«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
This love for us caused a series of changes in him and his character and ideology. A communist according to belief, he became tolerant of belief and took part in all religious meetings in the camp. As if by a magic wand, his former nervousness vanished and there appeared in him instead distinct signs of understanding, of fatherly devotion to his camp comrades and even hope. I still remember his enthusiasm when, due to my endeavors, Tiszka [Rev. Stanisław Tyszka], the Troker[Troki] priest, (later shot by the Germans) became a friend of the camp workers, warned about the dangers that threatened us and came to us in his free moments to study Hebrew. At first he [Lerer] was afraid that here the priest was somewhat of an outsider. Later, when everyone became convinced of Tiszka’s pure, humanitarian intentions, Lerer seemed to have been revived. “There are still, it seems,” he said, “virtuous non-Jews here in the land. If this is so, everything is not yet lost!!.” The Jews in Eastern Poland were soon enclosed in ghettos and terrorized. Enormous ransoms were extorted from the Jewish communities. The testimony of Moshe Smolar, found in Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001), at page 154, captures the response of a Catholic priest and the faithful to that tragedy in the town of Brześć on the River Bug.
The community was pressured into making a “contribution” to the Germans of two million marks (or four million rubbles), and the members of the Judenrat were arrested as hostages to ensure that the sum was paid. One of the Catholic priests organized help for the Jews and collected money for them to help pay the huge sum.
Reference to the asssistance of the Catholic clergy in meeting contributions imposed on the Jews in Żółkiew and Słonim are mentioned elsewhere.
Jacob Gerstenfeld-Maltiel described conditions in Lwów, and displays of Polish solidarity with the Jews in the early months of the German occupation, in his memoirs, My Private War: One Man’s Struggle to Survive the Soviets and the Nazis (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1993), at pages 56–57 and 62–63.
The problem of telling Jews from Poles was solved by introducing the requirement for Jews and the people of Jewish descent down to the third generation to wear on the right arm a white armband with a Star of David. … In the first days after the order was published [July 15, 1941] I saw a priest with a Star of David armband. But after some days, this sort of thing disappeared and only the accursed wore the armbands. The Polish population during the first period of this harassment displayed a certain measure of sympathy for the Jews … … the Germans demanded a “contribution” from the Jewish population totalling 20 million rubles to be paid in ten days.
Of course the Germans threatened undefined consequences if the entire sum was not delivered in cash on time.
The Judenrat published an appeal to the Jewish population and asked for their cooperation. … … I knew personally some members of the Polish intelligentsia, who paid appreciable sums to help with the contribution.
Although the sums made little difference, the gesture of good will showed a spirit that counted and had a strong moral meaning. … These signs of sympathy from Polish society incited the Jews to even greater generosity than they had shown till then.
A number of Jewish testimonies confirm that Poles contributed considerable sums to help pay the ransoms imposed by the Germans on the Jews of Lwów, Wilno, Chełm, and Rzeszów.12 12
See Andrzej Żbikowski, ed., Archiwum Ringelbluma: Konspiracyjne Archiwum Getta Warszawy, vol. 3: Relacje z Kresów (Warsaw:
Żydowski Instytut Historyczny IN-B, 2000), pp.471, 492 (Wilno), 554, 724 (Lwów); Samuel D. Kassow, Who Will Write Our History?:
Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007), p.275 (when the Germans imposed a heavy levy on the Jewish community in Chełm in late 1939, the local Polish intelligentsia contributed food and money to Jews); Daniel Blatman, En direct du ghetto: La presse clandestine juive dans le ghetto de Varsovie (1940–1943) (Paris: Cerf; Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005), p.470 (Poles contributed 100,000 złoty in Rzeszów). The latter source also mentions that, when the Germans rounded up the Jews of Olkusz in May 1942, and held them in the local high school for three days
The Germans imposed a second contribution on the town. However, since there was no more money or gold, the murderers took 35 Jews and the rabbi of the town as hostages. If we didn’t give them the demanded sum of money, they would kill the rabbi and the 35 Jews. The mayor [a Pole by the name of Czapliński] of Drohitchin [Drohiczyn] interceded on behalf of the rabbi and the Jews, but it did no good. The wives of the arrested men and rabbi went to beg the priest Palevski [actually, Rev. Antoni Chmielewski, the local pastor] to save their husbands’ lives. The priest Palevski quickly went to the SS commander and convinced him to release the rabbi and the 30 hostages. Five Jews were kept as hostages until the contribution was paid.
