«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
(This excerpt was translated in Władysław T. Bartoszewski, “Four Jewish Memoirs from Occupied Poland,” Polin: A Journal of Polish-Jewish Studies, volume 5 (1990), p.391.) Blanca Rosenberg, who passed as a Christian in Warsaw, resided in the vicinity of St. Alexander’s Church in Three Crosses Square (Plac Trzech Krzyży). Her curiosity about the true attitude of priests toward Jews led her to conduct the following experiment: “I wondered what Jews could expect in the privacy of the confessional, and one Sunday at mass, I decided to find out. As seemingly good Catholics, we went regularly, and at the end of mass that morning I impulsively entered the confessional. ‘Father I’m breaking the law. I’m hiding a Jew.’ It was as close as I dared get to the truth. The voice that answered was young. ‘It is no sin, my child. In the sight of God it is a good deed.’” (Blanca Rosenberg, To Tell at Last: Survival under False Identity, 1941–45 [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993], p.133.) Janet Singer, a young Jewish girl from Nowy Targ who was just four when the war broke out, was assisted by a number of Poles in and around Kraków, including members of the clergy. Her father acquired from a priest a birth cerificate of a deceased Polish girl which enabled his daughter to assume the identity of Krystyna Antoszkiewicz.
Afterwards, the young Jewish girl, found roaming the streets of Kraków, was taken in by Alicja Gołąb, a member of the Polish underground. She was sent to a farm owned by the Catholic Church and administered by Jan Gołąb, Alicja’s brother-in-law. The latter’s brother, Rev. Julian Gołąb, the pastor of St. Nicholas’ Parish in the Wesoła district of Kraków, hid a Jewish engineer in his rectory for the duration of the war. The man survived and, after the war, converted to Catholicism. Alicja’s husband, Ludwik, a judge, collaborated with his brother, the priest, in saving two hundred Jews by providing them with baptismal certificates. Janet Singer Applefield’s recollections, “Lost Childhood,” were published in John J. Michalczyk, ed., Resisters, Rescuers, and Refugees: Historical and Ethical Issues (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1997), at pages 204–205.
While still in the ghetto, my father knew my stay with the Polish woman had to be temporary, and he had to figure out what to do with me. He was able to buy [likely through a voluntary offering to the church] the birth certificate of a deceased Polish girl from a Catholic priest, and I became that girl. I had a new identity, a new name: Krystyna Antoszkiewicz. He also contacted our cousin, a young woman, who also had falsified Polish papers with the name Halina Walkowska [Wałkowska]. She agreed to take me, and we went to live in Myslenice [Myślenice], a town close to Kraków.
One day she told me she was going to meet her Polish boyfriend in a Krakow cafe. She instructed me to wait for her in the church across the street. Though I waited for hours, she did not return. When I walked out to the street, I saw that the 134 street was cordoned off. The Gestapo had arrested everyone in the cafe. It was May 21, 1943. There I was, seven years old, walking the streets and crying, completely bewildered and terrified, not knowing what to do. I was alone in the world.
(I have learned that this cafe was a famous meeting place for the Polish resistance movement, and that my cousin and his friend belonged to the Armja [Armia] Krajowa. …) An older woman came to me and asked what was the matter. She looked around, making sure no one was looking, placed me under her large cape, and quickly whisked me into the building housing the cafe. She was the caretaker of the building and took me upstairs to a woman named Alicja Golob [Gołąb]. Alicja asked me, “Who are you, where do you come from?” I repeated a well-rehearsed phrase [likely with a non-Varsovian accent]: “I come from Warsaw, my parents were killed in a bombing raid, my father was an officer in the Polish army.” That night Alicja’s son, Stashek [Staszek] took me to the farm, a four-kilometre walk. It was too dangerous to remain in that apartment, for the Gestapo always returned to the scene.
Alicja’s mother was an active member of the Polish resistance. She housed ammunition and shortwave radios and maintained an in-house hospital for wounded men and women of the resistance. … She was eventually arrested as a political prisoner. Because of the torture she endured, she died only a few days after her release from prison.
