«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
In my third way of aiding Jews, it often happened that I traveled by train to escort Jews to Warsaw. On one of these trips I went to Częstochowa to escort the twelve-year-old niece of Mrs. Kadzielski. After several days, we moved her to the house in Zalesie Górne. The girl calls herself Ola Harland now and lives in Paris.
During the entire occupation, although I was registered as living at 15 Granica Street, I trued to be there very rarely because I was being pursued by the Gestapo. The Gestapo possessed documents concerning my prewar Communist activities at the Warsaw Polytechnic. I succeeded in avoiding arrest three times. Since I myself was being pursued by the Nazis, it seemed reasonable for me to help the persecuted Jews.
Artur Ney, born in 1930, resided with his parents in the Warsaw ghetto. He ventured out frequently, staying in the home of a Polish woman, to buy goods which he would then smuggle into the ghetto. When the revolt broke out on April 19, 1943, he happened to be on the Aryan side. He moved to Runów near Grójec, where he worked for a Polish farmer. The villagers knew he was Jewish but he felt safe among them. He decided to return to Warsaw in December 1943, when the Germans conducted a round-up in the village seizing Poles for labour in Germany.
Artur Ney relates the story of his stay in Warsaw in an account published in Wroński and Zwolakowa, Polacy Żydzi 1939–1945, at pp.331–32.
I went to the emergency welfare department. In the ghetto I had purchased an “Aryan” birth certificate from a boy who was a convert who was later deported from the ghetto. They checked the document in the social welfare office and discovered that it belonged to a convert. So I was sent to an institute which was run by Rev. Jan Kapusta as a convert. He was there as a civilian, hiding from the Germans. His real name was Jan Marzerski. He was a good person. Rev.
Stafanowski also knew about me, and he was good to me too. The children who resided there knew nothing about me.
While there I completed my sixth grade of public school. There were about 100 people there in total. The institute was located at 59 Sienna Street. I stayed there until the Uprising [in August 1944].
During the Uprising I joined the Home Army. They knew I was Jewish. The whole time I was in the first frontline in horrible conditions. I went there of my own free will, because they did not want to let me out of the institute. … On October 7 we all left Warsaw as the last patrols. We were taken to Pruszków. I ran away from the transport and made it to Łowicz.
… I stayed there until the Soviet Army arrived.
Many priests in Warsaw assisted Jews during the German occupation. The following members of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, also called the Pallottine Fathers, were among those benefactors: Rev. Franciszek Pauliński, the rector of the residence on Miodowa Street; Rev. Wiktor Bartkowiak, the chaplain of the transit camp on Skaryszewska Street; Rev. Jan Stefanowski extended his care to both Polish and Jewish children; Rev.
Jan Młyńczak was active in the Polus shelter for the homeless in the suburb of Praga.41 Accounts gathered at Yad Vashem, which recognized Sister Klara Jaroszyńska as a Righteous Gentile, attest to the following assistance by the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross in Laski near Warsaw. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, pp.304–305.) In August 1942, during the liquidation of the Radom ghetto in the Kielce district, Jakub Lautenberg, his wife, Karola, and their eight-year-old daughter, Anita, fled to Warsaw. With the help of an acquaintance, Anita was taken in by Jozef Jaroszynski [Józef Jaroszyński], a teacher, and his wife, Helena, a former senior lecturer at the technical college. When Anita’s parents subsequently turned up … The Jaroszynskis agreed to shelter Karola in their apartment and found a hiding place for Jakub in a rented cellar in the Bielany suburb of Warsaw. … In due course, Anita was sent to a home for 41 Zygmunt Zieliński, ed., Życie religijne w Polsce pod okupacją hitlerowską 1939–1945 (Warsaw: Ośrodek Dokumentacji i Studiów Społecznych, 1982), p.664.
