Łukasz Małecki-Tepicht: How the Potaszniks got their names back

Łukasz Małecki-Tepicht (son) and Stefan Małecki-Tepicht (father), Otwock, August 19, 2022.
Photo: Leszek Tyboń

I was very moved that the decision, under which the court recognized Rywka and Chaim and their daughters as dead, took place in the Polish courtroom, and the Jewish names of each of them were said aloud in the name of the Republic of Poland.

Speech at the march of remembrance and prayer in Otwock, August 19, 2022.

Dear Citizens of the City of Otwock and participants of today’s March,

I have been a participant in a few previous Marches of Remembrance and Prayer. However, I have watched more and more people attend the marches every year. More and more of them were the inhabitants of the city of Otwock. For me, it is the source of joy and hope.

I am standing here because of the pre-war inhabitants of Otwock – Rywka and Chaim Potasznik – and also because of their daughters: Dwojra, Chawa Sura, and Sara, sons of Rywka and Chaim. I have not managed to establish names of the two sons.

There were also my grandmother’s three brothers, whose names have not been determined to this day. This inability to even know the boys’ names is one of the most heartbreaking symbols of the void left by them.

It would seem that on August 19, 1942, their story ended and there is no one to return to it.

In the documents of the only daughter of Rywka and Chaim, who survived the war outside of Poland, Mala Małecka, my grandmother, née Potasznik – there were incorrect data for all of her life. Nevertheless, they were to protect her. Namely, that her name was Maria and that she was the daughter of Regina and Henryk. Only consistent research in the archives of Warsaw, Łódź, Radom, and Otwock that lasted many years enabled me to establish her parents’ real names.

This question has haunted me for many years: how does it happen that the invader had the final say in the lives of the victims of the Holocaust? What was heartbreaking for me was that in the case of the Potasznik family, the last order, the last document, the last word was written in the language unknown to them, the language they never used.

The last command before the train closed… The order to open it at the destination station – Treblinka… The rush on the last journey… The last hours of the Potasznik’ lives may have given the feeling that there was no place on earth for them.

Great-grandfather Chaim was probably a person of deep faith, meaning that he may have interpreted the reality around him as death for the sake of the name of the Eternal One – Kiddush haShem. However, his younger children may not have understood how it was possible that the world they knew was disappearing before their eyes – along with them. These children were the age of the scouts present here.

It hurt me that the fate of these eight Otwock residents was not claimed by Polish public institutions.

Under the inspiration of many conversations with the initiators of this March and the researchers of the Holocaust, including Zbigniew Nosowski and Sebastian Rakowski, who are present here today, I have made an effort to establish the true data of the Potasznik family and to have the circumstances of their deaths acknowledged by the Polish institutions.

The first source of hope appeared when the Institute of National Remembrance handed me over the decision to finish the investigation concerning the case of the Otwock ghetto. Another was the decision of the prosecutor from this Institute, who led the case of the crimes in the Treblinka extermination camp, to recognize the Potasznik family as the victims of this execution site.

The third and the last act of hope came when the District Court in Otwock recognized them as dead. Although due to the pandemic conditions, the provisions allowed the court to hear the case in camera or to conduct the hearing online, the court summoned us to the hearing to the courtroom. It was initially to my surprise. However, I was very moved in court that the decision, under which the court recognized Rywka and Chaim and their daughters as dead, took place in the Polish courtroom, and the Jewish names and surnames of each of them were said aloud in the name of the Republic of Poland.

Today the white eagle is again visible over the names of the Potasznik family. What is more, the parents of Mala, Dwojra, Chaja Sura, and Chawa Perla do not have to hide behind the names of Henryk and Regina, but again they are Rywka and Chaim.

When I look back from the perspective of the last four years at the archive research, at my contacts with the officials in the archive and the municipality of Otwock, the contacts with the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation, and finally, the hearing in the Polish courts – I can stand here and express my thanks to the representatives of the Polish administration, prosecution offices and courts for their involvement and the possibility to commemorate the Potasznik family.

During celebrations such as today’s March, the words – which are also the motto of the Yad Vashem Institute – from verse 5 of Chapter 56 of the Book of Isaiah take on special significance: “I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” and verse 8 of the same Book: “The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.””

To all the gathered March participants, I thank you for your presence. To those to whom Polish state institutions have restored Jewish names – Rywka, Chaim, Dwojra, Chai Sura and Chava Perla Potasznik – you, dear March participants, provide prayers. Thank you.

Polish version: Łukasz Małecki-Tepicht: Jak Potasznikowie odzyskali imiona

See also: Potasznikowie, rodzina ubogiego szewca

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