«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
When I was thirteen I was badly hurt in a farm accident and was in a coma. My father promised Go that if I lived he would give me to the Catholic Church. I recovered and in June of 1939, my father kept his promise and I became a nun. In August I joined the convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and took the name Sister Alfonsa.
Mother Superior, Emilia Małkowska, thought I would do well with children and sent me to the St. Joseph Orphanage in Przemyśl. We had about forty children, ages two to twelve, two of them we knew to be Jewish. Mother Superior decided we should save the Jewish children. … One day a little girl came to the orphanage crying. She said her name was Maria and that she was Catholic. I saw a couple in the woods some distance away. I suspected they were Jewish and I felt we had to save these children. Soon more children came. The parents were preparing to go to the death camps and wanted their children to survive. Each child had a Polish name and some knew some prayers. We treated them as Catholics so as not to arouse the suspicions of the other children or the Polish people who visited the orphanage. We knew we were risking our lives because we knew the Germans killed people who helped Jews, but what kind of Christians would we be if we put our own safety first?
We had to make-do in terrible conditions. I was very young myself, a teenager, but I had to learn how to nurse and how to make clothes. I made medicine out of foxglove and made valerian herbal tea to relax the children. We could never risk calling a doctor because two of the Jewish boys were circumcised. Maria contracted pneumonia and was close to death. I applied leeches and finally she opened her eyes and recovered.
Most of the time the children were quiet and nervous. They cried at night about missing their parents. We had no news of them, of course. Sometimes a child at a meal time would cry and throw food on the floor. We used psychology and acted as if nothing had happened, talking to the child gently until he felt better.
We told one of the Jewish boys who wanted to be a rabbi that if a stranger comes to the convent and asks what he wants to be when he grows up, he should say a priest. We took the Jewish children to church not to convert them but so that no one would know they were Jews. The Germans did come but they found nothing suspicious.
We had no heat, no toilets, and food was very scarce. We had to go out begging or scavenging for food. We cooked lollies which we exchanged with Ukrainian farmers for food. In my nun’s habit I could go places where other people could not go. Once I went to the big German army hospital to ask for sauerkraut which was good for the treatment of worms.
The German officers called me names and insulted me. I told them I was working only for God. I left without anything. A little while later a German soldier brought a huge barrel of sauerkraut to the orphanage. We had enough to share with other orphanages and poor people.
In 1944 we were liberated by the Red Army. … In one case the parents came back and claimed a child. They could not find words to thank us. The father who was a shoemaker made me a pair of shoes to show his appreciation. The other Jewish children I took to the Jewish Orphanage that was set up by the surviving Jewish community. Most of the children went to Israel.
78 See also Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2,
at page 852, which provides the following additional information:
The nuns’ rescue operation began one day in July 1942, when they found an abandoned infant crying piercingly at the convent gate. Because Aktionen and deportations from the Przemysl [Przemyśl] ghetto were occurring at this time, additional Jewish children were taken to the convent—several directly by their parents, some by Catholic go-betweens such as Kazika Romankiewicz, and others placed at the convent entrance with a note attached to their clothing. As devout Catholics, the nuns rescued the Jewish children even though they were aware of the personal risk. The children received devoted and loving care and the nuns kept them fed and clothed despite the state of deprivation at the convent. As part of the nuns’ precautions, the Jewish youngsters were not issued official ration cards and Sister Alfonsa unhesitatingly begged and solicited donations for the convent children. Notably, the four nuns [awarded by Yad Vashem] had no missionary motive in their rescue effort and never attempted to convert the young wards. In November 1944, after Przemysl was liberated, the nuns at their own initiative delivered the 13 Jewish children whom they had saved to the Jewish Committee that had been established in the town.
Jewish families with children were also kept by the Felician Sisters in their convent of St. Hedwig (Jadwiga) on Waygart Street, in Przemyśl, under the care of Mother Superior Maria Honorata (Irena Bielawska). The Felician Sisters also gave shelter to Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish children in their second house on Szczytowa Street run by Sister Maria Klara (Aniela Kotowska). The rescue efforts of these two nuns, who were recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations,” is described in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, at page 89.
In October 1942, Bozena Zlamal [Bożena Złamał] helped the Wittman [Weitman?] family (father Abraham, mother Ela, son Jakub, and daughter Bilha) escape from the ghetto in Przemysl [Przemyśl] and find shelter on the Aryan side of town.
Bozena contacted two Polish nuns—Aniela Kotowska (Sister Klara) and Irena Bielawska (Sister Honorata)—and asked them to help rescue a Jewish family. Both nuns, each from a different convent in Przemysl, agreed to hide the Wittmans.
[The parents stayed in a cell-like room, whereas the two children, born in 1936 and 1939, were in separate locations.] Abraham Wittman later wrote about Kotowska that she was “an angel in a human body,” emphasizing her goodness and compassion towards her [dozen Jewish] wards. [When he no longer had enough money to pay for food and board, his fears were stilled by Sister Klara: ‘Don’t worry; we shall keep you until the war’s end.”] During the war, Bielawska (Sister Honorata) also hid a Jewish couple named Fuller as well as a five-year-old Jewish girl called Lila Rosenthal (later Lea Fried). Both nuns acted without reward, receiving only small sums of money from their charges that covered the cost of their food. After the war, the Wittmans emigrated to Sweden. The fate of the Fuller couple is unknown.
