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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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My aunt was a lost sole in Warsaw, without funds and without shelter. She slept where she could—sometimes invited into homes by strangers, sometimes on the street. It was a very hard and dangerous life, but she had no choice. Ironically, it was the Catholic churches that provided the greatest refuge for my Jewish aunt. She found a priest who gave her permission to solicit on the steps of the sanctuary. He also allowed her to wash her clothes and take care of herself in the rear of the church, but only during the warmer months. In the winter she had to clean her face and hands with snow and frequently went weeks without washing herself. The harsh cold and rains of winter left her sick, and she often had to find refuge by sleeping on the hard wooden benches inside the church. Already familiar with Catholic liturgy, she prayed and sang along with other worshipers, with a prayer book in one hand and a cross in the other. But this, too, was not easy. At times, Polish youths taunted her by calling “to stoy Zydowka” [“to stój Żydówko”] (“[Stand] You Jew!”), forcing her to flee to another part of the town and finding another church for safe harbor. … For two years my aunt had to endure the shame of posing as a beggar woman, living off the magnanimity of church officials and the generosity of strangers. She also lived through the Warsaw uprising in August 1944, when the Germans destroyed the city, killing hundreds of thousands of Poles. She saw how the Nazis eradicated Polish patriots who dreamed of a democratic Poland, while the Red army cynically watched from the other side of the Vistula. The Germans left Warsaw in ruins, liquidating almost all the inhabitants of the city. Those who did not perish were sent either to labor camps in Nazi Germany or to transit camps in Poland. My aunt was arrested and spent the remainder of the war in one such camp in eastern Poland, from where she was liberated by Russian and Polish forces in January 1945.

It was only with great difficulty that she returned to Zamosc after the war in Europe came to an end. Immediately she reconnected with her Polish friend who, true to his word, returned the hardware store that Frania had left with his years earlier. She got back her home, too, but she was alone. It was very difficult for her to go on living, so it was that our finding each other came as a blessing.

Rev. Józef Kamiński, an Orionist priest, found shelter for a young Jewish boy smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto by his mother and left at the Catholic Aid Centre. The boy eventually made his way to an orphanage run by the Sisters Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculately Conceived where he survived the war. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.324.) In the summer of 1942, Jozef Kaminski, a priest, turned to Antonina Kaczorowska, and asked her to look after Marian Marzynski, a five-year-old orphan. After Kaczorowska, a matron at Warsaw’s Saint Roch hospital who lived on the hospital premises, agreed the orphan was brought to her apartment. Although she soon discovered that Marian was a Jew 59 who had been smuggled out of the local ghetto, Kaczorowska decided to look after him. Kaczorowska obtained Aryan papers for Marian, whom she passed off as a relative. Inspired by her religious faith to look after the persecuted, Kaczorowska took good care of Marian without expecting anything in return. Marian stayed with Kaczorowska for eight months, after which a place was found for him in an orphanage run by a convent in the village of Lazniew [Łaźniew], near Warsaw, where he stayed under an assumed identity until April 1945. Throughout his stay at the orphanage, Kaczorowska came to visit him and brought him clothes and candy. After the war, his mother traced him and reclaimed him.

Jan Dobraczyński, an author and prewar member of the nationalist National Democratic Party (“Endecja”), used his offices in the Department of Social Services in the Warsaw municipal corporation to place 500 Jewish children in Catholic convents. He recalled those times in an interview published shortly before his death.

(“Traktowałem to jako obowiązek chrześcijański i polski,” Słowo-Dziennik Katolicki, Warszawa, no. 67, 1993.) I was afraid to place [Jewish] children in just any institution; I relied only on convents. I was well known to all of the Sisters and they trusted me. I gathered the Sisters and told them: “Dear Sisters, we will be hiding Jewish children. If a child is sent with my signature, that will be an indication that the child is Jewish, and you will have to know how to act on this.” I also told them that we would not be sending more children to any institution than we agreed to … … our social workers searched for [Jewish] children. Sometimes they were found on the street, or in some primitive hiding place. Once we were informed that two boys were hidden in a cubbyhole in [the suburb of] Praga. One of them was running a high fever and it was imperative to move them. A nun took the sick boy on a streetcar and he started to scream out something in Yiddish. The driver was astute enough to sense the danger and yelled out: “This streetcar is going to the depot. Everyone out.” At the same time he signalled to the nun that she and the boy should remain.

