«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Both mother and child had “Aryan” documents, but Dr. Lachowicz, the chief physician, and the admitting nurse both took note of the fact that the prospective patient was circumcised. His presence at the hospital would be deemed by the Germans as a crime punishable by death. However, the doctor and nurse admitted the boy but sent the mother away. The boy’s leg was treated, and his belly bandaged as a precaution against Gestapo visits. During one such raid, Dr.
Lachowicz refused to remove his young patient’s bandages, pleading with the Gestapo that the boy was a Christian, assuring the Germans that on their next visit he would show them proof. Two weeks later the Gestapo returned, but the boy was no longer on the premises. The staff had removed him to a convent in the neighborhood of Miecho [Miechów]. The Germans, who did not neglect making periodic searches among the nuns also, found the boy and threatened to execute him. The nuns insisted the boy was a Christian. They presented an official statement, signed by Dr. Lachowicz, explaining that a bad fall had so injured the boy’s foreskin and his leg that an operation was later performed to save his life.
Assistance came from nuns near a work camp for Jews in Bielany, a suburb of Warsaw, as related by George Topas in The Iron Furnace: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1990), at pages 85–86.
Once, assigned to a work detail in the surrounding wooded area, I helped load liquid containers aboard trucks. During the lunch break, I wandered within sight of a Catholic cloister, which was apparently still allowed to function. Two nuns were outside the building, washing kitchenware. When they saw me, one of them motioned for me to come closer; the other disappeared hastily behind the door and in a moment emerged with a pot of soup.
“Please sit down and eat.” I took the pot from her hand and ate the best meal I had had in many months. I heard one say, “Lord, they starve you.” I thanked them for their kindness and quickly retreated to my work.
Clem Loew recalled the assistance he received from clergy when staying in a convent in Olsztyn, a small town near Częstochowa, in The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust, Jane Marks, ed., (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1993), at pages 142–43.
“The next day my mother went to a bishop and told him we were Jews. She promised to donate a lot of money to the Catholic church if he would take care of me. The bishop agreed, and he arranged for me to stay in a convent in a town called Olsztyn, outside of Warsaw. … “When we arrived at the convent, a nun named Sister Leonia showed us around the clean three-story building with its large and friendly looking dormitory for the children. … That was where I ended up staying for the next three years.
Emotionally I was numb. They treated me well, but I was just going through the motions of doing what I was supposed to do. I learned all the prayers very quickly, but I was aware of being different. … “I had several close calls. One time I was outside playing in the sandbox when a nun rushed over to me, grabbed me, and dragged me inside. She slid me under a bed, whispering, ‘The Gestapo are coming to search for Jews.’ I lay there terrified until the coast was clear. Another time the Gestapo did find me. The officers were actually dragging me away!
One was yanking me out the door when a retired bishop living in the convent hobbled down the wide steps and yelled, ‘If you take him, then you have to take me too.’ He put his life on the line for me! The Nazis could easily have taken both of us, but for whatever reason they left me alone.” (The retired “bishop” residing at the convent in Olsztyn was probably a monsignor or some other prelate rather than a bishop. The donation provided by Clem Loew’s mother was in all likelihood simply to cover the expenses of housing and feeding the child, a not unheard of request of those who were able to afford it, given the impoverished circumstances in which church institutions found themselves.) Assistance from priests in Częstochowa, in southwestern Poland, who were encouraged to extend help to Jews by Bishop Teodor Kubina, is documented in a number of sources. Bishop Kubina instructed his priests to issue false baptismal certificates to Jews and to find them hiding places. On his instructions, Rev. Wojciech Mondry, the pastor of St. James parish and local dean, transported Jewish children to shelters in Kraków. (Aleksandra Klich, “Teodor Kubina: Czerwony biskup od Żydów,” Gazeta Wyborcza, March 1, 2008; information from Rev. Jan Związek, retired diocesan archivist.) The following accounts are found in Wacław Zajączkowski, Martyrs of
June , 1943. Early in the morning German Schutzpolizei (security police), under the command of a Gestapo officer, Wilhelm Laubner, surrounded the rectory of St. Barbara’s parish. Its leader, accompanied by two gunmen and a Jew who was previously caught with an identification card forged in that parish, entered the building and, with a burst of bullets, killed Rev. Teodor Popczyk, 33, who was pointed out by the Jewish informer as the person guilty of providing him with false papers.
