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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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[1] During the German occupation, Sister Maria Gorska [Andrzeja Górska], a member of the Ursuline Sisters convent [order], was an active participant in the convent’s [order’s] effort to save Jewish children. Officially, Gorska ran a soup kitchen for orphaned or abandoned children in central Warsaw. Unofficially, her job was to help Jewish children by arranging for them to be smuggled out of the ghetto and transferred to institutions belonging to the Ursuline Sisters, which had branches throughout occupied Poland. In performing these and other dangerous operations, Gorska was inspired by Christian love and a sense of obligation to save human life. Among Gorska’s tasks were obtaining Aryan papers for the Jewish children, protecting those who looked Jewish, and hiding them during German raids. Gorska was in touch with Zegota [Żegota], which supplied her with documents as necessary. Gorska saved the lives of many Jewish children who left Poland after the war. Gorska’s activities are the subject of Dr. Rozenblum-Szymanska’s book Byłam tylko lekarzem (“I Was Only a Doctor”).

[2] During the war, Mieczyslaw [Mieczysław] Wionczek lived with his family in Warsaw. He was a student at the underground Warsaw University. In 1941, he met a young Jewish woman who was known during the occupation as Teresa Czarkowska. In 1942, Mieczyslaw and Teresa were married. In order to remove any suspicions regarding Teresa’s origins, the wedding was held in the St. Jan [John] Cathedral. All of Mieczyslaw’s family, as well as Teresa’s family, who were then in hiding, attended the wedding. After the wedding, Mieczyslaw’s mother held a wedding reception in her home,

–  –  –

Jews were often moved from convent to convent, or other institutions operated by nuns, to ensure their survival.

Maria Teresa Zielińska, born in 1927, recalled her exploits after her escape from the Warsaw ghetto in October 1940, in Wiktoria Śliwowska, ed., The Last Eyewitnesses: Children of the Holocaust Speak (Evanston, Illinois:

Northwestern University Press, 1998), at pages 148–50.

Death threatened not only me but all those who would accept me and all the tenants of their apartment building.

Nonetheless, Janina Przybysz (Ninka) took me with her to 12? or 19? Zielna Street where she lived just with her mother, because her father had died recently … After a few days, I went to 43 Mokotowska Street to live with Aleksander and Maria Jaźwiński, who had no children. … I was with them until Christmas.

I returned to Zielna Street. From there, on December 27, 1940, I was taken in by Mother Michaela Moraczewska, Mother General of the Sisters of the Holy Mother of Mercy [Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy]. The Sisters had a correctional residence for girls in Warsaw at 3/9 Żytnia Street. Mother Alojza was the educator of the particular class in which I was placed, and I was now called Genia, but before that, they called me Elżbieta. There, I learned colorful embroidery.

In May 1941, while seeing a doctor in the health center on Okopowa Street, I was recognized by the nurse, Helena Wiśniewska. Therefore, [out of caution] I had to immediately change my place of residence. I went to the Grochów district to 44 Hetmańska Street, where the same order of Sisters had another correctional residence. I was given the name Urszula. It affected me greatly, knowing of the danger to me and to them. … I learned to work in the garden and in the hothouse. I was there more than a year, and then I went again to Ninka on Zielna Street, where I stayed until June 1943. … [After being recognized on the street] I returned to Zielna Street, and together with Ninka went to Żytnia Street to Mother Alojza to ask her for help. She wrote a letter to the Sisters in Częstochowa, who lived at 3/9 Saint Barbara Street, and she asked a lady she knew to take me there.

From the thirteenth of June, 1943, onward, I stayed there and was given the name Mirka. This was also a correctional residence. I went there with a Kennkarte [German identity document] issued at 3/9 Żytnia Street. In Częstochowa, I also changed my place of residence several times.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy sheltered other Jewish children in their convents. The following account is found in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, at page 184.

In the winter of 1942, Klara Szapiro fled from the Warsaw ghetto with her seven-year-old daughter, Nina. After being harassed by blackmailers, Szapiro was directed by an acquaintance to Adela Domanus, who obtained forged papers for her and her daughter and arranged for them to stay with one of her friends. When this hiding place proved unsafe, Domanus placed young Nina in a Christian orphanage [at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy on Żytnia Street, in Warsaw22] and found a job for Klara as a maid with a German family, with whom she stayed until the area was liberated. In risking her life for persecuted Jews, Domanus was guided by sincere humanitarian beliefs, which overrode considerations of personal safety.

Priests were often instrumental in placing Jews in convents and worked hand in glove with nuns to rescue Jews.

According to historian Ewa Kurek (Ewa Kurek, Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of

Jewish Children in German Occupied Poland, 1939–1945 [New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997], p.52):





Priests also fulfilled the role of intermediaries between Jews and convents, and they extricated children from the ghettos.

Children were led out of the Warsaw ghetto by, among others, Rev. Prelate Marceli Godlewski, the pastor of the Church of All Saints, and by Rev. Piotr Tomaszewski, the chaplain of the Father Boduen Home, who, for example, brought threeGrynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, pp.115–16.

