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Henry Reches, a Holocaust survivor who later became an Internal Revenue Service officer, dies

Charlotte Reches, Agnieszka Wrobel, Henry Reches and Jodi Reches share a laugh at a reunion Aug. 26, 2013. Wrobel, the great-great-granddaughter of the family who saved Henry Reches and his family during World War II, visited the Mount Washington family through the Labor Day weekend. (Colby Ware/For The Baltimore Sun)
Charlotte Reches, Agnieszka Wrobel, Henry Reches and Jodi Reches share a laugh at a reunion Aug. 26, 2013. Wrobel, the great-great-granddaughter of the family who saved Henry Reches and his family during World War II, visited the Mount Washington family through the Labor Day weekend. (Colby Ware/For The Baltimore Sun)

The little boy remembered the flickering kerosene lamp that stood in a crevice in the dirt wall and the fetid stench from a bucket that served as the toilet for eight people who lived in a hole under a farmer’s barn in Poland that was their home for two years.

He remembered his mother’s hand over his mouth hour after hour to keep him from talking and quite possibly drawing unwanted attention from the curious or the Nazis who might come calling unannounced.

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He remembered the day when the Russian Army marched into Mosciska, Poland in 1944 and liberated the town from its Nazis occupiers.

He remembered the kindness of the soldiers who took a liking to him and his brother and gave them candy and amused them with rides in their tanks.

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He remembered life in a Displaced Persons Camp in Austria and the trip across the Atlantic Ocean by ship to New York and a new life in Baltimore.

Henry Reches and his family lived in a hole under a farmer’s barn in Poland for two years during the Holocaust.
Henry Reches and his family lived in a hole under a farmer’s barn in Poland for two years during the Holocaust. (Handout / HANDOUT)

He vowed that for the rest of his life he would never forget the Catholic family that had placed themselves in harm’s way to save his family and, in doing so, “learned the meaning of gratitude and being grateful to people,” said his daughter, Dr. Jodi Reches, an audiologist, who lives in Pikesville.

Henry Reches, who survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Baltimore with his family, died March 31 of aspirational pneumonia at Sinai Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 81.

Henry Reches, the son of Saul Reches, a partner in a flour mill, and his wife, Clara Gerber Reches, a homemaker who also worked in her parents’ clothing store, was born in Mosciska, a small town in Poland that had a population of more than 3,000 Jews, and was invaded in 1939 by the Russians.

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In 1941, the Nazis seized control of Mosciska and the town’s Jews were rounded up and put into a ghetto. When his father was put in jail for no apparent reason, his mother, who was blond with blue eyes and spoke fluent German, was able to persuade the authorities to release her husband, who was allowed to return home.

“In the fall of 1942, the Germans decided it was time to make Mosciska Judenfrei, free of Jews. My grandmother knew that they would all be sent to a death camp, and while my grandfather was resigned to ‘go with everyone else on the trains,’ my grandmother would not hear of that,” wrote Dr. Reches in “Biala Kuritza — A Holocaust Survival Story,” which was published by WhereWhatWhen and the Anti-Defamation League. “The time had come for her to devise a plan to save her family.”

Henry Reches was an active member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Cheswolde.
Henry Reches was an active member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Cheswolde. (Handout / HANDOUT)

One of the local Polish families who patronized the family store was Genya Staszczak, and his sister, Josefa Wrobel, Roman Catholics and farmers, and this is who Mr. Reches’ mother turned to for help as the deportation of Jews to death camps was about to begin.

“My grandmother asked if they would hide her family on their farm for several weeks so as to avoid deportation to the camps,” Dr. Reches wrote.

They told her they would have to seek approval from their mother, Rosallia Staszczak, the family matriarch, and would have an answer the following week after attending Mass.

As deportation loomed, Mrs. Reches knew she could not wait, and after putting on several coats, walked to the farm which was several miles away in the dark. She planned to use the coats as a “bribe,” Dr. Reches said.

After praying to the Virgin Mary for guidance, Rosallia told Mrs. Reches, “When the eyes of the statue blinked at me, I knew the Virgin Mary was telling me I had to hide you.”

It was agreed that a bunker that could accommodate eight people was dug under the floor of the barn. Mr. Reches’ mother instructed that a large amount of dirt be piled in the corner covered with straw so it would ‘look like a haystack, but if everyone died in the hole, they could just shovel the dirt on top of them and nobody would ever know that they were there,” Dr. Reches wrote in her account.

Agnieszka Wrobel, center, and Henry Reches, to the left of Wrobel, gather for a 2013 photo with members of the Reches and Spero families. (Colby Ware/For The Baltimore Sun)
Agnieszka Wrobel, center, and Henry Reches, to the left of Wrobel, gather for a 2013 photo with members of the Reches and Spero families. (Colby Ware/For The Baltimore Sun)

Members of the host family had to empty the bucket under the cover of darkness and when it rained, they found themselves lying in water that entered from a nearby hilltop while rodents and insects infested the hole.

In order to not arouse suspicion in the market where the Staszczaks purchased food, the Reches family and their two friends took turns fasting, while the children, Mr. Reches and his brother, Mark, were regularly fed.

The request to stay a few weeks stretched to two years with the fear of being discovered by the Germans a constant fear to both the Jews in hiding and the host family. At one point, the Nazis told the Staszczaks they planned to requisition the barn for their headquarters, and they couldn’t protest because to do so would certainly arouse suspicion.

The Jews below in their bunker could hear the Nazis walking on the floor above them and the host family could no longer bring them food. “One way or another, the presence of the Nazis on the farm would mean certain death, at least for those who were hidden, if not the Staszczaks, as well,” Dr. Reches wrote.

After one day, the Nazis said they were unhappy being there, packed up and looked for a more suitable location.

Liberation came in July 1944, when the Russians entered the town, and “when people in the town asked my grandmother where they came from, she told them, ‘We came from the other world.’”

“It was a courageous decision that put their lives in jeopardy,” Mr. Reches told The Baltimore Sun in a 2013 interview. “If the Nazis had found us, they would have shot them first, before they shot us.”

“Because my grandmother had kept her hand over my father’s mouth in order to keep him quiet, his vocal cords had not developed and he wasn’t able to speak for a number of weeks after their rescue,” Dr. Reches said. “Even though my father was small at the time, he told me that he knew this situation was ‘very serious.’”

After moving to another part of Poland and spending time in a Displaced Persons camp from 1946 to 1952, Mr. Reches, his parents and brother, with assistance from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, boarded a steamer for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean to New York, eventually coming to Baltimore because there were jobs available and settling on Lower Park Heights Avenue.

Mr. Reches attended the Talmudical Academy and graduated in 1957 from City College, where he was on the soccer team. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.

He began working for the IRS in Baltimore and later moved to Washington where he was an appeals director. He retired in 2003.

Through the decades, Mr. Reches and his family remained in contact with the Staszczak and Wrobel families, and in 1993, he returned to Poland for a visit with his rescuers.

“It’s incredible to think that more than 70 years later we have their great-great-granddaughter here, spending time with our family,” Mr. Reches told the newspaper in the interview. “It’s something that, all those years ago, we never would have imagined.”

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“If not for the brave and heroic sacrifice of the Staszczak and Wrobel families ... it is most likely that our beautiful family would not be here today,” Dr. Reches wrote to The Sun in a 2013 email. “Along with the hand of God, they made our survival possible.”

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Mr. Reches was an active member of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Cheswolde.

Mr. Reches was a Baltimore Colts, Orioles and Ravens fan, and liked visiting out-of-town baseball parks. He also enjoyed traveling to Israel and family vacations in Miami Beach, Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Wildwood Crest, New Jersey.

A virtual service was held April 1 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville, with interment at Agudas Achim Anshe Sfard Ahavas Shalom in Rosedale.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Reches is survived by his wife of 50 years, the former Charlotte Lerer; a son, Steven Reches of Pikesville; a niece; and two nephews.

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