by David Giacomini
This past Tuesday, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies had their second program of the semester with a discussion with Holocaust survivor Fran Malkin and a screening of the documentary “No. 4 Street of Our Lady”, which told the story of Fran’s family’s survival during the Holocaust and the woman who risked her life to save them.
Fran was four years old and living in the small town of Sokol, Poland, when Germany and the Soviet Union invaded her home country in September 1939. While her family was initially safe living in the region of Poland that was occupied by the Soviets, that changed when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. Soon after the German invasion, Fran’s father was executed along with 400 other Jews from her town, and the remaining Jews were confined to a ghetto. As conditions in the ghetto steadily worsened and the Germans began taking steps to liquidate the population, many Jews began looking for ways out. One of Fran’s uncles got into contact with a middle-aged Polish Catholic woman named Francisca Halamajowa, who lived in the Sokol, about the possibility of her hiding the family. Ms. Halamajowa and her daughter would eventually agree not only to take in Fran’s family, but also two other Jewish families—a total of 13 people—and hid them in the loft of her pigsty for almost two years. She would also shelter another Jewish family in the cellar of her house and even a deserter from the German Army.
The documentary showed both the history of Fran’s survival through diaries kept by some of the other people in hiding as well as followed a journey by Fran and two other survivors back to Poland to visit the town in 2007. Along with the three Holocaust survivors were two of Ms. Halamajowa’s grandchildren. The town still bore many similarities to how it appeared in 1944, and it was very powerful to see these survivors visit the same locations over sixty years later. There were numerous emotional moments, such as when Fran walked the ruins of the brick factory where her father was executed and one of the other survivors visited the grave of his aunt, who died while they were in hiding and needed to be buried in Ms. Halamajowa’s vegetable garden. It is incredible to consider the bravery of Ms. Halamajowa in sheltering 15 Jews. There were harsh punishments for harboring Jews, and any of her neighbors could have inquired about the large amounts of food Ms. Halamajowa prepared or why she spent so much time in her pigsty. Of the 6,000 Jews that lived in Sokol before the war, only 30 survived, and Ms. Halamajowa accounted for half of these. As of 2009, the fifteen Jews Ms. Halamajowa saved had over 100 descendents living in both the United States and Israel. For her heroic actions, Ms. Halamajowa and her daughter were inducted by Yad Vashem into the Righteous Among the Nations in 1984.
After the documentary was over, Fran answered questions from the audience. One person asked how she was able to live in such an environment where the slightest noise could betray the family’s hiding place. Fran discussed how she could only talk in a whisper and continued to do so for a year after their liberation. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear such a remarkable story from a person who actually lived through it.