«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
There were in the ghetto at that time a considerable number of former Jews who had converted to Christianity; one of their centres was the Church of the Holy Virgin in Leszno St. … … One of these converts was a man called Fodor [Rev. Tadeusz Puder], a priest at the Church of the Holy Virgin and a close friend of Dr. Marceli Godlewski, a leading Catholic Church dignitary. Fodor was later saved by Godlewski from deportation and hidden in the Aryan section of the city.39 39 The story of Rev. Puder being in the ghetto is a legend. In order to protect Rev. Tadeusz Puder, a Jewish convert with a marked Semitic appearance, in November 1939 Archbishop Stanisław Gall, the administrator of the Warsaw archdiocese, appointed him chaplain of a convent of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary in Białołęka near Warsaw, which was soon to become very active in rescuing Jewish children. Rev. Puder was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1941, but because of the intervention of nuns and friends he was placed in St. Sophia’s hospital in Warsaw, near a convent of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, which was under the control of the Gestapo. In November 1942, an escape was arranged in which Rev. Puder slid down a rope made of bed sheets into a waiting horse-drawn wagon. He hid under some coal and, later, dressed as a nun with his head heavily bandaged, he was taken to stay with his mother, who had also converted to Catholicism before the war.
The tunnel was dug from a building near the church on Leszno St. under the crypt of the church, where a large bunker was excavated. A well-concealed aperture was made in the floor of the crypt to the bunker below (the floor of the crypt was actually the roof of the bunker). This aperture gave access from the bunker to the crypt, whence, by means of a ladder, one emerged through removable floorboards into the vestibule of the church, a few paces from the entrance. A short stairway led down to Leszno St. a busy thoroughfare open to Poles and Aryans, transversed by tramway from the west of the city to the eastern suburbs.
The bunker had another exit through a hole in the wall of the crypt. This led to an adjacent building which was occupied by nuns. In an emergency, an additional means of escape was afforded by the ‘chimney’, a narrow shaft in the hollow wall behind the church altar, which led down to the bunker. Built by engineers, members of the Z.Z.W., the bunker was fitted with electricity, an alarm system and other essential installations. … Gabriela “Bronka” Lajewska [Łajewska], a non-Jewish girl, maintained liaison between the A.K. [Armia Krajowa— Polish Home Army] and the Z.Z.W. headquarters. … Her main task lay in helping the evacuation of Jewish children from the ghetto. As a rule she would take charge of the children at the mouth of the tunnel in the cemetery or near the All Saints Church and hand them into the care of Father Godlewski, the priest. The last time she was in the ghetto, shortly before the major Aktion [summer 1942], she was caught trying to get a group of children out through the passage near the Pawiak, and sent to prison. In July 1944 she was transferred from the prison to a camp at Ravensburg [Ravensbrück?]. … In all, Gabriela rescued more than seventy children, many of whom she transferred to the Home for Blind Children [run by the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross] in the town of Laski [near Warsaw].
The activities carried out on behalf of Jews, especially converts, in the three Catholic parishes located inside the Warsaw ghetto are described in Peter F. Dembowski, Christians in the Warsaw Ghetto: An Epitaph for the Unremembered (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), at pages 59–61, 63–65, 107–8, 115, 121–22, 125–27, 129–30.
Before the war, there was no specific Jewish district in Warsaw. Jews lived in all districts, but there was a higher concentration of poor Jews in the northern part of what would be called in the United States the downtown area. Thus the Germans created the Jewish living quarter in that area, where up to 40 percent of the population consisted of non-Jews.
