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«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»

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Irene Gut Opdyke vividly recalls the executions she, like countless Poles, was forced to watch with horror in nearby Tarnopol in November 1943; they were calculated to subjugate the Polish nation and strike terror into the hearts of ordinary civilians. (Irene Gut Opdyke with Jeffrey M. Elliot, Into the Flames: The Life Story of a Righteous Gentile [San Bernardino, California: The Borgo Press, 1992], p.139.) I was running across the town square … and the square, although usually active on a market day, was choked with a milling, bewildered crowd. SS men abruptly pushed me into the middle of the square, just as they had the others, with a command not to leave. A scaffold had been erected in the center of the square, and what appeared to be two separate families were slowly escorted through the crowd to the block. A Polish couple, holding two small children, were brought up first, followed by a Jewish couple with one child, all three wearing the yellow Star of David. Both groups were lined up in front of dangling nooses. They were going to hang the children as well! Why didn’t somebody do something? What 158 could be done? Finally, their “crimes” were announced—the Polish family had been caught harboring the Jewish family!

Thus we were forced to witness the punishment for helping or befriending a Jew. I thought I would die! I closed my eyes tightly, but I could still hear the horrible thuds, as the weight of the bodies hit the ends of their ropes. It is impossible that what I imagined in my mind could have been more terrible than what I might have seen, had I watched, but I felt as if it were. Nightmarish images passed in front of my eyes, unbelievable and horrible, as I heard the death sounds emanate from the scaffold. Not a soul moved; no one made a sound, although a sigh reminiscent of a moan seemed to sweep over the crowd.

“This family, caught harboring Jews against the law, has been executed as an example to all,” and [sic] SS officer announced. “This is the result of their crimes.” The officer pointed accusingly at the bodies dangling in front of him.

My mind would not accept this statement of brutality. Innocent people killed for saving lives? I kept my eyes shut tightly, wanting desperately to erase the whole scene from my mind, but of course the incident was played back, over and over again in my memory. I saw the same fate ahead of me, if my actions were ever discovered. But I had to go on as before. I had no choice.

Finally they released us … Dr. Natalia Weisselberg was sheltered in Sady, a village near Trembowla, voivodship of Tarnopol, along with her husband and young daughter. Her testimony is recorded in Wacław Szetelnicki, Trembowla: Kresowy bastion wiary i polskości (Wrocław: Rubikon, 1992), at page 243.

On June 5, 1943 we had to flee [from the hospital in Trembowla], past the Ukrainian guards and barking of dogs, and in enormous fear we hurried to Sady, arriving at the home of the Ganczarski family where we remained until March 1944, when the Russians entered. Near the end of our stay, still under the German occupation, Jan Ganczarski wanted to assure himself that he was doing the right thing by sheltering Jews and thereby exposing his entire family to death. [A Polish pharmacist’s family living nearby had just been executed by the Germans.] He therefore went to confession. His confessor, Rev. Wacław Szetelnicki, presently residing in Wrocław, praised him for his actions, encouraged him to keep sheltering us and forbade him to surrender us to the Nazis. In March 1944, Mr. Ganczarski saw us off, giving us his blessing on our road to freedom.

Rev. Szetelnicki also paid regular visits (on the first Friday of each month) to an elderly Polish couple in Sady, by the name of Szajdek, who hid a Jewish couple by the name of Parille, from Tarnopol, in the cellar of their small one-storey home. The Parilles, who survived the war, would come out of their hiding place to converse with Rev.

