to World War Two, seven-year-old Krystyna and her four-year-old brother Pawelek
led a happy life with their parents Jerzy and Peppa Chiger in Lvov. The City had
the third largest Jewish community in Poland and was known as both a cultural
and industrial center.
But when the Nazis stormed into the country and took control of Lvov, in June,
1941, extremely harsh anti-Jewish measures were immediately put into action.
During the summer, thousands of Lvov Jews were killed during a series of
massacres. By December, 1941, the Nazis forced the city's 150,000 Jews into the
newly established ghetto and brutality accelerated with murder, violence and
The Nazis enacted their
usual pattern of confiscation of Jewish property, personal humiliations and
deprivations of every sort, forced labor, and deportation to KZ camps. The
Ghetto's last few thousand inhabitants were removed in June 1943 after the rest
had been deported to extermination in the death camp Belzec.
But the Chiger family miraculously managed to escape the liquidation of the
ghetto by hiding in stench and darkness in the sewage-filled sewers of Lvov for
14 months amid rats, filth, and the constant pounding of rushing water. When
heavy rain fell, the water nearly reached the ceiling of the sewer and Krystyna
and Pawelek's parents had to hold their children above the waterline so they
could breathe. They had to pick off each day's lice and cope with dysentery.
The Chiger family found an unlikely savior in a seemingly ordinary Polish sewer
worker, Leopold Socha. Sir Martin Gilbert tells in his great book The
Righteous how Leopold Socha in his pre-war life as a black-marketeer and
thief had long been familiar with the sewers as a hiding place for his stolen
goods. Now he took 21 of the Jews whom he found in the sewer to one of his
subterranean hiding places, telling them to stay put.
Leopold Socha brought them food every day,
always by different manholes so as not to arouse suspicion. He also brought them
a Jewish prayer book which he had found in the now deserted ghetto. Each week
Socha would take the dirty clothes of those in hiding and return them washed.
For months the Chiger family faced the constant danger of discovery but they
survived in the sewer hide-out until liberation.
Some months later, their rescuer Leopold Socha was accidentally killed, run over
by a truck in the streets of Lvov.