«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Beside priests, the testimonies mention also working-class Poles who rescued Jews. … Assistance rendered by Polish peasants was more frequent. … Large numbers of cases of assistance are documented to have occurred in remote Polish villages in the northeastern and, particularly eastern parts of the region across the Sluch [Słucz] River … Hundreds of Jews hiding there were given food and shelter.
Halina Mirska describes in her memoir how various people, including the aforementioned Rev. Ludwik Syrewicz, helped her survive the German occupation. After escaping from the ghetto in Równe, Volhynia, with her mother in 1941, 11-year-old Halina was taken in successively by Kazimierz Milewski; then for two months—in November and December 1941—by Rev. Syrewicz, who issued her a false baptismal certificate; by unkown benefactors; and by the family of Zielonko, a railway worker who took her to Warsaw. In Warsaw, Halina lived with the Rauch family, and was helped by the sisters Ania and Lonia Burzyńska. In May 1943, she was taken to the Sisters of Charity on Tamka Street. Afterwards, one of the nuns, Maria Stanke, kept her at the hospital of the Transfiguration of Our Lord where worked as a nurse. Her next place of residence was with the Sisters of the Family of Mary on Hoża Street in Warsaw, where she was accepted by Mother Matylda Getter. Halina was transferred to the nuns’ orphanage in Płudy, where a number of Jewish children found shelter. She recalled being treated fairly, on par with all of the other children. She had fond memories of her instructor, Sister Ludwika, who cared for her lovingly. When the Soviet front approached, the Germans evacuated the institution. After escaping from a transport train headed for Germany, Halina, then 14, found herself in the town of Sierpc. She was taken in by a woman by the name of Czerwińska, who then passed her on to the Kłobukowski family, who treated Halina like a member of the family. She remained with them until 1946. (Halina Mirska Lasota, Ucieczka od przeszłości [Montreal: Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada, 2006], pp.18–29.) According to Polish sources, Rev. Jan Leon Śpiewak, the pastor of Janowa Dolina, was arrested by the Germans in May 1942 and sent to a hard labour camp in Ludwipol. He managed to escape when that camp was attacked by Soviet partisans, after which he had to hide from the Germans. He became chaplain of a local Home Army unit, whose leadership was seized by the NKVD in December 1943 and shipped to Lubianka prison in Moscow. (Leon Popek, Janowa Dolina [Lublin: Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Krzemieńca i Ziemi Wołyńsko-Podolskiej, 1998], p.x n.2.) Rev. Ludwik Wrodarczyk, of the Order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was awarded posthumously by Yad Vashem at the behest of the brothers Alex and Samuel Levin, whom he had sheltered in the village of Okopy in Volhynia. Rev. Wrodarczyk incurred the wrath of Ukrainian nationalists who tortured and killed him in December 1943 (“Sprawiedliwy wśród narodów świata,” Misyjne drogi, July-August 2001.) Alex (Joshua) Levin, born in 63 Gutman and Krakowski, Unequal Victims, p.245.
We managed to escape from Rokitno. We didn’t know where to go at first, but soon headed deep into the woods. We wanted to get as far away from that murderous place as possible. The forest was dense and thick and frightening or two boys already deeply traumatized, but we soon found some small relief. In the woods we came across other escapees. At first we met one person and then a few more until there were a significant number of us together in the woods. The adults talked to each other in whispers. … There was hurried discussion among the adults. Finally, they agreed. “We’re in more danger if we all stay together,” they said. “Let’s break up into small groups. That way it will be harder to find us.” For the next two weeks or so, Samuel and I wandered alone, moving toward the Polish villages of Netreba and Okopy.
The woods in that area were denser and the swamps there provided better cover. I remember occasionally meeting people along the way who warned us that we should only go into the villages in the case of extreme emergency. If we did come close to any villages, they said, we should still stay as close to the woods as possible in case we ran into the police. … When we did go to try to find or beg for food we mostly went into the Polish villages because they were more generous to us than the Ukrainians were.