110 the blind run by the [Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross, misidentified in this account as the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth] in Laski Warszawskie, where the Jaroszynskis’ daughter, Klara, worked as a nun. Klara introduced Anita as a relative of hers whose father worked as a pilot for the Polish Army-in-Exile. Before leaving for the convent, Maria Furmanik, a close friend of the Jaroszynskis who lived with them, drilled Anita in the Christian prayers. Later, Maria visited Anita in the convent and took her out for walks in the local parks. The Jaroszynskis, meanwhile, continued to supply Anita with clothes, textbooks, and stationery, without expecting anything in return. [This so-called ruse was not really necessary because, as we know from other accounts, a number of Jews were sheltered at Laski.—Ed.] In 1941, the archbishop of Wilno, Rev. Romuald Jałbrzykowski, issued an appeal urging monasteries and convents to hide escapes from the ghettos. One of the many religious orders who responded to his plea were the Dominican Sisters, a contemplative order. During the round-ups of Jews in July 1941, about seventeen members of the Hashomer Hatzair, Abba Kovner and Arieh Wilner (who had arrived from Warsaw) among them, took shelter in their convent located in Kolonia Wileńska, just outside the city of Wilno. Contact with the mother superior of the convent, Anna Borkowska, was made by Jadwiga Dudziec and Irena Adamowicz, members othe Polish scouting organization, who had ties to the Hashomer Hatzair and had already hidden other Jews in various convents and monasteries and had obtained documents for them. Dressed as nuns, the young Jews worked side by side with the nuns cultivating the fields near the convent. After nearly six months, they decided to return to the Wilno ghetto where they formed the nucleus of the armed underground. The Germans arrested Anna Borkowska in September 1943, closed the convent, and dispersed the nuns. Yad Vashem awarded Anna Borkowska (Sister Bertranda) and seven other Dominican Sisters—Maria Ostreyko (Sister Jordana), Maria Janina Roszak (Sister Cecylia), Maria Neugebauer (Sister Imelda), Stanisława Bednarska (Sister Stefania), Irena Adamek (Sister Małgorzata), Julia Michrowska (Sister Bernadeta) and Helena Frąckiewicz (Sister Diana)—for their part in the rescue mission. The story was first told by Philip Friedman in his book Their Brothers’ Keepers, at pages 16–17.
The account is based on the testimony of the ghetto fighter and poet Abraham Suckewer (Sutzkever), one of those rescued by the nuns.
The small nunnery was located not far from the Vilna Colony [Kolonia Wileńska] railroad station. During the German occupation there were only seven sisters in this Benedictine [actually, Dominican] convent, all from Cracow [Kraków].
The Mother Superior, a graduate of Cracow University, was a comparatively young woman of thirty-five at the time when the Jews were driven from their homes. Although the convent was too far removed from the ghetto for her to hear the cries of a tortured people, the Mother Superior seemed always to be gazing in that direction, as though she were waiting for a summons. She found it hard to keep her mind on the work which had previously claimed all her time and love, the ministering to the poor and the miserable.
One day she decided that the time had come to act. She summoned the other nuns and, after prayer, they discussed the subject of the ghetto. Not long afterward, as a result of this conversation, a few of the sisters appeared before the gate of the ghetto. The guards did not suspect the nuns of any conspiratorial designs. Eventually contact was established between the convent and the Vilna [Wilno] ghetto, and an underground railroad was formed. The seven nuns became experts in getting Jews out of the ghetto and hiding them at the convent and in other places. At one period it seemed as if the small nunnery were bulging with nuns, some with features unmistakably masculine.
