«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
In the early autumn of 1943, after an attack by Ukrainian nationalists, Sister Budnowska received permission to transfer her girls to Warsaw, and to establish an orphanage in an abandoned building in the former ghetto. In Warsaw, she accepted yet more Jewish children. After the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 [which lasted until October], the orphanage relocated to Kostowiec, fifteen miles south-west of Warsaw.
Lidia’s mother had been denounced to the Gestapo while travelling on false papers, arrested and killed; but her father had been hidden by a Russian [Eastern] Orthodox priest, and survived. Father and daughter were reunited after liberation.
Lidia Kleinmann wrote the following testimonial about her stay in Łomna (Teresa Antonietta Frącek, “Ratowały,
choć za to groziła śmierć,” Parts 2 and 4, Nasz Dziennik, March 12, 2008 and March 19, 2008):
When Sister Blanka [Pigłowska] brought me to Łomna in 1942 I was 10 years old and had a package of experiences that I cannot recollect calmly to this day. Thanks to a group of generous persons who extended a helping hand to me and many others, I survived the war. I feel a deep love and gratefulness for Mother Tekla [Budnowska], Sister Zofia and Sister Blanka [Pigłowska] for their assistance, goodness and understanding and for my companions from Łomna, since they were then my family.
Sister Tekla Budnowska recalled those times, in June 1984 (Kurek, My Life Is Worth Yours, pp.139–41):
During the war I was mother superior of a home in Lomna [Łomna]. I had 115 children in the orphanage, of which twenty-three were Jewish—one boy, the rest girls, for the orphanage was for girls. Only later did I get boys.
Sometimes there was a note with the child saying that it was Jewish, but most of the time the children came to us with birth certificates. Some of the girls said openly: I am a Jew. Others did not admit to their Jewish background, and that’s the way it stayed. For instance, Teresa B. She did not look Jewish; nothing betrayed her.
One day an older [Jewish] girl came to me, her name was Glancman, and she said:
“Mother Superior, Teresa B. is a Jew.” “She is no Jew,” I replied. “Blue eyes, the nose and everything; she does not look like a Jew.” “I tell you, Mother Superior, she is! I can feel it!” Literally: I can feel it.
The fact is these children could somehow tell. For example, if some older Jewish girl was cleaning up, then the younger Jewish girls were immediately drawn to her. They didn’t help anyone but the Jewish girl.
Returning to Teresa B.: Teresa came to us when she was eleven. Certainly, she had a [baptismal] certificate. As it turned out later, she had not been baptized. However, she was receiving the sacraments all the time. She was a rather pious, practicing Catholic. Only after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944—she had probably taken some oath—did she turn to an old nun and ask to be baptized. We baptized her in secret, so that nobody knew.
When the Germans would come, the Jewish children would be the first to go to the chapel, for they were afraid of them. They had a certain feeling, an instinct of self-preservation. They did not exhibit exceptional piety. They probably just felt safe, and that was the reason for their normality, as far as matters of faith were concerned. We took great pains sp that the children would not lack for anything. When the children in Lomna went out, I always reminded the sisters to make sure that no Germans or strangers were standing by the chapel.
Once the following thing happened: The children were going out, everyone was looking at them, including a
German officer, who finally said to me:
“There are a lot of different faces in your group, sister!” “What else do you expect,” I answered him in German. “Do you want them all to look like you?” Everyone has a different mother and father.” I gave him a look, and that was the end of that. The officer did not think any more of the matter.
70 I also remember the daughter of a doctor from Turka. He was needed by the Germans for something, so he was kept alive and walked around with the Star of David. His daughter [Lidia Kleinmann] was being hidden by our sisters in Lwow [Lwów], but they feared keeping her, for she was too well known. So I told them: “Give her to us; we already have many, so one more won’t make a difference.” The little girl had very long tresses, so I said to her: “You have to make a sacrifice, my child.” I cut off her tresses, and we found a birth certificate for her. A sister went to St. Antoni’s [Anthony’s] Church in Lwow; the priest gave her a baptismal book, and after a two-day search she finally found a girl whose age coincided with the age of the doctor’s daughter. The priest wrote out a certificate in the name of O., a name which was used after the war by the father of the child also.