When the Jewish living quarter became the ghetto, it contained three Roman Catholic parishes within its boundaries: Saint Augustine, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (henceforth B.V.M.), and All Saints. The Church the Nativity of the B.V.M. has been sometimes referred to by its former name of “the Carmelite church.” … Before the ghetto was sealed off [in November 1940], all three Roman Catholic parish churches served as regular places of Catholic worship, for both the “Aryan” and “non-Aryan” Christians. In Saint Augustine Church on Nowolipki Street, the nominal pastor was Rev. Karol Niemira, auxiliary bishop of Pińsk. After 1939 [when Pińsk was occupied by the Soviet Union], he was appointed to the head of the parish. His second in command and acting head was Rev. Franciszek Garncarek, who followed church laws requiring the pastor to remain with the church as long as he could. The other assistants were Rev. Zygmunt Kowalski and Rev. Leon Więckowicz [actually Więckiewicz]. A postwar copy of the regularly kept church register … bears the following marginal note, obviously written after the war: “Sometimes after the sealing off of the ghetto, the church functioned as a place of worship for the Catholics of Jewish origin who lived in the ghetto. There were about five thousand of them. The priests lived outside the ghetto and commuted to the church with permanent passes.
After some time, however, they were forbidden to enter and the services in the church ceased. This is according to the statement made by Rev. Zygmunt Kowalski, then the assistant in Saint Augustine parish.” In July 1941, after the church was deactivated, a well-known Jewish-Christian director, Marek Arensztajn, acting in Polish and Yiddish under the name of Andrzej Marek, organized a theater in the church hall. He was baptized in the ghetto. After the Aktion, the Germans where he survived the war, cared for Sisters Romualda Stępak, Domicela Golik, and Janina Kruszewska. On January 23, 1945, walking in a street of destroyed Warsaw, Rev. Puder was hot by a Soviet truck and died four days later from a head injury. For many years the accident was considered a planned assassination by the Soviet secret police, but there is no evidence that this is true. See Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, Getto warszawskie: Przewodnik po nieistniejącym mieście (Warsaw: IFiS PAN, 2001), pp.621–22; Dembowski, Christians in the Warsaw Ghetto, pp.61–62; Teresa Antonietta Frącek, “Ratowały, choć za to groziła śmierć,” Parts 3 and 4, Nasz Dziennik, March 15–16 and March 19, 2008.
100 turned the church into a furniture warehouse.
We know that Rev. Garncarek and his assistant were active in providing all sorts of help to the ghetto dwellers, but we do not have any details concerning this help. We know that Janusz Korczak (pseudonym of Dr. Henryk Goldszmit), the director of a large orphanage next to Saint Augustine Church, a renowned educator, physician, and writer, addressed a letter to Rev. Garncarek in February 1942: “[Since] Providence has thrust upon you a missionary role, I urge you to attend a meeting of the personnel of our orphanage to discuss ways of saving the lives of the children from destruction.
[You could] perhaps offer some good advice, perhaps an ardent prayer.” … We also know that Dr, Korczak maintained a friendly relationship with the priests of Al Saints as well. Two priests of Saint Augustine did not survive the war. Rev.
Garncarek died on December 20, 1943, outside the ghetto; he was shot on the steps of the presbytery of another church.
His assistant, Rev. Więckowicz [Więckiewicz], was arrested for helping Jews on December 3, 1942, and died in the GrossRosen concentration camp on August 4, 1944. … The other two parishes, the Nativity of the B.V.M. on Leszno Street (now Solidarność Street) and All Saints on Grzybowski Square, were functioning places of Catholic worship until the first days of the Aktion [in July 1942]. The Nativity Church was in the middle of the ghetto and the All Saints Church in the southeast corner. The church on Leszno was mentioned often by Jewish diarists of the ghetto, probably because it was more or less in the center of the closed quarter. All Saints, on the other hand, was mentioned more often by the Christians, because many of them lived in the vicinity. … Throughout the existence of the ghetto, the curate of the Nativity of the B.V.M. Church was Monsignor Seweryn Popławski, who was assisted by Rev. Henryk Komorowski, Rev. Teofil [in fact, Władysław] Głowacki, and Rev.
