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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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[3] After the establishment of Zegota [Żegota], Irena Sendler, who lived in Warsaw, became one of its main activists. Her job in the Warsaw Municipality’s social affairs department made it easier for her to carry out her clandestine assignments.

In September 1943, Sendler was appointed director of Zegota’s Department for the Care of Jewish Children. Sendler, whose underground name was Jolanta, exploited her contacts with orphanages and institutes for abandoned children, to send Jewish children there. Many of the children were sent to the Rodzina Marii (Family of Mary) Orphanage [on Hoża Street] in Warsaw and to religious institutions run by nuns in nearby Chomotow [Chomotów outside Warsaw] and in Turkowice near Lublin [the latter were run by the Sisters Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Immaculately Conceived].

In late 1943, Sendler was arrested and sentenced to death, but underground activists managed to bribe officials to release her. After her release, even though she knew that the authorities were keeping an eye on her, Sendler continued her underground activities. The exact number of children saved by Sendler is unknown.

[4] The occupation did not curtail the friendship between Wladyslaw Smolski [Władysław Smólski], a Polish author and playwright, and his many Jewish writer friends. On the contrary, he maintained contact with them and tried to help them to the best of his ability. As a member of Zegota [Żegota] in Warsaw, he provided a number of Jews with forged documents, found them hiding places on the Aryan side of the city, and offered them financial assistance. Among the Jews he helped were Bronislaw [Bronisław] Elkana Anlen, Tadeusz Reinberg, Wanda Hac, Janina Reicher, Janina Wierzbicka, and Natalia Zwierzowa. Smolski’s youngest charge was Jolanta Zabarnik (later Nowakowska), the daughter of friends of his, who was five when she first arrived. At first, Smolski hid her in his home and with relatives, until he found her a safer place in a convent in Chomotow [Chomotów—actually, with the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary in Płudy25], near Warsaw.

[5] When the war broke out, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, a well-known Polish actor, was living in Warsaw with his daughter, Helena (later Orchon). At the end of August 1942, one of Helena’s prewar friends, Helena Caspari, came to her with her 11-year-old daughter, Hania. They had managed to flee the ghetto and were looking for shelter. The Zelwerowiczes’ apartment was already serving as a hiding place for Miriam Nudel (Later Caspari). Nevertheless, Helena and her daughter were invited to stay with them for a few weeks and then after that with some friends of the Zelwerowiczes. All the while, Helena was looking for a permanent hiding place for the Jews. In the end, it was possible to hide them in a convent located in Izabelin, near Warsaw, where they were able to wait out the rest of the war. Miriam stayed with Helena—who provided for all her needs—until Warsaw was evacuated after the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising in October 1944.

She moved in with Helena’s father, Aleksander, who was a delegate of the Central Relief Council [RGO] in Sochaczew at that time. … After the war, Helena and Hania Caspari, as well as Miriam Nudel, left for Israel.

Among the Jewish children sheltered at the convent on Hoża Street in Warsaw were Bianka Perlmutter (now Bianca Lerner), who spent a year and a half there, and the daughter of a lawyer from Poznań named Hofnung, who was brought there by the son of Hofnung’s friend Pesakh Bergman, with whom he had left his child in Warsaw. (Bianca Lerner, “Humanity in the Midst of Death,” in Peter Tarjan, ed., Children Who Survived the Final Solution [New York: iUniverse, 2004], pp. 212–18; Eugene Bergman, Survival Artist: A Memoir of the Holocaust [Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland, 2009], p. 107.) Whenever a Gestapo raid on one of the orphanages was believed imminent, Mother Matylda arranged to have children who looked too obviously Jewish taken to temporary shelter elsewhere. When there was not enough time to do this, those particularly Jewish-looking children would have their heads or faces bandaged as if they had been injured. The author Władysław Smólski, who took part in the rescue activities, described the Sisters’ zeal and dedication. (Bartoszewski, The Blood Shed Unites Us, pp.190–91.) It was only after the Germans had left that I learned the real number of Jewish children concealed in the orphanage at Płudy. It was revealed that of the 160 girls, about 40 were Jewish. The same Franciscan Sisters also maintained another home at Płudy, with 120 boys. The percentage of Jewish children harboured there was somewhat lower but this was more

25 Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, p.496.

65 than offset by the incomparably greater risk involved in hiding boys. [Jewish boys were circumcised, Christian boys were not.]… The Congregation of Sisters of the Family of Mary in Poland was divided administratively into three provinces. Since Warsaw province was running more than 20 orphanages, and an identical attitude towards Jews prevailed in all of them due to the influence of Matylda Getter, active in the provincial authorities, it may be safely stated that this province alone kept several hundred Jewish children through the war.

The moral attitude of the nuns was all the more admirable as their aim was not to win new converts but to save human lives. Baptism was seldom administered and then solely at the request of a few of the older children, after long catechetic preparation. I remember Sister Stefania’s attitude towards these matters: how avid she was in rescue work, how eagerly she accepted every little Jew into the institution.

Some of the children had a very markedly Jewish appearance; those were not taken out for walks and, in case of an inspection by German authorities—of which the head of the village warned the sisters —those children were put in some hiding places or hidden in private homes, or else taken to the nearby home of Father [Marceli] Godlewski, former rector of the Roman Catholic parish in the ghetto who displayed truly incredible energy in aiding the Jews. The transport of children from one place to another was the worst problem—and such situations also occurred. In such cases, the sisters would bandage their heads to conceal a part of the face and make Semitic features less conspicuous. To protect their wards, the brave sisters resorted to all kinds of ruses and most hazardous undertakings!

