Barbara recalls the work she did with Zegota. She discusses how she would frequently take trains between Warsaw and Lviv to obtain fake identification papers for Jews.
Barbara Makuch was born in Russia in 1917 to Franciszek Szymanksa and Janina Szymanksa. Her middle-class Catholic family moved to Warsaw, Poland when she was 8 months old. Barbara had two sisters and went to public school as a child and agriculture college as a young woman. She remembers there being no government laws about segregation between Jewish and Gentile students, but Jewish students were often forced to sit at separate benches and people were discouraged from supporting Jewish businesses.
When the war started, Barbara was teaching at an agriculture college and living with her mother in the small town of Tarnobrzeg in Poland. One day a Jewish woman who Barbara had never seen before came to her door with her daughter, Malka, and asked Barbara to look after her. Even though she did not know this woman, Barbara took Malka in, claiming she was her niece. Eventually Barbara realized she had to move Malka out of the small town they were living in because people were starting to question if Malka was actually related to Barbara. In 1943 Barbara, her mother, and Malka moved to Lviv (Ukraine), where one of Barbara’s sisters was living. Along with Malka, Barbara helped four other Jewish people find safe places to hide during the war.
In Lviv, Barbara joined Zegota as a courier. Zegota was a Polish underground resistance with the goal to help Jewish people during the war. Barbara would take false identification documents from Warsaw to Lviv, where they would then be given to Jewish people so they could live without restrictions or fear of being captured. Barbara was a courier for three months until she was caught and arrested by SS officers. She was interrogated, then taken to a prison in Lublin to be tortured. Finally, Barbara was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp in Germany, where she remained until Soviet forces liberated the camp on May 3, 1945.
After liberation, Barbara went back to Poland to find her mother and sisters. She found her mother and one sister. In 1959 Barbara visited Canada, where she met her husband, and decided to stay. She returned to Poland a few times before permanently immigrating. When she did decide to immigrate Malka and her mother sponsored her. In August of 1979 she received recognition for her actions during the war and was awarded the “Righteous Among the Nations” honorific. Upon the death of her husband in 1993, Barbara returned to Poland to bury him. She remained in the city of Sandomierz until her death.
Barbara Makuch died in 2004, and her full testimony is part of the Canadian Collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies. It is preserved in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive and accessible through the Ekstein Library.
[They] beat me. I was completely blue for six weeks.
Educators & Students
Educational guidesCheck resources