[Aleksander] Zyberk-Plater. Rev. Popławski remained at his post even after the Aktion. Rev. Komorowski would be remembered as a charismatic, well-loved priest. He was in charge of the young people of the parish. From the fall of 1942 until the spring of 1943, when the church was on the southern tip of the residual ghetto, many people used its large basement as an escape route to the partly destroyed parts of the former ghetto. … The pastor at All Saints [on Grzybowski Square] was Monsignor Marceli Godlewski. His assistant and secod in command was Rev. Antoni Czarnecki. Rev. Tadeusz Nowotko also served in the parish. Rev. Godlewski lived outside the ghetto and came to his parish every day; Rev. Czarnecki lived permanently in the rectory of the church. He left a brief memorandum, “The All Saints Parish” (“Parafia Wszystkich Świętych”) written in 1973. Obviously conscious that he was writing under an unfriendly political regime, he prudently cites published sources and concentrates on the pastoral aspect of his work. Rev. Czarnecki’s caution was fully justified. Rev. Godlewski’s successor at All Saints, Rev. Zygmunt Kaczyński, was arrested in 1949 and received a ten-year sentence for “political crimes.” He was murdered in prison in 1953, and rehabilitated by the Communist regime in 1958. Despite its caution, Rev. Czarnecki’s article is important for many details.
He mentions the visits of Dr. Janusz Korczak and his orphans to the church grounds. He also writes briefly about baptisms in the ghetto and the reasons for them. His opinions here are quite realistic: “It is difficult to ascertain now how much these catechumens were inclined to embrace the teaching of Christ because of their desire for faith and their supernatural intention, or how much they were motivated by a secret hope that the Christian confession figuring in their identity card could save them from destruction in that inhuman epoch.” … Rev. Godlewski was doubtless a key figure among the Christians in the ghetto. During the time of his ghetto activities, he was already an old man, having been born in 1865. … The All Saints parish was situated in a heavily Jewish neighborhood. Well before the war, Rev. Godlewski organized the housemaids in his parish and elsewhere, seeing to it that their employers, who were often Jews, paid the health insurance rates. He also organized the local artisans, who were often in conflict with the more numerous Jewish artisans. He was active in journalism and in Christian labor organizations. He founded an interest-free loan association, apparently using the Jewish Interest-Free Loan Association, as a model; he took its constitution and substituted the word “Jews” with “Poles.” He was a nationalist and an “Endek,” a member of the National Democratic Party (Stronictwo Narodowo Demokratyczne, or ND).
In Godlewski’s activities, he often came into conflict with local Jews and Jewish organizations and as a result acquired a reputation as an anti-Semite. It is important to note that this idea of anti-Semitism was based on the economic competition between [the two groups, i.e. Jews and Poles]. … The complexity of what can collectively be called anti-Semitism can be seen from [Judenrat chairman] Czerniaków’s entry for July 24, 1941. He writes about meeting a priest: “I returned a visit to Rev. Popławski who called on me at one time on the subject of assistance to the Christians of Jewish origins. He proceeded to tell me that he sees God’s hand in being placed in the ghetto, [but] that after the war he would leave as much an anti-Semite as he was when he arrived there.” But “anti-Semitic” meant many things. Monsignor Seweryn Popławski headed the Nativity of the B.V.M. parish between 1934 and 1944. He refused to leave the ghetto and is known to have helped the persecuted Jews and saved many of them, particularly children. Just before the Polish uprising, the Germans removed him from the church, which they used 101 for storage. He died at seventy-four years of age, during the fighting in August 1944, under the ruins of his church.
People like Rev. Popławski and Rev. Godlewski were profoundly shocked by the Nazis’ savage persecutions of the Jews, and of course by the fact that the Nazis considered the baptized Jews to be Jews at all. I fully agree with Rev. Czarnecki’s judgment concerning Rev. Godlewski, and probably Rev. Popławski: “Before the War [Rev. Godlewski] was known for his unfriendly [niechętne] attitude toward Jews, but when he saw all the sufferings, he threw himself with all his heart into helping those people.” My personal experiences have convinced me that in the face of persecutions and horrors, the attitude toward the victim was, in the final analysis, dictated not so much by prewar political convictions as by the mysterious quality of human decency.