«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Announcements appeared in town declaring that all barns, attics, cellars, and outhouses should be locked to keep the Jews out. Dogs were to be leashed. If a Jew was found in any house, the entire population would be killed.
The sixteen-year-old serving girl of the convent, Ranya Kevyurski [Renia Wewiórska], walked twelve kilometers to the village to find a cart for me. She returned late that night and said that a cart would come in the morning.
The cart arrived at 10:00 A.M. I donned the habit of a nun and put on dark glasses. Sitting on the cart, I stared stubbornly at the bundle in my hands. Sister Chubak went ahead on foot. I left the town under the eyes of the Gestapo men.
Kalinovsky [Kalinowska], a Polish woman whom I knew, came toward us and made a sign to Sister Chubak indicating that I was well disguised. This frightened me, because I was afraid that she would turn me in. My companion assured me that Kalinovsky sympathized deeply with the Jews in their misfortune. She had come out onto the road, because she had learned that there were plans to save me, and she wanted to be sure that everything went well.
We were on the road until 5:00. The horse was exhausted, and we decided to spend the night in the nearest village. My companion asked the village elder for permission to spend the night, but he declared that there was no room; twenty German gendarmes were spending the night in the village. We decided it would be better for us to leave, got back on the cart, and moved on. The exhausted horse could hardly walk. We entered an enormous forest—the Bialowieza [Białowieża] Forest. Along the road we saw a small house. My companion went in and met a former pupil there. We were well received and spent the night in a warm place. We continued our journey at dawn. Finally we arrived at Bialowieza and headed for the Catholic Church. Then we went to Chainovka [Hajnówka], from there to Belsk [Bielsk Podlaski], and from Belsk to Bialystok [Białystok] by train. On the train we learned that the Germans had surrounded the ghetto on February 2 and that a slaughter was taking place there.
In Bialystok we went to the main convent. I asked the mother-superior to hide me, but she was frightened and ordered us 30 to leave immediately. … That night we found ourselves on the street and did not know where to go. Then my companion remembered that she knew the address of the brother of one of the nuns. He was not home, but his wife received us gladly. At that moment the Jews of Bialystok were being slaughtered. The town was full of Gestapo men, and all the residents were afraid that they might be suspected of being Jews. There were no tickets being sold at the train stations. We asked the head of the station to 30 In all fairness it it should be noted that when Goldfein arrived in Białystok, the ghetto was under siege and searches were underway for Jewish escapees. The convent in Białystok did provide food and other forms of assistance to Jews. See Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej: Polacy z pomocą Żydom 1939–1945, 1st ed. (Kraków: Znak, 1966), pp.165–66; Zygmunt Zieliński, ed., Życie religijne w Polsce pod okupacją 1939–1945: Metropolie wileńska i lwowska, zakony (Katowice: Unia, 1992), pp.48– 49, 51–52, 55; Maria Halina Horn, A Tragic Victory (Toronto: ECW Press, 1988), p.82.
89 give us poor nuns, who were forced to beg for charity, a ticket without a pass. At first he refused, but then he gave in. … In this fashion we left Bialystok on February 13 by train and went to the Lapy [Łapy] Station. From there we went by cart to various Catholic churches—Dombrovo [Dąbrowa], Sokoly [Sokoły], Mokiny [Małkinia]. From there we travelled to Warsaw by train. … From Warsaw we went to Lowicz [Łowicz], where my companion’s family lived. We spent sixteen months there; no one knew that I was a Jew. I worked as a nurse and had a large practice.
In May, 1944, we decided to move to Naleczów [Nałęczów], near the River Bug. … On July 26, 1944, Naleczów was liberated by the red Army, and on July 29 I set out east—partly on foot, and partly by automobile. I eventually made my way to my home town of Pruzhany.
Pruzhany had been liberated on July 16. Of the 2,700 Jews who had taken refuge in the forest only about twenty young people returned to the town; all the rest perished. The local people were very happy at my return and my friends, acquaintances, and patients literally made pilgrimages to me.