Not one of the Jewish children we had was killed. The majority of our children are grateful, and maintain contact with us.
We received children mostly from Warsaw. All the sisters at Lomna knew about the Jewish children, but no one was allowed to differentiate between the children, and no one did. At most, the children did so among themselves.
One day Sister Paulina arrived with some children, and a boy came over to me, and said:
“I beg your pardon, Mother Superior, Sister Paulina has brought some children from Warsaw, all of them Jews!” “They are not Jews, but all are baptized children, so there are no Jews here!” I replied.
We tried to create an atmosphere where the children would feel safe and secure. After the Ukrainian attacks [on Polish settlements] in 1943, we left Lomna, and together with the children moved to Warsaw. In Warsaw we lived in a small place on Wolna [Wolności] St., until the uprising. All of us left Warsaw in August of 1944.
The children came from Warsaw in groups. There were situations where the [train] conductor, seeing our nuns with a group of children, among which he could see Jewish children, closed the compartment and drew the curtains to assure the safety of the sisters and children. These conductors were Polish, but one time a German conductor did this also.
After the uprising, we stayed for some time in Kostowiec, then in Wegrocia [?]; finally we found ourselves in Lublin Kujawski.
Reclaiming Jewish children started as early as 1945. When someone called at the convent, they gave a name and collected a child. But sometimes it was different. … Anna Henrietta Kretz (later Daniszewska), born in 1934, was one of a dozen Jewish and three Gypsy children sheltered by the Sisters of the Family of Mary in their orphanage in Sambor, under the care of their superior, Sister Celina Kędzierska. After the family’s betrayal by a fellow Jew, miraculously Anna managed to run away from the German executioners. She approached the orphanage with caution because part of the building was occupied by German soldiers who used the courtyard as their field kitchen. When she arrived at the orphanage Anna turned to Sister Celina with these words: “Sister, be my mother; I don’t have parents anymore.” When
Anna’s uncle came to claim her after the war, Sister Celina, then seriously ill, said to Anna on parting:
“Remember, be a good person.” Those words forever left an impression in Anna’s heart. In October 1993, Anna
Kretz penned the following testimonial:
In memory of the Sister superior and other Sisters who, risking their own lives and in those terrible conditions, cared for me and other Jewish children and helped to instil in us faith in people, which we could have lost forever together with our lives. May the memory of their deed never fade, because by their deeds they showed that love of one’s neighbour could lead to the highest form of generosity and heroism. I will never forget that. May I be worthy of it.
Among several Jewish infants at the orphanage in Sambor was Jerzy Bander, who was placed there by Mrs.
Wahułka, a secretary of a local school. Janina Shosh Ronis was sheltered in the convent of the Sisters of the Family of Mary in Lwów, where she went by the name of Janina Ryszarda Glińska. She was placed there by her mother in 1942, and returned to her mother after the war. (Teresa Antonietta Frącek, “Ratowały, choć za to groziła śmierć,” Part 6, Nasz Dziennik, April 4, 2008; Ewa Kurek, Dzieci żydowskie w klasztorach: Udział
żeńskich zgromadzeń zakonnych w akcji ratowania dzieci żydowskich w Polsce w latach 1939–1945 [Lublin:
Clio, 2001], pp.178–79.) Mina Deutsch (née Kimmel) recalled the assistance she, her husband Leon and their young daughter Eva received from many persons, including Sisters of the Family of Mary in Dźwiniaczka, near Borszczów, where her husband
We used to hide from time to time in a nearby convent where the nuns were quite nice to us and asked us to come to them when there was an urgent need. After being there for a day or two a few times, the Sister Superior suggested that we leave our daughter with them … After escaping from the ghetto in Warsaw, two young sisters—Batya (Barbara) and Esther Faktor-Pichotka— wandered in the Siedlce area begging for food and shelter. Villagers cared for the girls but became frightened, as they were widely suspected of being Jewish. Sister Stanisława learned of Batya’s plight and asked her superior, Mother Beata (Bronisława Hryniewicz), for permission to admit her into the orphanage run by the Daughters of