Berta Korennman (1920–1992)

Anna Żalińska

Berta Korennman was probably born on 1 November 1920 in Kovel.[1] Her father was a tailor, and her mother was a midwife. The couple also had a son, Zelig, three years younger than Berta.[2] They were Polish Jews, quite assimilated, although Berta’s father kept the traditional appearance, wearing a beard and sidelocks. Berta’s war story – escaping the ghetto, hiding, and “living on the surface”[3] later, deportation for forced labor and finally the long-desired liberation – is one of many similar stories from the period of German occupation of Poland. But the story of this particular Jewish woman is one especially remembered by the people of Nowy Sącz, and this is because of the unusual place in which she was hiding from the Germans – the clock tower of the Nowy Sącz Town Hall. Berta, seemingly unwillingly,[4] went down in history as “the girl from the clock” (although she was already almost twenty-two years old when she was hiding in the town hall.

Berta Korennman briefly described her war memories in writing; they were kept in custody of Jan Dobrzański, son of Henryk Dobrzański (born 1916), owner of the watchmaking workshop at Jagiellońska 2 Str. (the corner of the Jagiellońska Str. and the Main Square, in the so-called Ritter Tenement House, nota bene the workshop still operates today today, divided between two Dobrzańskis, grandchildren of Henryk). During the occupation it was the workplace of Stefan Mazur – a man who saved Berta. From these memories, we know that before the war started Berta lived with her parents and brother at Kraszewskiego 22 Str. in Nowy Sącz.[5] It was part of the district on the other side of the Kamienica River, also called Piekło, where the occupant created the second ghetto.[6] In 1940, she got aquainted with Stefan Mazur, a watchmaker’s assistant.[7] Stefan was born in Nowy Sącz on 1 May 1921, as a son of a worker Władysław Mazur and Rozalia Janiczak from Łącko, who was 24 years old at the time and worked in Nowy Sącz as a housemaid.[8] After graduating from the elementary school, he went to work in Henryk Dobrzański’s workshop, first as an errand boy and later as a watchmaker’s assistant.[9]

During the occupation Berta worked with her father in a small tea shop owned by Hechtental, a Jew. As repression intensified and the prohibition on leaving the ghetto was announced, Stefan and his mother started supplying Jewish families, including Berta’s family, with bread and selling them other food that was available “on the free market”, outside of the Jewish district. No authority was concerned about supplying the ghetto with food, everyone was always hungry. Stefan felt sorry for the Jewish people, their hopeless situation invoked his pity. He had many school friends and childhood playmates among the Jews. Since the spring of 1942, passing by the gates of the ghetto, more and more often he had seen the corpses being carried out of there. These were the victims of night-time executions done by the members of the SS, often drunk. Stefan was also an unwilling witness of the executions carried out at the Jewish cemetery on Rybacka Str. – his three-kilometer walk from his house in Zabełcze to work took him there every day. He did not see the actual executions, as the cemetery was surrounded by a cordon of armed Germans, but he often heard shots coming from there until late afternoon.[10]

In the summer of 1942, the Nowy Sącz ghetto was liquidated. Berta’s parents were taken from the “Hell” district ghetto by train to the East. It was announced to the Jewish and Polish people that the transports were organized to the places of work in the East. Initially, it was commonly believed. Stefan would often walk out of the workshop to look at the deported Jewish people, who walked from the ghetto to the railway station on foot. One day, in the crowd escorted along the Batorego Avenue, he saw Mr and Mrs Korennman. According to Stefan’s account, they also saw him, and Stefan nodded understandingly – it was supposed to be a sign that he will take care of their children. When the first mass transports began, the plan to free Berta and Zelig from the ghetto was often discussed by their parents and Stefan. The Korennmans went, perhaps unaware until the end, to die in the Bełżec death camp. When the parents were gone, Stefan felt naturally responsible for the siblings.[11]

After his parents were deported, Zelig was taken by the Germans to work in a sawmill in Rytro. Before the war the facility belonged to Count Adam Stadnicki from Nawojowa, during the war its management was forcibly taken over by the Germans. At Berta’s request, Stefan when there once to visit Zelig.[12] Berta, forced to  move to the closed ghetto in the Nowy Sącz center, remained with no family. However, in the ghetto she found her friend, Hela Szancer. It was Hela who helped realize the escape plan  and finally convinced Berta. Since she managed to save some valuables, she could provide for them to survive on the so-called “Aryan side”. Berta contacted with Stefan, throwing a secret letter wrapped around a stone over the wall on Pijarska Street. On the appointed evening the boy was waiting for Berta under the western wall of the ghetto – in the bushes over the Dunajec River. The girl jumped over the obstacle with Hela’s help, and Stefan, under the cover of the night, led her to the hiding place – a tight, dark room inside the clock mechanism on the tower of the Nowy Sącz Town Hall. It was the watchmaker Henryk Dobrzański who was responsible for the maintenance of the old clock from Prague, which had to be wound up every day; he delegated this task to Stefan.[13]

