«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Jurek Adin, who was born in Warsaw in 1933, was rescued by his prewar private tutor, a Polish woman who was assisted by others including a priest. He too found his way to the children’s home in Otwock run by the Sisters of St. Elizabeth. Jurek Adin testimony was recorded soon after the war ended. (Testimony of Jurek Adin, Central Committee of Jews in Poland, file no. 301/3695, Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.) I sometimes went to the Aryan side and many times wanted to remain there but no opportunities arose. … I asked one boy to take me to my private tutor. I could not stay there because she worked as a nurse for the Germans and lived in a 155 Krankenstube. She placed me with her friend who was already hiding one Jewish boy named Borenstein. … My tutor arranged for me to be taken to the home of Mrs. Adela. She told me to go to a particular shop at Belwederska Street from where I would be taken by Mrs. Adela. Mrs. Adela arranged a Christian birth certificate for me and registered me as Marian Podbielski. My tutor paid out of her own pocket to buy my false birth certificate. I spent some time at Mrs. Adela’s home. She used to go to work in the morning and I was left on my own. In the summer of 1942, I went to a resort called Zielonka [a small locality in the vicinity of Warsaw] and in August I returned to Warsaw. The priest who baptized me was very good to me and placed me in St.
Halina Lewkowicz, who escaped to Warsaw from a ghetto in Upper Silesia, eventually found employment at a convent of the Sisters of St. Elizabeth in the suburb of Żoliborz. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.531.) In the summer of 1943, Halina Lewkowicz managed to escape together with her six-year-old son, Richard, during the liquidation of the Zawiercie ghetto in Upper Silesia. Their escape was made possible due to the assistance extended by Poles active in the underground, who moved her and her son to Warsaw, where they sent them to the apartment of Jan and Halina Mrozowski, both of whom were active in the AK [Armia Krajowa–Home Army]. Lewkowicz and her son, who arrived without any money or papers, were warmly received by the Mrozowskis, who provided them with false papers, shelter, and help. Within a short time, Mrozowska found work for Lewkowicz doing housework for her brother, while little Richard remained under the devoted care of the Mrozowskis. In time, Lewkowicz became active in the underground, acting as a courier. In November 1943, she began working as a practical nurse in the Elizbietanek [elżbietanki] Sisters’ convent in the suburb of Zoliborz [Żoliborz], where she remained during the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944 to care for the wounded brought to the convent, which had been converted into a field hospital. Jan Mrozowski, who was arrested during the uprising, was deported to a concentration camp, where he perished. His wife and young Richard were deported to the Pruszkow [Pruszków] camp, and the child, whom she placed in the orphanage set up in the camp, was liberated in January 1945. Lewkowicz and her son remained in Poland.
Rev. Ludwik Wolski, the elderly pastor of St. Vincent de Paul parish in Otwock, assisted Jews in various ways.
He furnished false birth certificates and, when the ghetto was being liquidated, rescued 7-year-old Marysia Osowiecka with the assistance of Bronisław Marchlewicz, the captain of the Blue Police, and Aleksandra Szpakowska. After the liberation the young girl’s aunt wrote to Rev. Wolski to thank him for his selfless deeds.
Otwock, December 12, 1945 Reverend Father Canon Wolski, It is my pleasant duty to express to you my most sincere thanks for protecting my seven-year-old cousin, Marysia Osowiecka.
In August 1942, during the time of intensified terror of the Hitlerite thugs, when the ghetto in Otwock was being liquidated on August 19 and the following days, you did not hesitate to put your life at risk to save an unknown Jewish child. … Together with Mrs. Szpakowska and Mr. Marchlewicz, then commander of the police, you were fearless in saving this defenceless Jewish child.
That there are people like you, Mrs. Szpakowska and Mr. Marchlewicz instils in us faith for a better tomorrow, in the victory of good over evil. I would only wish that my inadequate words could at least in part convey the sentiments that I hold for you, Mrs. Szpakowska, and Mr. Marchlewicz.
