«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Jewish sources confirm the assistance that was provided by several members of the clergy in Sandomierz, where Jews were later hidden in the bell tower of the city’s cathedral and the cellars of the seminary. After the war Bishop Lorek received letters of gratitude from Jews who survived with his assistance. (Eva Feldenkreiz-Grinbal, ed., Eth Ezkera—Whenever I Remember: Memorial Book of the Jewish Community in Tzoyzmir (Sandomierz) 15 [Tel Aviv: Association of Tzoyzmir Jews and Moreshet Publishing, 1993], p.542.) After our release, we heard that Nuske Kleinman and Leibl Goldberg, who had miraculously evaded the march to Zochcin, asked the Polish priest, professor Szymanski [Adam Szymański, the rector of the diocesan seminary], who was known as a friend of Jews, to intervene with the Germans on our behalf. He immediately got in touch with the German authorities in town. We also heard that the Sandomierz Bishop, Jan Lorek, intervened with the authorities on our behalf.
The remarkable recovery of a Torah scroll salvaged by a Polish priest from a synagogue set on fire by the German invaders in September 1939 came to light at a moving ceremony at Boston College. (Ben Birnbaum, “Journey’s End: Torah Scroll Rescued by Priest Finds Home among BC’s Jews,” Boston College Magazine, Fall 2002.) In 1939 in Poland, shortly after Nazi troops had invaded, a Catholic priest saved a Torah scroll from a burning synagogue. The name of the priest is not known, nor the location of the synagogue. What is known is that in 1960, the priest told another Pole that he would like to entrust the Torah to an American Jew. And so he was led to the U.S. embassy in Warsaw, where he handed the Torah in its green velvet slipcover to Yale Richmond ‘43, a career foreign service officer who was the embassy’s cultural attache.
Richmond held the Torah for 42 years, not quite knowing what to do with it, until the day recently when he was surfing the Web from his home in Washington, D.C., and discovered that his alma mater hosted a small but vital Jewish student group and had founded the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning to advance understanding between the two faiths. One of the center’s directors was Rabbi Ruth Langer, also a member of BC’s theology department. “I sent [Langer] an e-mail asking, ‘Would you like a Torah?’” he recalled.
And so on October 11, Boston College was the site of an ancient and traditional “Greeting of the Torah” ceremony, as about 80 people—members of BC’s Jewish community, representatives of its other religious communities, and guests and friends—gathered on a Friday afternoon to mark the completion of the scroll’s long journey. … Richmond, 79, a bearded Boston native who also served in Germany, Austria, Laos, and the Soviet Union before retiring from the foreign service, was one of four Jews in his BC graduating class. He explained his gift of the scroll to the University by saying, “Catholic Poland sheltered its Jews for more than 500 years, a Catholic priest rescued the Torah from a synagogue torched by the Nazis in 1939 and sheltered it for 21 years, and Boston College sheltered me for four years and awarded me the degree that enabled me to make a start on a 30-year career.” … While the provenance of the Torah—its synagogue and town—are not known, an expert’s evaluation in September determined from various stylistic touches and dedicatory inscriptions that the Torah was of Polish origin, that its creator was Rabbi Shmuel Shveber, a highly regarded scribe of his time, and that it was completed in 1919.
Yale Richmond’s sentiments about Poland are shared by historians who are well aware that Poland welcomed Jews from the 14th century onward, when they arrived en masse fleeing expulsions and pogroms in Western Europe. The next few centuries were a period when Jews enjoyed their Golden Age. Not only did Jewish religion, culture and communal life flourish in pre-partition Poland, but as historian Barnet Litvinoff compellingly argues, “Conceivably, Poland saved Jewry from extinction.” (Barnet Litvinoff, The Burning Bush: Antisemitism and World History [London: Collins, 1988], p.92.) The public mistreatment of Jews by German soldiers raised consternation among the Polish population and caused priests to intervene. Professor Karol Estreicher, of the Jagiellonian University, witnessed the following scenes in Drohobycz, in southeastern Poland, in September 1939. In order to protect his family from retaliation by the Germans, Professor Estreicher published his memoir in 1940 under the pseudonym of Dominik Węgierski, to protect his family in Poland. (Dominik Wegierski, September 1939 [London: Minerva, 1940], p.151.) The first scene which struck me as I came to the Market Square was the sight of a group of Jews loading manure on a cart with their hands. The work was supervised by a Storm Trooper with a whip in his hand. He was whistling a gay tune and now and then striking some of the Jews, or pulling their beards. Sometimes he gave one of them a well-aimed kick.