[August] 1943. Bolesław Grzeliński, an organist at the parish of St. Zygmunt [Sigismund], was engaged in the preparation of false identification papers for the Jews. It involved searching for an appropriate name of a deceased parishioner, marking the entry in the parochial books to prevent more than one ID for the same name and distributing the papers among the Jewish refugees. The organist was promptly arrested after several such documents were discovered in the ghetto. He was tortured to disclose the names of his beneficiaries.
1944. Since the formation of the ghetto on April 19, 1941, the rector of the cathedral parish, Rev. Bolesław Wróblewski, took care of more than 60 Jewish children by placing them in various Catholic institutions. Finally, sometime in 1944, the Germans became suspicious of his activities and of his entire household. After the intensive search disclosed no children present at the rectory, the 74-year-old priest was pistol-whipped and his sister, Miss Wróblewska, was struck by the Gestapo officer Hintze with a rifle butt on the head and died a few days later. Their maid who had a broken arm was pushed into a cellar and the bed-ridden aunt of the priest, Mrs. Wielowieyska, was severely beaten.
Confirmation of the assistance provided by Rev. Tadeusz Wiśniewski of St. Sigismund [Zygmunt] parish is found in the accounts of the Albertine Sisters (infra). The Jewish charges at the Albertine Sisters’ shelter at 14 Wesoła Street in Częstochowa received baptismal certificates from that parish. The parish of St. Joseph also furnished false identity documents to Jews. (Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, p.106.) Other religious orders with homes in Częstochowa also carried assistance to Jews.
The Pauline Fathers from the Jasna Góra monastery, which housed the revered icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, smuggled food to Jews confined in the ghetto, despite the constant surveillance of the German invaders, and assisted the Jews in other ways. (Zygmunt Zieliński, ed., Życie religijne w Polsce pod okupacją hitlerowską 1939–1945 [Warszawa: Ośrodek Dokumentacji i Studiów Społecznych, 1982], p.687. (See also the account based on Hania Ajzner’s memoir Hania’s War, supra.) The following account is based on the testimony of Artur Dreifinger, originally from Lwów, who moved to Warsaw with his mother during the occupation and he went by the name of Tadeusz (Tadzik) Stenawka. He was separated from his mother during the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944. Young Tadzik was taken in and assisted by many Poles, who were afraid of keeping him for long because of his Jewish appearance. He was eventually taken to Częstochowa where he was cared for by Rev. Antoni Marchewka, and later placed in an orphanage in Kraków. After the war he was reunited with his mother and moved to Argentina. (Ireneusz Skubiś, “Wiem, że to Bóg mnie uratowała,” and “I Know That It Was God Who Saved Me,” Niedziela, no. 46, November 12, 2006.) When I was seven the Warsaw Uprising broke out. After its fall and the bombardment of Warsaw my mother and I found shelter in a basement for twenty days. Suddenly, the Germans appeared and made us all leave our shelter. Children under 10 were to stand facing the street and those over 10 were to face the walls of the buildings. So were their fathers. After a second all those men and boys were shot.
I was only with my mother and I was separated from her. On that day I was left alone in the world. From the place of the shooting some people took me to the Red Cross, which was just two hundred meters away. There somebody put me in a car and took to Włochy near Warsaw. I was alone there. I did not know where to go and did not have anything to eat. It was dark. I was sitting in the street and crying. One person passed by, and another one, asking why I was crying. I did not know what to answer. I said I did not have mother, I lost her, and I was by myself and had nowhere to go. Some people took me to their house. I had a chubby face and it was providential because people often were afraid of taking emaciated kids thinking they were ill. I was perhaps one day in that house and the next day I was taken to another. They simple said, “Tadzik, you must go.” I asked why, not understanding anything.