May Poland have as many people like you as possible.
Hanna Kamińska (Sylwia Szymańska, Ludność żydowska w Otwocku podczas Drugiej wojny światowej [Warsaw: Żydowski Instytut Historyczny, 2002), pp.86–87.) Joanna Kaltman, who was born in 1929, escaped from the Warsaw ghetto with her mother, Dr. Ewa Kaltman.
Toward the end of 1943 they changed their hiding place, moving from Warsaw to the nearby town of Otwock.
She described her stay in Otwock, until the Soviet liberation, and the assistance of the school chaplain, Rev. Jan Raczkowski, in her account found in Śliwowska, The Last Eyewitnesses, at page 82.
156 I believe that both for our hosts and in the private classes to which I was admitted almost immediately after moving, in spite of the good official documents and a reasonably believable story, the true state of affairs was quite clear. One can surmise this from the behavior of our landlady, who, during the more turbulent periods of roundups and ransacking by the Gestapo in Otwock, would come to us, sometimes at night, to lift our spirits. Also, from the fact that the vicar priest who was then effectively the spiritual leader of Otwock, Father Raczyński [actually Jan Raczkowski], would push into my hands notes certifying to my alleged confession. I would later hand these in to the same Chaplain Raczyński during religion lessons in the private classes, as this was compulsory for pupils during the preholiday period. (I had no idea then that Mrs. Różycka, who escaped the ghetto with little Olek, was hiding with him in the presbytery at that time.) We could also tell from other small, but then very meaningful, gestures of assistance and goodwill on the part of various people.
A branch of Żegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, also functioned in Lwów, headed by Władyslawa Choms (in Polish, she is known as Władysława Chomsowa). It received extensive assistance from the Polish underground and the Polish Catholic Church. (Gilbert, The Righteous, pp.34–36.) In Lvov [Lwów], the Eastern Galician capital, those who offered to help Jews included Władysława Choms, a Polish woman known as the ‘Angel of Lvov’. Following the establishment in Warsaw of Zegota [Żegota]—the Council for Assistance to the Jews—she became the head of its local branch. Later she was to describe how both the Roman Catholic Church and the underground Armia Krajowa or Home Army assisted her and Zegota in making it possible for Jews to be saved. ‘The Catholic clergy were of invaluable assistance’, she wrote, ‘in enabling us to obtain certificates of baptism, for which they provided blank forms, instructions on what to do, and ready-made certificates. How much effort and nerves went into the making of one document! With time we became more experienced. Zegota from Warsaw began to supply us with blanks of documents and the Home Army legalizing cell with beautifully made official stamps. The fury of the Gestapo at our graphic skills was correspondingly great for they realized what was going on.’ … One of those who owed his survival to Wladyslawa Choms and to at least one other member of Zegota in Eastern Galicia was Zygmunt Chotiner. … ‘Mrs. Choms helped to hide the doomed Jews from the ghetto and the escapees from the underground water canals. Two of her Polish lady friends were tortured to death after the search and discovery of false papers for the Jewish people. … She placed a lot of Jewish children in the orphan houses too.’ The following additional information is found in Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among
the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, at page 143:
Wladyslawa [Władysława] Choms, the wife of a major in the Polish army … In 1938, Choms moved to Lwow [Lwów] and, after the German occupation, began smuggling food, money, and medicines into the ghetto. Choms, who was elected chairman of the Lwow branch of Zegota [Żegota] in the spring of 1943, organized the escape of a number of Jewish families from the ghetto, provided them with Aryan documents, and arranged accommodation for them in and around Lwow. She placed many Jewish orphans in Christian orphanages and local convents and wrote a report on the situation of the Jews in Lwow which the Polish underground delivered to the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. In late 1943, when the Germans got wind of her activities, Choms fled to Warsaw, where she continued with her underground work.
Until her death, Choms kept up contact with many of her survivors in Israel and other countries. The book The Angel of Lvov, which describes her activities, was written by people she had saved. On March 15, 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Wladyslawa Choms as Righteous Among the Nations.