The Polish population looked on with indignation on such treatment of human beings, and many peasants or workmen expressed their disapproval. In the afternoon the Germans began a looting of the Jewish shops. … The Jews stayed at home, afraid to go out. But the Germans, using revolvers and riding-crops, forced the younger Jews to help in the loading of the robbed goods.
The Germans took a particular delight in forcing the Jews to perform revolting or filthy tasks. The Jews were told to 16 clear away manure, dead animals and men, and every kind of dirt, without using any implements which might help them not to soil their hands. The population of Drohobycz was definitely against such methods. The local parson—who before the war did much to help the Polish co-operatives to take business out of Jewish hands5—called on the commander of the garrison and protested against such public indignities. The commander made a gesture of helplessness—a well-known trick of the Germans—and listened sympathetically to the complaint, but said that the Gestapo alone were responsible for the whole business. He advised bribery.
In some areas sandwiched between the Nazi invaders from the East and Soviet invaders from the West, the Polish authorities fled during the turmoil. The ensuing breakdown in law and order was seized on by criminal elements to rob. Priests spoke out to curb these abuses, as was the case in Grabowiec, to the east of Zamość. Forty-two wounded Polish soldiers had been shot on September 25, 1939, when the Soviets briefly occupied Grabowiec, welcomed by pro-Communist factions (for the most part Jews) who formed a Red militia to support the invaders.
The following account likely pertains to Rev. Józef Czarnecki, the local pastor. (Sh. Kanc, ed., Memorial Book of Grabowitz [Tel Aviv: Grabowiec Society in Israel, 1975], p.17.) I must mention here a courageous priest, who warned the faithful, from the pulpit, not to plunder the Jews or attack them.
Such acts were against Christianity and Humanity, the priest admonished.
For a similar account from Dąbrowa Białostocka, where, at the behest of the rabbi and Jewish town elders, a priest dissuaded a group of villagers from robbing Jewish property after the Germans had handed control of the
area over to the Soviets in mid-September 1939, see Michael A. Nevins, Dubrowa–Dabrowa Bialostocka:
Memorial to a Shtetl, 2nd edition (River Vale, New Jersey: n.p., 2000), at page 19.
Bishop Marian Leon Fulman of Lublin was arrested on October 17, 1939 and sentenced to death for his “antiGerman” activities. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was sent to the Oranienburg concentration camp near Berlin. In 1940, he was transferred to Nowy Sącz where he was imprisoned for the duration of the war. (Ronald J. Rychlak, Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis [Dallas: Spence, 2005], pp.152–53.) Bishop Fulman called together the priests from his and other nearby dioceses. He told them that “the new Jewish reserve the Nazis have set up here in Lublin is a sewer. We are going to assist those people as well as our own, as well as any man, woman or child, no matter of what faith, to escape; and if we lose our lives, we will have achieved something for the Church and for God.” Bishop Fulman’s activities led to severe retaliation from the governor-general of Occupied Poland, Dr. Hans Frank. Bishop Fulman was incarcerated, and he saw many of his priests die in the concentration camp.
Following one execution, Hans Frank addressed Fulman:
“We shall exterminate all enemies of the Reich, including you, Bishop, down to the lowest of your kind. When we have finished with Europe, not one of you will be left … Not one. No Pope. No priest. Nothing. Nichts.” “God have mercy on you,” Bishop Fulman [replied].
“God better have mercy on you,” Frank mocked. “You obey the orders of the Vatican, and for that all of you will die.” In his wartime diary, Dr. Zygmunt Klukowski of the town of Szczebrzeszyn, in Lublin voivodship, recorded the following on October 22, 1939. (Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinówna, Ten jest z ojczyzny mojej, Second revised and expanded edition [Kraków: Znak, 1969], p.645.) Eleven Jews were arrested, taken to court martial and prepared for further measures. A group of Jews went to see the canon, Rev. [Józef] Cieślicki, pleading with him to intervene with the Germans. A committee [of Poles] promptly approached the German authorities … According to the town’s memorial book (Dov Shuval, ed., The Szczebrzeszyn Memorial Book [Mahwah, New 5 The promotion of business initiatives of ethnic Poles, who were grossly underrepresented in Polish commerce, was unfairly labeled by many Jews as being anti-Semitic.
