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«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»

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Prior to October 15, 1941, when the death penalty was officially decreed in the General Government for any assistance rendered to Jews, members of the clergy were generally deported to concentration camps (and not summarily executed) for their activities on behalf of Jews, e.g., Father Maximilian Kolbe, Father Anicet (Wojciech Kopliński), Rev. Franciszek J. Gabryl, Rev. Witold Dzięcioł of Kielce. Some, but not all, of these priests perished in the camps.

Wacław Zajączkowski, in his Martyrs of Charity, Part One, at p.257 (Entry 591), as well as Szymon Datner, in Las sprawiedliwych (Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza, 1968), p.103, list the names of eight Sisters of Charity of St.

Vincent de Paul who were executed in Warsaw’s Wola district in August 1944 for refusing to surrender the Jewish children who were housed in their orphanage on Dzielna Street which was later transferred to the vicinity

of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the New Town:

[1] Zofia Dziewanowska, [2] Helena Jezierska, [3] Zofia Kowalczyk, [4] Anna Apolonia Motz, [5] Maria (Marianna) Nadolska, [6] Józefa Ogrodowicz, [7] Aurelia Pomierny, and [8] Maria Florentyna Wilman.


Other nuns listed by Zajączkowski are:

[9] & [10] Two Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—Kazimiera Wołowska (Sister Maria Marta of Jesus), the superior of the convent, and Bogumiła Noiszewska (Sister Maria Ewa of Providence), a medical doctor—were arrested in Słonim (voivodship of Nowogródek) on December 18, 1942 for sheltering Jews in the convent and on its grounds. They were executed the following day in a mass execution of several hundred Poles together with the Jesuit priest, Fr. Adam Sztark, administrator of Żyrowice parish and chaplain of the Sisters’ convent in Słonim, who had brought Jewish children to the convent (Entries 463 and 702)—see also Moroz and Datko, Męczennicy za wiarę 1939–1945, pp.385–86 and 390–91. Their story is detailed above.

[11] Sister Jadwiga Assadowska, the superior of the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary in Wołkowysk near Białystok in eastern Poland, was repeatedly arrested on suspicion of assisting Jews and others (Entry 663).

Another nun who lost her life for sheltering sickly Polish and Jewish children from Warsaw and assisting Jews escaping across the nearby Polish-Slovak border was [12] Sister Maria Klemensa (Helena Staszewska), who was the superior of a convent of the Ursulines of the Roman Union in Rokiciny Podhalańskie near Rabka. She was arrested by the Gestapo in January 1943, and perished in Auschwitz in July of that year. See Moroz and Datko, Męczennicy za wiarę 1939–1945, pp.445–51. Sister Maria Julia, born Stanisława Rodzińska, the superior of a convent and director of an orphanage in Wilno, was arrested on July 12, 1943. She was imprisoned in Pravieniškės (Prowieniszki) outside Kaunas, and then in Stutthof concentration camp where she died of typhus on February 20, 1945. She shared her meagre food rations with fellow prisoners in the Jewish barracks and, according to a Jewish inmate, lifted their spirits by her inner strength. Ibid., 282–85.

It should be remembered that Catholic priests and nuns constituted only a small but representative portion of Polish rescuers and the several thousand Poles who were burned alive, executed or died from torture because they befriended Jews. In total, several thousand Christian Poles—men, women and children, entire families and even whole communities—were tortured to death, summarily executed, or burned alive for rendering assistance to Jews. Hundreds of cases of Poles being put to death for helping Jews have been documented though the list is still

far from complete (the author is aware of scores of additional cases). See the following publications on this topic:

Philip Friedman, Their Brothers’ Keepers (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), pp.184–85; Wacław Zajączkowski, Martyrs of Charity: Christian and Jewish Response to the Holocaust, Part One (Washington, D.C.: St. Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, 1987), Part One; Wacław Bielawski, Zbrodnie na Polakach dokonane przez hitlerowców za pomoc udzielaną Żydom (Warsaw: Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce–Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 1987); The Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish Nation–The Institute of National Memory and The Polish Society For the Righteous Among Nations, Those Who Helped: Polish Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, Part One (Warsaw, 1993), Part Two (Warsaw, 1996), and Part Three (Warsaw, 1997). A portion of the last of these publications is reproduced in Appendix B in Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939–1944, Second revised edition (New York: Hippocrene, 1997), and an extensive list of Polish victims also appears in Tadeusz Piotrowski, Poland’s Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918–1947 (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland, 1998), pp.119–23.

