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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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Only one, whom nobody reclaimed, remained. Then someone came to take her to Palestine. … I ask Sister Ludovica: “I have been told that the Nazis came three times to inspect the convent?” “They only saw Christian children,” she chuckled. “You see the little chapel in the grounds? We took the children there to pray. We put the little Jewish girls furthest from the door, right up by the crucifix, close to Jesus: like that when the Germans came, they could only see blond heads.” (See also the memoir: Małgorzata-Maria Acher, Niewłaściwa twarz: Wspomnienia ocalałej z warszawskiego getta [Częstochowa: Święty Paweł, 2001].) Sister Ludwika described to Władysław Smólski in more detail the menacing visits paid to the orphanage by the Germans, and the help rendered by local Poles to protect the Sisters and their charges. Although there were 120–140 children in the institution, lay staff and visitors from outside, no one betrayed the Jews. (Bartoszewski and Lewin, Righteous Among Nations, pp.349–51.) ‘And the Germans also came?’ ‘Oh, lots of times! It was simply a divine miracle that they did not find anything. People of good will helped a lot, of course. The head of the village always warned us. We then placed the children with a more telling appearance at private homes or with Father [Marceli] Godlewski [of All Saints parish in Warsaw], who lived nearby. As we were taking them along, we would bandage the heads or faces of some to cover up their Semitic features.’ ‘So in that way had you to conceal their suspicious appearances?’ ‘Of course. Those above all sought refuge in the convent. And surely, we could not drive them away, could we? In my group of twenty girls at least one in two attracted attention by her appearance. … When the front drew nearer in the concluding months, already after the [Warsaw] uprising, Germans began bursting into the orphanage. One Gestapo officer was an especially frequent visitor. He roared like mad, stamped his boots and threatened us with death if he ever found a Jew in the institution. My Lord, if he only knew the actual facts, he would have to have us shot fifty times.’ 67 ‘But he did not find any one?’ ‘Somehow the Lord had mercy upon us. But were those days terrible! Artillery shells kept exploding around the orphanage.’ ‘I do not fear bombs myself too much. And since there was indescribable filth and odour in the cellar where many people from Płudy took shelter with us, I kept my group of girls, about twenty Jews and a few Christians among them, in the corridor next to our dormitory. That was on the ground floor. The rabid Gestapo man burst in there many a time. Luckily enough, the Germans could never tell Semitic features from others. And then, too, the corridor was in semi-darkness.’ ‘But still, … how often did he come?’ ‘In the concluding weeks he came nearly every day. Only he seemed to be in constant hurry then. One Sister, who had been resettled from the Poznań province and had a perfect command of German, always tried to outtalk him while we were hurriedly hiding those children whose appearance seemed most telling away. We were frightened. Our Mother Superior was most frightened of all because she was responsible above all others. Being an elderly person, critically ill with cancer, she seemed nearing a collapse. With adults we had even more trouble than with the children. During searches we hid one Jewish family inside an old dry well which stood in our garden. They descended a ladder and we put a heavy lid on the top. Somehow or other, it all went on without a single bad break. But no, there was one, caused by nervousness. But let me relate that story from the beginning.’ ‘Even at the beginning of 1943 Mother Getter brought a young woman with a ten-year-old daughter to Płudy. She gave them to me for safekeeping. Both looked all right and when the mother peroxided her hair you could not tell she was Jewish. But she had one weakness: she took fright easily. And small wonder it was, after all—just try to live so many years in constant danger! She was good-looking and bright, and knew a few languages. She taught English to our girls. She spent nights in the pavilion set aside for teachers but in daytime she came to me, to my group. She would say she felt safest with us. Well, we had a very narrow escape with Rena (that was her first name) in the last month of the occupation when once that rabid Gestapoman burst into the orphanage. He came just as we were sitting with the girls in the corridor. In all likelihood, he would not have done her any harm as a teacher. But her nerves let her down. She fled to the girls’ dormitory where my bed stood behind a screen. All of a sudden I heard the officer roar. I jumped into the dorm and what did I see?

