«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Initially, the refugees hid in a hiding place that was prepared for them in the stable with an emergency exit. As raids by gangs of nationalist Ukrainians in the village intensified and a growing number of Polish farms were being burned down, Huzarski and his sons prepared an underground shelter for their three charges at the edge of the forest. The brothers Fryderyk and Zbigniew Huzarski were active in the Home Army. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 4: Poland, Part 1, pp.281–82; Grynberg, Księga sprawiedliwych, p.189.) Rev. Jan Zarzycki, a Home Army chaplain from Rymanów near Krosno, sheltered Jewish children and placed them in homes and convents. One child was taken in by the Michaelite Sisters in nearby Miejsce Piastowe. He also assisted a number of other Jews to survive. The assistance of Rev. Zawrzycki and nuns is described with gratitude by a group of Jewish beneficiaries living in Israel. Rev. Zawrzycki was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile. (Bartoszewski and Lewin, Righteous Among Nations, p.340.) Father Zawrzycki, living at 10, Legiony St. … saved first of all the lives of Jewish children by hiding them in convents;
often he personally went to the hideouts and Jewish bunkers and from there he took the children and put them in safe places, and it is thanks to this that those children lived and were delivered from Nazi satanism. Father Zawrzycki did this of his own accord, guided by the principle of unselfish love for his neighbour and fellow-man. As soon as he learned that a hiding place where Jews were concealed had no guarantee of safety, Father Zawrzycki, often at night and under great danger to his own person, came on his bicycle and took them away, especially children who he saved in this way. Here in Palestine there is a whole group of people who owe their lives solely and exclusively to Father Zawrzycki. Bronisława Fischbein from Krosno, Franciszka Leizer from Cracow [Kraków], Rubin from Korczyna, J. Szapira from Warsaw, Anna Majerans and her three sons from Łódź. Others in Palestine and in Poland owe their lives to the aforementioned Father Zawrzycki.
A few Jews, old and young, managed to survive on the so-called other or Aryan side with the help of non-Jewish friends notably the priests Jan Gawnicki and Hodoreski Kandra, Mrs. Yadwiga [Jadwiga] Naipukoi and the driver Neizgoda [Niezgoda]. Some of them perished while helping Jews.
Two of the priests in question appear to be Rev. Antoni Chodorski of Strzyżów and Rev. Michał Kędra of Rudki near Sambor. Accounts from Yad Vashem mention a priest—misidentified as Rev. “Chodorski-Kędra”—who helped Dr. Stefan Stiefel flee from the town of Krosno dressed in a soutane (cassock). Stiefel found shelter in the priest’s home, where he was passed off as an ill priest. He obtained false identity documents in the name of Stefan Szymański and survived the war with the help of a number of other Poles. (Yad Vashem archives, no. 3421 [Alicja (Sala) Heiler née Stiefel] and Yad Vashem archives, no. 1270 [Helena Stiefel]. For a photograph of Dr.
Stiefel (Steipel) dressed as a priest, with members of the Chodorski (Kodorowski) family, see http://www1.yadvashem.org/odot/prog/image_into.asp?id=3198&lang=EN&type_id=2&addr=/IMAGE_TYPE /3198.JPG.) When some Jews arrived at the cottage of a Polish woman in Chobrzany near Sandomierz (they had been brought there temporarily by the woman’s brother, who had sheltered them in Zwierzyniec near Szczebrzeszyn), the entire hamlet was alarmed by the attendant danger. Luba Krugman Gurdus describes the calming effect of the stance taken by a priest, unkown to them, in The Death Train: A Personal Account of a Holocaust Survivor (New York: Holocaust Library, 1978), at pages 105–106.
In order to throw off suspicions about our being Jewish, we accompanied Marysia [their hostess] to Sunday services. The compassionate, young priest sensed our problem and added a few words to his sermon on our behalf. He advised his congregation to respect their fellow men and not to condemn them too hastily for their beliefs and convictions. His effort proved beneficial, and the strained atmosphere around us eased.
No one betrayed the Jews for the duration of their stay there.
