Photograph of Dr. Olga Lilien, 1938 Dr. Olga Lilien was born in 1904 in Lvov. Finishing her medical studies, she interned for one year in the United States at a hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana. She practiced pediatric medicine for the next year and a half in Berlin, followed by a year in Paris, finally returning to Lvov. Olga then began teaching hygiene at the same high school she had attended as a girl. By the start of World War II, she was also assisting in the bacteriological research laboratory of Dr. Henryk Meisel.

OLGA LILIEN: The Bolsheviks--we called them Soviets--came on September 17, 1939. Some people thought they were coming to help us against the Germans. They didn't know about the pact made with Ribbentrop The Bolsheviks didn't ever say they were going to help the Germans, but they helped them for almost two years. A great many people came from the west of Poland thinking they could help against the Germans somehow, but they were all taken by the Bolsheviks and sent to Siberia, Jews and Poles alike. The Russians thought that because these people were from the west, they would be traitors, sympathetic to the Germans, or something like that. Another group they took was the wives of Polish officers. They were sent to Siberia too, along with their children. This is why Halina and my niece Olla came to live with me. Their Polish school was in a Russian occupied area and it was too dangerous.

The Russians were somewhat against the Poles. They said that the territory around Lvov was Ukrainian, not Polish. But other than that, they were not too bad. They didn't make much of a fuss about Jews, although they did make us get new passports. They wanted to give us a Hebrew family name, but my family was never religious, and my father refused. He told the person at the passport office, "I've lived in Poland all my life. I don't want to be a Jew now." My father convinced him to write down that both of us were Polish, and so we had Polish identity papers. When the Germans came I only had to change the family name from Lilien to Mazur, because it sounded less Jewish, and I never went to the ghetto. My sister, however, did go to the ghetto and was killed there, along with her husband. And my father died when the Bolsheviks were there.

It was after the Germans came to Lvov that it became difficult for the Jews. They closed all the schools and I had no place to work. For awhile I was still able to work for Dr. Meisel, but then they persecuted him, and he no longer had a laboratory. The Germans took him to the Weigl Institute, and I had nowhere to work. I simply had no work, and I couldn't apply for any.

Before the war, I was sent to a small village about one hundred kilometers from Lvov, to practice medicine. I lived there with a Ukrainian family who were very nice to me. After the Germans came, I went back to that village three times to buy food, because there was a great scarcity in Lvov. On one trip--it was in November, maybe 4 o'clock in the afternoon--I was standing in the town square looking for a ride back. A horse cart came along and offered me a ride, but then just a few miles down the road to Lvov the driver said, "Get out here. I am going in another direction now." I got off with all of my heavy things.

By then it was dark and the curfew was in effect; you weren't allowed to be walking around. The Gestapo in that area had a terrible reputation. I was wondering where I was going to sleep. I saw a light, knocked on the door, and was let in by a maid who was at work cutting up a big pile of cabbage to make sauerkraut. I asked if I could help her. "You don't have to help, you can just sit." A little while later the lady of the house came in.

"Who is this?" she asked.

"I would like to spend the night. It's late and I can't get back to Lvov."

"Oh no, absolutely not. You can't stay here. You can leave your things, but I don't want you here."

"All right. Thank you for keeping my things."

I went away. I knocked at another door, and heard someone call, "Who is that?" I explained to him that I wanted to stay overnight. He said that it would be very nice but he was a bachelor and didn't think it was such a good idea.

I went to another door; nobody answered. Finally, I tried another place where I saw a light--the German work office. A woman came to the door. Again I asked if she could put me up for the night, and she said of course she could. There were two beds in the room. She slept with her husband in one bed and gave me the other one. They were Polish. They helped me.

Basha: The Germans came in June. One day in January someone told me that a Jewish woman who worked with Dr. Meisel at the Institute had been taken by the Gestapo and killed, that it would be best if I left Lvov right away. Halina gave me the address of Basha and told me I could rely on her, that she would help me. But I went first to my relatives living in a village near Warsaw. They were absolutely safe; nobody thought they were of Jewish descent. I stayed there for a while, but I couldn't continue living at other people's expense. I needed to work.

Photograph of Town Square, Sandomierz, Poland, c. 1938

So then I went to Basha's address in Tarnobrzeg. She asked what could she do for me. I said, "Maybe one of your aunts needs a cook. I could help her in the house." And so she arranged for her aunt Lilka, who had a very nice house with a beautiful garden a few miles from Sandomierz, to take me as her servant. I stayed there for five months. I wasn't a very good cook, but I was an excellent maid. This aunt is the same one who sent Mrs. Litowicz and and her little girl Marysia to Basha. She had been a high school teacher until the Germans closed down all the schools. Now she was involved in teaching Polish language courses underground. This was a great risk for her because it was absolutely forbidden; she could have been rounded up by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz for doing it.

Lilka let me stay with them, but I knew they were nervous about it. They were afraid there might be a complication some day, plus she was already worried about her underground teaching. I thought, well, no one should be at risk because of me. So I said thank you, I won't be your cook anymore, and I went away to Basha and her mother Mrs. Szymanska, in Tarnobrzeg. Their home became a very steady place for me at that time, a place I could depend on.

Basha was wonderful. She was goodness itself. She was not only good to the child, Marysia, but she was very capable and heroic as well. Basha was so very nice, but Mrs. Szymanska was like honey, a little bit fantastic. Her life wasn't easy, but she was so terribly good. She was very intelligent, always thoughtful of people, and always optimistic; she was a warm person, good-hearted and wise, with the kind of wisdom that doesn't come from books, but from the heart.

