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«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»

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Stanford University Press, 2010], pp.46–50, 62.) … the mother superior and her nine nuns warmly accepted Kovner, Arieh Wilner (who had arrived from Warsaw), and others. In all, between fifteen and twenty individuals hid in wooden structures on the convent grounds. … On occasion the nuns managed to find hiding places on neighboring farms and estates and took in other Jews, so that sometimes their number reached thirty. The convent grounds were surrounded by a high wall with but one iron gate, which was opened from the inside when the bell was rung. … a priest named Zawecki [Zawadzki?], who vows enabled him to come and go at will, aided the mother superior in running the convent and served as father confessor to the nuns.

112 In October, at the height of one of the Aktionen, Kovner’s mother and brother Michael fled to this convent as well, taking with them Sala (Shulamit), Genia and Neuta’s 4-year-old daughter; Genia and Neuta remained in the city and came for visits. In a short summary of her memoirs, the mother superior recounted how she herself brought the child to the convent on a sled and how, after long weeks in a melina, they could not convince her that she was finally allowed to speak. … Rosa, Kovner’s mother, and the mother superior spent long hours in deep conversation, especially discussing the question of a merciful God who permitted such events to take place. … Kovner walked around dressed in a monk’s habit or in an apron and kerchief, because his obviously Semitic features endangered them all. … Those in hiding did their best to repay their hostesses by working in the convent fields and kitchen, taking care of the cows and pigs, and drawing water from the well.

They ate little, sharing the nuns’ simple meals, which consisted mainly of potatoes and milk … The nuns were young women in their 30s; the mother superior was a few years older. They were all educated, and some of them held academic degrees. None of them, including the priest, tried to convert those in hiding. Quite the opposite, Kovner taught the nuns Hebrew, and they regarded him as a man of letters. The mother superior conversed with him and the other Jews at length in an attempt to understand what a kibbutz and Eretz Israel were. … In addition to taking care of Jews in hiding, the nuns [the Jewish charges?] exploited the mother superior’s connections to obtain documents and money for them and to secure information and hiding places for their relatives in the city.

The handful of Jews stayed in the convent for nearly six months … their presence increasingly endangered the nuns.

Rumors swirled that the convent would be closed because the Germans had instituted an anti-Catholic campaign, especially against the Polish clergy and its influence, and because the nuns were known to hide Jews and to coordinate their actions with the various underground organizations. … Kovner left the convent primarily because of the decision to organize a resistance movement in the ghettos. In December [1941] Kovner and Wilner told the mother superior that they had decided to return, Kovner to the Vilna [Wilno] ghetto and Wilner to the Warsaw ghetto … In retrospect Kovner viewed the convent as the place where the idea for the ghetto uprising matured. Initially, the mother superior refused to permit them to leave, promising to hide them and all their friends either in the convent itself or in the neighborhood and to save them all. … Zawecki, the priest who frequently, visited the convent, told Kovner that masses of Jews were being taken out of the ghetto to be killed. In simple language and sure of his facts, he described how they went and he made Kovner realize it was a amtter of mass murder.

The following account is based on testimonies gathered at Yad Vashem. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.108.) In 1941, during the German occupation, Anna Borkowska (Sister Bertranda), mother superior of a Dominican convent in Kolonia Wilenska, about 15 kilometers from Vilna [Wilno], together with six other nuns helped save a group of Hashomer Hatzair members looking for a hiding place in the area. Through the mediation of Jadwiga Dudziec, a representative of the Polish scouts, Borkowska offered them temporary shelter in the convent. Among the 15 Jews taken into the convent by the nuns were many who later became members of the underground in the Bialystok [Białystok], Warsaw, and Vilna ghettos, such as Arie Wilner, Abba Kovner, Israel Nagel, Chuma Godot, Haika Grosman, and Edek Boraks. Borkowska (who was affectionately known as “Mother”) did all she could to ensure the safety of the Jews in her care. In the winter of 1942, a group of young activists left the convent and returned to the ghetto in order to organize an underground Resistance cell. During their stay, the young activists had turned the place into a hive of activity for the Jewish underground with the knowledge and agreement of Borkowska and six other nuns. Abba Kovner was subsequently to relate that the first manifesto calling for a ghetto revolt was drawn up in the convent. After leaving the convent, the members of the underground maintained close ties with Borkowska, their “mother,” who visited them in the ghetto, helped them obtain weapons, and brought them their first handgrenades. After rumors reached the ears of the Gestapo, that Jews were hiding in the convent, Borkowska was interrogated and the convent was shut down. The ties between the surviving members of the underground and Borkowska continued after the war, until her death.