Zofia Zusman survived the war thanks to the assistance she received from Rev. Ignacy Życiński, the pastor of Trójca near Zawichost, in the diocese of Sandomierz. Rev. Życiński was recognized by Yad Vashem as a
Righteous Gentile. (Gutman and Bender, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations, volume 5:
Poland, Part 6, pp.646–47.) During the war, Maria Przysiecka and her son, Jozef [Józef], were living in Sandomierz. One day, Jozef met an old school friend, Zofia Zusman, in the street. Zofia had arrived in Sandomierz from the neighboring town of Ozarow [Ożarów].
Jozef invited Zofia to come with him to his house. Zofia followed Jozef to his house, where she was warmly welcomed by Maria. At the Przysieckis, Zofia also met her prewar friend Itka. … Itka was being sheltered in the Przysieckis’ home and Zofia joined her. One evening in October 1943, when Zofia and Itka were climbing down to the cellar, they heard dogs barking outside followed by the clatter of Polish security officers pounding on the Przysieckis’ front door.... The intruders subsequently made an extensive search of the property, turning everything upside down, but discovered nothing.
Nevertheless, following this incident, Przysiecka and her son came to the conclusion that it was too dangerous to continue hiding Zofia and Itka. Maria then turned to the priest Ignacy Zyczynski [Życiński], who knew that she was harbouring Jews. He told her to bring them to his house, where they could live in a garret. Under the cover of darkness, the fugitive Jewish girls moved to the rectory. In the meantime, Jozef prepared a new hideaway for them—in the woodshed. Zofia and Itka stayed there for the entire winter, lying huddled together and keeping absolutely still. … In June 1944, Zofia and Itka were once more taken to Zyczynski’s home while Jozef began to construct a new shelter for them, this time in his garden.
When it was complete, he ushered the girls into it. This was the last hideout used by Zofia and Itka on the Przysieckis’ property because at the end of September 1944 the Przysieckis were ordered to evacuate their home. When they did Zofia and Itka had to look for a new shelter. They parted cordially with their courageous hosts and moved to Ozarow, where they found a new hideout. Itka later relocated to Zawichost, where the Germans caught and killed her. Zofia survived the
Michael (Marjan) Rosenberg was assisted by a priest in Tczów near Radom, in central Poland. (“In the Shadow of the Holocaust: Six people whose lives were greatly affected by the Holocaust recently met at the Star to discuss their experiences,” The Toronto Star, December 3, 1992; and accounts of Michael Rosenberg dated May 26, 1993 and August 10, 1993.) When I was 17, I walked into a German police station and asked for papers … I couldn’t work without them. They called in a Catholic priest and he asked me to say a prayer. I still remember it in Polish. “Our Father, who art in heaven …” The priest said, “Yes, he is Roman Catholic.” They then took a photograph and gave me identification papers. It was a miracle that they didn’t ask me to drop my pants and see if I was circumcised. If they had, I would have been put against the wall of the church and shot.
… Prior to escaping from the concentration camp, I had learned how to cross myself. But after passing myself off as a Catholic, it became necessary for me to go to confession. I was in fear. Not knowing how to make confession, I walked into the confessional box and said to the priest: “Father, I don’t know what to do—I am a Jew.” The priest opened the confessional window, looked at me, and said: “Son, don’t be afraid. I won’t betray you.” Then we prayed together. I still remember what we said together: “God bless Poland … please help the oppressed.” … [Michael Rosenberg’s visits not only helped him pass as a Catholic, but also provided him with much needed solace.] I wrote to the priest [Rev. Władysław Paciak] … Then in 1953, a letter came back to Toronto: Address unknown. I haven’t heard anything since. [The interruption came at the height of the Stalinist terror against the Catholic clergy.] Michael Rosenberg expanded on his story in Abram, The Light After the Dark, at pages 194–99.
The German police officer had an office in the church rectory. … In rural Poland, it is customary for the farmers to go to confession often. The farmer reminded me, I had not gone since my arrival and urged me to go that week. Again I was confronted with a serious dilemma. I did not know what to do. I had no clue what was expected of me or what the protocol was when confessing. … I entered the church and looked around trying to assess my surroundings. I had never been inside a Christian place of worship, but from what I overheard, I had a general idea what to expect. … I knelt at the top of the aisle and crossed myself before proceeding down the outside aisle towards a cubicle. Inside, I could barely make out the silhouette of a man.