The assistance provided by an elderly priest in Janówka near Tarnopol, in southeastern Poland, identified as Father Joseph, was described by Irene Opdyke (formerly Irena Gut), a Righteous Gentile who is credited with rescuing twelve Jews. (Carol Rittner and Sondra Myers, eds., The Courage to Care: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust [New York: New York University Press, 1986], pp.47–48.) In Janówka, about three hundred Jewish people escaped. Some of them were from our plant, and some were from other German plants. … There was a priest in Janówka. He knew about the Jews’ escape—many of the Polish people knew about it. Can you imagine living underground as the Jews were forced to do when the winter came? Many people brought food and other things—not right to the forest, but to the edge—from the village. The priest could not say directly “help the Jews,” but he would say in church, “not one of you should take the blood of your brother.” … 157 During the next couple of weeks there were posters on every street corner saying, “This is a Jew-free town, and if any one should help an escaped Jew, the sentence is death.”
A more detailed account appeared in her memoir (Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong), In My Hands:
Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), at pages 146–51. Irene Opdyke describes her encounter with the village priest after having smuggled some Jews from Tarnopol, where she worked in a German officers’ dining room, to the forest near Janówka.
It was on my way back to Ternopol [Tarnopol] that day that I stopped at the church in Janówka. … There were not many people. They were peasants, mostly … The priest was speaking when I dipped my knee toward the altar and took a seat in the back.
I bowed my head and closed my eyes as though in prayer, but truly I was both exhausted and overexcited. … at first I did not pay much attention to his words. But then I began listening, and I realized that he was encouraging his flock to resist the Nazis and to help the Jews.
“…and to remember those who are less fortunate than you,” he was reminding them in a quiet voice. “Our Savior commands that we not stain our hands with the blood of innocents. The righteous path is never an easy path, but at its end lies eternal love, eternal life.” Surely, he must have known that the forest surrounding his parish was filled with hunted men. He was telling his parishioners to help them. What he was saying could well bring him punishment from the Germans.
I looked up and studied him with new interest. He was a very old man, bald and wrinkled, but he had an upright carriage and his voice had no quaver in it. I noticed him glance my way from time to time, and I thought his look was kind. … When the service was over, I lingered in the churchyard, admiring the roses, while the priest blessed the country folk, and one by one, or in small family groups, they took their leave of him … At last, he turned to me. “Good morning,” he said. “I am Father Joseph.” … “Is this your dorożka [carriage]?” the priest said, walking to the bony horse and stroking his nose.
I wiped my nose quickly, sniffing back my tears. “Yes—at least, I borrowed it from a friend.” “Making a delivery?” he asked. He turned his mild eyes to me, the eyes of a man who had seen everything and yet still loved people.
At once, my heart ached to confide in him, to lay my worries and responsibilities in someone else’s lap. … The only thing I did not tell him was that I was helping Jews escape. It was too dangerous a secret to share When I was finished, I looked at him anxiously, waiting to hear the sort of sorrowful rebuke that so many priests specialized in. But Father Joseph only nodded again.
“Irena, this is a war. God knows your heart. And God knows what you are doing with that dorożka today.” … “Thank you, Father Joseph,” I said at last.
“When you come through Janówka next time, stop and visit me.” … I had taken six people to the forest, and although they had disappeared, they were never far from my thoughts. When I could, I borrowed the dorożka from Helen’s farm and drove to Janówka, where I left bundles of food. … I did not always stop at the church to see Father Joseph. Occasionally, I was in too great a hurry, and had to be back to serve a meal. Or else I would see the old priest, with his straw gardening hat shielding his eyes from the sun, leaning on a pitchfork and talking with a neighbor. He knew what my trips to the puszcza [forest] meant. I was sure of it. I did not know if anyone else in the village noticed my comings and goings to the forest. In those days, people were either especially nosy, or they kept anxiously to themselves—but no one ever seemed to recognize me or take notice.