«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
37 The underground Catholic organization Front Odrodzenia Polski (FOP—Front for the Rebirth of Poland), the precursor of the Council for Aid to Jews, was co-founded in 1941 by the prominent Catholic author Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Rev. Edmund Krauze of the Missionary Fathers’ Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, and included in its members Rev. D. Nowicki and Rev. Jan Zieja. Its activities were well regarded by the Catholic hierarchy and supported by the clergy. See Encyclopedia Katolicka (Lublin: Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego, 1989), vol. 5, columns 726–27. According to Teresa Prekerowa: “By searching out and furnishing these kinds of identity documentation … the Church authorities provided an invaluable service to Jews who were hiding, including many who were charges of Żegota. In Warsaw, among the most helpful in this regard were the parishes of All Saints, Blessed Virgin Mary, Holy Cross, St. Anthony, Christ the Saviour and others. The Catholic FOP, an organization that formed part of the Council for Aid to Jews, had the broadest contacts with pastors, though members of Jewish underground organizations also frequently established [direct] contact with certain priests and nuns. Helena Merenholc, for example, obtained many baptismal and marriage records from the parish in [suburban] Łomianki.” See Teresa Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie 1942–1945 (Warsawa: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1982), p.148.
The authors of a biography of the famed Polish courier Jan Karski, who attempted to inform a disbelieving Western World about the realities of the Holocaust, and who was very closely connected with FOP, strongly suggest that FOP was attacked by the Catholic establishment for its support of the Jews: “Yet, in the name of Catholicism, the Front’s members put their lives on the line to support the Jews. They encountered the hostility not only of the Germans, but also of elements within the Church establishment. A Vatican official who was in contact with Poland during the war wrote of the ‘intense battle’ waged by traditionalist priests against the FOP. The group’s members, wrote the official, ‘lacked any serious dogmatic foundation.’ Their publications ‘were crammed with false ideological propositions whose frank heresies made them really dangerous.’ These people had no history of philo-Semitism, yet they took up the cause of Jewry in the face of major obstacles; something must have changed in their hearts.” See E. Thomas Wood and Stanisław M. Jankowski, Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994), p.106. However, the sources these authors cite (discussed below) do not in any way corroborate the implied claim that the pro-Jewish activities of FOP were under attack by the Church establishment. The Vatican “official” referred to is Luciana Frassati, the Italian wife of the Polish diplomat Jan Gawroński.
Frassati’s book Il destino passa per Varsavia (Bologna: Cappelli, 1949; reissued by Milano: Bompiani, 1985) is quoted extensively in Carlo Falconi, The Silence of Pius XII (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970), pp.168–70. She writes: “[FOP’s] members, in good or bad faith, lacked any serious dogmatic foundation. Their leaflets, entirely financed by the ZWZ [Związek Walki Zbrojnej—Union For Armed Struggle], were crammed with false ideological propositions whose frank heresies made them really dangerous. My interlocutor quoted a few extracts which justified distrust of the whole movement. [Falconi omits the impugned extracts cited by Frassati at pp.201–2 (1985 edition), which are all theological in nature and totally unrelated to the Jewish issue: “Natural ethics don’t exist in practice. They don’t exist even where there is no shadow of Christianity or Catholicism. The grace of redemption is the fountain of life. All that is good is caused and inspired by Grace. In Catholic life, Grace is the principle element for the development of life; natural ethics, therefore, for a Catholic cannot exist in any manner … The national instinct comes from the intimate nature of man; the religious one from the external nature.”] The priest was very depressed and told me he had started an intense battle against these statements. But though his campaign seemed simple and just in appearance, in practice it was very hard-going by reason of the strange opposition, indirect though it was, brought by various Catholic authorities, including bishops and archbishops, as well as superiors of religious orders and communities. An active priest who was known for his pro-papal zeal and his tenacious and unbending opposition to these half-heresies, was transferred without explanation from Warsaw into the country [in the capacity of a private chaplain. Even though he presented to the responsible superior the reasons which did not permit him to abandon the city in such a critical moment, he did not secure a revocation of the order and had to leave.] Yet he did not give up: taking advantage of the peace and solitude of the country, he had written a violent pamphlet defending the Holy Father. And as he intended to print 10,000 copies of it, he was desperately looking around for the necessary money.” Thus, according to Frassati, this priest’s one-man campaign, based on purely theological grounds, against some statements made by FOP unrelated to Jews, was effectively silenced by his banishment to the countryside after it had met with the opposition of the Church leadership. This is a far cry from what Wood and Jankowski suggest was the prevailing situation. As for having had no history of philo-Semitism, the authors (Wood
and Jankowski) are apparently unaware of Kossak-Szczucka’s prewar writings, for example, her well-known memoir Pożoga:
Wspomnienia z Wołynia 1917–1919, in which she described rivetingly the Ukrainian pogroms of Jews in Płoskirów (Proskurov), in Volhynia, which she witnessed with horror in February 1919.
Kossak-Szczucka’s appeal (“The Protest”) has been minutely “dissected” and widely criticized by pundits because of the author’s antiSemitic views and its supposed anti-Semitic content which, allegedly, had the effect of dampening, rather than increasing, societal support for the downtrodden Jews. As in the case of Father Maximilian Kolbe, that narrow approach is a misfocus because both of them espoused traditional, mainstream Catholic teachings and were to some extent a mirror image of traditional Jewish views about Christians. Tellingly, Władysław Bartoszewski, then a young idealist, recalls “The Protest” as his rallying call and its author as his beacon. See Witold Bereś and Jerzy Skoczylas, “Władysław Bartoszewski— świadek epoki,” Gazeta Wyborcza, February 16, 2002. “The Protest” has been criticized for
In the face of crime, it is wrong to remain passive. Whoever is silent witnessing murder becomes a partner to the murder.
