«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
“You would have done the same for me.” “Just one more thing, my brother Leibush; I need a certificate for him. Could you possibly get one for him, too?” “I’ll talk to the Monsignor.” The next day I had a birth certificate for Leibush: a Ludwig [Ludwik] Kunefal [born in 1904, a Capuchin who died in 1936]. As she handed it over, she mentioned that the Monsignor wanted to meet Leibush and me. A few days later we went to her house to meet the Monsignor. When we saw him, neither of us knew what to do or say; we had never in our lives spoken to a priest, and we were overwhelmed by the man’s appearance. He was tall and majestic-looking, with an inscrutable face. We stood there embarrassed, but he quickly realized our discomfort and extended his hand to us in greeting.
“I am Proboszcz [pastor] Dunajecki,” he said in a warm, disarming voice. “I am pleased to meet both of you.” We shook his hand, after which our hostess invited us to share some food she had prepared for us. Soon we were immersed in lively conversation.
“I would like to suggest something,” Father Dunajecki said after we had been chatting a while. “You, Tadeusz, you speak Polish like a Pole. But Leibush’s Polish is a dead giveaway. I would suggest that Leibush not use the certificate that I have made available to him. You don’t have to decide now, but think about it.” We told him we would reconsider. As it turned out, we realized that the Monsignor was correct; we never used that certificate.
With Leibush in the other room talking to Kotulova, the Monsignor and I began to talk. The priest grew pensive.
“You know, Tadeusz” he said, “I have been a priest here in Kolbuszowa for nearly twenty years, and I have never gotten to know a single Jew.45 I have never had any dealings with any Jewish organizations, and I have never had the slightest idea what was going on in the Jewish community. I have never even met your rabbi. Now, in view of what’s happened to the Jews here, I deeply regret not having made the effort to know your people better. What’s most upsetting to me is the thought that I could have saved scores of Jewish children by placing them among my parishioners; it would have been an easy thing to do. But no one said anything to me, and I myself have been remiss for neglecting what was going on under my very nose. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.” I could tell he was really sincere. I didn’t know how to respond. He was blaming himself, but who really was to blame?
As we were about to leave, he shook our hands and wished us luck. Then he made the sign of the cross over us and bade us 45 Earlier in A Jewish Boyhood in Poland, at p.244, Salsitz stated that his father, a merchant in Kolbuszowa, supplied Catholic churches in the area with candles and other items used in various church ceremonies.
Rev. Dominik Litwiński, the pastor of Ostrowy Tuszowskie near Kolbuszowa, provided false documents to a Jew, thus enabling him to pass as a Pole. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.394.) In the summer of 1941, after the Germans occupied the town of Lwow [Lwów], Samuel Blasenstein left Lwow and returned to Tuchow [Tuchów], his hometown, in the Cracow district, where he discovered, to his dismay, that all the Jews had been deported. Not knowing what to do, Blasenstein turned to Genowefa Koziol [Kozioł], a former school friend of his, who, with the help of the local priest [Rev. Dominik Litwiński from Tuchów46], provided him with a birth certificate in the name of a Catholic who had passed away. Equipped with this certificate, Blasenstein moved to the village of Dobieslawice [Dobiesławice], in the Kielce district, where no one knew him. After renting a room from a Polish family, Blasenstein found work as a secretary in the village council. Blasenstein stayed in the village until January 1945, when the area was liberated.
In 1940, Rev. Eugeniusz Okoń of Radomyśl nad Sanem, near Stalowa Wola, started up a local committee to assist Jews consisting of nine members of the community, three of them priests: himself, the local pastor Rev.
Canon Feliks Chudy, and Rev. Janusz Geneja. Rev. Okoń came to the assistance of a number of Jews deported from nearby villages. In particular, he cared for the elderly Dr. Reich from Rozwadów and his 75-year-old sister, who eventually committed suicide in despair. Rev. Okoń also provided false baptismal certificates and identities to the family of American author Jerzy Kosiński, consisting of Jerzy (then a young boy), his father Moishe (Mieczysław) Lewinkopf, his mother, and an adopted brother. He brought the Lewinkopf family, now the Kosińskis, from Sandomierz to the village of Dąbrowa Rzeczycka, where they survived the war posing as Catholics, despite the fact that the villagers were aware that they were Jews. Local villagers assisted other Jews as well. The parish priest, Rev. Tadeusz Sebastyański, in the nearby village of Wola Rzeczycka, was aware of this ruse and assisted the Lewinkopf family in maintaining it. Even though he had never converted, Jerzy was allowed to make his communion and served as an altar boy. Rev. Okoń continued to visit the Lewinkopfs until he too had to hide from the Gestapo. He urged his parishioners not to turn Jews in, as decreed by the Germans under penalty of death. Jerzy Kosiński passed off his scurrilous novel The Painted Bird as autobiographical for many years, 47 until it was exposed as a hoax.
Karolina Jus (née Frist) and her Gentile husband Andrzej Jus described the assistance they received from Eugeniusz Baziak, auxiliary bishop of Lwów, and various priests in southeastern Poland, in their published memoirs, Our Journey in the Valley of Tears (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991). (Tonia Desiato, “Faith and love guided couple through ‘valley of tears’,” The Catholic Register, Toronto, November 9, 1991.) In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and soon after Lwów was also occupied by the Nazis. The young couple had planned to marry but the occupation made their marriage a dangerous one. … “My husband is a hero, he saved me,” she said. “People don’t understand that Poles were risking their lives; he was not obliged to marry me, nor help me.
“If a Pole was found giving a glass of water to a Jew his penalty was death and that would also be Andrzej's penalty for loving me.” … It was in their deep despair that they turned to the Catholic Church for help.