The Polowicz Family: In Tarnobrzeg I was without work again. One day Dr. Polowicz, the director of the school where Basha was teaching, said to me, "What are you doing, really? You come and go, back and forth. It's not a good idea." He was from Poznan in the west of Poland and had been expelled when the Germans came and annexed that area to Germany. So he was a refugee, too. He told me school was starting soon and he had no one to cook. Would I like the job? I said very well, this is my specialty.

So then I stayed at the school, cleaning and cooking. Another girl and I ran the kitchen during the school term. I was earning six hundred zlotys per month, plus room and board.

One time the Germans came to see the school. The lady who delivered our groceries took one look at their uniforms, and was so frightened she had an epileptic seizure. I didn't even know she was an epileptic. Well, there was nothing to do; you just had to wait for the attack to end. I cooked a better dinner than usual for the Germans that night. They liked it.

After five months in the school kitchen, Dr. Polowicz said the term was over and the boys were going home, but if I wanted, I could work in the fields. I said all right, I'll help in the fields. After all, that was an opportunity to earn my money. I wouldn't have to eat bread divided in portions, taking it away from somebody else. So I went to the fields. Dr. Polowicz and I became good friends, and before long Mrs. Polowicz asked me to be her cook--a promotion. It was beginning to be a career. She took me into her house where I cooked and taught their three children who had no school to go to. There was a school, but it only had the first three grades. The Germans said it was enough for the Poles to learn to read and write and count up to ten.

I stayed with the Polowicz family until the end of the war. They stayed on at the school for one more year, then when Dr. Polowicz was appointed director of another school, he hired me to teach anatomy. Later the whole family returned to Poznan. I visited and we always exchanged presents and letters at Easter and Christmas. Now they are both dead and I have no contact with the children.

During those war years I was caught by the Germans three different times, but I wasn't afraid. You see, I didn't feel Jewish. I felt Polish and I spoke Polish perfectly. I could speak German too, but I never told them that.

Photograph of Jewish Women Being Deported, Poland, c.1943

The first incident, I was on a little ferry boat crossing the Vistula, on my way to Lvov with a package of flour. A German came on the ferry and said, "Show me your documents!" I showed him my documents, and he started to speak to me in German. I said I didn't understand. He was from Silesia and spoke Polish fluently. He asked me where was I going, what was I doing. Then he put his hand on my package and asked me what it was. A package of seeds. He gave me back my documents. I was perfectly calm.

Another time--it was Christmas, and I was pretty tired--I was going from Tarnobrzeg to Warsaw to visit my relatives. A German stopped me and said, "You are Jewish."

"No, I'm not Jewish."

"We'll see. We'll see. Come along with me."

We went to his commandant. He asked him, "Is she Jewish or not?"

"Oh certainly she is Jewish. Put her in the ghetto where she belongs."

The commandant left, and I went along with the first one again. We were walking down a very poor street. "Where were you going?" he asked me. I told him, to a Mr. Toscinsky, which wasn't true. He took the address, smiled in a German way, and told me to go along. He never did anything about it.

The third incident involved a German who spoke very good Polish and was known to be pretty bad to everyone all around, Jews and Poles alike. You see, the Germans found very little difference between the Poles and the Jews. This German was looking for a man in Tarnobrzeg who he wanted to hang. They asked me to come to a meeting where they were questioning people about this man. Everyone was telling the German they didn't know where the man was, when suddenly he looked at me and said, "Oh, but this is a Jewess." The head of the village said, "Oh no, she cooks at the school. She is a very good cook." Nobody said, "Oh well, she is Jewish. Take her." He let me go.

The population of the village was about two thousand. They all knew there was something "wrong" with me. Any one of them could have sold me to the Germans for two hundred Deutsch marks, but out of two thousand people nobody did it. Everybody in that village protected me. I had very good relations with them.

Doctor Olga gave the preceding interview in 1987 in Sandomierz, Poland.

When the war ended Dr. Olga chose to remain in Tarnobrzeg where she returned to her profession as a pediatric doctor. She remained on close terms with the Szymanska family until her death in August, 1996, at the age of 92.

Halina and Barbara Speak About Doctor Olga:

Photograph of Dr. Olga Lilien and Halina Szymanska Ogrodzinska, Sandomierz, 1987

HALINA SZYMANSKA OGRODZINSKA: Olga is a very nice person, intelligent and quite clever. She's always helpful to everyone, and always without money, because if she has something, she gives it away. During the war she lost her whole family.

I was surprised to hear her say that she was so brave and never afraid, that everything was all right. This must be some kind of psychological process. She is against any idea that she must have been persecuted during the war. This feeling was probably less so at the time of the war, but has grown stronger over the years. She would like to confirm that that was not her question, that she was not Jewish looking, that everything was all right, and that she was running without danger. In fact, she was very brave.

BARBARA SZYMANSKA MAKUCH: She looked Jewish. Oh, yes, she knew very well that she looked Jewish, even though she never mentioned it to me. Her sister was completely different--completely; she looked almost like an Egyptian painting. Olga felt very strongly that she was Polish and this conviction gave her strength.

It is important for her to think that Dr. Polowicz asked her to work for him, and not that I asked him to help her. I know how her mind works, or rather, how her mind prepares itself; it is a very flexible instrument. It's very good, because if she hadn't felt so strong perhaps she would have died.

When I came back to Poland from the concentration camp I lived in a small city apartment with a garden. I don't remember why, but Olga was living with my mother in Sandomierz for awhile. One time I prepared a parcel of things to send to my mother, and made another one for Olga too, because I loved her very much, not because I thought she was needy. I remember wrapping up some underwear, a few blouses, and a skirt, and sent it off to her in Sandomierz. She sent it all back--the whole package--with a note. She wasn't mad. She said only, "Thank you very much for remembering me, but please find somebody who needs these things much more than I do." Very proud. She was always working and she always had money. This is Olga.

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