Whoever does not condemn, condones.
… We have no means to actively counteract the German murders; we cannot help, nor can we rescue anybody. But we protest from the depths of our hearts filled with pity, indignation, and horror. This protest is demanded of us by God, who does not allow us to kill. It is demanded by our Christian conscience. Every being calling itself human has the right to the love of his fellow man. The blood of the defenceless victims is calling to the heavens for vengeance. Who does not support the protest with us, is not a Catholic.
We protest also as Poles. We do not believe that Poland could benefit from the horrible deeds of the Germans. … The forced participation of the Polish nation as observers of the bloody spectacle taking place on Polish soil may breed indifference to injustice, sadism, and, above all, to the dangerous conviction that those close to us can be murdered with impunity.
appealing to the Poles’ Christian convictions rather than to their civic duty to come to the assistance of fellow citizens (i.e., the Jews). This charge seems particularly flimsy since its stated intention was to give primacy to universal Christian teachings over narrow nationalistic ambitions, however justified. Given the author’s personal involvement in the rescue of Jews, her sincerity has never been effectively challenged. Kossak-Szczucka also levelled harsh criticism at those Catholics who failed to see that the commandment to love one’s neighbour extended to the Jews in other publications such as the pamphlet entitled “Jesteś katolikiem … Jakim?” (“What kind of Catholic are you?”). See Władysław Bartoszewski, “75 lat w XX wieku: pamiętnik mówiony (6)”, Więź (Warsaw, July 1997): pp.118–19. “The Protest” contains a passage referring to Jews as “political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland,” and states that despite the massive crimes perpetrated by the Germans, many Jews “hate us more than they hate the Germans, and … make us responsible for their misfortune.” There is ample evidence for that charge in Jewish wartime and postwar writings. Emanuel Ringelblum noted, in his wartime journal, that hatred towards Polish Christians grew in the Warsaw ghetto because it was widely believed that the Poles were responsible for the economic restrictions that befell the Jews. See Emanuel Ringelblum, Kronika getta warszawskiego: Wrzesień 1939–styczeń 1943 (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1983), p.118. Jews played into this by spreading anti-Polish propaganda, going so far as to claim that the Poles were inciting the Germans. A wartime report from the Warsaw ghetto spoke of the author’s efforts to convince Jews “about the feelings in Polish society towards the Jews. They are inciting the occupier against the Jews, in order to save themselves by this stratagem.” He also questioned the sincerity of the Polish democratic opposition and preached about the “abject baseness of behavior among the Poles.” See Marian Małowist, “Assimilationists and Neophytes at the Time of War-Operations and in the Closed Jewish Ghetto,” in Joseph Kermish, ed., To Live With Honor and Die With Honor!…: Selected Documents from the Warsaw Ghetto Underground Archives “O.S/” [“Oneg Shabbath”] (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1986), pp.619–34, at 631, 633. A jealousy built on false premises and contempt set in. Many Jews could not comprehend why it was they, rather than the Poles, who were suffering the brunt of the German brutality. Stories spread in the ghetto that Poles were leading “normal lives” outside the ghetto: “Everything there is brimming with life. Everyone eats and drinks until they are full. … On the other side, the houses are like palaces … there is freedom to the full … complete safety … justice reigns.” See the diary of Jehoszua Albert cited in Marcin Urynowicz, “Stosunki polsko-żydowskie w Warszawie w okresie okupacji hitlerowskiej,” in Andrzej Żbikowski, ed., Polacy i Żydzi pod okupacją niemiecką 1939–1945: Studia i materiały (Warsaw: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej– Komisja Ścigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu, 2006), p.563. A Jewish woman who survived in “Aryan” Warsaw declared, shortly after the war, that the Germans were ordered to hate the Jews and the Gestapo had to kill them, but she did not mince her words about the true nature of the Poles, whom she condemned as a whole: “Why did the Germans carry out this—unheard of in the history of crime—mass murder of the Jews precisely in Poland? It was not only because this was where the largest concentration of Jews was, but above all and mainly because they knew that in Poland they had the moral support of the majority of the population for this savagery, because they counted in advance on the approval of the lion’s share of the Poles … That’s why the Germans found it worthwhile to transport Jews from the most distant countries of Europe to Auschwitz and Treblinka, to the General Government, because in no other country, on no other patch of land, could these their deeds be imaginable.” See the memoir of Maria Nowakowska in Żbikowski, ed., Polacy i Żydzi pod okupacją niemiecką 1939–1945, p.532. Of course, there is absolutely no trace of any such rationale in official German documents from that period and reputable scholars have made short shrift of such views which were, to their discredit, rather widespread among Polish Jews. Yisrael Gutman, director of research at Yad Vashem and editor in chief of the four-volume work The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990), has gone on record to state: “I should like to make two things clear here. First, all accusations against the Poles that they were responsible for what is referred to as the ‘Final Solution’ are not even worth mentioning. Secondly, there is no validity at all in the contention that... Polish attitudes were the reason for the siting of the death camps in Poland. Poland was a completely occupied country. There was a difference in the kind of ‘occupation’ countries underwent in Europe.
Each country experienced a different occupation and almost all had a certain amount of autonomy, limited and defined in various ways.
This autonomy did not exist in Poland. No one asked the Poles how one should treat the Jews.” See Polin: A Journal of Polish-Jewish Studies, vol. 2 (1987): p.341.