The Carmelite Sisters of the Infant Jesus sheltered a number of Jewish children in the orphanage they opened for homeless children in Sosnowiec during the war. Their help was widely known among the local population. One of the Jewish children and her grandmother had been directed to the sisters by Rev. Mieczysław Zawadzki of Będzin.26 The superior, Mother Teresa of St. Joseph (Janina Kierocińska), was awarded by Yad Vashem
posthumously in 1992. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4:
Poland, Part 1, pp.346–47.) Mother Teresa-Janina Kierocinska [Kierocińska] was mother superior of the … Carmelite Sisters Convent in the town of Sosnowiec. On her orders and instructions, some local Jews were hidden in the convent. Among them were a Jewish woman, Pinkus, and her granddaughter, who was “christened” Marysia Wilczynska [Wilczyńska]. They stayed at the convent until the area was liberated in January 1945. Teresa Jablonska [Jabłońska], a Jewish girl who escaped the liquidation of the Sosnowiec ghetto, stayed with the nuns until after the war, when her mother came to reclaim her. In 1943, a Jewish baby was brought to the convent from the town of Szydlowiec [Szydłowiec]. On Kierocinska’s express orders, the nuns took care of the little baby, passing him off as a Polish orphan called Jozef [Józef] Bombecki. It was only after the war that the child discovered his Jewish origins. Mother Teresa-Janina also sheltered Andrzej Siemiatkowski [Siemiątkowski], whose mother, a convert to Christianity, had perished in Auschwitz. The survivors of the Sosnowiec 26 “Przechowywanie Żydów przez Matkę Teresę od św. Józefa–Janinę Kierocińską (1885–1946), współzałożycielkę Zgromadzenia Sióstr Karmelitanek Dzieciątka Jezus w Sosnowcu,” Internet: http://archidiecezja.lodz.pl/azkarmel/mT_wiecej.html.
One of the Jewish charges, then a boy, recalled:
As a Jewish child I encountered exceptional care and protection. The Sisters created for us family conditions and took care of us with the greatest open-heartedness. This was heroism! Their heroic attitude I attribute above all to Mother Teresa.
(“Sprawiedliwa wśród Narodów Świata: Rozmowa z siostrą Bogdaną Batog, karmelitanką Dzieciątka Jezus o Matce Teresie
Kierocińskiej. Rozmawiał ojciec Bartłomiej Kucharski OCD,” Głos Karmelu, no. 4 (2006), Internet:
http://www.karmel.pl/rozmowy/rozmowa39.htlm.) In Klimontów, a small town near Sandomierz, the Sisters of the Most Holy Name of Jesus under the Protection of the Virgin Mary Help of the Faithful sheltered three Jewish girls in their orphanage, among them Eva Nisencwajg and Maria Ropelewska, and a Jewish man in their convent. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, p.797.) Wiktoria and Stanislaw [Stanisław] Szumielewicz lived in the village of Rytwiany near Staszow [Staszów] in the Kielce district during the war. In the summer of 1942, they sheltered Eva, the five-year-old daughter of prewar friends Moshe and Hena Nisencwajg. The Szumielewiczes, who had moved to the area from Bydgoszcz upon the outbreak of the war, introduced Eva as “Iwonka, our orphaned niece.” Being a teacher by profession, Wiktoria provided Eva with an education. Some time afterwards, the Szumielewiczes also sheltered Eva’s cousins, Lucy and Janek Nisencwajg. When someone informed on them and the children were in danger, Wiktoria decided to move them to the cloister orphanage.
Janek did not go to the orphanage; instead he returned to his parents. A few days later, Lucy also ran away from the cloister and joined her family. …Eva stayed in the orphanage in Klimatow [actually, Klimontów] for a year. When the cloister was bombed during an Allied [actually, by the Germans] air raid, Wiktoria located Eva and sheltered her once more. After the liberation, the Szumielewiczes, along with Eva, returned to Bydgoszcz. There Eva was found by her uncle Henryk Nisencwajg and taken to Cracow. … In 1947, Eva (later Bergstein) was sent to her mother’s sister in Canada.
Assistance was often unorganized and random. Krystyna Kalata-Olejnik recalls how, in April 1943, as a young child, she was plucked off the streets of Warsaw and whisked to safety by a nun, a stranger she met entirely by chance. She was taken to a home for orphans in Ignaców near Mińsk Mazowiecki, run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where a number of Jews, both adults and children, were sheltered. (Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, p.280.) I was born in Warsaw, but my autobiography actually begins the moment I stepped out of a sewer canal onto the Aryan side during the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. Sister Julia Sosnowska, no longer alive today, a nun from a nearby order on Nowolipie Street, was passing by near the canal. She spotted a little girl with dark hair and helped her get out of the sewer. And that, indeed, was me. She decided to help and traveled with me to the children’s home in Ignaców near Mińsk Mazowiecki. In precisely this home [run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul], where I was being hidden, I stayed until the end of the war. I supposedly had a small slip of paper with the name: Krystyna Olejnik, age 4. I stayed there until October 1945.
Julia Sosnowska, the nun who rescued Krystyna Kalata-Olejnik, was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile. Her story is related in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, at page 741.
In April 1943, Julia Sosnowska, a nun, noticed a young child in a tattered and torn dress crawling out of the sewer near the border of the Warsaw ghetto. Shocked by the spectacle, Julia picked up the girl, who was in a state of near exhaustion, and, guided by Christian love, took her back to her room in the house that she shared with other nuns. Julia learned that the foundling had tried to escape from the ghetto, but being too weak to stand had only managed to crawl as far as the sewer opening. Julia washed the girl, fed her, and looked after her devotedly until October 1943, when she placed her in an educational establishment in Ignacow [Ignaców], near Minsk [Mińsk] Mazowiecki, in the Warsaw district. The little girl, registered as Krystyna Olejnik in the Aryan papers that Sister Julia obtained for her, remained in the institution until
Other accounts testifying to the rescue activities in Ignaców by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul are found in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volumes 4 and 5: Poland, Part 1, at pages 230–31; Part 2, at page 668.