I entered the empty side, closed the curtain, sat on a stool and waited. A few nervous minutes passed, while I became accustomed to the dark interior.
From the other side of the partition, a voice spoke. “Bless you my son.” I waited, unsure what to say. The priest remained quiet, and the silence became heavy. Confused and frightened, I blurted out, “Father, I don’t know what to do—I am a Jew.” Again there was silence. The confessional window separating the two cubicles opened, and the priest looked at me, saying, “Do not be afraid my son, I will not betray you.” We looked at each other for a few minutes, and finally he asked me if I knew any prayers.
He began to pray, “God bless Poland … please help the oppressed …” and I repeated the words after him. When he finished, we talked, and as I was leaving he said, “when the hyena leaves Poland, and if you do not find any of your family, I will sponsor you for baptism, if it is your wish.” For as long as I lived on the farm, the priest kept my secret. “Come to me whenever your heart is heavy and we will talk,” he told me. Over the next fourteen months, we had many conversations on numerous subjects. At no time did he make any attempt to convert me to a Catholic, nor did he make any offer to help me to escape. [To where one wonders.— Ed.] Bronisława Eisner, born in 1932, recalls the assistance she and her mother received from a number of families (the Twardziks, the Syndutkas, Mrs. Dębińska, Mrs. Szwestkowa, Mrs. Kaźmierczak, Mr. Sitek, Mrs. Świtał, Mrs. Ronczoszkowa, and the Czaplas), both in Sosnowiec and in her native Katowice, after their escape from the ghetto in Sosnowiec in August 1943. Bronia Eisner stayed the longest, until liberation, with the Czaplas, Polishspeaking Silesians whom she remembers fondly as “good people.” Among those who helped her and her mother 174 was a Catholic priest, probably Rev. Józef Szubert.64 (Account of Bronisława Szwajca, née Eisner, “Among the Silesians,” in Gutenbaum and Latała, The Last Eyewitnesses, volume 2, pp.293–95.) We were also helped by Dr. Schubert [Józef Szubert], the parish priest of St. Mary’s Church [Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary], the second oldest and most important Catholic church in Katowice after the Cathedral. Mama knew him already from before the war, although I don’t know how. He assisted us financially. We used to go to the parish where Mama would give his two sisters manicures. They clipped out food ration cards for us, which we ourselves, didn’t receive at all. Following all the holidays, they would give us cakes to take home. The priest’s sisters brought me shoes and tights, as I remember.
They knew that Father was a Jew. Father Schubert did not insist on baptizing me; he declared it could wait until after the war, and then he did indeed try to convince me. Anyway, he continued to visit us many times. But one time he asked, “Bronia, would you like to learn the prayers?” I answered that I already knew them. I recited “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Angel of God.” I knew how to pray because Mrs. Czapla had taken me to church several times, and even before then, Zuza had taught me prayers—in Polish, of course. Dr. Schubert was very pleased and taught me several other things, gave me a little prayer book, and told me it would be good if I always carried it with me. He also presented me with a religious medallion, which I always wore from then on.
As fate would have it, Mama was quite soon able to repay the priest. Namely, he was arrested by the Germans and sent to Dachau. His terrified sisters pleaded with her to go there and give him a blanket into which they had sewn the names of some Germans who were willing to attest to his pro-German sympathies before the war. He was one of the few priests who had been willing to offer confessions to non-Polish-speaking Germans in their native language. [This claim is demonstrably untrue.—Ed.] The sisters gave Mama cigarettes and vodka to bribe the guard, and Mama went there and delivered the blanket. After a few days, the witnesses from the list he received were interrogated, and Father Schubert was allowed to return to his parish. He was very grateful to Mama. Where did she, being a Jew, muster enough courage to go deep into Germany and mill around a concentration camp to bribe a guard? She was always very brave. Before the ghetto was set up, she traded in food products between Sosnowiec and Katowice. She could always keep a cool head in difficult situations. I assume she must have had some Aryan papers, but I don’t know anything about it.
The priest, having been released from a German prison, after liberation, ended up in a Polish [Communist] jail.
Someone reported that he had returned from Dachau suspiciously quickly, considering that so very few returned at all.