Szetelnicki during his visits. (Ibid., p.249.) Rev. Jan Pawlicki, from Zborów near Tarnopol, was one of several Poles instrumental in saving the family of Maksymilian Droll. Rev. Pawlicki provided them with false documents and assisted them in finding a shelter. He was awarded by Yad Vashem in 1969. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.103.) In 1942, after the massacres by the Germans and Ukrainians against the Jews of Zborow [Zborów], in the Tarnopol district, Maksymilian Droll and his wife, Anna, decided to flee with their daughter, Janina. Jan Pawlicki, the local priest, came to their aid, by providing them with false documents and moving them to nearby Brzezany [Brzeżany]. While in Brzezany, Droll found work through a friend, Karol Bogucki, who passed the Drolls off as acquaintances of his. In 1943, the Gestapo, on the basis of a tipoff, arrested the Drolls. When Bogucki discovered what had happened, he hurried to the Gestapo and testified that the Drolls were Polish friends of his. After the Drolls were released, Droll found work as an accountant in a Polish office run by Dr. Alfred Schuessel. Although Schuessel knew that the Drolls were Jewish, he tried to help them to the best of his ability. Amongst other deeds, he went to the population registry to testify that their papers were authentic. When the Drolls were rearrested by the Gestapo, Schuessel used ties with government officials to obtain their release. The Drolls were liberated in the summer of 1944… Rev. Pawlicki is mentioned in a number of testimonies as a very courageous defender of Jews who encouraged his parishioners to shelter Jews. The family of Leib Kronish (Kronisch) from Zborów, consisting of a couple and their two daughter, were among nine Jews sheltered by the Tyrcz family in the village of Futory near Zborów. After liberation, in appreciation, a Jewish survivor made a cassock for Rev. Jan Pawlicki, who had counselled the rescuers to shelter these Jews. Another Jewish woman who was provided false documents by a priest, likely Rev.

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Canon Adam Łańcucki, the pastor of Brzeżany near Tarnopol, provided a number of Jews with false identity documents that helped them survive the war. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among

the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, p.152; Michał Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych [Warsaw:

Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 1993], p.89; Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5: Poland, Part 2, pp.561–62.) [1] Stanislaw [Stanisław] Codogni, a blacksmith by profession, lived with his family in the town of Brzezany [Brzeżany] in the Tarnopol district. Throughout the existence of the Brzezany ghetto, the Codognis kept their Jewish friends, the Bomzes, supplied with food and fuel. During the ghetto’s liquidation (April–June 1943), Fishel and Ricka Bomze, their daughter, Chana Redlich, and her six-year-old son, Shimon, hid in the attic of their apartment in the ghetto. Even after all the Jews had been deported, they continued hiding in the attic, while Codogni continued to see to all their needs. In November 1943, when new people began moving into the ghetto, the refugees had to find a new hiding place. Under cover of darkness, Codogni’s son, Karol, helped move Redlich and her son to a shelter Codogni had found for them on one of the farms in the nearby village of Raj. … Redlich and her son stayed on the farm in Raj until the area was liberated in the spring of 1944.

[2] Twelve-year-old Zula Helman also benefited from the assistance of Karol Codogni. She was the daughter of a lawyer from Brzeżany who perished together with a large group of Jews in the first days after the German army entered the city in

1941. Her mother and two younger sisters perished during the liquidation of the ghetto in 1943. Zula Helman managed to flee from the place of execution. She turned to the Codognis for help. Karol Codogni obtained a baptismal certificate for her from the local priest (Adam Łańcucki) and took her to an acquaintance of his in Lwów, where she worked as a nanny.

Zula Helman survived the war.

[3] Zofia Sniadecka [Śniadecka], a teacher from Brzezany [Brzeżany] in the Tarnopol district of Eastern Galicia, had been friendly with the Podhorcer family and the dentist Emil Ornstein before the war. Thanks to her fluency in German, Sniadecka was hired as a secretary with a German company that had warehouses in the Jewish quarter of the city. This enabled her to remain in contact with and help her Jewish friends. In the spring of 1942, Rosa Podhorcer approached her, asking her to help save her family. Sniadecka took the seven members of the Podhorcer family into her home, among them Emil Ornstein and his six-year-old son, Jacek. After she located a family of farmers that would agree to hide the Jews in their home, she transferred five members of the Podhorcer family to the farm and hid them in the hiding place the farmer prepared. Disregarding the danger to her life, she took the care of the family upon herself … although she obtained false papers for Ornstein, she decided to hide him in her apartment because of his Jewish appearance. Sniadecka searched for a suitable hiding place for Ornstein’s son Jacek for a long time until she found a place to hide him far from the city. In late March 1944, a member of the Podhorcer family, Ornstein’s sister—who was in the advanced stages of pregnancy— suddenly showed up at Sniadecka’s door. The farmer on whose farm they had been hiding refused to allow her to give birth in his home and she had come to Sniadecka to give birth in her apartment. Sniadecka called in a trustworthy midwife and little Danita was born. The baby remained with Sniadecka and the mother returned to the hiding place on the farm.