On the next evening, as it was agreed, Stefan helped Hela Szancer get out of the ghetto the same way, over the wall. Hela had forged documents with the name Makowska and she immediately left Nowy Sącz. When getting on the train, she arranged a way to communicate with Stefan Mazur in case she found a safe hiding place for herself and Berta. And indeed, shortly after, Hela let him know that she had found a safe place (it was probably in Jasło) and that there was also room for Berta there. Berta could get out of her hiding spot under the clock. She spent there less than two weeks (about 10 days[14]), although considering the conditions in which she stayed there (tightness – the room was too small to stand up fully straight; no window, close presence of the Germans, terrible hygienic conditions, complete dependence on somebody else) – subjectively the time must have felt a lot longer. The town hall was full of officials, both Polish and German, gendarmes and blue police officers. There were also some private apartments in the building. Only Stefan and his boss had the keys to the clock rooms, but for safety Berta had to keep absolute silence. She was dependent on one person – only Stefan knew that she was there. Fear and discomfort were definitely compounded by the constant ticking sound of the town-hall clock. Stefan Mazur came every day to supply Berta with food. He went up the tower under the pretext of winding up the mechanism and no one guessed the real purpose of his visits, although he made them two or even three times a day and was often seen by a fireman guarding the tower at all times.[15]

Henryk Dobrzański probably suspected that someone was hidden there, Stefan often talked with him about possible ways of helping Jewish people (he even considered using the shed in the principal’s garden as a hiding spot). In the end, Dobrzański was involved in Berta’s escape by coincidence: he was present in the workshop when the message for Stefan came from Hela Szancer. He spoke with Hela by phone and passed the information about all of the arrangements to Mazur. He was also in the clock room after Berta left it, but before Stefan was able to clean up the clothes and excrements left there. He strictly forbade Stefan from further contacts with the Jewish population, but he did not give his employee or Berta away, although that way he risked his own life, his name was also on the German hostage list. This meant that even if he was not directly involved in any activity against the Germans, they could have still arrested them at any time in retaliation for any of the prohibited acts.[16]

The women had to change their first place of hiding for unknown reasons. Probably in October 1942 they found shelter in Gromnik, with the Koziks, a family of Poles displaced from Pomerania. The two friends stayed with them under assumed names as Polish women, Berta had a baptism certificate obtained by Hela for the name Stefania Kusak. Their stay with the Koziks was paid for by Hela. Stefan visited both women, passing himself off as Hela’s brother and Berta’s fiancée. While Berta’s looks did not give away her descent, the Semitic features of Hela Szancer exposed them to gossip and threatened the security of their cover. Although Hela brushed off all remarks with courage and audacity, playing a role of an aristocrat, the danger was real, especially since the second half of the house in which they lived, was often visited by a blue police officer.[17]

In December, they were explicitly ordered to leave Gromnik by the head of the village. On 6 January 1943, both women and Stefan Mazur set off on a journey to Przemyśl, hoping to find shelter with Szancerówna’s friends. There, Hela finally arranged for herself and Berta to go to Germany for work, justifiably thinking that she will be safe as long as she is useful for the Germans. All three of them go to the office in Przemyśl; Stefan is with them at Berta’s request. A strange scene takes place in the office – Berta, probably driven by fear, runs away, literally from the desk of the clerk registering her, who chases after her outside, but Berta manages to loose him in the street crowd. So what next? Stefan spontaneously decides to take Berta to his uncle in Lviv. He did not even know the unlce’s exact address, buy he hoped to find him in his workplace and ask for his help. He intended to set Berta up safely in Lviv and for himself to return to Nowy Sącz. But they were unlucky and just before their destination, at one of the last stations they found themselves in a round-up. Holding hands and claiming to be brother and sister, they luckily were not separated[18].

