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A Candle on her Grandfather’s Grave

The German occupiers deported Julian Banaś from Poland to Germany for forced labor. He never returned to his wife and three children. Where he was deported, under which circumstances he lived and died: his family had learned nothing about that until his granddaughter sent an inquiry to the International Tracing Service (ITS).

“Two events triggered my search for any traces of my grandfather: the first one was that my father, his youngest son, fell ill. He was only three years old when his father was deported, and has no memory of what happened. The second one was that I happened to see a documentary on TV about the successful search for a tomb.” After that Źaneta Kargól-Ożyńska desired nothing more than to find answers for her father and, in his name, to light a candle on her grandfather’s grave. And she succeeded in making her two wishes come true – thanks to the help given by the ITS.

Certainty at last

Julian Banaś’s family had simply always assumed that he could not have survived forced labor and the war. Nevertheless, they all felt pain in finally learning about the circumstances of his death. As documents kept in the ITS archive show, Julian did forced labor for a farmer in Ergste, a suburb of the town of Schwerte. On 18 October 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo and detained in the Dortmund prison “Steinwache”, accused of having had forbidden relationships with Germans. The Nazis tried to prevent love affairs or other private contacts between Germans and forced laborers from Poland and the Soviet Union. A death certificate issued in 1946 and preserved in the archive shows the 27 July 1942 given as Julian Banaś’s date of death. A handwritten entry on the reverse side of the certificate proved to be of particular importance for the family: it includes a reference to his gravesite in Dortmund.

Further Research

The family had questions about the documents and wanted to learn more, in particular concerning the circumstances of Julian’s death. Seeking clarification, the ITS contacted Alfred Hintz, historian and author of a book on the town of Schwerte during the Nazi era. Having already researched the tragic fate of Julian Banaś, Alfred Hintz explained that the Gestapo had taken Julian back to Schwerte and executed him in the Ergste forest. After 1945, preliminary proceedings against his murderers had been opened, but then discontinued. From this second source Źaneta Kargól-Ożyńska also learned that, in 2010, a commemoration initiative had placed a “Stolperstein” (a small, commemorative brass plaque) in front of the Schwerte town hall in honor of her grandfather. A gesture and memory of great significance for her and her family.

Stops on a Journey

Źaneta Kargól-Ożyńska came to Germany early in August accompanied by her husband and daughter, but without her father who could not join her due to health reasons. Their journey was marked by many emotional moments: the visit to the grave where she lit a candle, the trip to the Ergste forest, to the “Stolperstein” in Schwerte and the visit to the “Steinwache” memorial in Dortmund. The ITS was their last stop.  

Malgorzata Przybyla, staff member in the department responsible for responding to inquiries concerning victims of Nazi persecution, accompanied the guests from Poland together with the head of this department, Anna Meier-Osiński. The Polish visitors were given all the information from the documents retracing Julian Banaś’s fate in their native language. Looking at the originals, the guests made a discovery: one document clearly showed the signature of Źaneta’s grandfather. The ink had been too faint to be seen in the scans. For the first time the granddaughter saw her grandfather’s handwriting, of which no trace had been found in the family. “I did not expect that. This is a very special moment.” Źaneta Kargól-Ożyńska expressed her gratitude for the help she was given with her search and for the guidance during her visit to Bad Arolsen: “We were overwhelmed by how quickly the ITS supplied us with all the information and the lengths the staff went to to answer all our questions. Initially I could not believe that we should be given the opportunity to look at the original documents. Now I am quite hopeful that my father will be better soon and that we will be able to come back and see Grandfather’s grave together with him.”