Mother Matylda Getter also assisted adults and was instrumental in finding safe hiding places for Jews outside the convent, as illustrated by the following documented cases. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, pp.562, 660.) [1] In early 1943, the commandant of the forced labor camp near Lwow [Lwów] informed the Jewish prisoners that they would soon be liquidated. Irena and Lazar Engelberg, prisoners in the camp, managed to escape, going to Warsaw in the hope of finding refuge there. Matylda Getter, a nun, found them a place to hide on the Szeligi estate, located near Warsaw.

Ignoring the Engelbergs’ obvious Jewish appearance and the danger to his life, the manager of the estate, Count Wladyslaw [Władysław] Olizar, and his wife, Jadwiga, and Stanislaw [Stanisław] and Aleksandra Zaryn [Żaryn] agreed to give Irena a job working on the farm and to find shelter for her husband, Lazar, on one of the neighboring farms. The Olizars and Zaryns soon realized that the work in the fields was too difficult for Irena and they hired her to care for Zaryns’ children instead. … Throughout the entire time that Irena remained under the care of the Olizars and Zaryns, they treated her warmly, guarding her personal safety and caring for her every need. … The Engelbergs remained in hiding until the liberation of the area in January 1945 … [2] The Radziwills [Radziwiłł], scions of an aristocratic family in Poland, had Jewish friends, grew up in an atmosphere of tolerance toward Jews. During the occupation, their daughter, Izabella, was active in the RGO [Rada Główna Opiekuńcza, a social welfare agency], and in the Red Cross and helped the poor and Polish prisoners of war who had been wounded in battle. One day in 1942, Matylda Getter, head of the Franciscan order in the Warsaw area, approached her with a request to look after 12 girls, including three Jews. Radziwill agreed and accommodated the girls, together with the nuns who looked after them, in a community center on a family estate in Nieborow [Nieborów] in the county of Lowicz [Łowicz], Lodz [Łódź] district, where she kept them at her own expense. One day, when Radziwill was warned that the identity of one of the girls had been discovered, she herself accompanied the girl to Getter in Warsaw, who hid her from her pursuers. After the Warsaw Uprising, Radziwill also hid Jerzy Einhorn and Nusbaum-Hilarowicz and his wife and daughter in her mansion. Even when German soldiers were billeted in Radziwill’s mansion in Nieborow, Radziwill did all she could to help those who reached it, including Jewish refugees.

Two of the many Jewish children sheltered by the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary in Płudy outside Warsaw were Marguerite Acher (then Małgorzata or Margareta Frydman) and her sister, Irena. On September 9, 1942, the two young girls were taken from the Warsaw ghetto by a friend of their mother to see Mother Matylda Getter, who admitted them despite their pronounced Semitic looks. The following day, Sister Aniela Stawowiak took them to Płudy where she was the superior of a home which sheltered at least forty Jewish girls and ten adults.

A small amount of money was paid for the upkeep of the two girls; first by friends, then by their mother, who fled from the ghetto in February 1943. The payments stopped when the mother was taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp in August 1944, but the two girls stayed on in the convent until May 1945, when their father returned to Poland from Hungary and their mother from Germany. (Halter, Stories of Deliverance, pp.16–17, 66 25–27.) But little Margaret, only ten years old, posed a problem: it is difficult for a Polish family to shelter her temporarily, let alone hide her permanently. It is that she has, to use the correct words, a bad face. … a Semitic face, immediately recognizable. … “To go out of the ghetto without risk of immediately being identified as a Jew, I would have to cover up with a hat along with a huge fur collar to disguise my hair and my nose. I could hide for a time at the house of the niece of the attorney general [Wacław Szyszkowski], my parents’ friend. … I stayed there two or three weeks. … Then my sister and I were taken into a convent near Warsaw, at Plody [Płudy]: the Convent of the Sisters of the Family of The Virgin Mary. … At Plody, about forty Jewish children were already hidden. They were brought by different channels, through Irena Sendler’s network. But certain families came with their children. Sister Ludovica [Ludwika] told you: parents never showed themselves as such; they preferred to say they were the child’s aunt or uncle, and that they were here to give them to the convent. They gave the name of the child, then left quickly, taking cover along the way. The Sisters had to change the names and keep absolute secrecy. Every Jewish child knew that they were Jewish but did not know which others were Jews, in the community of several hundred ‘orphans,’ Jews and non-Jews. … “One day, a blue [i.e. a Polish policeman] came to the convent. He spoke to the Mother Superior and said to her: ‘I know you are hiding Jewish children and demand that you denounce them.’ The Mother Superior answered him: ‘Why don’t you do it yourself?’ Replied the blue: ‘No, I can’t. I am a Catholic, I was baptized here. I don’t want to go to Hell…’ And the Mother Superior retorted: ‘Why would you want me to go to Hell in your place?’ Ah well, that policeman never dared to denounce the convent to the Germans!” …

For sister Ludovica, who speaks with simplicity, everything came, she said, from the interior:

“I was very happy that these children were able to survive, that they were able to get away. It gives me great satisfaction, yes … But, what I did was from the heart. The adults, in principle, could shift for themselves—children, no. So, all the children who came here were accepted. We never knew how it would all finish. We did all we could so that they could survive, everything it was possible to do … It was a heart’s demand, a cry from inside.” She explained how these things had been handled in the convent during the war: each Sister was responsible for a small group of children; she herself was in charge of thirty-five little Jewish girls. She told me: “today, some of them are in America, others in Israel, and others still in France. Regularly, one or another comes to see me. Besides that, I have many of their visiting cards. … they were saved from death, and now they have children, and some of them are grandmothers!” … “All of them were collected [after the war] by their relatives, or friends, who knew they were here, hidden in the convent.

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