That Dr. Goldfein and Sister Dolorosa (Genowefa Czubak) remained on the best of terms with the Mother Superior of the convent in Prużana throughout this time, is borne out by the testimony of Joseph Elman, who returned to his hometown of Prużana after the liberation as part of the Soviet forces. (Interview with Joseph Elman, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, May 19, 1998, pp.67–68.) The doctor, which I mentioned, the neighbor of mine, that Olga Goldfein, arrived in Proushinna [Prużana]. She was saved—from the station at night and she came to Proushinna to the—to that convent … And she was befriended with a nun and her name … is DellaRosa [Sister Dolorosa]. Because, she came with her in Proushinna, when I was in Proushinna [after the liberation]. … And she escaped from the wagons and she followed 10 kilometers and she came to Proushinna to the nun. The nun gave her … she got the clothes and she put a cross on her. But … she told me—this is after the liberation, now, she told me that … the Mother Superior … wasn’t satisfied, she says better take her and go away with her, deep in Poland, where nobody knows. She was afraid that—you know, sometimes … maybe somebody’ll discover. You can’t blame her, you know, they discover. So she took—you know, when she came in and the next day, you know, with the blessing with the Mother Superior, the blessing, she went the—she actually comes from the different town. She comes some—the towns near Lódz [Łódź]. And she—they travelled somehow with her—with the doctor. … So when … she came back, in Proushinna with this nun, … of course I will help. So, I tried … I was able to help this nun … even the whole convent to supply, make sure they have enough food. It was … still with the Russians. It’s still … 1944, still the war was going on and 31 all that.
Not all rescue efforts ended fortunately. A number of Jews found shelter at a convent in Kraków mistakenly identified as Benedictine (the Benedictine Sisters did not have a convent in that city), only to be seized by the Germans during a raid on the convent. This was likely a shelter on Krakowska Street run by the Albertine Sisters.
Among those sheltered there were Anita Lobel (then known as Aneta Kempler), an eight-year-old girl with a noticeable Semitic appearance, and her six-year-old brother, who was disguised as a girl because the shelter accepted only girls. They lived there posing as the children of their Christian nanny. The story is told in Anita Lobel’s memoirs, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1998), at pages 54–56 31 There is no basis to question the authenticity of Dr. Goldfein’s detailed account, provided in 1944, which is corroroborated by another account she provided shortly after the war (Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Dr Goldfajn, Account 301/138) and by the account of Joseph Elman, a family friend. There is no question that her presence was known to the Sisters during her first stay at the convent, and that she left because she was summoned back to the ghetto. There is no question that she also left the convent on good terms after her second, shorter stay. Why else would Genowefa Czubak (Sister Dolorosa) have returned to the convent after the German occupation and Dr.
Goldfein solicited help for the nuns living there? After her return to Prużana, Czubak had a falling out with her religious order. The circumstances of that falling out are not clear, but were doubtless compounded by the invitation she and Dr. Goldfein received from Ilya Ehrenburg to go to Moscow to record their wartime experiences. Yad Vashem has disseminated a markedly different, and rather unlikely, version of these events, based on testimony by Genowefa Czubak provided many years later. According to Yad Vashem, “Czubak hid Goldfajn [Goldfein] in her convent cell without the Mother Superior’s knowledge. After hiding in Czubak’s cell for about a month, Goldfajn’s presence was discovered and she was sent back to the ghetto, while Czubak was severely reprimanded. In January 1943, when the Germans destroyed the Pruzhana ghetto, Dr. Goldfajn managed to escape from the transport. Having nowhere else to go she returned to the convent, where once again she was turned away by the Mother Superior. Czubak, unable to accept the Mother Superior’s decision, dressed Goldfajn in a nun’s habit and left the convent, her—her home for 18 years—together with her. The two women wandered through the surrounding villages, staying in farmhouses and living off donations. Somehow or other they survived until the area was liberated in July 1944. After the war, Dr. Goldfajn emigrated to France, while Czubak, who was not allowed back into the convent, moved to Lodz [Łódź].” See Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, vol. 4: Poland, Part 1, p.161.