The farm was owned by the Catholic Church and administered by Jan Golob, Alicja’s brother-in-law. Another brother, Julius Golob [actually Julian Gołąb, the pastor of St. Nicholas’ Parish in the Wesoła district of Kraków], a priest, hid a Jewish engineer in his rectory for the duration of the war. The man survived and, after the war, converted to Catholicism.
Alicja’s husband, Ludvig [Ludwik], was a judge. He and Julius saved two hundred Jews by giving them baptismal papers (I saw the records on a recent visit to Poland). They treated me like one of the family and asked me no more questions, since it was safer not to know my true identity. I could not go to school because people might get suspicious and ask too many questions. How could my presence be explained? I did not have my identification papers. … I remained with the Polish family until the end of the war, when my cousin’s father came to take me. I was sad to leave, and the family wanted to keep me but felt that ethically and morally it was the wrong thing to do.
In addition to the aforementioned engineer (and architect), Alfred Überall from Lwów, who had marked Semitic features and had to be disguised as a priest, Rev. Julian Gołąb also sheltered in his rectory the surgeon, Dr. Józef B., later a professor of the Medical Academy in Kraków. Both of these charges survived the war and converted to Catholicism. Rev. Gołąb also provided baptismal certificates to a number of Jews. (See Jan Żaryn, “The Catholic Church Hierarchy vis-à-vis Polish-Jewish Relations Between 1945 and 1947,” in Kamiński and Żaryn, Reflections on the Kielce Pogrom, p.86; Jan Żaryn, “Schronienie na plebanii,” Rzeczpospolita, January 19, 2008.) Many priests in the vicinity of Dąbrowa Tarnowska near Tarnów rendered assistance to Jews. (Wroński and Zwolakowa, Polacy Żydzi 1939–1945, pp.344–45.) A great deal was done for the Jews by the priests of various parishes, who in addition to finding shelters issued the necessary Aryan documents. … Rev. Franciszek Okoński, (a chaplain of the Home Army whose nom de guerre was “Nawa”), the pastor of Luszowice, assisted both Poles and Jews. He sheltered, among others, a Jewish lawyer from Kraków. Word of this reached Tomasz Madura, a confidant of the Germans who was later executed by the underground.
The German police raid on the rectory did not incriminate anyone as the Jew who was hiding there jumped out the window and simply walked away while the ‘Blue’ police stood around. … The enraged Germans found two servants and, without verifying their identities, shot them. The two priests who were arrested at the time were released after a few days because nothing could be proved against them.
The pastor of the parish in Bolesław, Rev. Wojciech Dybiec … saved the lives of two Jewish brothers from Bolesław— Dolek and Roman Kegel. He issued birth certificates in the names they had chosen—the surname assumed by the former was Bernat, and the latter Ciepiela. A third brother, Moniek, moved to Dubno where he was sheltered by a Polish school teacher. All three of them survived the war. … Dolek Bernat, who lives in Brooklyn, in the United States, wrote in a letter dated December 19, 1965: “… one evening my brother and I made our way to the rectory and asked to speak to Rev.
Dybiec. He invited us in asking what we wanted. We requested that he issue us Aryan documents … His reply was, ‘How can I issue such documents, but on the other hand how can I not?’ He looked through the register of births and asked us to choose names that more or less corresponded to our ages … After providing us with the necessary documents he asked that we not disclose where we got them from should the Germans capture us and ascertain that the documents were not ours … We thanked the priest with tears in our eyes and left. … And indeed the documents did assist us, and to this day we bear the surnames given to us by Rev. Dybiec.”
Although the priest promised to baptize me and I underwent the required preparation, my first communion didn’t happen because the priest had religious scruples.
In November of 1941 Maryla [Dudek later Maria Oracz, Miriam’s Polish benefactor—Ed.] brought me to stay with Maslowa in Wola Rzedzinska [Rzędzińska]. Maslowa, a widow, lived with her three children in a house in the middle of the village. … I went to the school run by the Catholic nuns. They were called Siostry Sluzebniczki [służebniczki] “Sisters of Service.” … One of them, Klara, had shining dark eyes and was often kind to me. … Sister Klara had given me this book.