Our journey over those couple of weeks was very hard and dangerous, but there were some memorable acts of kindness and courage that stand out. The two names in particular that are forever etched into my heart are Ludwik Wrodarczyk, a Polish Catholic priest, and Felicia [Felicja] Masojada, a Polish teacher from Okopy. When we arrived at their door after the massacre in Rokitno, they hid us in a closet and gave us some clothes and enough food to last a little while. We found out later that these wonderful people, truly good souls, paid a high price for their compassion—they were executed by Ukrainian Nazi collaborators. … In 1998, Samuel and I initiated the process to have Wrodarczyk and Masojada declared Righteous Among the Nations by the Jewish Holocaust memorial organization Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The presentation was made in 2000.
During this time we ended up staying for a while at a farm belonging to a Polish peasant. He fed us and in return we had to work for him.
The rescue activities of Rev. Wrodarczyk—through his sermons, in private conversations with his parishioners, and by sheltering Jews in the parish rectory in Okopy near Rokitno, and feeding them in their forest hideouts—are also documented by Polish diarists. (Bronisław Janik, Niezwykły świadek wiary na Wołyniu 1939–1943: Ks.
Ludwik Wrodarczyk omi [Poznań: Misjonarze Olbaci Maryi Niepokalanej, 1993], pp.167–68; Leon Żur, Polacy i Ukraińcy: Którędy do pojednania [Suwałki: Hańcza, 2007].) The following account by Yosef Segal, a Jewish
survivor, is found in E. Leoni, ed., Rokitno-Wolyn and Surroundings: Memorial Book and Testimony, Internet:
http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/rokitnoye/Rokitnoye.html, a translation of Rokitno (Volin) ve-ha-sevivah:
Sefer edut ve-zikaron (Tel Aviv: Former Residents of Rokitno in Israel, 1967), at page 334.
In the Polish village of Okopi [Okopy], some tens of Jews were saved thanks to two special individuals. They are worthy of being considered part of the Righteous of the world. They are: the Catholic priest [Rev. Ludwik Wrodarczyk] and the village teacher [Felicja Masojada]. The priest used to give sermons to his followers telling them not to be involved in the extermination of Jews. He asked them to help the Jews to survive until their redemption. At that time justice will prevail and the evil Nazis and their helpers will be wiped off the face of the earth. The village teacher also had compassion for the unfortunate Jews. Their suffering touched her heart and she helped in any way possible. She was killed by a Ukrainian gang on the way from the village of Rokitno while she was helping a Jewish family. The priest was burned alive in his church. The memory of these two saintly beings stands as a ray of light in the darkness of the Nazi rule.
The following account is from Yehuda Bauer, “Sarny and Rokitno in the Holocaust: A Case Study of Two
Townships in Wolyn (Volhynia),” in Steven T. Katz, ed., The Shtetl: New Evaluations (New York and London:
New York University Press, 2007), p.273.
Escapees from Rokitno went … to the area of the three Polish villages [Okopy, Budki Borowskie, and Dołhań] … The Polish peasants, who had been living there for generations, saw in the Jews poor creatures persecuted by the enemies of the Poles: the Ukrainian nationalists and the Germans. All of them were basically friendly to the Jews, especially the Catholic priest, Ludwik Wolodarczyk [Wrodarczyk], and the local schoolteacher, Felicja Masojada, who organized a Polish resistance group that established contact with the Soviet partisans... The three villages (and the fourth, Netreba, 168 which was part-Polish) were on the edge of the thick forests in that area, and many Jews hid there. They spent the nights in the makeshift dugouts in the forest and begged for food—and sometimes worked for it—during the day. … These Polish villagers were pro-Soviet for the simple reason that there was no one else who could save them from the Bulbovtsy [Ukrainian nationalist partisans]—and indeed, the Bulbovtsy in the end burned their villages and murdered many Poles;
the rest fled into the forests and joined the Jews who were hiding there. During 1943, Ukrainian nationalists murdered tens of thousands of Poles in Wolyn [Wołyń] … The four Polish villages mentioned, and both Wolodarczyk and Masojada, were among the victims.
