Holocaust survivor reunites with granddaughter of farmer who sheltered him during war
TORONTO -- It had been 72 years since a Holocaust survivor heard from a family he credited with saving his life. Now, at the age of 91, Adam Shtibel of Toronto is finally getting the chance to express his thanks.
Sitting on Shtibel’s couch in Toronto on Saturday morning, Kasia Szelag told CTV News Toronto that she had heard stories of a hard-working, young Jewish boy who had lived with her grandparents during the Second World War. She said that before her grandparents passed away, the family had tried to track down the Holocaust survivor, but they didn’t know where he ended up or if he was alive.
Two weeks ago, the family tried again and found Shtibel and his wife on the Azrieli Foundation website. Both of them had published their survivor stories.
Szelag was shocked to discover that Shtibel lived 45 minutes away from her and reached out to him by phone. She said that when Shtibel returned her call, she sat for five seconds, just staring at the name on the caller ID.
“I couldn’t believe that was happening,” Szelag said. “That was already amazing to hear your voice. To meet in person is surreal.”
“This, for me, was a miracle,” Shtibel said. “I never dreamed she’s going to find me.”
In 1941, Shtibel lived in a ghetto in Poland with his mother and older brother. At the age of 11, his mother told him to run away and gave him the name of a Polish farmer who would house him.
Shtibel changed his name and lived with the family for about two months until he was asked to leave.
“The Germans sent a notice saying nobody can hide Jewish boys or Jewish people. He said, ‘I cannot hold you anymore, you have to go,’ and he gave me some food and I went to the forest.”
Shtibel said he lived in that forest and bounced between villages, begging for bread and sleeping in barns.
“To save your life, you have to do anything that has to be done,” he said.
Eventually, he was caught by the Germans and taken to a camp. He told the Germans he was not Jewish, choosing to name himself after the first farmer his mother had sent him to.
At some point Shtibel came in contact with the Red Cross, and with the help of a local sheriff, they sent him to a farmer to be worker. That farmer was Szelag’s grandfather, Janek Szelag.
“I could feel right away, the first day, they treated me not as a helper, they treat me very nice and I could feel it from day one,” Shtibel told CTV News Toronto. “I was like their child. They trusted me so much.”
“I am very thankful.”
Shtibel spent five years with the Szelag family, including two years after the war ended. He believes Szelag’s grandparents “risked their lives” to save his.
“Hypothetically, if the Germans were to find out, they would come … I don’t know they would be in big trouble, so I give them a lot of credit. What they did to me, you don’t have that many people like that.”
He met up with the Szelag family a few times when he was living in Israel, bringing them clothing and visiting the animals. In 1968 he moved to Canada with his wife, Rachel, and settled in Toronto.
When Szelag visited Shtibel on Saturday, the pair shared photographs and spoke of Shtibel’s time on the farm. Both of them wished Szelag’s grandparents could have been there for the visit.
“I really wish they could just even hear the story or even hear your voice because they would be amazed,” Kasai said of her grandparents. “I wish they would be here.”