«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
The Jews sheltered in the Capuchin monastery in Kraków were more fortunate. The Capuchins had taken in hundreds of refugee including clergy expelled from Western Poland, as well as the sick. Brother Baltazar Cekus was particularly active in the rescue efforts. Among their charges were several Jews including Helena Manaster Ramer, who took refuge in Kraków together with her husband, Norbert Ramer, a medical doctor and rabbi from Lwów. Warned of a threat of denunciation they were able to escape safely and find other hiding places. (Jafa Wallach, Bitter Freedom: Memoirs of a Holocaust Survivor [Schuylkill Have, Pennsylvania: Hermitage, 2006], pp.184–87.) The Polish papers we had previously secured and hidden with us all the time now proved valuable. I became Helena Dobrowski and Norbert, Tadeusz Dobrowski … When we arrived in Krakow [Kraków] I was lost, but my husband had studied mathematics there and had many acquaintances and friends. We went at once to the home of one of these, a bachelor, and he took us in. After all these years I’ve forgotten his name, but he kept us with him for three days. Norbert got in touch with other friends and we made contact with the underground. We also managed to get a little money so that we could get by.
We were no longer Jews, however. We lived in different skins. Someone urged me to smile more and I did my best. We had to smile all the time, to remain above suspicion. … By this time it was February 1943 and I was pregnant. Still Norbert and I remained apart as much as possible to avoid suspicion. While I didn’t look Jewish, Norbert had a more difficult time and had to spend much of his time indoors when he could. We found places to sleep but it was always harder to find places to spend the days and in the spring and summer the days were so long. We walked in the parks and in the stores and banks. We spent hours in the churches. We generally went to the churches to meet. Sometimes, too, we met in the waiting rooms of local doctors. Some people knew who we were and were even helpful to us.
At that time there was an 8 o’clock curfew and you had to be off the streets after that hour. All our efforts in the days were at finding places for the night. Sometimes we even found places where we could stay in the daytime too. Then we could bathe and get some food. … Then, one day I found myself in a difficult situation. I had an arrangement on that day to spend the following night with some people but I had nowhere to go that night. I couldn’t wait until the following evening so I went to the people who were supposed to take me in the next night … They were having a party and I couldn’t go inside because I didn’t want to be seen by too many people so I sat in the hallway of the building … There were two apartments in that hallway, one occupied by a university professor who was a known anti-Semite and I was very worried. At that time, many Poles were being executed by the Nazis in the east and there were many orphans. The professor’s daughter, it tuned out, was the head nurse of an organization that was engaged in rescuing these children. While I was sitting there she came out and saw me, pregnant, in the chair, in the middle of the night. I told her my husband lived in Hungary and that I had nowhere to go. Her face softened and she offered to help me.
… She took me to a monastery that night.
She took me to the Order of the Kaputzyn [Capuchins]. They had several buildings in Krakow and a vast garden. One of the buildings was being used to house refugees and the sick and they put me there. I stayed in that place for more than a year and that’s were my son, Arthur, was born. … I arranged to go to the hospital when I was due to give birth and the manager of the refugees’ house, a pious young man named M. Detz, took me. My son, Arthur, was born in October there but he took sick soon after I returned with him to the monastery and I had to take him back to the hospital for care several times. … People at the monastery thought he might die and urged me to baptize him … finally, I did. … It was now July and I began to hope we would survive by remaining in the monastery. I got money from the underground but I spent very little and lived there for almost two years. … Later a more serious incident occurred. I found something that looked like a crudely made mezuzah, the little ornamental box containing a prayer that is put on the doorways of Jewish homes. It had been placed in the night on my doorpost. Someone was telling me that they knew what I was. It was then May 1944 and I had been in Krakow since February 1943. One evening, Mr. Detz, the manager, came to see me and said, “You can’t stay here any longer. Two of 32 Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, pp.370–73.