A Polish rescuer in Ośnica near Łuck, in Volhynia, turned to her confessor for counsel when her family was sheltering David Pristal. (Gilbert, The Righteous, pp.10–12.) He then decided to seek out the Bron family, whom he knew, and who lived in the village of Ozhenitsa. … ‘my host and my rescuer agreed to let me stay in the house through the winter.’ There were times when the danger came very close. On one occasion a Jewish road-building contractor was caught in the house of a Polish woman, who was executed for the help she had extended to him. But other Christian families in Lutsk were hiding Jews; and this, David Pristal recalled, ‘undoubtedly encouraged the Bron family and raised their spirits considerably’. … Mrs Bron was so anxious at the continual presence of a Jew in her devout Roman Catholic home. But one day, after she had asked a priest to visit her, she told David Pristal, with tears in her eyes: ‘Now I am totally relaxed, as the priest, Bukovinsky [Rev. Władysław Bukowiński], said I was doing a great act of kindness in hiding a Jew in my house. Now I have regained my peace of mind.’ Eve Wagszul (Rich) escaped from the ghetto in Kowel, in Volhynia, and later from a labour camp to the safety of a convent in an unspecified location. The convent is said to one run by the Carmelites, though this information cannot be not verified. The Benedictine Missionary Sisters ran an orphanage in Kowel. (Interview with Eve Wagszul Rich, dated August 23, 1990, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.) And it didn’t take long before we were arrested, and we were taken to some … labor camp … it was very easy to walk out and to escape. And I remember walking away from the labor camp with some … at the time I called him older man because I was like fourteen or fourteen and a half years old, and they told us that not too far there’s some religious installation. It’s a convent and they are helping a lot of people and I walked to this … there was … a gate and cemetery, a big cemetery plot and then w noticed nuns dressed in habits and we waited until not too many people were around. There were like four of us I believe, and we walked in and we told them that we needed help, that we have no place to go and they asked us if we were Jews and we told them. … they told us they were crowded, that they had a lot of infants. They had a lot of sick people and they indeed did, but this Mother Superior … Theresa was her name, Mother Theresa. By the way, they were Carmelites … they took us in and they told us that we had to be very quiet and it was a basement where they put us and sometimes we did chores for them and they gave us some food and they really didn’t know how long we could stay because they were constantly being watched … we stayed there for several months and slowly they tried to explain to us that things are getting very bad and they are threatened they would kill them if they would find out how many Jews they had. They had quite a few later on we found out. We heard the babies cry at night. We saw corpses being taken out of very old people and finally they told us that we have to go.
Well, they gave us cross and a prayer book. … that prayer book that I still have … I memorized all the prayers and when we parted they gave me a peasant blouse to wear so I wouldn’t look suspicious. I would look like a peasant. And this was a very sad time to part with them because you had like a little security and I remember feeling good. They would take us into the chapel to pray, you know, and they would make us kneel and it just felt good after the prayer. You know, I kept saying to myself, God, there’s nobody Jewish to pray with me, therefore I have to pray with them and when we parted it was very sad and it was like dying and I even told … there was one nun that took a special liking to me and every time she looked at me she would cry and she wanted me so much to stay there because she kept saying that I looked less Jewish than the others … it was very hard for this nun to part with me. She wanted me to stay but they were afraid and they let us go …there’s no one that extended a hand anymore like the nuns did. … They were very, very good to me, to us and I want you all to know that they risked their own lives. They didn’t have much food and they shared it with us.
Peppy Rosenthal (née Naczycz), born in 1935 in Rożyszcze in Volhynia, was an only child. The family escaped as the ghetto was about to be liquidated and was sheltered successively by three Polish families. Peppy’s mother was separated from the family and was never seen again. After their Polish benefactor was killed, Peppy’s father took