The Gestapoman had glanced behind the screen and saw Rena there. She was there all right, covered with my quilt, a bonnet on her head. He turned to me and asked—I know some German—is she was a nun. Naturally I answered yes. Then he pulled the quilt and saw Rena’s lay dress.

‘That was a moment in my life! I thought both of us were already done for. He called me a liar, pulled poor Rena by the hair and out into the yard where he had already rounded up several persons caught in Płudy and environs. When I ceased trembling I felt enormous pity for Rena even though she had let us down in such a foolish manner. I did not know one thing, though: did he take her on the assumption that she was Jewish or because she seemed to him politically suspected?





But anyway, what could I do? I only prayed. … A few minutes went by and … I could not believe my eyes. Rena, safe and sound, reappeared in the corridor. Just imagine, there was such chaos that she actually slipped off and came back into the building. I do not now realize how it could all come off: it seemed part of a nightmare. And then, artillery shells started coming down again, too. It was a miracle that she escaped death. Forthwith I gave her a frock which, from that moment on, she never failed to put on whenever the rabid Gestapo man put his foot in the orphanage.’ Moving from one convent to another was a fairly frequent occurrence. After leaving the Warsaw ghetto in the early part of 1943, Janina Dawidowicz (later David), then 13 years old, assumed the identity of Danuta Teresa Markowska. She was cared for by the Sisters of the Family of Mary in Płudy outside of Warsaw from July 1943 to January 1944, and afterwards in an orphanage on Wolność Street, near the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. Janina describes her experiences in those two convents in her memoir A Touch of Earth. She was treated well and even lovingly by the nuns, as well as by the priests who paid visits to the convent, including Father Cezary, a Franciscan. During the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 the orphanage was evacuated to Kostowiec, outside Warsaw and its residents took refuge in another convent there. Numerous nuns and priests cared for Janina Dawidowicz and other Jewish girls until after the Soviet entry in early 1945. (Janina David, A Touch of Earth: A Wartime Childhood [London: Hutchinson & Co., 1966; New York: Orion Press, 1966], passim, especially pp.22, 25, 27, 75–78, 94–95, 97, 99, 123, 161, 162, 185; Janina David, A Square of Sky: Memoirs of Wartime Childhood [London: Eland, 1992], passim.) Sister Stanisława Kaniewska described the conditions at the “Zosinek” orphanage, also operated by the Sisters of

the Family of Mary, in Międzylesie near Warsaw. (“Getter, Matylda, Mother,” Internet:

http://www.savingjews.org/righteous/gv.htm, based on Władysław Smólski, Za to groziła śmierć: Polacy z

68pomocą w czasie okupacji [Warsaw: Pax, 1981], pp.300–308.)

