«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
53 war. One of these children was Lilian Lampert, who was admitted into the nunnery’s boarding school with the help of prewar acquaintances of her parents. “I was treated exactly like the rest of the children, which profoundly influenced the whole of my adolescence. I was still learning to play the piano,” Lilian wrote in her testimony to Yad Vashem. Lilian spent vacations in Szymanow [Szymanów], where the sisters ran a boarding school for older girls. At a certain point, the sisters decided to move her there permanently, since Szymanow was a long way from Warsaw and therefore safer. She was then able to see her mother, who had managed to procure Aryan papers. Sister Wanda also helped Roza and Josef Pytowski, who turned up in Warsaw with nowhere to stay after escaping from the Piotrkow [Piotrków] Trybunalski ghetto. Their daughter, Franciszka, asked Sister Wanda for help and she found them a place to stay with two elderly women who were in touch with the nunnery. The frightened women suspected that the Pytowskis were Jewish but Sister Wanda did her best to allay their suspicions. “She took care of my mother as if she was her own mother. She taught her how to behave naturally during services in the nunnery chapel as well as in the courtyard, where joint evening prayers were conducted every day,” wrote Rosa [sic] and Josef’s daughter Maria. “Sister Wanda never regretted having sheltered a Jewish girl and allowing her to join services.”
In her testimony for Yad Vashem (File 2396b), Lilian Lampert (born 1931) wrote:
The nuns knew of my identity and I retained my real name. They showed great courage by providing refuge for a Jewish child with red hair and Semitic features. … I was treated exactly the same way as any other child at school. … I even continued my piano lessons. Only my outings outside the compounds were curtailed, understandably, for my own safety.
Summers and holidays were spent at the order’s affiliate in Szymanów, where the nuns conducted a boarding school for high school girls. Since Szymanów was more isolated, and hence seemed more secure, it was decided to transfer Lilian there permanently. Lilian was not the only Jewish child there.
I remember, sometime in 1943–44 the arrival of another red-haired girl, and the nuns’ efforts to bleach her hair, which attracted my curiosity. Her name was Jasia [Kon]. That’s all I knew at that time. She too survived the war.
At a later date, the convent in Szymanów was subjected to constant random inspections by the Germans, who requisitioned part of the convent’s building to billet soldiers. In the fall of 1944, Lilian was sent to rejoin her mother, who was hiding in the village of Zaręby Kościelne, near Grójec. They remained there until the area was liberated in February 1945. Lilian still affectionately remembers some of the nuns: Irena, Brigida, Wanda, Teresa, Deodata, Blanka, Bernarda, and also Father Skalski, their chaplain.
In her memoir, Byłam tylko lekarzem… [I Was Only a Doctor] (Warszawa: Pax, 1979), at pages 145–77, Dr.
Zofia Szymańska (née Rozenblum), a renowned neurophysicist, describes how she found shelter with the Sisters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary on Kazimierzowska Street in Warsaw, after leaving the Warsaw ghetto in August
1942. That convent served as a centre for underground activities on behalf of Jews in Warsaw. Within a few weeks, Dr. Szymańska was taken to a small convent of the Usuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus (Grey Ursulines) in Ożarów, outside Warsaw, where she lived until April 1945. She was accepted with the approval of that congregation’s Mother General Pia Leśniewska. In both convents, Dr. Szymańska received material care and an abundance of spiritual comfort from many nuns and priests (among them Rev. Dąbrowski, a Pallottine, who comforted her greatly in difficult moments). No one attempted to convert her. News of her stay at Ożarów was widely known to the villagers but no one betrayed her, not even when a German military unit was at one point quartered in the convent. Dr. Szymańska’s ten-year-old niece, Janina (“Jasia”) Kon (changed to Kaniewska), who had a very Semitic appearance, was sheltered by the Sisters of the Immaculate Virgin Mary on Kazimierzowska Street in Warsaw, and in boarding schools in Wrzosów and Szymanów, outside Warsaw, where more than a dozen Jewish girls were hidden. All of the sisters at the boarding school in Szymanów were aware that their young charges were Jews, as were the hired help, the parents of the other students and many villagers. None of the Christian parents removed their children from the school despite the potential dangers, and in fact many of them contributed to the upkeep of the Jewish children. Dr. Szymańska wrote: “The children were under the protection of the entire convent and village. Not one traitor was to be found among them.” Throughout this time Dr.
