Episode 1

Sally Frishberg

“And there was really no place to go. But my grandfather always contended that you don’t do anything. You stay put because, after all, he used to say, “Es iz nisht keyn hefke velt.” He meant that life had an orderly way of being conducted and that people who did nothing wrong need not be afraid of anything.”

High school teacher Sally Frishberg used her childhood experience of being hidden for two years with her family in a Polish farmer’s attic to create one of the first public high school classes on the history of the Holocaust.

Photos and Artifacts

Sally's mother's family photo, prewar. Sally's Mother is on the far left. Couple in middle are Sally's Grandmother and man with the long, dark beard is Sally's Grandfather. Seated with white kerchief is Sally's Great Grandmother (grandmother's mother). All the rest are Sally's mother's brothers and 2 sisters.

Sally's Mother and Father with Miriam, Lola, and Sally.

looking very fancy b/c in DP camp, young people were trying to create means of entertaining the crowd. They were the only children in the camp. American soldiers who supervised the camp - one soldier gave her an address to a seamstress to make outfits, then seamstress took the photo.
Dad, Miriam, Sally, Mother, Lola 1945 -1946

Maria and Stanisław Grocholski. photo credit:YAD VASHEM

Zofia, Helena, Genowefa, Anna Grocholskie

Westfield Public Schools

Zofia Grocholski receives a medal and a certificate from the Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner. Next to her is Sally Frishberg, who pressed for Mr. Grocholski's acknowledgment as Righteous Among the Nations. Photo courtesy of Yad Vashem

1984 Sally and Mrs. Grocholski in attic

Episode Notes by Dr. Samuel Kassow

Sally ENGELBERG Frishberg was born in 1934 in Urzejowice Poland, a small rural village near the town of Przeworsk in Polish Galicia. While most Polish Jews lived in cities and towns with large Jewish populations, Urzejowice where Sally spent her pre-war childhood had very few Jews. Indeed she remembers that they were the only Jewish family. She spoke Polish with her Polish playmates and Yiddish with her parents.

While Jews in interwar Poland worried about growing antisemitism marked by economic boycotts, attacks on Jewish students in the universities, and widespread violence in many towns, nonetheless in day to day life Jews and Poles lived side by side, maintained personal contacts and even warm neighborly relations. For example, Sally’s mother’s family had extended a helping hand to a young Polish boy, Staszek Grocholski, when he and his siblings were suddenly orphaned. While relatives took in the younger children Staszek and his older sister were left to fend for themselves. Sally’s grandparents, Staszek’s Jewish neighbors, became surrogate guardians, helping him with food and clothing, checking that he went to church. He would not forget what these Jews had done for him. Sally and her family survived the Holocaust because for two years, Staszek agreed to hide 15 Jews in his family’s attic including Sally’s parents, her sisters and, eventually, her uncle’s family as well. Four later died but 11 survived until the liberation.

In August 1942 the Germans ordered the Jews of Urzejowice to report for deportation. Sally’s grandfather, who like many other elderly Jews, had remembered the “civilized” Germans of the First World War, duly reported and was shot in a mass grave. Sally’s father, on the other hand, led the family into the surrounding countryside where for some months they hid in the fields. During this time Staszek Grocholski searched for the Engelberg family and found them. As the weather got colder and staying outside became impossible, Sally’s parents asked Staszek if he would be willing to shelter the family in his house. Staszek’s wife was afraid and refused. But promises of a fur coat and ample financial support, finally helped change her mind.

Even in normal circumstances, for a poor family to take in 11 people into a modest home, feed them, empty their chamber pots, and attend to their various needs is an enormous burden. To do so for two years is even more difficult. To hide these people in the conditions of wartime Poland was to risk death at every turn. The German authorities threatened Poles who helped Jews with the death penalty and we know of at least 750 Poles who were executed for helping Jews. There were frequent searches of Polish homes for hidden weapons and food. Because of the body heat given off by the Jews in the Grocholski’s attic, their roof was free of snow, a fact noted by an observant neighbor who luckily did not turn the family in.

What compounded all these risks was the general anti-Semitism of most sectors of the Polish population. While it was considered praiseworthy and courageous to cheat and thwart the occupation authorities at every turn, and while helping the Polish underground redounded to one’s credit, helping Jews was seen as a gross violation of communal norms. Recent research by Polish scholars such as Jan Grabowski and Barbara Engelking has demolished the myth of “Jewish passivity” and showed how Jews fought for their lives. Up to 150,000 Polish Jews tried to evade the mass murders and deportations of 1942-1943 by running to the forests, jumping from trains, hiding out in bunkers or asking Poles to hide them. (like the Engelberg family) No more than 30,000 were alive by the end of the war and most of those who died were either killed by Poles or denounced by them to the Germans.

The struggle to survive was very difficult, especially in the countryside and in small villages where everyone knew everyone else , where Polish peasants feared collective punishment if a family in the village hid a Jew and where murdering or denouncing Jews was seen as acceptable behavior, including members of the Polish underground.

How were the Grocholski’s going to procure food and water for 11 people, empty waste buckets, deflect the curiosity of prying neighbors? In fact the couple tried to hide what they were doing from their own children! The relentless danger and emotional pressure sent Mrs Grocholski to the edge of a complete psychological breakdown: she reached the point where she openly mused about poisoning the family. On more than one occasion Staszek told the hidden Jews that they would have to leave. But somehow the fragile link between the Grocholski’s and the Engelbergs did not snap. Yes, even in the best of cases the relations between rescued and rescuers were complex and fraught and it was not unknown for rescuers to suddenly betray their charges or send them off to certain death.
When the liberation came Staszek implored the Engelbergs, who in those first days could barely walk, never to reveal who had hidden them. This plea speaks volumes about Polish attitudes towards those who risked their lives to help save Jews.

Sally and her family reached the United States in 1947, thanks to the efforts Sally’s two uncles who had reached America before the war. Sally married, raised a family and became a respected high school teacher in Brooklyn. In 1988 Sally’s niece, filmmaker Debbie Goldstein released Voices from the Attic which described the trip that she and her aunt took to Poland to revisit the hiding place. Over the years Sally Frishberg kept trying to get Yad Vashem to recognize the Grocholskis as righteous gentiles. Eventually in 2012, in a ceremony in Poland, long after Staszek himself had passed away, Yad Vashem conferred this recognition on Grocholski’s widow and her children.

Additional readings and information

Sally’s unedited testimony:


Voices from the Attic, a documentary based on Sally’s story: