Nina Grutz Morecki was born in Lvov, Poland in 1920, where her mother’s family had lived for more than 500 years. Her father’s family was from the same region. Nina’s family owned a soap and candle factory that sold to area merchants and a small store with a large clientele. They lived a comfortable lifestyle.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939 Nina had just graduated from her gymnasium and was preparing to go to Palestine to study medicine. All of her hopes and dreams were shattered when just a month later Poland surrendered to Germany. For the first two years of the war, Nina and her family lived under Russian rule, but the Germans entered her hometown for the second time in 1941 destroying her life.
The Nazis shot her mother. Her father was also killed but Nina never learned how or where. Her older sisters and their families “disappeared” during the 1942 Aktion in Lvov. Her brother-in-law, who had been a well-respected cardiologist, was used by the Nazis and when they were through with him, he too was murdered.
The Nazis sent Nina to the Janowska Concentration Camp as part of a work detail. In Spring 1942, she found herself lying inside a killing pit outside of the camp. Just a few minutes earlier she had been standing together with other women and children in front of uniformed men pointing guns at them. As gunshot erupted and she heard screams of agony, she fainted.
At only 22, Nina had already witnessed a level of violence that one can only imagine. She had seen people beaten to death, and others die of starvation. She had been forced to watch hangings and shootings of innocent people. Now she was scrambling to disentangle herself from the bodies in the pit, many dead and some still warm and alive, moaning in distress. Once she climbed out, she struggled to stand and then began to run. She was so disoriented that she did not know whether she was running to the Germans or away from them but her instincts lead her deeper into the woods.
Eventually, she came to a farmer’s home in the forest, knocked on the door, identified herself, and fainted. At great risk to their own safety, the couple living there took her into their home and nursed her back to health. From them, Nina learned about the Polish Underground and various groups of people fighting in the forests against the Nazis. Knowing that she could not stay at the farmhouse, and with nowhere else to go, she traveled deep into the forest looking for a partisan group, or a Polish Underground unit, so that she could join the fight against the Nazis. She eventually “stumbled” upon a group of women who, although they viewed her with suspicion, brought others to meet her to decide whether they could use her. They were secretive, saying that the less she knew the better it would be, especially if she were to be caught by the Nazis. Because Nina knew both Polish and German and was young and pretty, the partisans decided that they could use her. She never learned the name of the group.
The partisans gave Nina a new identity. She had new clothes, and more importantly, work papers; documents identifying her as a Catholic Polish woman named Marysia (Maria) Kvasigroich. As she left the group with a small suitcase in hand to work in a nearby town, their words to her were: “You are Polish now!”
Nina (Maria) traveled to Dnepropetrovsk, which had been part of Russia but was now under German control. She presented her “work papers” to the Germans and they processed her for work in a company mailroom posting packages and mail. She was soon transferred to another department and put in charge of collecting the military mail from the main post office. This was perfect as she had to stamp the mail with special stamps that could also aid the resistance. These stamps could be used to validate travel documents and were of extreme importance to the Polish Underground. Whenever she could, and without being observed, Maria (Nina) would stamp papers and then deliver them to a secret slot at the post office. Her partisan contact would pick them up there. She never knew who was picking up the papers, or when, because this information was too dangerous. Sometimes she stamped up to 50 papers at a time, always looking over her shoulder to make sure that no one was watching. It would mean torture and certain death if she was caught.
Fortunately, Nina was never caught falsifying documents; however, she was questioned by the Gestapo regarding the disappearance of two Polish workers. The Gestapo suspected she might know something about their escape because she too was Polish. She never gave any up any information about these two workers, but she had helped one of them escape.
For almost a year and a half, she worked for the Polish Underground and the partisans providing them with important stamped documents that allowed them to create chaos and havoc among the German military, and perhaps even save others who were against the Nazi regime. She did this knowing the danger and the terrible punishment she would face if caught. She never revealed that she was Jewish, and knew no one from the organization. When the German company moved on as the Nazis were losing the war, she needed to move on as well and stopped her work with the Underground.
Toward the end of the war, Nina met and married another survivor from Lvov, Josef Morecki. They first settled in New York, and then in California where they raised two daughters. Nina spoke to young people about her wartime experiences throughout the Santa Barbara area, including students at UC Santa Barbara. Her “Letter to Young People” was published in the Santa Barbara newspaper with her message, “You can overcome hard times and go on to persevere and prosper. If you don’t try, you cannot win. Never give up!”
Nina and Josef were married for 42 years. He passed away in 1988. Together, they had three grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren at the time of Nina’s death in 2012.