“This is a catechism; study it every day,” she said. … The Christian children from the village didn’t have to hide. Despite the war they still lived with their families. I wanted to become Christian and also feel safe. I didn’t want to be Jewish anymore. I memorized the prayers from the catechism. … In the classroom I was praised for my quick memory. Sister Klara, the nun who was good to me, sometimes talked with me after class. … “The priest will baptize you soon. Then you’ll go to the first communion with the rest of the children.” … Two weeks before the scheduled first communion, the priest sent for me. I went to the church. … “Praised be Jesus Christ,” I said, curtsying in front of the priest when I entered the sacristy. He extended his hand for me to kiss. … “I will not baptize you,” he began looking at the ring on his finger, and I froze in place. “You may ask for it later, after the war…” His words caught me unaware. He talked in a solemn voice, clearly articulating his words, but I couldn’t understand them. I waited a long time.
“But prosze Ksiedza [proszę Księdza] …” I tried politely to argue, but he raised his hand and I stopped. His voice was cold. I looked at him with panic, but his eyes were still on the ring as he explained his plan.
“After the war, any priest will do it for you,” he said slowly, as if he feared that I didn’t understand. “I will not baptize you now when you may think that I am forcing my religion on you. … You have to wait for your baptism and for your first communion until after the war.”
I sat motionless while he explained:
“You must pretend that you are making the confession.” My heart sank when I realized what he was saying. “I will be sitting in the confessional, so it should be easy for you. But you must be very careful.” His large gray eyes were now looking straight into mine. … “On Sunday you will not take the communion, but you must pretend that you are doing it. You must be careful and do exactly as I say.” His words bit deep into my memory: “All you need to do is to imitate the motions of other children. You shall come to me for the confession, and I shall pretend to give you absolution. Then I shall pass you over at the communion. The sexton is prepared and will go along. … Saturday came, and I went to church to fake my confession. … On Sunday I went to the church early. … I did everything exactly the way the priest told me to do … I saw the priest coming. The sexton followed him with a small round silver tray. I opened my mouth and relaxed my tongue. … No one noticed that the priest had omitted one child. I pretended to swallow, bowed my head, walked back with my palms joined together, fingers unified in a praying gesture. … In a borrowed white dress I went with Maryla to Tarnow. … The photographer put a white silk lily into my hand and carefully arranged a picture of Saint Anthony [actually, it was a picture of Jesus—Ed.] on a small brown table. … The camera clicked; he removed the picture and the silk lily. … Maryla paid, and we went back to Wola Rzedzinska.
The priest’s refusal had serious consequences. It put me and those around me in danger. I had to pretend to be a Christian girl. Now it was harder for me to pretend. I was bound to make mistakes.
In Kolbuszowa near Rzeszów, the local pastor, Rev. Antoni Dunajecki, also responded to a call for help by
I now remembered Kotulova [Kotulowa], the Polish widow whom I had visited just before I left Kolbuszowa to be with my family in Rzeszow [Rzeszów], and with whom I had left some belongings and merchandise. He house was right behind the fence that surrounded the ghetto I resolved to see her at once. After nightfall I left the camp without telling anyone, not even my brother. I climbed the fence and knocked on Kotulova’s door.
“Pani [Mrs.] Kotulova, I have to run away. I need forged papers, and I may need a place to hide.” “I will help you,” she said.
“Where can I get papers?” “I’ll have to talk to the priest.” “Do I know him?” “You should; Monsignor Dunajecki has been our parish priest for nearly twenty years.” “Yes, I know of the Monsignor.” “He has all the birth records of the parish, and he may be able to give you the birth record of someone who died during the war.” “I had a friend in grade school, about my age, who was killed at the front in 1939. His name is Tadeusz Jadach. Maybe I could use his birth certificate.” “I’ll see what I can do. Come back tomorrow night.” … When I returned the next evening, Kotulova handed me something more precious than gold: the birth certificate of Tadeusz Jadach, a Roman Catholic Pole. With that paper I might survive the war. I put my arms around the ample frame of my saving angel, and hugged her until she protested she couldn’t breathe.
“I will be indebted to you as long as I live,” I told her.