124 “You know why,” they said. They were afraid of speaking straight, “Because you are Jewish.” And then I went from home to home. I heard various things, “If you do not leave they will kill me, my wife, children and you. You must go. And do not tell anyone that you were here. Have some underwear, food and go.” And that was every day. One day someone took me to Pruszków. I felt very well there, they treated me as their son. From there I was taken to Częstochowa.
When I arrived there some people waited for me: some 30-year-old man, a woman and a girl who could be of my age.
The woman who had brought me there gave me to that man and left without saying anything. And we went home. There I met a boy who was my age. The next day a priest came and it turned out that it was Fr. Antoni Marchewka. He asked, “Are you Tadzik?” During the occupation my mother decided that I would be called Tadeusz Stenawka. The priest took me to a small room.
There were a bed, a toilet, a ladder and a table in the room. The priest told me not to go out and approached the balcony.
So I stayed all day inside the room and waited for him. The priest left in the morning and came back in the evening. One day he took me to the church. From that day I went to the church with him every day. Some day he gave me a white robe, a surplice, which was needed to bring the incense. … The day came when the priest said, “Tadzik, we must go.” I still remember that morning. It was dark, raining and no people in the street. We went to Kraków. The priest took me to a large house, where there were little ladders and numerous children, at the age of 4 to 15. I was given some food, but older kids came and took the food from me. I was scared … In the gate the priest told me to pray to Lord God every day. I know that it was God that saved me. The priest took my hand and kissed it. He was weeping. He left me with those children and went away. I did not see him afterwards.
Assistance was provided to Sonia Games (then Zofia Róża Sieradzka) of Praszka near Wieluń by Rev.
Krzemiński, who knew her family from her hometown. Rev. Krzemiński had been relocated to the Częstochowa suburb of Grosz, where he lived under Gestapo surveillance when Sonia Games left the Częstochowa ghetto to seek his help to get Aryan documents. (Sonia Games, Escape from Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman’s Extraordinary Survival During World War II [New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1991], pp.102–104, 120–21.) The housekeeper opened the door … I told her… that I was looking for a priest from Praszka. She immediately ushered me in and asked my name. I told her and her hand flew to her mouth “Zofia Sieradzki!” she exclaimed in alarm and hurried off to get the priest. He came in looking very grim.
“My God, child, you could not have come here at a worse time! We are under surveillance at this very moment. We are being watched by the Gestapo!” My heart sank. The priest introduced himself as Father Krzeminski and anxiously asked about my parents and what had happened. … There was a furtive knock on the door and the housekeeper answered it, then came running back to us.
“They are coming,” she stuttered frantically. “Gestapo!” They both grabbed me by my arms and opened a floor trap door leading into the basement. The housekeeper and I descended down the ladder into the musty interior. … The housekeeper pulled me toward an empty barrel and made me crawl in. It smelled of pickles. Then she poured cucumbers over me until my head was covered and loosely placed a round wooden top cover over it. We could already hear the pounding at the door upstairs. Then the housekeeper ran up the ladder and I vaguely heard the trap door being shut. … From above came the sound of boots stamping and loud voices. I heard the trap door being lifted and someone coming down the ladder. I held my very breath. Footsteps again very near to me, noises of movement, banging … Then I heard the trap door again. Were they leaving? Again stomping upstairs reverberated dimly in my ears. Voices I could not make out and after a considerable while silence again.
They came and left! I felt a powerful surge of relief and waited. The cucumbers were lifted from my head and the housekeeper whispered loudly “It’s allright Zosia” I wiggled out of the barrel and wearily followed her upstairs again.
Father Krzeminski was sitting at a wooden table by a kerosene lamp.
“This was close …” he said, “very close. You see we were tipped off that they were coming. We knew it.” Now he needed to decide what to do with me and immediately told me that I could not stay the night, it was too dangerous. They could always come back.
… I was to stay with Aunt Hela for two weeks and then I was to return to Father Krzeminski’s.