Priests also came to the assistance of individuals who were required by the Germans to pay large ransoms for the safety of family members. A resident of Tomaszów Lubelski recalled how her mother turned to a Polish priest, who gave her a large sum of money in exchange for a gold chain, thereby allowing her grateful mother to pay the “indemnification” demanded by the Germans. (Rachel Schwartzbaum (Klarman), “During the Years of Horror,” in Joseph M. Moskop, ed., Tomaszow-Lubelski Memorial Book [Mahwah, New Jersey: Jacob Solomon Berger, 2008), p.406.) I, and several other Tomaszow [Tomaszów] families set out to return to Tomaszow [from the Soviet occupation zone].
Arriving to my parents, they fell upon me, and wept sympathetically. … Immediately on the morrow, my parents receive a notice that because their daughter had returned from Russia, my parents are required to pay a large sum of money on my behalf as indemnification money. A keening went up in our house, regarding how it would be possible to get such a large sum of money, however there was no answer to this. In the morning, at eight o’clock, the sum must be presented. My mother took a gold chain that we still had in our possession, and went off to sell it to the Polish priest. She told the priest everything, and the priest took the chain, paid her, and told her, ‘Go save your child.’ My mother thanked him with a full heart, and went away. On the following morning, she paid the sum on my behalf. In this manner, all of the families that returned from Rawa [Ruska] were required to pay extraordinarily large sums as an indemnification.
When the Germans occupied Słonim in June 1941, they took the highly unusual step of appointing Rev.
Kazimierz Grochowski, who was the acting pastor of St. Andrew’s church and—as a native of the Poznań region—had an excellent command of the German language, the mayor of the city. He was in that position for only a few months. During that time he intervened on behalf of the Jews and provided them with false identity documents. His benelovence was noted by a Jew who stayed briefly in Słonim. (Huberband, Kiddush Hashem, p.373.) From Jeziernica, I was off to Slonim [Słonim]. I found a half-demolished city. Half of it had been consumed in flames during the battles. When the Germans took over, they shot a small number of Jews. I came upon a long line of Jews, and was told that they were standing on line to receive work from the Germans at various labor sites. The Germans paid them with bread. The mood in the city was good. The local priest had been appointed as mayor, and he had prevailed upin the Germans not to treat the Jews as badly and as brutally as in other cities.
On the day of my departure from Slonim, July 12, 1941, they instituted the yellow badge for Jews.
Rev. Grochowski was arrested by the Germans and accused of hiding Jews. Since no Jews were found in the rectory he was released. Rev. Grochowski was arrested again in March 1942 and imprisoned in Baranowicze. He was executed in an unknown location soon after.13 without food or water before deporting them, the Polish population brought water and food to the Jews. Ibid., p.470.
13 On Rev. Grochowski see Tadeusz Krahel, “W Generalnym Okręgu Białoruś (c.d.),” Czas Miłosierdzia: Białostocki Biuletyn Kościelny, no. 12, December 1998; Tadeusz Krahel, “Ksiądz Kazimierz Grochowski,” W Służbie Miłosierdzia: Białostocki Biuletyn Kościelny, no. 2, February 2009. See also the testimony of Salomon Szlakman, in Michał Grynberg and Maria Kotowska, comp. and eds., Życie i zagłada
The Germans introduced the death penalty for assisting Jews because so many Poles had been willing to come to their assistance. Despite repeated warnings, incessant anti-Semitic propaganda, and sanctions such as fines and imprisonment, Poles continued to deal with and shelter Jews thereby frustrating German attempts to isolate the Jews, a precondition for their annihilation. Hence the Germans felt compelled to introduce harsher measures to curtail contacts between Poles and Jews, to the fullest extent possible. Gazeta Lwowska, an official German daily
published in the Polish language, stated on April 11, 1942:
It is unfortunate that the rural population continue—nowadays furtively—to assist Jews, thus doing harm to the community, and hence to themselves, by this disloyal attitude. Villagers take advantage of all illegal ways, applying all their cunning and circumventing regulations in order to supply the local Jewry with all kinds of foodstuffs in every amount. … The rural population must be cut off and separated from the Jews, once and for all, must be weaned from the extremely anti-social habit of assisting the Jews.