(See also Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.355.) The following accounts focus on Anna Borkowska. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, pp.xliii–xliv, 377.) [1] Anna Borkowska was the mother superior of a Dominican convent in Kolonia Wilenska [Wileńska], in [near] Vilna, during the war. Emissaries of the Catholic Scouts in Warsaw, who before the war had contacts with some members of the 113 Hashomer Zionist youth movement, asked Sister Bertranda to take a group of Vilna [Wilno] Jews into her convent. Among those who found shelter for some time in the convent were Aba Kovner, Abraham Sutzkover, Rozka Korczak, Arie Wilner, and others. In her memoirs, Borkowska wrote: The German terror enveloped the entire country. They made a ghetto. ‘We have to save people’, Dudziec told me, ‘I’ll bring you several guards, you have good conditions for hiding people.’ They came…helped us work in the garden and on the farm, several girls came too-the walls of our small house expanded, we felt safe inside it. They were quiet and sad, and after an Aktion (maskowa) began in the ghetto, more people came, a fouryear-old with a grandmother. Some had lost their dearest ones, and they were even more closed and silent. Only their eyes showed the pain.” In fact, inside the convent, discussions were held and ideas put forth about opposition and the need to organize for this purpose. The Jewish group in the convent called the mother superior “mother,” Ima in Hebrew. Many years later, Aba Kovner published a brief article entitled “Ima,” in which he wrote about the day he left the convent. When they took leave of the mother superior and the nuns who had given them shelter, Borkowska said she would like to be with them in the ghetto. Kovner answered impatiently, isn’t it enough that we have to go to the ghetto and to what awaits us there, does she too have to pay with her life? Borkowska replied that she believed that in those times, God himself is in the ghetto too. If she wants to help, Kovner told her, perhaps she could help by obtaining weapons, because that is what they need. Sutkover wrote after the war, and Kovner also wrote in his article, that it was through Borkowska that the first hand grenades came to the ghetto. In the 1980s, Kovner and his friends in Israel learned that Anna Borkowska was living in Warsaw and was no longer the mother superior of a convent. They found her, a small woman, old and lonely, living in a small, unfurnished room, a large cross hanging on one wall. When an Israeli visited her on behalf of the survivors and asked if she needed anything, she replied that she would like to see one of the Jews she had hidden in the convent, and needed nothing else. Aba Kovner traveled to Warsaw and, in the presence of many people, bestowed on her the award of the Righteous Among the Nations.

[2] When Germany occupied Poland in 1939, Josef and Faiga Riter fled to Vilna [Wilno]. In 1941, when Vilna too was occupied by the Germans, Josef found shelter in a Dominican convent in the city. The Mother Superior of the convent, wishing to help Josef’s wife, Faiga, too, urged her acquaintance Anna Koscialkowska [Kościałkowska] to hide Faiga on her estate in the village of Kolonia Wilenska [Wileńska], near Vilna. Koscialkowska, a patriotic Pole who was known for her humanitarian views, sheltered Faiga in her home without expecting anything in return. Koscialkowska’s children, Maria and Witold, were let into the secret and together with their mother looked after Faiga and protected her … In due course, Koscialkowska provided Faiga with Aryan papers, which enabled her to leave the house and meet her husband at the convent. One day the Germans decided to close the convent and ordered all its inhabitants out. Josef made his way to the Koscialkowskis, who, at great personal risk, took him in too, employing him as a night watchman. When the Germans began recruiting youngsters for work in Germany and submitted them to a medical examination, Koscialkowska and her children, fearing for Josef’s safety, again came to the rescue by arranging for the Riters to work in the local peat mine, which released them from the obligation to work in Germany. The Riters were liberated in July 1944. After the war, they immigrated to Israel … The Benedictine Sisters offered assistance in various convents throughout Poland. They sheltered a Jew in their convent in Tyniec, in the outskirts of Kraków. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.218.) At the outbreak of the war, Franciszka Goldberger was on a training farm in Lwow [Lwów], which had been annexed to the Soviet Union. In 1941, after the Germans occupied the city, Goldberger was interned in the local ghetto and toward the end of the year transferred to the Janowska camp. In 1943, Golberger fled from the camp and reached her native town, Cracow, where her parents used to live. When she discovered that her entire family had perished, she made her way to the home of Bronislaw [Bronisław] and Maria Florek, family friends. The Floreks gave her a warm welcome and offered her food, but were unable to hide her in their apartment. Nevertheless, Maria Florek accompanied Goldberger to acquaintances of hers who lived in the nearby village of Wrasowice, where, despite the danger, she rented a room for her.

