«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Although he administered the confirmation sacrament to me, my thoughts, strangely, were not here where I had received help, kind words, where I was fed, clothed and where I slept safely. I was still with all those ghetto fighters who had fallen.
Bishop Niemira’s words broke into my thoughts:
“I name you Maria-Magdalena, who is your patron saint from this moment and through who you will address yourself to God.” … Following Bishop Niemira’s blessing I kissed the ring on his finger with great reverence. This was a very fine man, not only as a spiritual person, but in himself—a great man. I was very pleased that it was through him that I received the confirmation sacrament. Although I did not know it then, that was the last time I saw him alive.
That same night I was given a new pass from the PCK school and also the pass which I lost during the memorable fur search, confirming my employment in the Out-patient Clinic of the dept. of Social Security. No longer Smulikowski St., but now at Praga, at 34, Jagiellonska [Jagiellońska] St. I was to continue my work with Dr. Cetkowski, who was now employed there.
In the morning, after curfew, I was led out by Fr. Sebastian through a different section of underground passages with which I was not familiar to a tram stop. I was going to take a tram to Praga in order to reach Szeroka St., where my Mama was living with friends. Fr. Sebastian gave me money for the fare. While saying goodbye to me he became very emotional
and could not control himself. Blessing me on my further, new, journey he told me:
“You must contact your old friend, the helpful dr. Cetkowski, at once. Give him my regards. Go on being yourself as you have been up to now. Remember, Maria-Magdalena!” “Yes, Father,” I replied.
A tram came up and Fr. Sebastian told me to take it. I kissed him sincerely. What a pity that I did not know his full name.
The name Sebastian was probably also not his own, only adopted with his priest’s vows—possibly even that was different now? What a warm heart he had shown me. … Following the direction given to me by Fr. Sebastian I reached Szeroka St. at Praga safely and proceeded to the indicated address where my mother was staying. … During this initial period I continued to use the false documents provided by Fr. Sebastian. … Towards the end, I should stress the fact that the Polish Community—those true Poles—gave self-sacrificing help to the 107 people locked in the ghetto. It is not relevant whether they did so altruistically (some did) or for large sums of money (they were risking their own lives and those of their families). But the fact itself that such help existed and that through it the lives of many Jews and Jewish children were saved—that should always be remembered.
It should also be stressed with what great self-sacrifice and devotion the convent sisterhood operated, as well as many priests. Among those who gave the greatest assistance were the clergy with His Excellency Bishop Niemira at the head, from the Church of St. Augustyn at Nowolipki. In the first phase many hundreds of Jewish children (the tiniest ones, the small ones and those older ones) went through their hands. … Also the clergy from the … Church of the Holiest Virgin Mary—and many, many others.
Miriam Chasson (née Finkielsztajn) survived the Warsaw ghetto uprising and was able to pass as Irena Lewandowska, with the help of a number of Poles including a village priest in Bełchów near Łowicz, on the strenghth of a false baptismal certificate her mother obtained for her from the Carmelite Sisters in Warsaw. She survived the war and moved to Israel. (Polish Righteous, Internet: http://www.sprawiedliwi.org.pl.) In the late spring 1943 the family named Laska in the Bełchów village (powiat Łowicz, voivodship Łódź) took in a tenyear-old girl, who introduced herself as Irena Lewandowska, an orphan from Przemyśl.
Miriam Chasson, nee Finkielsztajn, the only daughter of Roza [Róża] and Gustaw Finkielsztajn... In the fall of 1941 the Jewish population of the town [of Łowicz] was resettled by Germans to the Warsaw ghetto.
In 1942 Gustaw was caught in a street round-up and taken to Umschlagplatz; he was killed in Treblinka. Roza managed to arrange for a fake baptismal certificate for her daughter with the help of Carmelite nuns from the convent bordering on the ghetto at Bonifraterska street. In spite of the famine they managed to survive until the April ghetto uprising. The sought shelter in one of the bunkers with 30 other people. On May 4, 1943, the Germans brought them all outside.
Ten-year-old Miriam showed her baptismal certificate to one of the German policemen and told him that her name was Irena Lewandowska, and that she was a Christian girl who found herself in the ghetto by accident.
