'I Didn’t Think Why. I Just Did It': Polish Woman Who Saved Jewish Family in the Holocaust Dies at 102

'I myself didn’t feel any fear,' Krystyna Danko recalled, 'Apparently, the rapid pace at which all these events occurred prevented me from thinking about what could happen'

Krystyna Danko, a non-Jewish Polish woman who saved an entire Jewish family during the Holocaust, died on August 6 at the age of 102.

Danko, nee Chłond, was born in 1917 in Otwock, a Polish town near Warsaw. Her father, Karol, was a senior municipal official. Her mother died when she was 13.

A few years before World War II erupted, she became friends with a Jewish high school classmate Helena (Lusia), the eldest daughter of the Kokoszko family. They sat next to each other in class for five years, and Danko often visited the Kokoszko home. She later said the family treated her as a daughter, providing comfort and support to a girl who had lost her mother.

Krystyna Danko.
Wojtek Dańko

>> Read more: The wartime rescue you’ve never heard about, told by the 100-year-old Jewish woman who led it

In the 1920s, Jews constituted about two-thirds of Otwock’s population. The town was the most popular vacation destination in the vicinity of Warsaw, and many of its Jewish residents earned a living from tourism.

On September 29, 1939, Otwock was captured by the Germans. There were 13,500 Jews there at the time, including many who were recovering in the town’s sanatoriums.

The Germans immediately began killing Jews, conscripting them for forced labor and stealing their property. Later, they set up a ghetto in the city, which was liquidated in 1942. At that point, the Jews were sent to the extermination camps of Treblinka and Auschwitz.

But Danko helped her friends escape the bitter fate that befell most of Otwock’s Jews. She assisted them in escaping from the ghetto and found hiding places for them.

She took Helena and her parents, Dr. Michał and Eugenia Kokoszko, to a neighboring village. But she took Helena’s younger sister, Maria, by train to Warsaw, placing her in an orphanage under a fictitious Aryan identity.

“I remember the girl’s fear; she didn’t understand why she was being separated from her family,” Danko later recalled. “I myself didn’t feel any fear. Apparently, the rapid pace at which all these events occurred prevented me from thinking about what could happen on the train or in the streets of Warsaw.”

When Maria later told the story of her rescue, she said, “Krystyna Danko put herself in great danger, because my family was very well known in our small town.”

Once Danko had everyone in hiding, she also helped the rest of the family keep in touch with Maria by serving as the liaison between them. The Yad Vashem website says her visits to the family provided hope and encouragement to the parents, who were worried about what might be happening to their daughter.

Danko also brought the family food, clothing and money.

“I was well aware of what would have happened had anything gone wrong,” she later said. “I knew that in that case, they [the Germans] would get the whole family, and they would all die.”

After some time spent in hiding, the Kokoszkos acquired forged Aryan documents and moved into the home of a friend in another city near Warsaw. There, the father changed the family name to Kosowski and worked as a doctor. Danko visited them there as well.

At one point during the war, the Germans arrested Danko, after someone informed them that she was friendly with a member of the Jewish underground. She didn’t divulge where he was hiding, but he didn’t survive the war.

In 1951, Krystyna married Mieczysław Danko, a political activist from Otwock who was persecuted by Poland’s Communist government. After he was arrested for his political activity, the Kokoszko family, which had stayed in Warsaw after the war, did their best to help Krystyna, thereby repaying her kindness. She eventually moved to Warsaw as well and worked in a factory.

In 1998, Danko was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations. A decade later, her husband and his first wife, Jadwiga, were similarly recognized. They had saved another Jewish family in Otwock, the Weczer family.

Danko’s sister, Elzbieta, also helped save Jews. She hid a Jewish girl, Jasia Kotowicz, in her family’s home while the rest of her family hid in Warsaw.

Danko is survived by three children. Her son Wojciech eulogized her as “a woman with a good heart, common sense and positive thinking.” He wrote that he never heard her utter a complaint, and she was also a wonderful mother, full of warmth, understanding and a sense of humor, someone who knew how to give her children everything they needed.

When asked why she had risked her life to save Jews, Danko replied simply, “Why did I do it? It was friendship. I didn’t think about why. I just did it. There were so many Jews in the town, I never thought about who was Jewish and who wasn’t.”