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Frank Gray

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Protecting Polish Jews in WWII gets honor

Mikulska

For decades, the tales that Jan Szubiac heard from his mother and grandmother stirred little interest outside his household in Poland.

Even after Szubiac’s mother, Danuta Renk-Mikulska, moved to America in 1970, where she was a baby sitter and housekeeper, and after Szubiak came to America in 1984, no one seemed to care to hear the family lore.

Until last year, that was, when Szubiac’s mother was honored at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Chicago. Now she will be honored again in Fort Wayne to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The lore was that his mother and her family, who were Catholics, had lived in a small compound about 3 1/2 miles outside a little town in Poland. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Renk-Mikulska’s father was allowed to keep his job as a forest ranger.

Meanwhile, the Jews in the nearby town, who made up about 60 percent of the population, were concentrated in a few houses on the edge of the city, where they were put to work as laborers, killed, sent to death camps or escaped into the woods, where they lived in bunkers dug into the ground and ventured out only at night to look for food.

It was about that time that Renk-Mikulska’s father dug a bunker under the stable in his compound and began to take in Jews. He hid the entrance to the bunker by stacking hay, chaining up a cow and stacking several cages of rabbits at the entrance. He tied a mean dog at the door to the stable to keep away German soldiers who were farm boys.

While her family hid Jews underground, Renk-Mikulska’s job was to wash their clothes and scrounge enough food to feed her family and the Jews they were hiding, something that could arouse suspicion. Eventually, the Germans were driven from Poland and the Jews were able to come out of hiding.

In 1966 Szubiak’s grandparents were named righteous among nations by Israel for risking their lives to save five different Jews, but it wasn’t until last year it was determined that Renk-Mikulska, who was just a teenager, also risked her life. She was named Righteous Among Nations at a ceremony at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Chicago.

Now, the local Jewish Federation will be marking Yom Hashoah on Sunday and Monday, and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese, will be presenting a special honor to Danuta during events to be held on Monday.

Old-school scam

If you go to the website for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, you’ll discover that there are probably as many types of scams out there as there are different types of stamps.

A curious one popped up in Fort Wayne the other day, though, an old-fashioned scam that, instead of using emails or phone calls, it actually used the mail.

A reader called to tell me of a postcard that she had received in the mail, telling her she had won a $100 gift card to Wal-Mart. To claim her prize, all the woman had to do was call a toll-free number, read the claim number on the card and she would get her gift card, plus another card good at any of several different chain restaurants. The woman called the number, which is listed as a toll-free number in the U.S. and Canada, and claimed her prize. The man on the other end of the phone, who had an accent, said they’d run the card out to her door right away, but there was one catch. There was a $1 fee.

Well, the woman said, I’ll give you your dollar when you get here. No, the man said, he needed a credit card number, Visa or MasterCard.

The woman didn’t fall for it, but it still irks her because she says she knows so many elderly people get taken for a ride on scams like this.

Postal Inspector Mary Johnson said it does sound like an old-fashioned scam, perhaps the work of a novice just getting into the business. It’s good advice to know that no one sends you money in the mail any more, except maybe your grandma. Social Security insists on depositing benefits directly into a bank account or crediting benefits to a debit card. Not even it sends out checks any more.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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