Each of the children was taken for a few days to the home of a social worker. There they were taught their new names and prayers, and how to make the sign of the cross. The children were after all being taken to Catholic institutions and couldn’t differ outwardly from the Polish orphans residing there.

All but one of the children survived the war. (The one boy who didn’t survive was killed by Ukrainians in Turkowice, where he was sheltered in a convent.) … a few of the children remained Christians, but the rest reverted to the faith of their forefathers.

The Sisters Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculately Conceived ran a number of institutions where Jews were sheltered throughout Poland: Brzeżany, Chomotów, Częstochowa, Grodzisko, Łaźniew, Łódź, Lublin, Miechów, Piotrków Trybunalski, Rzepińce, Szynwald, Tarnów, and Turkowice. At the orphanage in the village of Turkowice near Hrubieszów, 33 Jewish children were saved. The rescue involved all of the convent’s 22 nuns.

Although the Jewish children were not baptized, they all had false baptismal certificates and were permitted to receive the sacraments. The nuns were assisted by their chaplain, Rev. Stanisław Bajko, a Jesuit, and by a whole network of people outside the convent, including a district social services inspector. No one was betrayed. The mother superior of the convent, Aniela Polechajłło (Sister Stanisława), and three of the sisters—Antonina Manaszczuk (Sister Irena), Józefa Romansewicz (Sister Hermana), and Bronisława Galus (Sister Róża)—have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, p.629.) The Turkowice convent in Hrubieszow [Hrubieszów] county, Lublin district, was one of the largest children’s convents in Poland, known for having provided asylum for Jewish children during the occupation. Some arrived in the convent from the immediate surroundings, but most were sent there from distant Warsaw by Zegota [Żegota]. The efforts to save children were spearheaded by the mother superior of the convent, Aniela Polechajllo [Polechajłło], known as Sister Stanisława. She collaborated with Jan Dobraczynski [Dobraczyński], the head of the department for abandoned children in Warsaw’s City Hall and an active Zegota [Żegota] member. Polechajllo was an educational role model and inspired her students with her own spirit of tolerance. Helped by the nuns Antonina Manaszczuk (Sister Irena) and Jozefa [Józefa] Romansewicz (Sister Hermana), she received the Jewish children warmly and never forced any to accept the Catholic religion. The three nuns worked to save Jewish children in full cognizance of the danger they had taken upon themselves.

A number of German soldiers were always stationed in the convent, some of whom knew that Jewish children were hiding there but were willing to turn a blind eye because of their sympathy for the nuns. Zegota chose to send children of particularly Jewish appearance there because of the convent’s remote location in a forest far from any main roads.

Whenever Zegota activists came across children difficult to hide because of their appearance, they would inform the Turkowice convent and the nuns Romansewicz and Manaszczuk would set out on the long journey to Warsaw to rescue

–  –  –

Katarzyna Meloch, born in 1932, was one of many Jewish children who was accepted by the nuns. Her account is recorded in Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, at pages 114–15.

I was a Jewish child, saved in an institution for children operated by nuns, Servant Sisters of the Most Holy Virgin Mary (headquartered in Stara Wieś). I am one of a large group of Jewish children saved in Turkowice in the Zamość area.

“Jolanta” (Irena Sendler, the head of Żegota’s department for the care of children) reports that thirty-two Jewish children found shelter in Turkowice. One of the nuns, decorated posthumously, Sister Hermana (secular name Józefa Romansewicz), writes in her yet-unpublished memoirs about nineteen children who were hidden in the institution.