She was taken to a Gestapo station while all the others – including her mother – went to Umschlagplatz. In the general confusion the girl managed to leave the station and cross to the “Aryan side”.
She does not remember any more how she got Mr. Bobotek’s address in Nieborów. Her aunt, who had escaped from the ghetto during the uprising and was hiding at the “Aryan side”, could not take her in, but gave her some money. Miriam bought a small cross and a train ticket. When she reached Mr. Bobotek’s house and asked for help he placed her as a nanny with a family with four children.
Miriam did not complain, but she was not comfortable there. “... I took care of their children, but one beautiful day I went for a walk in that village. There was a farm of Stanisław Laska. Here was Nieborów, then a highway, the grasscovered fields.... Bełchów was two, maybe three kilometres further. And they were somewhere in the middle, just that house. They had orchards. I thought: ‘what’s there to lose? I’ll try.’ I went in and asked if maybe they need some help with the cows or pigs. Because they had a big farm.” Józef and Marianna Laska, and their four children, worked their own farm in Bełchów near Nieborów. They had four children. “... there was Stanisław, he was still a young man, 26 years old,” remembers Miriam Chasson. “Then there was his mother, Marianna, and his grandmother. There was his sister Helka and another one, Julka, born after Helka. The oldest one was Stacha, married to a railman, but she didn’t live with them, she had a small house, close to them, but not together. There was no father, because he had also been a railman and died in a railway accident.”...
“First they asked me if I was hungry. I said yes and at once they gave me something to eat, potatoes and sour milk, and they told me: ‘You can stay, if you like’.... So I went back to that Mr. Bobotek and told him: ‘You know, I was really unhappy with tose people [family with 4 children]. I was just walking around and I dropped in to Mr. Laska, and they need someone to help with the cows and housework. Could I move in with them? And he said ‘yes’, and I went to them.” They accepted her as Irena Lewandowska, orphan from the Zamojskie [Zamość] district.
“At that time they took those children in the Zamojskie district, and she came from there. She had the certificate.” recalls Stanisław Laska. His memory of her arrival differs from Miriam’s story: “She was brought by a lady who lived in Łowicz, they had a house there, she came here and brought that little Jewish girl,” he says.
Miriam gets emotional when she remembers her stay with the Laskas: “they took me in, put me in a tub, because I had lice from that bunker and everything... and then I went to bed, the same as Helka. They didn’t treat me as if I dropped down from Mars or another planet. They were the people... there are no such people in the whole world... I found a home.
... I worked because everyone worked there. I slept together with Helka.”...
“After a while I started going to school in the village. I attended religious instruction lessons. I was a good student and the priest even praised me from the pulpit. And they [the Laskas] were very proud of me.” Irena took her First Communion: “She was keen to do it because she had a friend and they took Communion together,” says Stanisław.
108 The girl told about her origin only to the priest [Rev. Zenon Ziemecki] during confession. The Laskas were guessing she was Jewish but it did not matter to them.
“I had quite forgotten I was Jewish,” remembers Miriam. “... when we were sitting together in winter weaving linen, there was talk about Jews.... they talked about my grandpa. They had known him, bought ploughs from him and other staff... those relatives of mine, Finkielsztajn-Adler, were very well known in Łowicz... of course, I didn’t say anything...
They never asked me about that certificate. I told them that Germans had killed my parents... They never asked.” Miriam-Irena stayed with the Laskas for two years.