Available sanctuary was not always taken up by the Jews. In the summer of 1942, during the large round-ups in the Warsaw Ghetto, the three remaining rabbis—David Szapiro, Manachem Zemba and Shimshon Stockhamer— received an offer of asylum from senior members of the Catholic clergy of the Warsaw archdiocese. This offer was declined—the rabbis decided that they could not abandon their co-religionists in their hour of adversity,33 as was an offer to shelter several hundred Jewish children in Church institutions.34 A similar offer was rejected by 35 Rabbi Y. Pinner from the bishop of Łódź. The meeting between the three Warsaw rabbis is described in the American newspaper Forward of March 1, 1947.
It is not known how much time the silence lasted. Perhaps a minute; perhaps hours. Reb Dovid, who was the youngest of the three, broke the silence and said, “I am younger than both of you. My words do not obligate you. It is obvious to all of us that it is not in our hands to help these people in any way. Nevertheless, by the very fact that we are with them, that we did not leave them, there is some encouragement for them—the only encouragement. I do not have the strength to leave these people—and there is no place bereft of Him. Will we hide from the Almighty? The same God who is found there is found here.” The words came forth from the youngest rabbi and the silence continued. Then it was replaced by crying. Not one word was said. Only crying gushed forth from within the three hearts. Then they left the room and Reb Menachem said, “we are not to conduct any debate in this matter”.
The bishop of Sandomierz, Rev. Jan Kanty Lorek, had intervened on behalf of the Jews in September 1939 and he and other priests from his diocese continued to provide assistance to Jews during the occupation. Jews were hidden in the bell tower of the cathedral and in the cellars of the seminary. (Some of these activities were described earlier.) Some Jews turned to him with a request to shelter the revered Ostrowiec rabbi Yehiel Halevi Halshtok, who lived in Sandomierz. Rev. Lorek willingly agreed to do so. However, the rabbi declined the offer.
(Simon Zuker, The Unconquerable Spirit: Vignettes of the Jewish Religious Spirit the Nazis Could Not Destroy, Second revised edition [New York: Zachor Institute, 1980/1981], p.26.) “My own father,” the survivor who told us this story recalled, “had contacted the bishop of Tzozmir (Sandomierz) and 33 See Philip Friedman, Their Brothers’ Keepers (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), p.126; Philip Friedman, ed., Martyrs and Fighters (Polish Jews, Inc., 1954), reprinted in Roselle K. Chartock and Jack Spencer, eds., Can It Happen Again?: Chronicles of the Holocaust, (New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1995), pp.248–49; (Reb) Moshe Shonfeld, The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony of Jewish War Criminals, Part One (Brooklyn, New York: Neturei Karta of U.S.A., 1977), pp.34–35; Simon Zuker, comp., The Unconquerable Spirit: Vignettes of the Jewish Religious Spirit the Nazis Could Not Destroy, Second revised edition (New York: Zachor Institute, 1980/1981), p.78; Wacław Zajączkowski, Martyrs of Charity, Part One (Washington, D.C.: St. Maximilian Kolbe Foundation, 1987), p.290 (Entry 724). According to one Jewish source, discussions took place in March 1942, with the offer of asylum coming from “the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.” According to a Polish source, the offer of assistance was inspired by Canon Roman Archutowski, the rector of the Archdiocesan Seminary. However, another rabbi by the name of Khane did accept an offer of shelter and was hidden in the archdiocesan library. See Franciszek Kącki, Dzieło miłosierdzia chrześcijańskiego: Polskie duchowieństwo katolickie a Żydzi w latach okupacji hitlerowskiej (Warszawa: Chrześcijańskie Stowarzyszenie Społeczne, 1968), pp.43–44.
34 Ewa Kurek suggests that, since no church source mentions the proposal of saving children from the Warsaw ghetto, it may be that it was actually put forward, as other sources indicate, by Irena Sendler of the Social Welfare Department of the Warsaw Municipal Council, who worked closely with the Central Relief Council (RGO) in placing hundreds of Jewish children in religious institutions, primarily convents.
See Ewa Kurek, Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland, 1939– 1945 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997), pp.229–30.