Szymańska remained under the watchful eye of Maria Stefania Górska (Sister Andrzeja), who kept in touch with Janina Kon’s parents in the Warsaw ghetto until they were deported. Dr. Szymańska’s story is also related in 54 Margherita Marchione, Consensus and Controversy: Defending Pope Pius XII (New York and Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2002), at pages 101–104.
With the German occupation of Poland in 1939, the people of Warsaw faced a hopeless situation. Dr. Szymanska became involved in the work of helping thousands of Jewish children. While still working for Centos [the Union of Welfare Societies for Jewish Orphans] during the first winter of the war, she understood the future fate of Warsaw Jews and the lack of help from the Jewish organizations outside Poland, especially American Jews. She knew that this was the beginning of the end. With her two sisters, brother-in-law and nine-year-old niece, Jasia, she lived in the Warsaw Ghetto from October 1940. The Centos Building was bombed on the first day of the War. In 1942, the Germans closed the Centos and her permit was terminated. The program was liquidated. All two hundred residents were exterminated.
When the reality of the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto became imminent, Sister Golembiowska [Gołębiowska], who was working with the Polish underground network, persuaded Dr. Szymanska to leave the ghetto with Jasia. They were moved by the network to the Institute for Boys at 97 Pulawska [Puławska] Street. Another Catholic friend, Irene [Irena] Solska, took Dr. Szymanska to Sister Wanda Garczynska [Garczyńska] of the Immaculate Conception Sisters on Kazimierzowska Street. This convent was a link in the underground network to “help those who were hiding and living in danger and misery.” Within seventeen days she was relocated with the Ursuline Sisters. Jasia, entrusted to a family friend and colleague, spoke about the bombings of the Warsaw Ghetto, accidentally disclosed her Jewish background.
Immediately she was transferred to Kazimierzowska Street and instructed to approach the gate alone. She knocked and said: “I’m Jasia and I don’t have anyone.” Sister Wanda responded, “No, my child, you are not alone, you have me.” During these years of hiding, Jasia was moved many times among the villages of Wrzosowo [Wrzosów] and Szymanowo [Szymanów] and Kazimierzowska Street. The Gestapo suspected that the nuns, under the pretext of foster care for Polish orphans, were saving the lives of many Jewish children. In spite of constant danger the girls attended classes regularly in a serene atmosphere. Indeed, the heroic role of the Immaculate Conception Sisters in saving Jewish lives needs to be told.
In her book, Dr. Szymanska writes: “The example of the Sisters allowed me and others not to lose faith in human beings during those years of atrocities and cruelty.” At the end of August 1942, with the approval of the Mother General Pia Lesniewska [Leśniewska], she was moved to the Ursuline Gray Nuns’ convent in the village of Ozarow [Ożarów]. There she remained for two years and eight months in a small room and was visited by Sister Urszula Gorska [Maria Stefania Górska, Sister Andrzeja], a student of classical philology at Warsaw University [before it was closed by the Germans at the beginning of the war]. From her small convent cell, she looked closely at the lives of the nuns but could not understand their obedience to suspend their obvious enjoyable work routine and their readiness to pray and contemplate. Only later was she able to understand the power of contemplative devotion to God—the sole source of their strength—which gave a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives.
She frequently asked herself: Why did God allow this to happen? Why wasn’t Hitler excommunicated? [Hitler had severed his ties with the Catholic Church long before he came to power and considered the Church to be one of his chief enemies.—Ed.] Why didn’t the American Jews organize assistance and intervene with the American Government to help the European Jews perishing in the concentration camps? The Germans began the liquidation of the ghetto in 1942. They transported whole orphanages of children to the concentration camps. After the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, only her younger sister Eliza was still alive and trapped in the Ghetto. Stella and her brother-in-law had been transported to the concentration camp. When she learned the fate of her family, she shared her thoughts of depression and suicide with Sister Gorska. Responding to her needs, one of the sisters moved to her cell to help her. Many were the conversations they had about the need for people to assume responsibility and help save lives. In this crisis, the sisters were influential and encouraged her, but never did they try to persuade her to convert to the Catholic faith.