(Bartoszewski, The Blood Shed Unites Us, p.40.) A circular issued on September 21, 1942, by the SS and Police Chief in Radom District, outlined and justified the
new Draconian measures that were to be undertaken to put an end to this “problem”:
The experience of the last few weeks has shown that Jews, in order to evade evacuation, tend to flee from the small Jewish residential districts [i.e., ghettos] in the communities above all.
These Jews must have been taken in by Poles. I am requesting you to order all mayors and village heads as soon as possible that every Pole who takes in a Jew makes himself guilty under the Third Ordinance on restrictions on residence in the Government General of October 15, 1941 (GG Official Gazette, p.595).
As accomplices are also considered those Poles who feed run-away Jews or sell them foodstuffs, even if they do not offer them shelter. Whatever the case, these Poles are liable to the death penalty.
(Bartoszewski, The Blood Shed Unites Us, p.40.) On the eve of the liquidation of the ghetto in Żelechów near Garwolin, which took place on September 30, 1942, the Jewish leaders placed their confidence in the local Catholic parish. The story is related in Jonathan Kaufman, A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe (New York: Viking/Penguin, 1997), at page 102.
The night before the Germans came, with rumors of the deportations sweeping the terrified ghetto, several Jewish leaders hurried across the dark market square and knocked on the door of the rectory across the street from the church. When the priest answered, they asked him to hold the documents of their community—the birth and death records and the most important papers—in safekeeping. They would be back to retrieve them when they could. The priest agreed, and he hid them in the rafters of the rectory for safekeeping. The next day, the deportations to Treblinka began.
Priests and nuns throughout Poland responded to the increasingly harsh measures imposed by the Germans by helping Jews who fled from the ghettos. Jewish children were particularly at risk, but rescue efforts on their behalf were not always welcome. It has often been charged that conversion was the primary or at least a very important factor in the decision of the clergy and religious to extend assistance to Jews. In fact, this was one of the reasons given by Warsaw’s Jewish leaders for their refusal of the Catholic Church’s offer to place several hundred Jewish children in convents and monasteries. Emanuel Ringelblum, the chronicler of the Warsaw ghetto, acknowledges this offer of assistance and records, in most unflattering terms, the motivation attributed to the Catholic clergy by the Jewish community leaders at the time: proselytism (“soul-snatching”), financial greed, and looking out for their own prestige. After meeting with vehement opposition from Orthodox and other Jewish groups, the project
I was present at a discussion of this question by several Jewish intellectuals. One of them categorically opposed the operation.... The priests’ promise not to convert the children would be of no avail [even though a register would be kept of the children, recording their distribution throughout the country, so that they could be taken back after the war]; time and education would take their toll.... Jewish society has no right to engage in such an enterprise.
(Emmanuel Ringelblum, Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War [New York: Howard Fertig, 1976], pp.150–51.) Although Ringelblum is anxious to shift the blame for the failure of this project to the Catholic clergy, it is not reasonable to believe that the Church authorities would initiate the undertaking only to welcome its demise, when in fact numerous convents and monasteries were already active in sheltering Jewish children. Moreover, there was reluctance on the part of many Jews to give over their children to Poles for
safekeeping. One survivor records the following conversation:
“I gave my little son to a Polish family and I hope to God he’ll survive,” a young father said with relief. “Oh no,” I heard Mr. Blum exclaim. “I’d never give my children to a Christian family. Who knows if my wife and I will survive to claim them after the war? And if not,” he continued in a voice charged with emotion, “they’ll grow up to be good Christians, God forbid. Oh no!” he repeated passionately. “It’s better that they should die as Jews. Let them go together with their people;