Thursday, April 5, 2012

HIDING UNDER A BARN

When Mom went to the Blue Summit part of town, which is near the Blue Ridge part of town, she visited a Jewish cemetery there.  The name of this cemetery is the Kehilath Israel Blue Ridge Cemetery.  Mom had heard of this cemetery many times, but she never knew where it was before.  Anyway, this cemetery is on the very top of the Blue Ridge, so there is a nice view of trees and stuff all around.  A congregation called Kehilath Israel owns the cemetery and keeps it all nice for its members to be buried there.  Mom isn't totally sure, but she thinks kehilath Israel means "congregation of Israel."


One thing that was especially interesting about this cemetery was that it had a special memorial for all the members of two families who died during the Holocaust.  As you probably know, the Holocaust was a very horrible part of World War II when the Nazis were killing as many Jews as they could.  Plus they also killed gypsies and homosexuals and retarded people and pretty much anybody they didn't like.

So anyway, when Mom saw the name "Devinki" on the memorial at the cemetery, she remembered that she had read an obituary in December about a woman named Maria Devinki, who spent more than two years hiding in a hole under a barn, with her husband and her mother, so that the Germans wouldn't find them and kill them.  Well, I did a little in-depth research, and I learned more about Mrs. Devinki's experiences.  So now I'm going to tell them to you.  I wish there was a heroic dog involved in the story, but there is not.  There are only heroic and mostly scared humans.



Mrs. Devinki was born in Hanover, Germany in 1920, and her name at that time was Mala Braun.  She had two brothers.  When Mala was very young, her family moved to Wodislaw, Poland, and they had an export business.  More than half the people who lived in Wodislaw were Jewish.  The Brauns had a good life in a nice house, and they even had servants.  Mala went to school, where she was very good at math, and she wanted to be a teacher.  In the afternoons, she studied at a Hebrew school.


Then the war started, and Hitler took over Poland.  Mala's father was sent to the Treblinka death camp.  Mala was working in an ammunition factory when her boyfriend, Fred Devinki, came to her home one night to warn her that the Germans were planning to take all the Jews away.  He convinced her to marry him that very same night.  Then a non-Jewish friend of the family, whose name was Jusick Gondorowicz, helped the two of them plus Mrs. Braun get out of town in a hay wagon and go hide in a hole under a farmer's barn.  They had to pay the farmer a bunch of money, like $2,000 a month in today's dollars, so that he would hide them.

The hole was about 10 feet by 15 feet.  No one could stand up in it, not even Mrs. Devinki, who was only 5 feet tall.  It was very boring to be in the hole because there was nothing to do except sleep or talk to each other.  The farmer's family couldn't read, so they didn't have any books.  The farmer's wife cooked potatoes for the pigs, and she gave the same food to the hidden Jews.   She also gave them bread that she baked, but only after it had gotten stale and hard.  At night, Mr. Devinki crawled out of the hole and went to the well to get them some water to drink and take baths with.  Sometimes the Germans came to the farm, looking for Jews, and they stuck their bayonets between the floorboards of the barn, but luckily, they never found the secret hole.


One of Mrs. Devinki's brothers stayed in the hole with them for a while, but then he went out trying to get some of their former belongings to sell, so they would have money to keep paying the farmer, and he got caught by the Germans and killed.  Mrs. Devinki's other brother and his wife stayed with them part of the time, too.

Then the farmer's neighbors started asking him where he got the money to put bricks on his house, so that place wasn't safe to hide in anymore, and they went to another farmer that they knew.  This farmer was really, really poor, so he was willing to hide them for whatever they could pay him.  They told him they would give him more money after the war, if they got through it alive.

Finally, the Soviets came, and they ran the Germans out of Poland.  After that, it was safe for the Devinkis and Brauns to come out from hiding.  They had spent a total of 27 months living in holes under barns.


Lots of people visit the graves in this cemetery.


They walked 11 miles back to Wodzislaw, but the non-Jews were not happy to see the Jews come back to their home town.  So the Devinkis moved to Sosnowiec and opened a grocery store.  Mrs. Devinki's other brother, who stayed in Wodzislaw, got killed in May 1945 by some Poles who didn't like Jews.  After that, the Devinkis and Maria's mother went to Regensburg, Germany.  Maria and Fred started a textile business, and they had a son named Sam.

In 1950, the whole family moved to Kansas City.  I couldn't find any reason given for why they picked Kansas City, but for some reason they did.  I also don't know why Mala changed her name to Maria.  Anyway, at first the Devinkis ran several grocery stores, and Mrs. Devinki worked in a department store.  Then Mrs. Devinki borrowed some money from a cousin so she could buy a piece of land.  She later sold the land to the Kansas City Life Insurance Company, because they wanted to make a parking lot there.  This sale was the start of Devinki Real Estate, which was a company that Mrs. Devinki ran with her husband and later with her son, Sam.

Photo by Gloria Baker Feinstein

Maria and Fred Devinki also had two daughters named Ida and Karen.  The couple was married for 50 years before Mr. Devinki died in 1993.  Mrs. Devinki was active in Kehilath Israel Synagogue and in many other Jewish groups.  She helped found the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education.  People said that she was a very brave and generous woman who liked to help others.  Also I think she must have liked dogs because she posed with a dachshund for a portrait photograph!

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