Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish Catholic inmate at Auschwitz who helped his Jewish girlfriend escape the death camp and, as a result, was named a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, died on Oct. 20 at his home in southern Poland. He was 90.
Bielecki was 17-years old in 1940, when the Nazis caught him trying to escape from occupied Poland into Hungary. Believing him to be a member of the Polish resistance, they sent him to Auschwitz with the number 243 tatooed on his arm. In the fall of 1943, after about three years of hard labor, he met Cyla Cybulska, a Jewish prisoner from Lomza, in Poland’s Bialystok district. Bielecki and Cybulska fell in love and began meeting in secret, despite the fact that male and female prisoners were forbidden to meet.
In early 1944, Bielecki began plotting their escape. On July 21, 1944, wearing an SS uniform he had pilfered from the camp’s warehouse and armed with a forged document authorizing the disguised “guard” to take a prisoner to work at a nearby farm, he appeared at the door of Cybulska’s barracks, barked out the number tattooed on her arm, and marched her out of the camp in what Yad Vashem described as “an escape operation that was one of the most daring of its kind.”
The two continued eastward, walking, mostly by night, through fields and forests. Soon their food ran out, their clothes were soaked through, and Cybulska was exhausted. When she felt she could no longer continue, she begged Bielecki to leave her behind, but he refused and even carried her on his shoulders whenever he was able. Some ten days later, the two fugitives reached the village of Muniakowice, in the Kielce district of Poland, where a relative of Bielecki’s took them in. Soon, Bielecki joined the partisans of the Armia Krajowa – the Polish underground — while Cybulska was taken to a neighboring village, where she was put up by a peasant couple who looked after her until the liberation.
After the war, each thought the other had died. Cybulska immigrated to the United States where she married, settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. and had a daughter. Bielecki remained in Poland and also married and had children.
Then, in 1983, Cybulska, who was by then widowed, told the story to her Polish cleaning woman, who recalled hearing the same story told in an interview on Polish television. Cybulska located Bielecki, contacted him and flew to Krakow to meet him. In the years that followed, the two would visit with one another 15 times. Cybulska died in 2005.
On June 27, 1985, Yad Vashem recognized Jerzy Bielecki as a Righteous Among the Nations.
“I have two children,” Cybulska’s daughter Fay Roseman of Coral Springs, Fla. said on Friday. “Without him, there wouldn’t be this family.”