Some Holocaust historians who deprecate Polish rescue efforts, such as Lucy S. Dawidowicz, have attempted to argue that essentially there was no difference in the penalty that Poles and Western Europeans such as the Dutch

faced for helping Jews. See Lucy C. Dawidowicz, The Holocaust and the Historians (Cambridge, Massachusetts:

Harvard University Press, 1981), p.166. However, the sources on which Dawidowicz relies belie this claim.

Western Europeans very rarely faced the prospect of death for helping Jews. Raul Hilberg described the situation that prevailed in the Netherlands as follows: “If caught, they did not have to fear an automatic death penalty.

Thousands were arrested for hiding Jews or Jewish belongings, but it was German policy to detain such people only for a relatively short time in a camp within the country, and in serious cases to confiscate their property.” See Raul Hilberg, Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe, 1933–1945 (New York: Aaron Asher Books/Harper Collins, 1992), pp.210–11. According to a Dutch historian, “usually, if Gentiles who helped Jews were punished, they were punished with short-term Schutzhaft, or protective custody; only severe cases were sent 285 to concentration camps in Germany.” See Marnix Croes, “The Holocaust in the Netherlands and the Rate of Jewish Survival,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 20, no. 3 (Winter 2006): pp.474–99. In Belgium, a decree of June 1, 1942 warned the local population against sheltering Jews under punishment with “imprisonment and a fine.” See Mordechai Paldiel, Churches and the Holocaust: Unholy Teaching, Good Samaritans, and Reconciliation (Jersey City, New Jersey: Ktav Publishing House, 2006), pp.131–32. Nor is there evidence of any death penalty being issued for helping Jews within Germany proper: “German law did not specifically probibit helping Jews. … In cases of violation, the non-Jewish German party was threatened with protective custody or

three months in a concentration camp.” See Beate Kosmala, “Facing Deportation in Germany, 1941–1945:

Jewish and Non-Jewish Responses,” in Beate Kosmala and Feliks Tych, eds., Facing the Nazi Genocide: NonJews and Jews in Europe (Berlin: Metropol, 2004), p.35. Moreover, unlike in occupied Poland, a significant group of people defined as “mixed race” and even Jews married to Germans could escape most of the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic policies, provided they and their children did not practice the Jewish faith. However, thousands of Jews subsequently committed suicide when their protection came to an end. See Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War, 1939–1945 (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Books, 2008), pp.70–71, 251, 272–73.

Likewise, in Austria no specific penalty was legally established for concealing Jews, yet rescue efforts there, as in Germany proper, were exceedingly rare. See Israel Gutman, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, vol. 8: Europe (Part I) and Other Countries (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2007), pp.xxix, liii. Although the death penalty was also found on the books in a few jurisdictions such as Norway and the Czech Protectorate, there too it was rarely used. Such laxity was virtually unheard of in occupied Poland, where the death penalty was meted out with utmost rigour. Several Norwegian resistance fighters were executed for helping Jews to escape to Sweden, and a number of persons were imprisoned. See Mordecai Paldiel, The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (Hoboken, New Jersey: KTAV Publishing House; New York: The Jewish Foundation for Christian Rescuers, 1993), p.366.

Several dozen individuals in the Czech Protectorate were charged by Nazi special courts and sentenced to death.

See Livia Rothkirchen, The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: Facing the Holocaust (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, and Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005), pp.218–27, 303–304. Some rescuers were also put to death in other occupied countries such as Lithuania. See Alfonsas Eidintas, Jews, Lithuanians and the Holocaust (Vilnius: Versus Aureus, 2003), pp.326–27. See also Zajączkowski, Martyrs of Charity, Part One, pp.111–18, 284–86, 294, 295, for some other examples.

