Jerzy Bielecki was 19-year-old when he was thrown into a German concentration camp, accused of being a member of the Polish resistance. Bielecki spent three years at the camps before he met Cyla Cybulska, a young Polish Jew who was sent there with her brothers and parents. Cyla was the only one of her family to survive, and was sent to work in the camp’s grain warehouse, where she met Jerzy. The pair were only allowed to speak a minimum of words to one another, but over the course of the next eight months, the two fell in love. And that’s when Jerzy hatched a scheme to save the love of his life and escape the camp.
With the help of a friend working in the uniform workshop, he was able to piece together an S.S. uniform. He then stole a pass and forged the documentation necessary to claim he was transporting a prisoner to a nearby farm for work. Amazingly, he was able to pull of the scheme, and in the summer of 1944 he walked out of Auschwitz with Cyla as his “prisoner.” The pair spent 10 days running and hiding in the fields surrounding the camp, until they reached the home of one of Jerzy’s relatives.
Once he got Cyla to safety, Jerzy felt compelled to join the Polish underground. They hoped to be reunited, but thanks to a series of miscommunications, each thought the other one had died. Cyla emigrated to the U.S. while Jerzy stayed in Poland. They both married other people. One day in 1983, “Cyla was at home talking to the Polish woman who cleaned for her, telling how this man had saved her and that she had been told he had died,” explained executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Stanlee Stahl. “The cleaning lady said: ‘I don’t think he’s dead. I saw a man telling the story on Polish television. He’s alive.’” Cyla traveled to Krakow to meet Jerzy, where he presented her with 39 red roses — one for every year they had been separated.
The pair met more than a dozen times over the years. In 1985, Jerzy received an award from Yad Vashem, Israel’s center for Holocaust research and education, for his bravery. In an interview last year, Jerzy remarked that he was always “very much in love with Cyla. Sometimes I cried after the war, that she was not with me. Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.” Cyla passed away in 2005, and this past week, Jerzy Bielecki died at the age of 90. And even if they’re both gone, the memory of their incredible love story and the lengths Jerzy went to to save the woman he loved will live on. [NY Times]