35 See (Reb) Moshe Shonfeld, The Holocaust Victims Accuse: Documents and Testimony on Jewish War Criminals, Part One (Borroklyn, New York: Neturei Karta of U.S.A., 1977), p.35.
Another Jewish source confirms this information and mentions the favourable attitude of several other priests in the diocese of Sandomierz. (Eva Feldenkreiz-Grinbal, ed., Eth Ezkera—Whenever I Remember: Memorial Book of the Jewish Community in Tzoyzmir (Sandomierz) [Tel Aviv: Association of Tzoyzmir Jews and Moreshet Publishing, 1993], pp.543, 553, 565–66.) In the Sandomierz Judenstadt there also lived the well known revered Ostrowiec Rabbi, Yehiel Halevi Halshtok. It was said that people pleaded with the Sandomierz Bishop Jan Lorek to hide him, and the bishop was willing to do so. But the Rabbi refused, saying that he belonged with all Jews and did not wish to save his own life only. … One day, I met the priest Babsky [Ludwik Barski, the pastor of Ciepielów] who had been my classmate in the Government high-school in Sandomierz. After a few words of greeting, the priest told me that a farmer of his parish was in possession of a Torah Scroll which he had found and taken away the day the Jews were deported. … Dr. Szymansky [Adam Szymański], Dean of the Priests’ Seminary in Sandomierz …was well known for his kindness and friendly attitude towards Jews. He was said to have supplied birth certificates to Jews who wished to leave town before the “Aktsia” holding Aryan papers. … A second Torah Scroll was also brought to the Wasser House where we lived at the time and given to us free of charge by the priest, Dr. Lagec [Michał Łagocki], a teacher at the Priests’ Seminary. He had received the Torah Scroll from a farmer who had hidden it in order to return it after the war.
While the decimated and beleaguered Catholic hierarchy in Poland had no possibility to protest the persecution of Jews, or of Polish Catholics—even the clergy—for that matter, representatives of the Church hierarchy in exile spoke out. Rev. Karol Radoński, the bishop of Włocławek, who fled Poland and took up residence in London, England, actively joined the efforts of the Polish government to inform the world of the crimes committed in
occupied Poland. In a BBC radio address delivered on December 14, 1942, he said:
As concerns the Jewish populace, its suffering has exceeded everything that hatred and the bestiality of the oppressor is capable of inventing. The murders committed openly on Jews in Poland midst the blustering and jibes of the executioners and their vassals must evoke horror and disgust in the entire civilized world. … As a Polish bishop I condemn with all certainty [most categorically] the crime committed in Poland on the Jewish population. The words of the Front Odrodzenia Polski FOP (Front for the Rebirth of Poland) which have reached us from the Homeland, beating with a truly Christian spirit of brotherly love and human compassion are an expression of that which ever Pole and Christian feels.
(“Przemówienie biskupa Radońskiego,” Dziennik Polski, December 17, 1942. Reproduced in Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert, ed.,
Polacy–Żydzi, Polen–Juden, Poles–Jews, 1939–1941: Wybór źródeł, Quellenauswahl, Selection of Documents [Warsaw:
Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walki i Męczeństwa, Instytut Dziedzictwa Narodowego, and Rytm, 2001], pp.108–10.) Remarkably, British historian Richard J. Evans claims that the Polish Catholic Church not only did not take a clear stance against the Germans’ murderous policies towards Polish Jews, “if anything, the opposite was the case.” (Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich at War [New York: The Penguin Press, 2009], p.64.) Unfiortunately, such baseless charges are rather typical of Western literature on wartime Poland. Columbia Univerity historian István Deák, an authority on the subject, remarked: “No issue in Holocaust literature is more burdened by misunderstanding, mendacity, and sheer racial prejudice than that of Polish-Jewish relations during World War II.” (István Deák, “Memories of Hell,” The New York Review of Books, June 26, 1997.) 36 Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Second revised and expanded edition (Kraków: Znak, 1969), p.535.