Historian István Deák has eloquently summed up the argument in the following way (István Deák, “Memories of

Hell,” The New York Review of Books, June 26, 1997):

The penalty for assisting or even trading with a Jew in German-occupied Poland was death, a fact that makes all comparisons between wartime Polish-Jewish relations and, say, Danish-Jewish relations blatantly unfair. Yet such comparisons are made again and again in Western histories—and virtually always to the detriment of the Poles, with scarce notice taken of the 50,000 to 100,000 Jews said to have been saved by the efforts of Poles to hide or otherwise help them … one must not ignore the crucial differences between wartime conditions in Eastern and Western Europe.

286 Collective Rescue Efforts of the Poles

As for the accomplishments of Poles in rescuing Jews, the most comprehensive research regarding the Warsaw area is that conducted by Gunnar S. Paulsson. Paulsson has summarized some of his findings in an article entitled, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” which appeared in The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp.19–44.

In the league of people who are known to have risked their lives to rescue Jews, Poland stands at the very top, accounting for more than a third of all the ‘Righteous Gentiles’. … Of the 27,000 Jewish fugitives in Warsaw, 17,000 were still alive 15 months after the destruction of the ghetto, on the eve of the Polish uprising in 1944. Of the 23,500 who were not drawn in by the Hotel Polski scheme, 17,000 survived until then. Of these 17,000, 5,000 died in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, and about 10,500 were still alive at liberation. … As it happens, there is an excellent standard of comparison, because it is estimated that in the Netherlands, 20–25,000 Jews went into hiding—about the same number as in Warsaw—of whom 10–15,000 survived—again, about the same number. … The conclusion, then, is quite startling: leaving aside acts of war and Nazi perfidy, a Jew’s chances of survival in hiding were no worse in Warsaw, at any rate, than in the Netherlands. … The small number of survivors, therefore, is not a direct result of Polish hostility to the Jews … The Jews were deported from the ghettos to the death camps, not by Poles, but by German gendarmes, reinforced by Ukrainian and Baltic auxiliaries, and with the enforced co-operation of the ghetto police. Neither the Polish police nor any group of Polish civilians was involved in the deportations to any significant degree, nor did they staff the death camps. Nor did the fate of the Jews who were taken to their deaths depend to any significant degree on the attitudes and actions of a people from whom they were isolated by brick walls and barbed wire. … The 27,000 Jews in hiding in Warsaw relied on about 50–60,000 people who provided hiding-places and another 20– 30,000 who provided other forms of help; on the other hand, blackmailers, police agents, and other actively anti-Jewish elements numbered perhaps 2–3,000, each striking at two or three victims a month. In other words, helpers outnumbered hunters by about 20 or 30 to one. The active helpers of Jews thus made up seven to nine per cent of the population of Warsaw; the Jews themselves, 2.7 per cent; the hunters, perhaps 0.3 per cent; and the whole network—Jews, helpers and hunters—constituted a secret city of at least 100,000: one tenth of the people of Warsaw; more than twice as many as the 40,000 members of the vaunted Polish military underground, the AK [Armia Krajowa or Home Army]. … How many people in Poland rescued Jews? Of those that meet Yad Vashem’s criteria—perhaps 100,000. Of those that offered minor forms of help—perhaps two or three times as many. Of those who were passively protective—undoubtedly the majority of the population. All these acts, great and small, were necessary to rescue Jews in Poland.

A further study of this topic by Gunnar S. Paulsson appeared in Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, volume 13 (2000), at pages 78–103, under the title “The Demography of Jews in Hiding in Warsaw, 1943–1945.” Paulsson

wrote at pages 96 and 99:

For the sake of comparison, the case of the Netherlands might be examined. There, 20,000–25,000 Jews are estimated to have gone into hiding, mainly in Amsterdam, of whom 10,000–15,000 survived the war. The overall survival rate in Holland was thus 40–60 percent, and in Warsaw, after levelling the playing field, notionally 55–75 percent. Thus the attrition rate among Jews in hiding in Warsaw was relatively low, contrary to expectation and contemporary perceptions.

The main obstacles to Jewish survival in Warsaw are seen to have been the Hotel Polski trap and the 1944 uprising and its aftermath, rather than the possibility of discovery or betrayal.

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