After the failed revolt and liquidation of the ghetto in Warsaw in April and May 1943, the Polish underground attempted to rescue the small number of Jews who managed to escape deportation and remained hidden in bunkers and cellars in the ruins of the ghetto. The Polish underground turned to Catholic priests for assistance in
hiding the fugitives. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5:
Poland, Part 2, pp.806–807.) Zdzislaw [Zdzisław] Szymczak and his wife, Jadwiga, lived in Warsaw during the war. In 1941, he began helping Jews. His brother, Jozef [Józef], also actively assisted him in this endeavor. One of the many Jews who received help from the Szymczak brothers was Mieczyslaw [Mieczysław] Karol Dubinski [Dubiński], a schoolmate of Zdzislaw’s from the Warsaw Polytechnic. They were also both involved in the Socialist Student Union group known as “Life” (OMS “Zycie” [“Życie]). They had met again at the turn of 1941, when Zdzislaw helped Dubinski find a hiding in Piaseczno (near Warsaw) for a few days. At the same time, Jehuda Leibel (later Roman Malinowski)—who was also a prewar schoolmate from the Polytechnic—approached Zdzislaw. In November 1942, the Szymczak brothers arranged the escape of Maria Malinowski from the Tarnow [Tarnów] ghetto. Maria (Rachel Markus) was Roman’s wife. The brothers brought her to Warsaw and helped her establish herself on the Aryan side. Zdzislaw also hid Beniamin Leibel (Roman’s father) in his apartment for one week. He eventually found a hiding place for Roman’s father-in-law, Moshe Markus, as well. In December 1942, the Szymczak brothers helped Rachel’s sister, Felicia Markus (Izabelle Minz), escape from the Tarnow ghetto. They took her to Warsaw and put her up for a few days in their mother’s apartment. They also arranged Aryan papers for her and helped her find an apartment. Zdzislaw also helped Roman’s sister, Lili Rosenblum, flee the ghetto. In July 1943, the teenager David Plonski escaped from the [Warsaw] ghetto through the sewage system. He tried to contact the Polish underground to arrange for the escape of the handful of fighters who had remained alive in the destroyed ghetto. The Szymczak brothers came to his aid and provided him with food and arms. They also helped him return to the ghetto through a manhole and then, for three nights, waited for him and his group of comrades to leave the ghetto. They kept in contact with the fighters after finding hiding places for all. In 1944, following the end of the Warsaw Uprising, Zdzislaw helped Roman to relocate his family.
Zdzisław Szymczak provided more details of his exploits in his own recollection of these events, including the assistance he received from Rev. Paweł Iliński of Zalesie Górne near Warsaw. (Richard C. Lukas, ed., Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust [Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989], pp.166–68.) The aid that I organized for the Jews had a three-fold character, first of all moving Jews to safe places. Often through my mediation, people found shelter with partisan units [who operated in the Kielce woods]. The point of contact for moving Jews was my own residence at 15 Granica [Graniczna] Street in Warsaw. During the occupation, nearly 100 people passed through my apartment. To avoid provocation of the Germans, those Jews who came to my home first called upon people whom I knew and in whom I had confidence. That same day or the following day, the Jews were moved to other apartments in City Center, Powiśle, or Wola. These apartments were specially prepared with secret tile stoves on rollers, in the event of a German search. The Jews were also moved often to the apartment of my in-laws at 43 Królewicz Jakub Street, where in a one-family dwelling two secret places to hide Jews—one in the cellar and one in the loft—had been built.
… Second, I helped to provide food to Jews who lived in the ghetto, even during the Ghetto Uprising. After the end of the Ghetto Uprising, I received from Mieczysław Kadzielski (the name he used during the occupation) information about the location of a camouflaged bunker in the ghetto. I decided to help this group out of the ghetto. To gain entry to the ghetto, I hired myself out for several days with a group of transport workers who worked for the Germans. This groups’ [sic] task was to carry away industrial machinery from the ghetto. I assumed the risk, convinced that there was no other possibility to save the people in the bunker. During the time of my work in the ghetto, I detached myself from the other workers, with the agreement of the supervisor, and went to the address of the bunker. All I got there was information that Kadzielski had 109 moved to another bunker and would indicate later where he was. After several weeks, a fifteen-year-old Jewish boy, Little Jurek [Jerzy Płoński], a member of Kadzielski’s group, came to my apartment. He had gotten out of the rubble of the ghetto through the sewers and he brought news of Kadzielski’s location. Together with my friends, we decided to help Kadzielski and the people who were with him get out through the sewers. At a designated manhole exactly at midnight we would take them out. We leased an apartment near the entrance to the sewer, where we would immediately be able to get to the survivors. We anticipated using armed guards. The escape was successful. Kadzielski stayed first in the apartment on Królewicz Jakub Street and found himself later in Zalesie Górne near Warsaw, where he was hidden by Father [Paweł] Iliński, a member of the Home Army, in the home of the Matysiak family.