–  –  –

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, on Kawęczyńska Street, in the Warsaw suburb of Praga, under the care of the Salesian Fathers, became a beacon of hope for endangered Jews. Fr. Michał Kubacki, the director of the Catholic relief organization Caritas (whose services he drew on to help Jews), sheltered Halina Engelhard (later Aszkenazy), then a teenaged girl, in the church for several months. His protégé Fr. Józef Stanek, who also served at another parish in the city, sheltered a Semitic-looking Jewish girl of eight or nine years known as Zosia (Zofia), who was assigned to adorn the church altar with flowers and other light household chores. Both girls were later transferred to other locations. Zosia moved to a private home, whereas Halina was taken in by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy (Magdalene Sisters), on Wronia Street, and then by the Sisters of Charity on Freta Street, also in Warsaw. Sister Bernarda of the Magdalene Sisters told her, “Remember, my girl, that you are Jewish. Be proud of it.” Halina soon found out that there were other Jews hiding in the convent. These charges, as well as other Jews, continued to receive assistance from the Salesian Fathers throughout the occupation. False identity documents were issued at the Basilica to Rozalia Werdinger and others. The Salesians issued ardent appeals at private religious gatherings on the need to help Jews: “These people are our brothers,” Fr. Kubacki would state: “They have a soul just like us. In the heavenly court, it is not they who will be condemned, but those who murder them today. In God’s eyes, it is man’s behaviour that counts, regardless of his religion. Be he a Buddhist, Jew or Muslim, if he believes in one God and keeps his commands, God loves him. A good Catholic is not one who keeps the religious rites and regularly attends church to pray, but the one who obeys the commandment relating to

fellow men, and extends a helping hand to others in need.” (Halina Aszkenazy-Engelhard, Pragnęłam żyć:

Pamiętnik [Warszawa, Wydawnictwo Salezjańskie, 1991], pp.80–88, 92–93, 107–108, 114.) The following

account appears in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4:

Poland, Part 1, at page 412.

In April 1943, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Germans discovered where Halina Aszkenazy was hiding and dispatched her on a transport leaving the city. After jumping off the train, Aszkenazy made her way, with tremendous difficulty, back to Warsaw, where she knocked on the door of Michal [Michał] Kubacki, a director of the Christian charity “Charitas” [“Caritas”] and priest of the Bazylika Church in the Praga suburb of Warsaw. Kubacki, who knew Aszkenazy’s mother and had promised in the past to help her and her daughter, welcomed Halina and immediately provided her with false birth and baptism certificates. Aszkenazy hid in a room in the church for three months, during which time she became acquainted with Christian prayers and rituals. At one point, Aszkenazy was joined by an eightyear-old Jewish girl who was later adopted, on Kubacki’s recommendation, by a Christian family. Kubacki, inspired by compassion and religious faith, also financed the upkeep of two young girls whose rescuers were unable to support them.

After being provided by Kubacki with a German Kennkarte, Aszkenazy left her hiding place and after numerous ordeals was liberated. After the war, Aszkenazy immigrated to Israel, where she wrote her memoirs, including Kubacki’s role in saving her life, in a book entitled I Wanted to Live.

In her memoir Leokadia Schmidt describes the assistance she and her husband Maniek received from Rev.

Edward Święcki, the prewar prefect of secondary schools in Warsaw. Rev. Święcki was himself wanted by the Gestapo for his connections with the Polish underground and was living under an assumed name. He encouraged his cousin Maria Michalski and her family to provide shelter for the fugitives from the Warsaw ghetto, arranged for false identity documents for them, and helped Maniek financially after he was apprehended by the police and had to pay a large bribe for his release. Rev. Święcki placed their young son in the care of the Father Boduen home for foundlings where he was the confessor of the nuns of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who operated the institution. When the boy fell ill, Rev. Święcki and his cousin cared for him. (Leokadia Schmidt, Cudem przeżyślimy czas zagłady [Kraków and Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1983], pp.54, 160, 203–206, 218, 242–43, 256.) Another survivor describes the fate of her aunt, Frania Fink, a native of Zamość, who survived in Warsaw leading the life of a beggar. She frequented Catholic churches where she begged, received assistance, and occasionally

–  –  –

Frania had lived in Zamosc [Zamość], along with her husband and thee daughters, when the war broke out in 1939. They managed to endure ghetto conditions with the help of Polish friends who provided food and money. They also gave Frania a false ID, which she could use in case of an emergency.

In October 1942, the Zamosc ghetto was brutally liquidated by the German forces. By then, one daughter had escaped to Russia and another had left the ghetto and was working in a factory on the Aryan side. During the liquidation, my aunt removed her armband with the Star of David and sneaked out of the ghetto to get some food for her daughter and husband. Upon her return she witnessed the liquidation of the Jews of Zamosc. From afar she saw the town’s Jewish inhabitants shot by the SS and Ukrainian Auxiliary Police. Horrified, she ran back to her Polish friends crying: “It is time for me to get out of this place. I’m alone. My husband and little girl have been sent away by the Germans with our people.

I have nowhere to go. I cannot stay here, endangering the life of your family. May the Lord take care of you. Thank you for helping me. Some day I will return and pay you back for the things which you did for me and my family.

To get out of the city she took care to pass as a gentile. Fortunately, she hade [sic] blond hair and blue eyes and spoke fluent Polish without any accent. Leaving nothing to chance, she boarded a train wearing a big cross on her chest and under her arm was a Christian prayer book. Reasoning that it was easier to get lost in a bog city, she left Zamosc, for the Polish capital of Warsaw, where she assumed the appearance of a beggar. Warsaw was a crowded metropolis, full of people trying to do their best to persevere. But survival was not easy, even for Poles, as the Germans planned to transform the entire population into slaves working for the Fatherland. As a result, the streets of Warsaw were teeming with paupers just looking for handouts. Many stationed themselves at the entrances of churches, so they could plead with worshipers for food and money.



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