Miriam Schmetterling still remembers the day in 1944 when Mikolaj Tracz appeared at the top of the ladder to the attic where she had been hiding with her husband and his parents, and another Jewish family, for 10 months.
“You can come out now,” she remembers Tracz saying. “The Germans are gone.”
“I can live,” was her first thought. “I can live now.”
More than 60 years later, Schmetterling wept as she hugged Tracz’s daughter, Jozefa Tracz-Czekaj, who as a teenager helped her parents hide the two Jewish families. It was their first reunion since the war, at a Jewish Claims Conference ceremony honoring Poles who saved their Jewish neighbors and friends from the Holocaust.
“I find no words to describe what I’m feeling now,” said Schmetterling, now 82. “I did not even dare dream of this meeting.”
Tracz-Czekaj was 15 in 1943, when her parents, Mikolaj and Maria Tracz, took the seven members of the Schmetterling and Teig families into hiding in the attic of their house – right across from the Nazi police station in the town of Kopyczynce, then in eastern Poland, now Ukraine.
She said her family was friends with the two Jewish families, and decided they had to do something to help them.
She remembered helping bring food to the families, and remembered playing piano loudly so that the noise from the people living in the attic would not attract attention from strangers.
The Claims Conference organized the meeting on the sidelines of its annual executive board meeting, being held this year in Warsaw, to honor Tracz-Czekaj and dozens of others. They hold the title of Righteous Among the Nations and have trees planted in their honor at the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem.