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.
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.
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.