Born in Poland in 1936, Zahava Radza was only seven years old when the Nazis forced her and her parents and two sisters into hiding. Jozef and Stephania Macugowski was a Polish Catholic couple who risked life and limb to protect and hide the Radza’s, who were hidden in a tiny crawl space under the floor of their home. Measuring only 7 feet long, 5 feet wide and 20 inches deep, the four people were forced to endure for 2.5 years in this uninhabitable space. Later more refugees found shelter with the Macugowkis, until a total of nine people were crammed together for lack of any alternative other than death.
Unbelievably, the Germans took over the Macugowski house to use as a headquarters, but somehow Jozef was able to convince the Germans to allow them to take care of the house, secretly bringing food to the refugees.
When the Soviet Army liberated the town the refugees emerged. Their vocal chords and leg muscles had atrophied to the extent that they had to re-learn to talk in a normal voice, and to walk without wobbling. The sunlight, which they hadn’t seen in 2.5 years, stung their eyes. When the Radzas left, the Macugowskis made them promise to never reveal that they had saved their lives.
Zahava left Europe and lived in Israel for 12 years, serving in the Israel Defense Forces, until she moved to the United States. In 1958 she began working for the Israeli Consulate in New York, and soon married Robert H. Burack. Zahava began to search for the couple who had saved her and her family.
She became a political activist in New York, working for the Democratic party in Westchester County. In 1981 she ran for a seat in the Westchester County government, but lost by 2,500 votes to the incumbent, John L. Messina.
Finally, in 1986, Zahava succeeded to make contact with Jozef and Stephania. A recognition ceremony was arranged in coordination with the David Yellin College in Israel, and the Macugowskis were flown to New York to be honored for their sacrifice and loyalty. The State of Israel recognized them as Righteous Among the Nations for their devotion to helping the Radzas.
Zahava died of cancer in September, 2001, after a life of devotion to helping other people, and recognizing the good in them.