May 30, 2024
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Grandson of Holocaust Survivor Locates Catholic Family That Hid His Grandmother

My grandmother, Pola Jasphy, a Holocaust survivor, was aided by a woman named Jadwiga Grochowska and her 7-year-old daughter Miroslawa. My grandmother looked for her later in life in order to thank her but she could not find her. My grandmother passed away in 2019 and in the summer of 2020 we came across some clues in her home that helped us search for and locate Jadwiga and her daughter in Chicago, Illinois.

Pola Jasphy was born in Rowno, Poland and raised in the nearby village of Antonowka. In 1941, that part of Poland came under Nazi control. The town was turned into a ghetto. Throughout this time, Pola’s mother continued to sneak out and deliver food to relatives in the nearby city of Rowno. In July 1942, Pola’s mother was caught in the liquidation of the Rowno Ghetto while delivering food to relatives. She was likely taken by train to a nearby forest and shot. When word arrived in Antonowka, Pola’s father and older brother took her and fled to the forests. A month later, Antonowka’s ghetto was completely liquidated.

Pola and her father and brother continued to live on the run in the forest and received aid from local Catholic Poles. One such person was a 28-year-old Catholic woman, Jadwiga Grochowska. Pola’s father sometimes came to her for food to bring back to the forest. On one occasion, Pola was quite ill and Jadwiga told Pola’s father to bring her and she would get her help. Pola’s father and brother brought her to Jadwiga under cover of darkness and Jadwiga found a place in the kitchen for Pola to hide. Jadwiga’s 7-year-old daughter, Miroslawa, kept her company. Jadwiga notified the country doctor that her “niece” was quite ill and asked if he could pay her a visit. The doctor treated her and Pola was able to rejoin her family on the run from the Nazis. Before she left, Jadwiga gave Pola a photo of her and her daughter for Pola to remember them by. Pola quickly rejoined her brother and father in the forest. Unfortunately, her father and brother were shot by the Nazis a month later during Passover of 1943.

Pola came to the United States in the 1950s after a long stay in DP Camp in Austria. She attempted to find Jadwiga and her daughter, even writing to the US Embassy in Poland for assistance. However, she did not connect with them, but did leave behind some clues. One clue was a letter she wrote to an organization saying that she had been informed by the US Embassy in Poland that Mirolsawa may have entered the US in the 1960s.

In 2019, my grandmother passed away. A year later, while cleaning out her house, we came across this letter and it started my search for Jadwiga and Miroslawa Grochowska. I entered the names into an online public records database and only 4 results appeared. Knowing that Illinois has a large Polish population, I felt that the listing in Chicago was my best bet. I called the number and I got an answering machine. I started speaking and midway through, a woman with a Polish accent picked up. She asked me who I was and I tried explaining but she didn’t seem to be understanding why I was calling her. At that point, with my grandmother’s story in hand, I started asking her about specific details of my grandmother’s story that related to her. She paused and said “Wait a minute, are you Jewish?” When I replied “yes,” she said “Now I know what this is about, yes, we helped a Jewish girl.” I could hardly utter a word to respond as I was choking with emotion and shock. Could it be that the people my grandmother had sought out to thank for nearly 80 years were living in the US and I was on the phone with one of them? I had to confirm this for myself. I asked her if her father’s name was Kajetan Grochowski and she said “yes.” I then asked her for the date her father was taken away and murdered by the Ukrainian militia and she replied with the exact date from my grandmother’s story. She told me how she and her mother had moved to the US from Poland in the early 1960s and had been factory workers for several decades. Until her death in 1998, Jadwiga continued to wonder if the Jewish girl she had helped had made it out alive. Little did she know that Pola was living in New Jersey! We continued the conversation for an hour and we resolved to meet in person in the future.

Fast forward a year and half later and I still hadn’t flown out to Chicago because of Covid. I decided it was now or never, and I called Miroslawa and asked her if it would be alright if I came the following week to visit her. She said “Of course.” I flew out from NY to Chicago on February 1 and rented a car to drive to her house. I didn’t know what she would look like, as the only photo of her I had was the picture given to my grandmother in 1943. I pulled up in front of her house and an 86-year-old version of that 7-year-old girl from the photo was staring right at me. We exchanged pleasantries and she took me inside, where she had photos waiting on the table for me. We talked for 2 hours and then we decided to drive twenty minutes away to visit her mother’s grave so that I could pay my respects. For the first time in my life, I was in a Catholic cemetery, yet here at her grave, I felt that I was standing on holy ground. This woman had risked her life at 28, and that of her 7-year-old daughter, in order to save a Jewish girl. If not for her, generations of my family would not exist. At that moment, I recited some Tehillim, said thank you to her, and kissed her tombstone.

Since my return to NY, I have continued my efforts to have Jadwiga and Miroslawa recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. I was told it will be an extensive process and I am hopeful we will accomplish this in the near future.


David is an attorney and lives with his wife and son in Riverdale.

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