The orphanage counted ca. 70 children, of which 10 were Jewish. One of them was a nine-year-old girl who was so terrified. One of them was a nine-year-old girl who was so terrified by the sight of Germans that her fright immediately attracted their attention when some of them appeared at the orphanage and caused them to ask if the Sisters do not keep Jewish children. Stanisława Kaniewska, fluent in German, assured them that only Polish Catholic children are in the orphanage and another Sister, Maria Czechowicz, distracted them from that dangerous questioning by talking to them in French, which one of them knew. In the last days of July 1944, when Russians reached the River Vistula, they bombarded the city by artillery and from the air. Several people were killed, the chapel was destroyed, but nobody from the orphanage was harmed. On August 1st, 1944 (first day of the Warsaw Uprising), during lunch, for which there were only broad beans, the Germans suddenly stormed into the orphanage and ordered everybody to leave and to march toward Warsaw. Soon the other orphanage from Międzylesie, “Ulanówek”, with the youngest children, joined them. Those children remained at Grochów, while “Zosinek” went on to Saska Kępa, both in Warsaw. As the children had nothing to eat, Sister Stanisława asked the parish priest to announce their predicament in church and parishioners flocked with food. Sister Stanisława, realizing that this was not sufficient, returned with the older girls to Międzylesie for food. The Germans forbade them to go there but allowed them to go to Anin, where the Sisters had another orphanage. There they were bombarded again by artillery fire by both the Germans and Russians at the same time. On August 13, the Germans ordered the evacuation also of this second orphanage. Sister Stanisława explained the situation to the German command. At the beginning, the commanding officer refused any help, but finally agreed to give them horse carts for the children and food. After another bombing from the air by the Soviets, Sister Stanisława ordered the drivers to go not to Modlin, as indicated the Germans, but to Płudy, another of their orphanages, this time with 80 children and with the food. Having arrived there, she got some food for the children left at Saska Kępa. When she returned there, the children received her with tears. She fed them and they all went to Płudy. The conditions there were very difficult, as several orphanages were reunited there: altogether 500 children, of which a hundred (100) were Jewish. The Germans came continuously to search the house, especially one, particularly obnoxious fellow, returned every day for three weeks looking for Jewish children and for a Jewish priest, Father [Tadeusz] Puder, but as much as he searched he could not find them. He announced that if he discovers even one Jew, all would be shot. Despite continuous threats Sister Stanisława refused three times to leave the orphanage. The soldiers put her against the wall and under guard when they were expelling again all the children to Modlin. The superior, Sister Romualda, entreated the Germans to leave the two and three year olds as too young to walk so far, famished as they were. They acquiesced and allowed seven Sisters, among them Stanisława, to stay with them. On the third night there arrived a German doctor who was furious that not all the children had left; he demanded to see the German-speaking Sister. But when he saw the miserable state of children in the cellars, he was appalled. He promised her to reward her after the war for her heroism. She thanked him but told him that she does it not for German rewards but to save the Polish children and that they need food, as they have only rye grain to eat. He promised to send them all kinds of food and delicacies. At that moment a shell fell in the place where both of them were standing and killed some people. The German doctor and the Polish Sister were both knocked out. But the food never arrived: the Germans fled. The next day Polish soldiers from the Kościuszko Division (formed in Soviet Russia out of Poles deported to Siberia at the beginning of the war who did not manage to join the 2nd Polish Corps of General Anders) liberated them. One of the priests celebrated Mass in the cellar; everybody wept.

About 25 Jewish children were sheltered in the orphanage in Łomna near Turka (south of Lwów) which was run by the Sisters of the Family of Mary. The superior, Mother Tekla (Anna) Budnowska, wrote that all of the Sisters knew about the Jewish children. Many of the children were brought to Łomna from Warsaw by Sister Blanka Pigłowska, who maintained contact with trusted persons in Warsaw’s Social Services Department. Rescue often entailed moving charges across the country to convents, homes and institutions ready to receive them. Many of the children were brought to Łomna from Warsaw by Sister Blanka Pigłowska, who maintained contact with trusted persons in Warsaw’s Social Services Department. Lidia Kleinmann, who went by the name of Maryla Wołoszyśnska, was entrusted by her father, a doctor, to Sisters who worked in the hospital in Turka. Lidia was taken to the Sisters’ provincial home in Lwów where she remained under the care of Mother Janina Wirball. From there, in 1942, she was sent to the orphanage in Łomna operated where she attended school. That institution was eventually transferred to Warsaw in 1943. After the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the Sisters and children were evacuated to the Sisters’ home in Kostowiec outside Warsaw. One of the teachers there was the fondly remembered Father Czesław Baran. (Martin Gilbert, The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust [Toronto: Key Porter, 2003], pp.56–57.) 69 In Turka [a small city south of Lwów], on the eve of the deportation of the Jews in August 1942, Sister Jadwiga, a nun who was also the head nurse at the local hospital, hid twelve-year-old Lidia Kleiman in one of the cubicles of the men’s washroom, which was used as a broom closet. Lidia stayed hidden in the hospital for several weeks. Sister Jadwiga then took her to her own home and taught her Christian prayers in preparation for placing her in a Catholic orphanage in Lvov [Lwów] under the assumed name of Marysia Borowska. There she was put in the care of Sister Blanka Piglowska, who knew that she was Jewish. When a suspicion arose in the orphanage that Lidia might be Jewish, it was Sister Blanka who obtained new false papers for her, with a new name, Maria Woloszynska [Wołoszyńska]. She then transferred the girl to another orphanage, at the convent in the village of Lomna [Łomna near Sambor], where the Mother Superior, Sister Tekla Budnowska, was hiding many Jewish girls.



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