Szmul Apelbaum was seven years old when, in the summer of 1942, his father brought him from their home township of Konstantynow in the Biala Podlaska district to stay with an acquaintance of his, Aleksander Koltan. Koltan was a farmer by profession, a handicapped widower who lived with his son Romuald and daughter Jadwiga in the nearby village of Komarno. The Jewish child was warmly received by the Koltan family, but a few weeks later his father decided to bring him back home.
Some four weeks later Szmul returned to the Koltans, starving, weak, and terrified. He told them that his parents had been murdered together with all the other Jews in his town, and that after he had succeeded in escaping from the massacre he had decided to go back to the Koltans, because he regarded their home as his sole possibility of refuge.
Romuald and Jadwiga, who ran the family farm, decided to take in the orphaned child, and arranged a hideout for him in the roof of the barn, which was well camouflaged and had an emergency exit. In the spring of 1943, owing to the underground activities of Romuald and his sister and the consequent danger to the family, Szmul was transferred to the house of a forester.
Although the tenants of the building in which he lived belonged to the underground, its location was relatively safe. During a subsequent Gestapo raid on the house, however, all the tenants were shot. Only Szmul escaped, as he happened to be outside in the field, looking after the cows. Once again, he returned to the Koltans' farm and his hiding place in the barn, where he remained until his liberation by the Soviet army in July 1944.
The Koltan family regarded the rescue of a persecuted Jew as a patriotic deed in the face of a common enemy. After the war, Szmul immigrated to the United States, where he was killed in a car accident.
On March 29, 1994, Yad Vashem decided to award the title of Righteous among the Nations to Aleksander Koltan, his son Romuald, and his daughter Jadwiga Karwowska nee Koltan.
Sources: Yad Vashem