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2017-02-13

European Tree of the Year – a hideout during the Holocaust

Oak Józef is 650 years old and boasts a rich history. During the German occupation, it served as a hideout for Jews. Now it has been shortlisted for the European Tree of the Year competition.

The huge tree stands in a park at the Mycielski family mansion in Wiśniowa, in Poland's south-eastern Podkarpacie region. It is 30 metres high and its perimeter is 675 cm. It is a natural monument that is often depicted by painters and photographers. Painted by Józef Mehoffer, the oak was even printed on the Polish 100 zloty bill in the 1930s.

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During WWII, two Jewish brothers whose family name was Hymi hid in the partly hollow trunk of the tree. They had escaped from a forced labour camp or the Frysztak ghetto.

"The hideout was shown to the brothers by Rozalia Proszak," said Jakub Pawłowski of the Ulma Family Museum in Markowa. "The hollow in which they hid was huge. People say it had two levels, the lower was used as a hideout and the upper – as a lookout. Both brothers survived the occupation but their fate after the war is unknown."

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The staff of the County Culture and Tourism Centre in Wiśniowa that is located in the former Mycielski mansion stress that the amazing history of the tree has not been fully explained. Reports by local residents differ with respect to the numbers of those who hid there and the hiding periods. Perhaps the European Tree of the Year competition will be an opportunity to get in touch with more witnesses, and perhaps even those who hid in the old oak.

Recently Oak Józef won the nationwide Tree of the Year 2016 competition, and now its candidacy has been entered into the European Tree of the Year 2017 competition. You can cast your votes by 28 February 2017 at https://www.treeoftheyear.org/ETY-2/Uvod.aspx#cast1. The results will be announced on 21 March 2017 during an official award ceremony in Brussels.

Krzysztof Bielawski

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