Jerzy Bielecki was 17 years old in 1940 when he was suspected as being a member of the Polish resistance in WW2. He was sent to the Auschwitz death camps where he was permanently marked Prisoner #243. Three years later the Cybulska family was all arrested and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Only one would escape death and that was Cyla. At the time Jerzy was working in a grain warehouse when a new batch of prisoners arrived. Cyla walked in the door for the first time and Jerzy thought for sure she had winked at him. Even in a death camp he was smitten.
Over the next 8 months they shared only the briefest of conversations but they fell madly in love. Jerzy began planning their escape. Originally he had mind one escape with several friends but for unknown reasons that plan fell through. But he was still determined for him and his love to escape the camp.
A friend of his worked in the uniform factory and piece by piece, they were able to sew together an SS uniform as well as forge some documents authorizing him to take Cyla Cybulska to a nearby farm to work. On the day of their escape he donned the uniform, pounded on Cyla’s barracks and demanded her to come out. Then he marched her in front of everyone and past sleepy morning guards to the fields outside. It was one of the most daring escapes of its kind.
Night after night they marched through fields and forests. It wasn’t long before they had no food, their clothes were soaking wet and Cyla was so exhausted from starvation and physical exertion that she could no longer continue. She begged Jerzy to leave her behind but he adamantly refused. Instead when he was able he carried her on his shoulders.
Ten days later they reached a village were Jerzy’s relatives lived. Exhausted, they found refuge and refreshment in the care of their relatives. But Jerzy felt pulled. He knew there were other prisoners and the war was wreaking havoc on millions of lives. In a painful act of separation, he left the love of his life, Cyla and joined the Polish underground movement. He found a hiding place for Cyla in another village to wait out the war.
After the war through a handful of misunderstandings they each thought the other was dead. So both moved on. Cyla emigrated to the US and married another Holocaust survivor. She opened a jewelry store in Brooklyn. Jerzy would also marry and have a family of his own. He worked as a director at a school for mechanics. But they never forgot each other.
By 1983 Cyla’s husband had passed away. She was casually talking with her Polish house cleaner about how long ago a man had saved her from the death camps and how he had died. The more she talked the Polish woman realized she knew the man. The cleaning lady told her, “I don’t think he’s dead. I saw his story on Polish TV. He’s alive!”
Cyla quickly did her research and contacted Jerzy. It was him! She got on the plane and flew to Poland to meet him. At the airport he brought her 39 red roses–one rose for every year they had been apart.
In an interview with Associated Press Jerzy said he was “very much in love with Cyla” during the time. He added, “Sometimes I cried after the war that she was not with me. Fate decided for us, but I would do the same again.”
They would meet another 15 times after that 1983 reunion and remained good friends. Cyla died in 2005 and Jerzy Bielecki passed away in 2011.
Because of Jerzy’s rescue of Cyla and himself, generations are now still alive. In 1985 Jerzy Bielecki was granted Israel’s highest honor–Righteous Among the Nations.