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Who Were the PodgóRski Sisters?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The Podgórski sisters were two Catholic Polish sisters who helped to conceal people of the Jewish faith in their home during the Holocaust. In addition to hiding 13 Jews, all of whom survived the war, the sisters also smuggled food into the German-established ghetto, risking their lives in an attempt to save as many people as possible. For their contributions, the Podgórski sisters were honored after the war by numerous Jewish organizations, along with many other people throughout Europe who concealed Jewish refugees during the war.

In 1942, Stefania Podgórski and her sister Helena were living in Przemysl, Poland. Stefania was 16, and her sister was only six; the two lived alone because their father had died, and their mother and brother had been taken to a forced labor camp. As German control over the city tightened, the Germans began expelling the Jewish population from the ghettos, forcing them to go to labor and concentration camps. Joseph Burzminski, who had known Stefania through her work, came to the sisters and begged for a night of shelter.

Although his plan was to stay only one night, Burzminski ended up staying through 1945 and he ultimately married Stefania. In addition to Joseph, the Podgórski sisters harbored 12 other people, including a doctor, a dentist, and a mailman. The sisters ended up moving to a cottage to accommodate all of the visitors, hiding them in the attic.

When a German officer moved in next door to the Podgórski sisters, they thought their scheme was over, but they managed to keep their guests concealed, even when German soldiers entered the house. Stefania often encouraged the group to pray for deliverance or heavenly assistance, crediting God's efforts and luck for their survival through the war.

The heroic efforts of the Podgórski sisters were based on family values; Stefania remembered that her mother had taken hospitality very seriously, and that she had been told never to refuse a request for help. However, the girls were also pressured into taking refugees. One woman actually blackmailed Stefania, claiming that she would denounce the Podgórski sisters unless they took her in, and when the girls were terrified, their equally frightened refugees pressured them out of fear of being turned out to certain death.

Stefania Podgórski's accomplishment is especially remarkable when one considers the fact that she supported 14 people on her own at a very young age, selling sweaters, working in factories, and performing odd jobs to get by. The survival of all 13 refugees as well as Stefania's sister is a testimony to her courage and personal strength.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon993388 — On Nov 11, 2015

The Burzminskis had two children, Christine (now Krystyana) and Eduard "Ed". Dr. Burzminski passed away several years ago and Stefania lives with Krystyna in So. California.

By anon989159 — On Feb 22, 2015

A great story. The ghettos were established by the Germans following their invasion and occupation of Poland. Prior to the war, there were no restrictions on where Jews were allowed to live in Poland. Although the German occupation came to an end when the Red Army re-entered in 1944, Poland was not liberated, but was, in fact, subjected to a brutal Soviet occupation for the next 45 years.

By anon989154 — On Feb 22, 2015

Terms like “Polish ghetto” have been condemned by Professor Norman Davies (Author, British Historian), American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, Bernard Korbman (President Australia Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendants), David Marwell (director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage Museum in New York, which focuses on the Holocaust) and many others.

By anon929371 — On Jan 31, 2014

I always loved the story of these two girls. If you haven't seen the movie made about them "Hidden in Silence" with Kellie Martin Cerca mid-late 1990s, please check it out! It is on Amazon instant watch. Good movie, and wonderful how the movie didn't go far from the real story.

Due to trauma (life-or-death secrets are pretty big for a six year old) little Helena was mute for four years after the war and continued to stutter for the rest of her life (not sure if she's still alive, but I read a book that testified that in her 50's she still stuttered).

By anon25987 — On Feb 06, 2009

Wow! My Mother's people have polish roots.

I will pass on this story, to her, though she probably knows of it.

I had read of the Warsaw Ghetto, but do not remember this one. Thank so much.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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