26 September 1939,—In such a hiding place in an attic, Abraham Reichstein’s son-in-law, going up into the attic, wanted to take up the ladder. However, seeing an SS trooper below, out of fear, he let the ladder down on the German’s hand, and injured him.
After this incident, an order was issued immediately, that Jews were not permitted to leave their homes. All of the Jews, men and women, were pursued like animals across the town, to the city hall, heavily guarded on all sides.
The lawyer, Popracki [Paprocki] learned of this. He went off to the priest, Cieslicki [Cieślicki] and both went to the burgomaster [mayor] Franczek. All three made their way to the German commandant, and declared to him, that the incident with the ladder was just an accident, and represented that such an incident will not happen again. The commandant went out to the people with a long speech, and warned, that if this ever happened again, or there was a similar incident, that every tenth Jew would be shot. Until the commandant appeared, the Rabbi, Yekhiel Blankaman and Shlomo Maimon had been beaten, among others. … I wish to add, that there were Christians, who sympathized with the Jews, and gave them help, and many times suffered themselves because of it.
Such a person was the Milliner Brylowski [Bryłowski], whose garden bordered on the Hospital garden. He showed us a way. Where we could flee if an automobile full of Germans arrived to take us away: behind the stable he set aside the obstacles, and freed up the way for us, down to the river.
I also wish to mention Dr. Spoz, the Canon Cieslicki, the Vicar, the organist Stec and his daughter, the Komornik and the Pharmacist, who helped Jews. At a number of these, hidden Jewish articles With time, as German acts of terror became commonplace, interventions proved to be less and less effective, and were soon futile. Rev. Franciszek Kapalski, the vicar, headed the Welfare Committee (Komitet Opiekuńczy) in Szczebrzeszyn, which extended assistance to both Poles and Jews. (Regina Smoter Grzeszkiewicz, “Kapłani
Zamojszczyzny prześladowani i zamordowani podczas II wojny światowej,” Internet:
http:horajec.republika.pl/okup45.html.) Sometimes priests could do no more than console the victims of German executions as in Konin, in the so-called Wartheland, as related by Issy Hahn in his memoir, A Life Sentence of Memories: Konin, Auschwitz, London (London and Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 2001), at pages 11–12.
The next day, Thursday 21 September , the Germans began arresting influential people from the town as hostages;
the reason given was that two German soldiers had been found shot dead. Another poster went up on the tower:
‘Tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock the execution of two hostages will take place.’ The next morning just before 11 o’clock Liberty Square was crowded; there were 300 or 400 people there. I pushed my way through the crowd to get to one of the two public water pumps in the square and climbed on top to have a good view of the spectacle. Over the heads of the crowd I saw the two condemned men being marched by six soldiers and one officer of the German army from the town prison to the square. The hostages came to a stop, facing the blank white wall of the old gymnasium. The crowd was silent. The men were told to turn and face the crowd.
One of the hostages, Mordechai Slodki, was a religious Jewish man of 70 who owned a fabric shop; I knew him well. The other was Aleksander Kurowski, a Polish Catholic who owned a posh restaurant near the main coach station. … A Catholic priest wearing a long mauve robe and a scarf around his neck approached the prisoners. He spoke first to the Jewish man. Then, with his Bible raised, he said a prayer with the Catholic man and made the sign of the cross. Then he turned and walked away. One of the Germans blindfolded the hostages.
The officer in charge ordered the firing squad to retreat 20 metres from the two men and take up their firing position. … The officer in charge gave the order and the soldiers lifted their guns. …
Some of the crowd moved towards the dead men. When I got close enough to see the bodies I couldn’t believe my eyes:
the men’s arms and legs were still moving. Everyone was wiping tears from their faces as they passed the blindfolded corpses to show their last respects. Some made the sign of the cross.
The accounts attesting to widespread sympathy on the part of Poles toward persecuted Jews are borne out by a report filed by Wehrmacht General Johannes von Blaskowitz. On February 6, 1940, he wrote to General Walther