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The Courageous Polish Farmer Who Rescued My Family and Brought Life from the Dead

There is an organization in Israel called ‘Yad Vashem,’ whose mission is to serve as the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.  In addition to preserving the memory of the Nazi Holocaust in World War II, Yad Vashem also strives to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust as well as the Righteous Gentiles of the Nations who saved Jewish people during the Holocaust.  As of January 31, 2020, Yad Vashem has conferred “Righteous of the Nations” status on more than 27,000 individuals who came to the aid and rescue of Jewish people during the Holocaust, with the largest contingent of those being the close to 7000 Poles who risked their lives to save Jewish people.  All of those “Righteous” individuals have a story worth telling, but I am best qualified to tell the story of the two Polish rescuers to whom, indirectly, I owe my own life and existence: Mikolaj and Katarzyna Pernat.

My father was born in the small southeastern Polish town of Sieniawa in 1925. He was born into a very traditional Jewish family, however his father died when he was just months old.  My father’s mother needed to run the family business at the same time as keeping the household together and raising my father and his siblings.  Mikolaj Pernat was a local Polish farmer who was a friend of the family as well as a customer. Like my father, Mikolaj had also lost his own father when he was very young. Consequently, he took a strong fatherly liking to my father and loved him as a son.

The Germans invaded Poland at the start of World War II in September of 1939. Because of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact signed between Germany and Russia right before the war, my father’s town actually lay in the area occupied by the Russians at the start of the war.  But in 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and my father’s area of Poland fell under Nazi occupation. In very short order, Jewish ghettoes were formed in all of the major towns in southeastern Poland and the murder of Jews began in full force.  It was necessary for my father, his mother, and his two sisters to seek shelter and go into hiding.

Though the risks were unbelievably great for Poles to gave shelter and safe haven to Jews, Mikolaj and his wife Katarzyna agreed to hide my dad’s family in the attic loft of their barn. To do that would mean certain death for the Pernats if they were to be discovered hiding Jews.  In fact, right around this time in a nearby town called Markowa, the Ulma family had been denounced and ratted out by neighbors as hiding Jews.  When the Gestapo arrived there shortly afterward, they not only killed all the Jews who were hiding there, they also killed all of the Ulma children and their parents.

Not dissuaded by that, the Pernats hid my father’s family for 18 months until it was no longer safe to do so.  The Pernats’ home and barn were situated on a crossroads which meant that German military personnel would often make stops there. Thus, it became too dangerous for the Pernats to continue to allow my dad’s family to hide in their barn. So, Mikolaj implored my dad and his family to leave there for their own safety and find another shelter and hiding place. The family sought shelter in a cave that they had dug in a forested field not far away. And even then, Mikolaj would bring food to my dad’s family in hiding.  Because of the gracious mercy and kindness of Mikolaj and Katarzyna, not to mention, their courageous resolve, my dad and his family were able to survive the Holocaust. Tragically, during that same time, over 200 relatives of my father’s who weren’t so fortunate perished in the Holocaust. I am so grateful for the Pernat family. Without their brave sacrifice, my father would not have survived, and I would never have been born.

In the Summer of 2014, I went on a quest to see if I could locate and find the Pernat family. My dad never went back to Poland which he had left in 1945 at war’s end and he died in 2000.  He never talked much about his Holocaust experiences when I and my siblings were young.  But I did know that there was a farmer who had hidden him. And from time to time, I would find letters in our house written in Polish and in the Polish script that were part of the correspondence between my father and Mikolaj. But I needed to meet this family that had given safe shelter to my father and his family. I wanted to know what motivated Mikolaj to make such a sacrifice.  In 2014, with the help of a Polish guide, I met the family, the descendants of Mikolaj and Katarzyna.  We hugged each other and kissed each other.  It was like a reunion of long-lost family members though we had never met each other before.

They told me that Mikolaj was often asked why he hid my father’s family by his Polish neighbors after the war.  Why did he assume such risk upon himself?  He would reply that God wanted him to do what was right.  He was a man with a deep faith in God.

To me, I will forever be grateful for what Mikolaj did for my dad and his family and, thus, for me.  He risked the life of his own family and himself to save my dad’s family. Not only is Mikolaj a Righteous of the Nations, but he is also a picture of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah who made the ultimate sacrifice of his life to save all of humanity. The Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote of Yeshua some 700 years before he actually died for our sins and then rose from the dead. Isaiah foretold,

He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him….He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors

(Isaiah 53: 5-6, 12)

Do you know Jesus as your savior-rescuer? Would you like to know more?

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