Among those hidden in the convent were several Jewish writers and leaders of the ghetto Underground: Abraham Sutzkever, Abba Kovner, Edek Boraks, and Arie Wilner. Some stayed a long time, others returned to the ghetto to fight and die. When, in the winter of 1941, the Jewish Fighters’ Organization [ŻOB] was formed, the Mother Superior became an indispensable ally. The Fighters needed arms, and the Mother Superior undertook to supply them. Assisted by the other nuns, she roamed the countryside in search of knives, daggers, bayonets, pistols, guns, grenades. The hands accustomed to the touch of rosary beads became expert with explosives. The first four grenades received gratefully by the Fighters were the gift of the Mother Superior, who instructed Abba Kovner in their proper use, as they were of a special brand unfamiliar to him. She later supplied other weapons. Although she worked selflessly, tirelessly, she felt not enough was being done. “I wish to come to the ghetto,” she said to Abba Kovner, “to fight by your side, to die, if necessary. Your fight is a holy one. You are a noble people. Despite the fact that you are a Marxist [Kovner was a member of the Hashomer Hatsair, a leftist Zionist faction with pro-Communist leanings] and have no religion, you are closer to God than I.” Her ardent wish to enter the ghetto to fight and, in the end, to die the martyred death of the Jews was not realized. She was too valuable an ally, and was prevailed upon to remain on the Aryan side. In addition to supplying arms, she also acted as a liaison between the Jewish Fighters’ Organization inside the ghetto and the Polish Underground …
The story unfolds in Kolonia Wilenska [Wileńska], near Vilnius (or Vilna [Wilno], its former name under Polish rule, presently the capital of Lithuania), where Sister Anna Borkowska served as Mother Superior in a small group of Dominican nuns. Shocked by the horrible massacres of thousands of Jews [and Poles] in the Ponar [Ponary] forest, not far from her convent, in the summer months of 1941, she invited a group of 17 members of an illegal Jewish [Zionist] pioneering group to hide in the convent for brief spells of time. Soon thereafter, the convent of nine nuns was bustling with activity, for the youthful Jewish men and women were plotting, behind the secure walls of the Dominican convent, an eventual uprising in the Vilna Ghetto [which did not, however, take place].
“They called me Ima [mother],” Anna Borkowska fondly remembered. “I felt as if I were indeed their mother. I was pleased with the arrival of each new member, and was sorry that I could not shelter more of them.” Recalling those who passed through the convent walls, Anna mentioned Arieh Wilner: “I gave him the name ‘Jurek’”—the code-name under which he was to be known for his exploits in Warsaw, where he eventually perished during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943. … “In spirit ‘Jurek’ was the closest to me.” Then, there was Abba Kovner, the moving spirit of the Vilna underground—“my right hand.” Kovner presided over the conclaves in the convent where plans were hatched for an uprising in the Vilna Ghetto. Until these plans could mature, Kovner and his 16 colleagues worked side by side with the convent nuns in the fields. There was also Tauba … Margalit … Mrs. K. … Michas … To conceal the group’s activities … all protégés were given nun habits and thus they cultivated the nearby fields. In this departure from monastic rules, it is reported that Mother Anna had the support of her superior in the Vilna archdiocese.
… In the convent cells, Kovner issued his famous clarion call of rebellion, the first of its kind in Nazi-occupied Europe, which opened with the ringing words: “Let us not be led like sheep to the slaughter!” This manifesto, secretly printed in the convent and distributed inside the ghetto on January 1, 1942, served as inspiration to many ghetto and partisan fighters.
When the time came for Abba Kovner and his comrades to return to the ghetto (they told her, “If we are to die, let us die the death of free people, with arms in our hands”), Anna Borkowska rushed to join them. “I want to go with you to the ghetto,” she pleaded with Abba; “to fight and fall with you.” … Kovner told her she could be of greater help by smuggling in weapons. The noted Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever relates: “the first four grenades … were the gift of the Mother Superior, who instructed Abba Kovner in their proper use … She later supplied other weapons.” [According to the Path of the Righteous: Concealing the weapons inside her habit, she brought them to the ghetto gates and stealthily transferred them to Kovner’s waiting and trembling hands. “I have come to join you,” she repeated on this occasion, “for God is with you.” With great difficulty, Kovner succeeded in dissuading her from that course. She returned to her convent and continued to aid those inside the ghetto from the outside.] As suspicions mounted, the Germans eventually had Anna Borkowska arrested in September 1943, the convent closed, and the Sisters dispersed. One nun was dispatched to a labor camp. … During the  ceremony in her honor … [Kovner] turned to the audience gathered in her honor, and said: “In the days when the angels hid their faces from us, this woman was to us Anna of the Angels—not the angels that we invent for ourselves, but angels which help us build our lives for an eternity.” He had dedicated a poem to her, which begins with the words: “My Little Sister! Nine Sisters look at you with anxiety, as one looks at the sands in the desert.” A year later, Abba Kovner planted a tree in her honor at Yad Vashem.
In her account, Israeli historian Dina Porat mentions a chaplain who assisted the Dominican Sisters in Kolonia
Wileńska. (Dina Porat, The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner [Stanford, California: