her house, it was a different ambiance. The policemen were gone, and a few minutes later the postman arrived.
Relief flooded everyone, and the postman told his story – he had gotten lost!
On a strict rationing system, Stefania quickly realized feeding thirteen people would be a challenge. The main way to get food was through the black market, but you needed money or valuables. After much persistence, Stefania received a job at a German factory. She had a good Polish boyfriend, but was uncertain if he would keep her secret. She had a picture of a Nazi officer, and pretended she was dating him. Her boyfriend was speechless, and left. It broke Stefania’s heart, but she believed she did the right thing.
One day, a German officer came to Stefania’s door and decided to convert the place into a German hospital. She had only two hours to pack up her things and leave. She prayed, and a voice told her to stay, that everything would turn out alright in the end. Like clockwork, the German came and told her she wouldn’t have to move. However, they were going to take over half of her cottage. Stefania faced dilemmas and angst on a daily basis. Her thirteen Jews had to be extremely quiet because the walls were very thin.
Spring came and the Russians began bombing their town, and all of the Germans fled her house in fear of being caught or bombed. Nurses urged her to come, but Stefania bravely refused. At last, on July 27, 1944, they were all free.
After two and a half years in the attic, all thirteen of the Jewish people Stefania hid had survived the war. After the war, Max asked Stefania to marry him and to his delight, she said yes. Max changed his name to Josef and the couple later moved to America. Max/Josef became a dentist.
Helene became a physician and she still lives in Poland. In 1979, Stefania and Helene were awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. According to a thorough research, Stefania is still alive – living in California. Her story is featured in the movie Hidden in Silence. I recently found the movie for $1, and snatched it up!! This film is free on Amazon Prime. The movie is extremely accurate, down to how Stefania broke up with her boyfriend to the lady running out screaming because of typhus fever. I first heard about Stefania’s story in the book Women Heroes of World War II by Kathryn Atwood, which was also a great book.

In memory of the Righteous Gentiles and the brave women who fought for freedom and justice.
Previous articleSophie Scholl and the White Rose
Next article10 WWII Heroes: Jack Werber
Samantha is an entrepreneur and a former homeschool student from Indiana, USA. When not blogging, Samantha can be found reading about WWII, trying to speak Hebrew, and wasting time on Pinterest. Her work can be found on Free Homeschool Deals, Unigo, True Aim Education, Encouraging Moms at Home, and more.

17 COMMENTS

  1. WELL DONE!!!!! I love history as well and can’t wait to watch the movies, purchase the children’s book mentioned(I am super picky about stories)and read some of the memoirs!!! Thanks for researching!! ~Doris

    • I OWN the move on a C.D. and didn’t know until now, it was a t.v. movie. I’ve watched it a few times, most recently last night, Monday, March 3rd. I cried at the end. Stephania/Fusia , BLESS YOU AND YOUR SISTER for doing what you did! I read at the end of the movie, you “didn’t think you did anything”, YOU AND YOUR SISTER SAVED LIVES!!!

  2. I have watched the film several times now – a moving story. I cannot imagine living through that time, but believe I could not be as brave as that woman, her sister and the people hiding in the attic!

  3. Samantha,
    I also study World War Two resistance and the holocaust for many years, traveling to where many of these amazing rescues happened. I hope you have an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of these ordinary people with extraordinary courage. I enjoyed your article on Stefania Podgorska and look forward to reading more of your research in the future!
    Warmest regards, Janet

  4. I’m trying to find out the fate of Stefania and Helane’s mothers and siblings. Have you found any information on them? I found a family tree website that listed their mom’s death as in the 60’s. I am also curious as to what happened to Stefania’s sisters that she initially lived with in the city. They just disappear when the war starts in the research I’ve done.

    • Hmm…wow, nope, I’ve never heard anything about either..As far as I know, Stefania doesn’t have a published memoir..I know both are still alive…maybe you could contact them?

  5. There are just some people in this world that are too beautiful. What Fusia and Helena did was astonishing. Love always conquers over Hatred. This is a beautiful heart rendering factual movie portraying Stephiana & Helene’s beautiful souls. I bet each and everyone of those thirteen Jewish survivors love them sooooooooo much!

  6. I have watched the movie twice, (this afternoon was the second time) and Fucia and her young sister are both very special heroes. What they achieved by saving the lives of the Jews who asked for help was a miracle from God.

  7. I’m an 86 yr,.old History buff. I’ve been a farmer, factory worker, logger, college & university teacher, social worker, and State and National Park ranger among other things in an eventful life. I’m currently facilitating an OLLI class I call Unsung Heroes. Unlikely women and men who risked their lives to save the lives of others. I’ve led a class on Irena Sendler, a Polish Social Worker who is credited with saving the lives of over 1,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust, and Nancy Wake known to the Nazi’s as the White Mouse who helped hundreds of downed British fliers out of Occupied France. My next class will focus on Stefania Podgorska who sheltered 13 Jews in her attic for 2 1/2 years in occupied Poland. I’ll also be looking at an American Consciencious Objector, who refused to carry a weapon, but saved the lives of hundreds of U.S. fighting men on Okinawa, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his life-saving deeds. My goal is to bring them to the attention of all those who have never heard of them and should learn about the deeds of some of the bravest individuals know to history, but that are virtually unknown to the public today.

  8. Hey, Samantha! Nice work you got here! I myself are a lover of Words, Hebrew, History (Jewish as in the bible and current)! Mostly because I am a christian and words/ truth mean a lot to me. I am glad to find someone with the same passion! Yes, I enjoyed your review and loved the bravery/courageous act by Fusa/Sthephenia and Helene. I beleive it was her faith that kept her and the Jewish alive. She was determined and optimistic and believed that her prayers would be answered!…I loved it, smiled and cried so much towards the end of the movie. To find out, she kept them in her attic for 2.5 years was even more heart breaking… I cried more..lol Who could have done this?/Destiny? Worst yet, getting caught and having all killed? It is really a moving story…Nevertheless, she gain a whole new family and a man who would love her. As she thought she would never find love or a young man to love her after breaking up with her boyfriend. The act makes me think about doing the right thing even if it hurts. Some would say, a righteous act/foolish act. Thanks again, Samantha and Gd bless you in your quest in History and courageous people in WWII! Looking forward to reading more!

  9. I also own this movie on DVD. I watch it over and over. What these two sisters did was extraordinary courage. Its an inspiration to anyone living in hard times in today’s world.

  10. My mother and Stefania lived in the same assisted living residence (Glen Terra) in Glendale, California. That’s where I got to know her. She was being called Steffi, and she wanted to be called Fusia instead. She liked to dance arm-in-arm to whatever music was playing. She liked to wear new clothes!
    Unfortunately, Stefania was also suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. She seemed to remember her activities during WWII, but she had grown tired of talking about all of it. She said it made her feel bad, and she missed people she had known. It wasn’t long before attendants were finding it difficult to keep track of her whereabouts. She was moved to a different residence that had security to protect dementia patients. I don’t know the location. It was the last I saw of her. That was sometime before 2014.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here