After the Russian offensive in the Spring of 1945, Dr. Szymanska spent the last Easter with the Ursuline Sisters. From documents and statements of eyewitnesses, she found out that the entire village of Ozarow knew that she and others were hiding in the convent. The sisters were aware of the consequences of hiding Jews; yet, without hesitation, they continued the dangerous task and saved many lives. She states: “No other country but Poland paid such a tremendous bloody tribute to the cause of saving Jewish lives. It is an undisputed fact that it is much easier to demonstrate and march for the cause of Jews, as happened in some Western countries, than to hide one of them for years during the German occupation of Poland.” After the war, she returned to completely devastated Warsaw and worked for the Ministry of Education, Department of Child Welfare. She inspected the care given in orphanages. She learned that under the direction of Mother [Maylda] Getter, who saved the lives of several hundred Jewish Children, the Sisters of the Family of Mary was one of the most active congregations protecting Jews during and after the war.
Sister Andrzeja (Maria Stefania Górska), who was recognized as a Righteous Gentile, wrote in her statement to Yad Vashem (File 7668) that many Jewish children were sheltered in the children’s home operated by the 55 Ursuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus in Milanówek. Among the charges were Stenia Jankowska, daughter of a doctor from Łódź, and the Raniszewski sisters, who moved to Paris after the war. The Jewish children had false identity documents. They were referred there either by their families or by non-Jewish acquaintances of the families, as well as by Jewish organizations active in the rescue of children. They continued to be sheltered even when their sponsors could not keep up with payments for their upkeep. Fortunately, none of the Jewish children was discovered by the Germans. Jewish adults were also taken in. For example, Professor Helena Radlińska of Warsaw’s Free University (Wolna Wszechnica Oświatowa) and the two Kurz sisters were hidden in the mother house on Gęsta Street (now Wiślana Street) in Warsaw. The Mother General, Pia Leśniewska maintained close contact with an organization that assisted Jews. Sister Andrzeja’s main responsibility was the children’s kitchen, in addition to her teaching duties (biology). She was also dispatched to the ghetto walls where she collected deserted children and took them to various convents. When danger lurked, she organized the transfer of Jewish children to other locations. Sister Andrzeja recalled how she took a girl whose head had to bandaged to disguise her marked Jewish features from Warsaw to the children’s home in Brwinów.
In most cases we knew very well that the children were Jewish. However, even in cases where we did not know for sure, and only suspected they were Jewish, it was never mentioned and never the subject of discussion, and we took the children as they were. … We usually baptized the Jewish children were baptized in those cases where we were told that this was crucial for their survival, especially so as not to arouse suspicion that they were Jews. We wanted all the children to be present every day for confession and prayers. Some of the Jewish children became very attached to the Christian religious rites, but we made them understand that they would not be required to be committed [to accept Christianity when they grew up]. From my contact with tens of Jewish children, I noticed that they needed much empathy and expressions of love, since in the beginning they kept to themselves, which could have aroused suspicion. I decided to break down the wall between them and us and gain their confidence. … Today  in our convent there are several nuns who have been with us after the Holocaust. No one ever came to ask for these Jewish girls, and when they grew up they asked to remain with us and be inseparable from us. … Most of the surviving children we returned at the end of the war or several years afterwards to their families or to representatives of the Jewish community who were armed with appropriate documentation testifying a relationship to these children. … Not one of the Jewish children who were sheltered by us, and especially in the Milanówek house, did not return to his family in a much better condition. … This human experience helped me to better understand the human soul and heart, and especially the soul of a child who suffers through an experience as terrible as the Holocaust.
Confirmation of the rescue activities of the Ursuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus, who sheltered Jewish children in Warsaw, Brwinów, Milanówek, Ołtarzew, Radość, Zakopane and Czarna Duża, is found in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volumes 4 and 5: Poland, Part 1, at pages 249–50; Part 2, at page 872.