When Niania [nanny] came for us at the ghetto bridge, she had brought with her a piece of black cloth. As soon as we were out of danger, she made a makeshift bandage and wrapped it around my head, covering my right eye. “I have found a place to stay,” Niania said. “We will be safe.” She had found a shelter at a convent of Benedictine Sisters. The hospital across the street from the convent was run by the brothers of the same order. We needed to stay at the shelter so that I could see a doctor. I needed treatment for my eye, was the story Niania had told the nuns. I don’t know what else she told them. The Benedictines let us in. … Life in the convent was good. The nuns were nice. … When we didn’t go to the litle Benedictine chapel for mass, we went to kościół Mariacki (Church of St. Mary), the big church in the main square. … We were kneeling together with the nuns in the little chapel … Over the mix of our voices, singing a hymn, we heard, “Alles raus!” (“Everyone out!”) and then the heavy steps running up the stairs. “Juden! Wo sind die Juden?” (“Jews!
Where are the Jews?”) Rifles in their arms, the Nazis came crashing in. “Schnell! Alles raus! Schnell!” (“Fast! Everyone out! Fast!”) The mass had been interrupted just before the communion. The soldiers rushed up to my brother and me and Niania, guns pointing straight at us. “Raus! Raus!” Now they were behind us. I felt a rifle in my rib. The chapel stairs were not steep. There were only a few steps down. But I stumbled, almost fell. My brother was right behind me. And Niania was crying, “Nie, nie, nein! Moje dzieci! Sie sind … moje dzieci.” (“No, no, no! They are my children.”) She was mixing the few German words she knew with Polish. The Nazis, ignoring Niania, were shouting at the nuns. ‘Alle! Alle Juden hier.’ (‘All Jews over here.’) Demanding they hand over all Jews. The nuns protested, were shoved aside. In no time everyone Jewish had been flushed out. They had caught up with us at last. It was Christmas Day.
They lined us up facing the wall. … I was shaking and shivering. … I was freezing. I wasn’t scared. … Niania was here.
In the convent, among holy sisters, the Nazis could shout, but the Holy Mother would protect us.
Except for Niania, everybody who was not a Jew had stayed in the chapel. She sobbed and pleaded with the Germans in Polish. Insisted that we were her daughters. One of the Nazis began to laugh. He pushed my brother into a corner. He made him lift up his skirt and pull down his underpants. For a moment my brother’s little circumcised penis flashed into view. “Und du, bist du auch ein Knab [Knabe]?” (“Are you a boy, too?”) … I had never known that other Jewish people had been sheltered at the convent. There was a young man. A very pale, thin young woman I had never noticed before. A woman who walked with a limp. I had seen her on the soup line with her bowl and her cane. A woman and her teenaged son. I had seen them. Both of them had blond hair. I had never thought they were Jewish. The nuns had hidden us in broad daylight. We had all blended quietly into the life at the Benedictine shelter.
A thought had time to cross my mind. I had never seen any of these people at mass. They were Juden. And I had become one of the Juden. … With the rest of their catch, the Nazis shoved my brother and me toward a canvas-covered truck that they had parked in front of the entrance to the courtyard of the convent. … There were other people already in the truck. Both men and women. They must have been rounded up somewhere else. Shivering, silent, they stared with empty eyes at the newcomers.
Then we saw Niania running toward the truck with our coats and scarves. I was afraid the Nazis were going to shoot her.
But they allowed her to throw our clothes into the truck. Still pleading and crying, she was shoved aside with the butt of a rifle. … As if they were closing a curtain, the Nazis pulled a canvas covering over the back of the truck. The engine started. The truck began to move. I had no idea where they were taking us.
Anita Lobel and her brother were sent to Płaszów, a concentration camp outside of Kraków. After the war they were reunited with their parents, who also survived, in Sweden. In Płaszów, their nanny managed to get extra food to the children with the assistance of another Polish woman and her fiancé who was employed at the camp. Their
story is also recounted in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5:
Poland, Part 2, at page 542.
Rozalia Natkaniec was a village girl who had worked in the home of the Gruenberg family in Cracow before the war.
Immediately after the occupation, Natkaniec decided to remain with the Gruenberg family in order to repay them for their kind treatment and the concern they had shown for her while she worked for them. As the persecution of the Jews worsened, Natkaniec came to the assistance of her employers, but was only able to save their daughter, Ziuta, after the child’s parents were seized and murdered. Ziuta hid with Natkaniec for two years until the liberation, and after the war she