Mrs. Jus and her family were very faithful to their religion and she never considered converting to Catholicism. She knew, however, that by following the Jewish religion she placed not only herself but her future husband and his family in danger.
The distraught young woman thought and prayed all night before making a decision … 46 Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, p.266.
47 See James Park Sloan, Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography (New York: Dutton/Penguin, 1996), pp.27–28, 30, 34–35; Joanna Siedlecka, Czarny ptasior (Gdańsk: Marabut; Warsaw: CIS, 1994), pp.43–49; Tadeusz Rek, Ksiądz Eugeniusz Okoń 1881–1949 (Warsaw: Ludowa
Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza, 1962), pp.182–83; Stanisław Myszka, Radomyśl nad Sanem: Dzieje miasta i parafii (Stalowa Wola:
Muzeum Regionalne, 2003), pp.184–88.
138 The bishop of Lwów [Eugeniusz Baziak] began preparations not only for Mrs. Jus’s baptism and marriage but also to conceal her Jewish identity. Changing her past was the only way to save her from death … It was no easy task and Mr. Jus risked his life in making all the necessary arrangements and countless trips to give his future wife a new birth certificate and a recorded baptism.
He did this with the help of Father Alojzy Palus. During the day, the young priest studied the archdiocesan records looking for the proper spot to place Mrs. Jus’s birth and baptismal dates.
Painstakingly, the two men entered the new dates and names using thinned ink, to make the writing seem worn.
Her place and date of birth and the names of her parents were changed. Her date of baptism and her godparents were created and the couple’s marriage date was entered as December 1938 before the outbreak of the war. … Mrs. Jus’s family did not accept the offer of the local Catholic church and bishop to hide in a nearby convent. The offer was made with no strings attached, the Church was not looking for conversions, said Mr. Jus, just to give them refuge.
But her father [who was murdered by the Gestapo, along with Mrs. Jus’s mother and only sister, on April 22, 1942] believed that the danger was overdramatized … The memoirs of Andrzej and Karolina Jus, which are dedicated to the memory of the “many … Poles, among them many Catholic priests and nuns, who, risking their own lives, enabled Karolina, and others like her, to survive the times of contempt,” detail the couple’s many encounters with the Catholic clergy during the German occupation. (Ibid., pp.74, 78, 79, 80, 84, 90, 93, 106, 108, 131–32, 169.) When Andrzej returned to Karolina … he met [Sister] Filomena at Karolina’s place … She was dressed already in her traditional nun’s habit with the medieval ‘corner hat’ of the Sisters of Charity. She brought food for Karolina and her family. Her convent was not far from Karolina’s apartment. She intended from now on to pay frequent visits to Karolina, and had asked other nuns to be of assistance to them. Her organizing was already evident as nuns from the convent of Holy Sacrament had brought fruit and vegetables from their garden to Zosia [Karolina’s sister]. They, at once, took a great liking to her and promised to bring fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Before Andrzej’s second visit on this day, Filomena had a chat with all the members of Karolina’s family, and she fully understood their sufferings. She came to comfort them and diminish their isolation. … … In his most hopeful dreams, he could not imagine how open-minded, understanding, and helpful the bishop [Eugeniusz Baziak] was. … The bishop discussed with his secretary the choice of the priest who would be the best person to baptize Karolina, marry the couple, and, after the wedding, have them under his constant vigilance to advise them what to do in the case of imminent danger. After a while, they agreed on one of the priests from the Bernardine Monastery. His name was Father Aloisius (Alojzy), and the secretary promised to arrange an appointment with him for the couple next day at 10.00 a.m. in the office of the Bernardine Monastery in Lwów.
The bishop added: ‘Father Alojzy will take care of all the documents that will be needed. He is a very courageous and shrewd person. In the fight against Evil we have to use sophisticated methods and act quickly to save decent people. He knows how to fight and what methods are appropriate. He is under my jurisdiction, and I will personally watch over your situation and always be of assistance.’… There was still the matter of protection for Karolina’s family. … The bishop [Eugeniusz Baziak] thought for a while, and said: ‘Tell them that my advice is to hide all three of them: the father in one of our monasteries, the mother and Karolina’s sister in a convent with nuns. The sooner, the better. Any day something might happen to them. … They will be protected by all the means available to the church. Of course, our means are not unlimited, and our greatest concern is that we cannot help all people who need protection. Our help is unfortunately a drop in the big ocean of human needs. This help must be kept in the strictest secrecy. One false step and everybody might be lost.’ He paused and then continued: ‘Do not forget to tell Karolina’s parents that we do not expect them to convert. Nor will we exercise any pressure in this direction. Although the mission of the church is to expand the Catholic faith, above all our mission is to help, in Jesus’s name, any needy human being. As I just told you, our greatest concern is that we can do it only for a limited number of people who, in this country, are in grave danger.’ At the end of the conversation, the bishop added: ‘We consider the Nazis’ anti-Semitism as racism and crime. The German nation was educated to feel superior to all the nations in the world. In general, any anti-Semitism, not only theirs, is considered by us to be against the teaching of Jesus.’ His voice was very sad now: ‘Unfortunately, some of our priests before the war preached in a way that was not always consistent with the conception of love for all human beings, whatever their nationality and religion might be, not in a way that Jesus taught us.’… Then, [Father Alojzy] explained to them that the certificates of baptism and marriage had to be written on old forms, that of baptism on a form used in or around the time of Karolina’s birth, the certificate of marriage on a form used before 139 the Second World War. In the Lwów monastery [of the Bernardines], they had neither form. He knew that they still had the marriage forms in the village parish about 20 kilometres from Lwów. Andrzej would have to go there with a message from Father Alojzy, and bring the forms to him.
It was much more complicated to get the form for baptism. Each baptism was entered in the parochial books of baptism.