The Floreks visited Goldberger each month, paid her rent, and saw to all her needs. Goldberger stayed in her hiding place until the area was liberated. After the war, she immigrated to Israel. Franciszka was not the only member of the Goldberger family whom the Floreks helped. Even before her arrival, the Floreks looked after Wincenty Goldberger, Franciszka’s uncle, after he escaped from the local ghetto. They hid him in their home throughout the winter of 1942 and later [after obtaining false papers for him through a priest42] arranged for him to stay with the Benedictine nuns in

–  –  –

Zenobia Krzyżanowska recalled the help she and her family received in the Benedictine Sisters’ convent in the village of Staniątki outside Cracow. (Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, p.284.) I was born in Kraków [in 1939] to a Jewish working-class family. … I am the youngest of eight siblings. During the period of occupation, Father worked as a carpenter in the Benedictine Cloister in Staniątki near Kraków. Mother was a seamstress, and in return for it, the cloister rented us an apartment and extended protection to our entire family.

One of my brothers, Józef Adamowski, was shot to death in 1943 (both my father and my remaining brothers belonged to the Home Army). … My parents and my sisters survived the war. We lived in the building of the cloister until the end of the war.

After the war, my father built a house in this community, and I live here to this day.

The Felician Sisters (Franciscan Sisters of St. Felix of Cantalice) who had been expelled from their home in Cracow were taken in by the Benedictine Sisters in Staniątki and ran a boarding school there. Six out of the eighteen girls they accepted were Jewish. There were only three Felician sisters: Mother Superior Filipa Świech, Sister Klementyna, and Sister Marcelina. An account of their rescue efforts is found in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.445.

Tadeusz Latawiec and his wife, Jozefa [Józefa], lived in a residential building in Cracow that belonged to the Eckers. In 1940, the Eckers—husband, wife, and five-year-old daughter, Janina—were expelled from Cracow to the ghetto in Wieliczka, where thy remained until the ghetto was liquidated in August 1942. During the evacuation Aktion, Tadeusz Latawiec entered the ghetto and, risking his life, removed little Janina (with her parents’ full consent) and brought her to his apartment. From then on, Latawiec, a postal clerk, and his wife, Jozefa, protected the Jewish girl, cared for her lovingly and devotedly as they would their own daughter, and met all her needs out of humanitarian principles and for no material reward. Mr. Ecker perished; his wife was sent to the concentration camp in Plaszow [Płaszów]. Latawiec made contact with her and occasionally brought greetings from her daughter until she was transferred to a different camp, never to return. In the spring of 1943, when the Latawieces’ neighbors identified Janina as the Eckers’ daughter her protectors moved her to an orphanage at a convent in Staniatki (near Cracow), for which they made [modest] monthly payment punctiliously [for the child’s upkeep]. After the liberation, the Latawieces took Janina into their home and cared for her until 1949, when Jewish institutions arranged her resettlement in Israel.

Janina (Nina) Ecker’s own testimony is found in Ewa Kurek’s monograph, Your Life Is Worth Mine, at pages 179–85. There she clarifies that both her parents survived the war and the circumstances in which she found herself in the care of the Felician Sisters.

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