the Purest Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the village of Skórzec. In her testimony (Yad Vashem File 6166), Batya recalled: “The nuns welcomed me warmly, cleaned off the dirt which clung to me during the many months of wandering, tended my wounds, and fed me.” Batya then fell ill for several months, and was tenderly cared for by Mother Superior Hryniewicz. Batya’s sister Esther moved into the orphanage later, even though she was well treated by the Świątek family with whom she was staying. After the war, the two girls were reunited with their elder sister Regina who searched for them and found them. These two nuns—Bronisława Hryniewicz and Stanisława Jóźwikowska—were eventually recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles. (Gilbert, The Righteous, pp.107–108.) In the village of Czerniejew, in the Siedlce district east of Warsaw, it was another poor peasant woman, Stanislawa [Stanisława] Cabaj, a widow, who gave shelter to two Jewish girls, Batja and Ester, sisters who had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and wandered for several months through the Polish countryside. … Fearing betrayals, Stanislawa Cabaj took Ester, aged eleven, and Batja, a mere five-year-old, for sanctuary to Sister Stanislawa Jozwikowska [Stanisława Jóźwikowska], in the Heart of Jesus convent near the village of Skorzec. ‘I was dirty, ill, weak, full of lice,’ Batja later recalled. ‘The nuns washed me thoroughly, put me into soft pyjamas, and put me in a clean bed.’ The Mother Superior, Beata Bronislawa [Bronisława] Hryniewicz, nursed her back to health. ‘She fed me, she strengthened me.’ After she recovered, the young girl attended the local school, as did her sister. ‘Once the headmaster checked my file and did not find my baptism confirmation. He asked my sister about it. My sister claimed that the church we had been baptized in, Bielany, a northern suburb of Warsaw, had been bombed, and hoped her answer would be acceptable. But the headmaster was a Polish nationalist, he did not give up,’ He informed the local Polish police chief, and also the Mother Superior, ‘who summoned my sister to the monastery and questioned her. Finally my sister confessed that we are Jewish. Ester knew that Mother Superior Beata Bronislawa Hryniewicz loved me a lot and she also would do everything not to harm us.’ At the time, half the convent was occupied by German soldiers. The Mother Superior, determined to strengthen the young girl’s self-confidence, sent Ester on ‘various tasks in the afternoon—precisely when the Germans were active around—as to deliver something to other nuns, to feed chickens, to watch bees, etc.’ Nobody knew the two girls were Jewish except for the Mother Superior and Sister Stanislawa Jozwikowska, who had brought them in. [This is rather unlikely given the children’s state and the fact that they would not have been familiar with Christian prayers and rituals. Their origin, if not known, would have been suspected by the other nuns, the Poles who helped them, and other children in the orphanage.—Ed.] After the war, the Jewish organization which found the girls wanted to pay the convent for having looked after them, but Beata refused to take the money, saying: ‘I did my duty as a Christian, and not for money.’ Sixty years after having been given shelter, Batja reflected: ‘Mother Superior Beata Bronislawa Hryniewicz healed me; she recovered my soul by great love; she pampered me as her own child; she dressed me nice and neat; she combed my hair and tied ribbons in my plaits; she taught me manners (she was from an aristocratic noble family). She was strict, but fair with my duties; to pray, to study, to work on my character, to obey, etc., but every step was with love, love!’ On liberation, Batja refused to leave the Mother Superior Beata, ‘but I was forced to. In autumn when I was nine—in 1945—I left the monastery.’ At that moment, separated from her rescuer, ‘I lost my childhood forever and pure human love.’ From 1946 until the Mother Superior dies in 1969, they were in correspondence. ‘I always longed for Mother Superior and even wanted to go back to her … Years after her death I told my story, and she got the medal of Righteous Among the Nations, in Warsaw. Sister Stanislawa Jozwikowska died on 7 December 1984, she also got the medal. Mother Superior Beata Bronislawa Hryniewicz is always in my heart, and I still miss her very much.’ Another account from the Yad Vashem archives provides somewhat different reasons for taking the children into