Three nuns from Turkowice (from a religious staff of approximately twenty-two persons) have already been awarded Yad Vashem medals, but rescuing us Jewish children was the joint effort of the entire religious staff. When I write and speak of the collective rescue deeds, I have in mind not just “our” nuns. In the Social Service Department of the municipal administration of Warsaw, operations were conducted, clandestinely, to place Jewish children in homes operated by religious orders. The writer Jan Dobraczyński was the initiator of this activity. He was assisted by coworkers Irena Sendler, Jadwiga Piotrowska and also by my wartime Aryan guardian, Jadwiga Deneka. The “collective enterprise” would have been impossible without the consent of Inspector Saturnin Jarmulski. He knew (Sister Superior had no secrets from him) that Jewish children were located in the Turkowice institution. He demanded just one thing, that we all have our Aryan documents in good order.

I cannot fail to mention Father Stanisław Bajko. He saw to it that our identity was corroborated by church practices. … For me, the most important of these persons was and is Sister Irena (Antonina Manaszczuk). Two years ago, she received, in person, a medal at Yad Vashem. … Sister Irena took us, girls and boys, by a dangerous route from Warsaw to our place of destination. On a daily basis, she looked after several Jewish girls. In the task of rescuing us, she was the right hand of Mother Superior.

Michał Głowiński’s account is also recorded in Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, at pages 56–70, and in his autobiography The Black Seasons (Evanston, Illinois: Northweestern University Press, 2005). Michał Głowiński, born in 1934, was transferred to Turkowice in February 1944, after staying briefly with the Felician Sisters in Otwock and the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Pleszew) in Czersk.

Rev. Tadeusz Zimiński cared for 8-year-old Ludwik Brylant, from a family of converts, for several weeks in suburban Annopol, after he escaped from the Warsaw ghetto toward the end of 1941. An unknown Pole protected the young boy when he jumped onto a streetcar as it left the ghetto. He then made his way to family friends by the name of Dąbrowski in the Old Town, and was transferred to Rev. Zimiński, who placed him in an emergency shelter in Warsaw. He was among several children who were taken, just before Christimas 1941, to the convent of the Sisters Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculately Conceived in Turkowice where he survived the war.

(Testimony of Ludwik Brylant in Katarzyna Meloch and Halina Szostkiewicz, eds., Dzieci Holocaustu mówią…, volume 3 [Warsaw: Midrasz and Stowarzyszenie “Dzieci Holocaustu” w Polsce, 2008], pp.174–77.) The aforementioned Irena Sendler, who worked with Żegota, recalled the obstacles she had to overcome in rescuing Jewish children. These children were often placed in Catholic convents. (Marek Halter, Stories of Deliverance: Speaking with Men and Women Who Rescued Jews from the Holocaust [Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1997], pp.9–11.) “Within the framework of our social duties, my friend Eva worked with the leaders of the Jewish community, who gave us the addresses of needy families, and I went there. Imagine: I went to homes of these people who had never seen me before, and announced that I could save their child. All of them asked the same question: could I guarantee that their son or daughter would survive? But there were no guarantees. I wasn’t even sure of getting out of the Ghetto alive. Certain parents were suspicious, and refused to let their child go. I would go back the next day in the hope of convincing them, and sometimes their flat was in ruins. The Nazis set it on fire just for the pleasure of seeing Jews burn. But more often they gave me their child. The father, the mother, and the grandparents would be crying, and I would lead the little one away.

61 What a tragedy, each time! The children, separated from their mothers, sobbed ceaselessly all along the road, and we were crying as well. To avoid alerting the Germans with their cries, our driver had found a solution: he brought a fierce dog in the ambulance. As the guards approached we made him walk and his barking covered the children’s cries… “With some friends, I arranged for four social assistance centers, where they could stay as long as necessary—days, weeks, whole months—to overcome the shock into which the situation had plunged them. We even had to teach them how to laugh again. Only then could we place them. Sometimes in welcoming families, but more often in convents, with the complicity of Mothers Superior. No one ever refused to take a child from me. I placed them with Sister Niepokalanski [niepokalanki—Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary], at the Visiting Sisters of Christ [?], and at the convent at Plody [Płudy, run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary]. We also had a house at 96 Lesno [Leszno] where we hid some of the mothers who had escaped from the Ghetto. It took a lot of money to sustain it all.

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