[Sniadecka notified the parish of the child’s birth and Rev. Adam Łańcucki registered her in the parish books and issued a birth certificate for her.60] The Germans eventually discovered the Podhorcer family’s hiding place and murdered them all. Sniadecka, who feared that the Germans would soon come to search her home, moved Ornstein to her brother’s home and fled with the infant to stay with friends who lived outside the city. Sniadecka cared for the baby as best she could, but after she returned home the Germans demanded that she give up the Jews she was hiding. This happened on the eve of the liberation and only the entry of the Red Army into the city saved her life.

Rev. Michał Kujata of Liczkowce near Czortków, in Tarnopol voivodship, sheltered Anita Helfgott (now Ekstein). (Gilbert, The Righteous, p.42.) 60 Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, p.562.

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See also the account of Anita Ekstein in Schoenfeld, Holocaust Memoirs, at pages 193–94.

Rev. Stefan Ufryjewicz of Budzanów, in Tarnopol voivodship, came to the assistance of a Jewish family.

(Gilbert, The Righteous, p.56.) Not far from Trembowla, in the small town of Budzanow [Budzanów], a Roman Catholic priest, Father [Stefan] Ufryjewicz, saved a whole Jewish family by baptizing them and giving them baptismal certificates, and forging his parish register in such a way that he created for them a complete set of Christian forebrearers. With the false identities that he had created they were able to move from place to place, away from those who might know their real identities, and thus to survive.

The Budzanów Memorial Book provides additional information about the rescue activities of Poles from that

town, which was located in a largely Ukrainian populated area. (I. [Itzhak] Siegelman, Sefer Budzanow [Haifa:

Irgun Yotzey Dudzanow in Israel, 1968], p.313.) Only a handful managed to escape. And many of these Jews were caught by Ukrainians and murdered. A few managed to return to Budzanow [Budzanów] and hid in the homes of their Polish friends, or in the Klashtor [klasztor] (monastery).

Budzanów was home to a convent of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where Sister Stanisława (Teresa Rusinek) sheltered two Jewish teenagers who survived the war. (Account of Sister Anna Jarosik.) The assistance provided by Rev. Franciszek Bajer of Załoźce-Reniów, Tarnopol voivodship, is described by the owner of the house in which the priest lived with his widowed mother. (The account of Wiktoria Procyk, dated February 17, 1996, is in the editor’s possession.) I know for certain that Father Franciszek [Bajer] helped Jews. Perhaps I will begin with Chaja or Chajka, a Jewess who lived in the Old Town and owned a small general store. … The winter of 1943–1944 was terrible. The ghetto in Załoźce was already liquidated and the remainder of the Jews, who were not hiding with Poles, wandered through the forests where they were preyed upon by Ukrainian peasants with pitchforks, or the terrible butchers from the UPA [Ukrainian Insurgent Army], or the Ukrainian auxiliary police. Those caught were killed on the spot.

It was on such a night, when one would not turn out a dog, that someone knocked on our window. It was Chaja together with two of her daughters, Ryfcia and Gitla. One of them was about twelve years old; the other younger. They were frozen to the bone, in dire poverty, hungry and covered with lice. The priest took them in and hid them in the attic and later in a special shelter in the cellar. In doing so he risked his own life, the life of his [widowed] mother, and my life as well as that of my son and my two daughters. I agreed to this—commending my soul to God. [The home in question belonged to the narrator.] Our entire family would recite the rosary on a daily basis with the priest and pray that the Virgin Mary would protect us from Ukrainian denouncers and also that she would protect Chaja and her children. The Most Holy Mother heard our prayers and all three Jewesses survived. After the Soviets arrived, Father Franciszek provided them with false birth certificates so they could pass for Polish women. They left the Soviet paradise and came to Poland. They lived for a while in Bytom and later immigrated to the United States.

I know for certain that earlier Father Bajer had issued such certificates to many other Jews, especially young Jewish women, who then voluntarily, under false names, registered for work in Germany. … … On many occasions I opened the front door at night to allow in persons who were very obviously Jewish. … … When the numbers got too large, some of these Jews were directed to the pastor of the neighbouring parish in Kokutkowce who also issued such certificates to Jews.

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