They were sent to forced labor at the Stahlbau-Litzka armaments factory in Leobschütz (presently Głubczyce in the Opolskie Voivodeship).[19] They traveled there three days in cattle cars. They lived in a factory lager and worked 12 hours a day. They worked in the factory from February 1943 until the approach of the Soviet front in April 1945. Then they were evacuated together with other workers of different nationalities than German. They ended up on a farm near Gersdorf in Southern Germany. They returned to Poland just after the end of the war in May.[20]

Berta and Stefan first settled in Sosnowiec, where Stefan found a job in a watchmaking workshop. In July 1945, they got married, probably at the Civil Status Office in Bytom.[21] From there they returned to Nowy Sącz, to Stefan’s family. His mother told them how, after Stefan disappeared, she was arrested and severely beaten for her dealings with Jewish people. In the summer of 1946, Berta managed to re-establish contact with Hela Szancer through their common friend.[22]

Hela’s story, after the women parted in Przemyśl, was similar. Hela also survived until the end of the war, working for the Germans in factories or on farms. Then she returned to Poland and settled in Pomerania. She got married, with her husband unaware of her Jewish descent. In the 60s. she tried, and probably succeeded, to move to Israel.[23] Since her married name is unknown, her post-war history is difficult to confirm.

In 1956, the Mazur family settled in Lublin.[24] On 11 August 1992 Stefan Mazur received the Righteous among the Nations title.[25] In the same year, his wife Berta/Stefania, died of a heart attack. Stefan Mazur died on 2 October 2006.[26] The couple left behind two children, who, like their mother, are reluctant to go back to the painful, occupational history of their parents.


[1], accessed on: 19.06.2021.

[2]     Anna Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności. Sprawiedliwi Wśród Narodów Świata. Relacje, Ośrodek „Brama Grodzka – Teatr NN”, Lublin 2008, Stefan Mazur, p. 371.

[3]     This expression was coined by Emanuel Ringelblum, historian and founder of the Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto, murdered by the Germans in Warsaw in 1944 Living on the surface during the German occupation meant for a Jewish person to live on the so-called Aryan side, which required hiding their descent and assuming a false identity. An alternative to living on the surface was to go underground, i.e. going into some kind of hiding spot and depending on someone else’s help, cf., accessed on: 25.06.2021.

[4]      She never openly spoke about her experiences, she did not like sharing her war memories, reportedly there were no mechanical clocks in her house, because she could not stand the ticking. The only commonly available written source created by Berta/Stefania is a short testimony written for the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland – although it was never submitted there – and published in “Almanach Sądecki”. Most of the information about her life and rescue was preserved thanks to her husband, Stefan Mazur.

[5]     Berta Korennman (Stefania Mazur), Relacja z okresu okupacji, „Almanach Sądecki” 2009, № 1/2 (66–67), pp. 147–150.

[6]      The first ghetto was created between the main square and the castle in July 1940 and it included the area of the former Jewish district with the synagogue; the second ghetto stretched along the right bank of the Kamienica River and included Kraszewskiego Str., on which there were the Jewish hospital and orphanage among others. Initially, both of the areas were open, with time wire entanglements appeared, the ghetto near the main square was cut off from the rest of the city by a wall over 2-meters high.

[7]     B. Korennman, op. cit., pp. 147-148, cf. Relacja ustna Stefana Mazura z dnia 11.10.1993 r., Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum na Majdanku (later as AMM), ref.VIII-410.

[8]      Archiwum Parafii pw. św. Małgorzaty w Nowym Sączu, akt urodzenia Stefana Mazura, Liber natorum z roku 1921, certificate 176, see also: akt małżeństwa Władysława Mazura i Rozalii Janiczak, Liber copulatorum z roku 1923, file 108 dated 4 October.

[9], accessed on: 19.06.2021, cf. also: Anna Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności., p. 371.

[10]    A. Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności, pp. 372, 374.

[11]   Ibidem, p. 373.

[12]   B. Korennman, op. cit, p.148.

[13]   AMM VIII-410, see also: A.Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności, pp. 372–373.

[14]   AMM VIII-410.

[15]   A.Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności, p. 373.

[16]    Ibidem, s. 374, the full record of Stefan Mazur’s testimony, on which the account in the book by Anna Dąbrowska was based, is kept in the archives of the Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre Centre in Lublin. At the request of Stefan and Berta’s children, the testimony is not currently made available.

[17] Ibidem, AMM VIII-410.

[18] Ibidem.

[19] The factory produced both agricultural machinery and bomb bodies, cf. A. Dąbrowska, Światła w ciemności, pp. 372–373.

[20] B. Korennman, Relacja z okresu okupacji, pp. 149–150, cf. also: AMM VIII-410.

[21]    It is impossible to verify this fact, because the marriage records for 1945 was not preserved in the Civil Registry Office in Bytom. According to some sources, the wedding took place in Sosnowiec, but during the query in the local CRO such an act of marriage was not found.

[22]   AMM VIII-410.

[23]   AMM VIII-410, also:, accessed on: 19.06.2021.

[24]   AMM VIII-410.

[25], accessed on: 19.06.2021.

[26], accessed on:19.06.2021.