«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
At five in the morning, the priest came to me. He took me to his cell, gave me some food. I was beginning to feel that my fate was changing. He told me that in two hours, his real sister was coming here to talk things over with me. It was true— she really came. A nearsighted woman, she stared straight into my eyes as we stood nose to nose. She was simply radiant with kindness. She kissed me and calmed me down. I offered her my little bag with all my possessions.
“I’ll only hide it for you. Hitler won’t be around forever,” she said.
She combed out my hair so I’d look like a Gentile girl. She changed my clothes. She took me with her. We got on a trolley and she too me to Pulawska [Puławska] Street, to her unmarried sister. This sister was caring for a Jewish child—a girl of about two. Such a beautiful and wonderful child you’ve never seen. The child treated her like a mother and she simply cherished the little girl.
“And you say, she says to me, “that I’m a cousin of yours.” The priest’s sister had a buttons-and-notions shop downstairs. I stayed in her flat and sometimes I came down to help out. My Polish was perfect.
Soon, Germans came and took over the store, letting only Volksdeutsche run it. I happened to be there that day. You can imagine how scared to death I was. After that, I never left the room. That’s right. I made it too obvious when I ran back to the room like that—but I was so scared.
The priest came. He comforted me. “Don’t worry,” he said. He told me to go back inside the monastery and to stay there till he got me papers and a job. I was now back inside the cloister. I learned all their prayers and the group recitations the nuns sang.
The priest went to see Fijalkowski—the lord of the manor where I worked on the labor gang. It turned out they were very well acquainted and he brought me back the Kennkarte of a real Gentile girl—Zofia Ryclinska [Rychlińska] of Białystok who had just died in the Warsaw Hospital. The father accompanied me—I was supposed to be a simple farm girl now—to the Gestapo, to have me registered. The Gestapo were completely cynical. They stared at me maliciously—they knew perfectly well who I really was—but since a Catholic priest had come along, they didn’t feel like starting the investigation.
So now I had the identity card of an “Aryan” Christian girl and my name isn’t S– V– anymore, it’s Zofia Rychlinska. I keep attending the services in the convent and sing along with the nuns.
The priest did me more favors. He got me a job with Dr. Niewiadomski on Marszalkowska [Marszałkowska] 87—a completely Gentile street—and I worked for a Gentile family. The priest had mentioned me to the doctor a few times. The father didn’t want to take on another person in times like these! The doctor finally agreed.
I got along in Dr. Niewiadomski’s house. Sleep, food, and a couple of zloty [złoty] a week. I helped take care of his house, and also his office.
She turned to Father Wojtczak again, frightened by a Gestapo raid on a nearby building.
Three weeks later, I was in the priest’s cell and Fijalkowski walked in. He was pale as the wall. He didn’t say anything. I got scared—something must be wrong. He was the one who got me the identity card. I tried to keep up appearances and say something pleasant. But he was lifeless. The next day, I had to go back to the priest to find out what was going on and again, I met Fijalkowski. I tried sounding cheerful … Then, it suddenly dawned on me that he was hiding out here, and it was because of me. His caretaker had denounced him to the Gestapo for giving the identity card of his servant girl, Zofia Rychlinska, to a Jew. The Gestapo rushed over to Fijalkowski’s estate, found the place abandoned because he’d escaped through a back door, so they beat up his father and mother and arrested his wife and children. It was like this for many sad days until the priest was able—for a huge sum of money and through personal contacts—to free Fijalkowski’s family and have the whole matter disposed of.
178 She remained in Warsaw until she was deported to Germany in November 1944, after the failed Warsaw uprising.
Most Jews who survived in Poland had to rely on any number of Poles—both long-term and casual benefactors— to survive the long years of German occupation. Róża Reibscheid-Feliks identified many benefactors, among
them priests, who came to her assistance. (Kazimierz Iranek-Osmecki, He Who Saves One Life [New York:
Crown Publishers, 1971], pp.284–85.) My conscience would not leave me alone if I kept silent about the deeds of these “Righteous.” Some helped me for a whole year, others for two months, some for a few days only, but I shudder to think what would have happened if they had not held out their helping hand just for those few days! Even he who gave me shelter for one night only—may he be blessed! …
Here are my saviors:
1. The Reverend Canon Wojciech Bartosik, Wawrzeńczyce, district of Miechów
2. Professor Sarna (W.S.H., Kraków), during the war owner of an estate near Kraków, now living in Kraków
3. Władysław Bukowski, now living in Kraków (during the war owner of the Makocice estate near Proszowice)
4. Helena Bukowska, wife of Jan, now in Łódź
5. Jadwiga Goetel (wife of the writer Ferdynand), now living in Warsaw
6. The Reverend Dr. Ferdynand Machay, Our Lady’s Church in Kraków
7. The Lach family, Kraków, owners of a house in ulica Dobrego Pasterza
8. Wiktoria Krawczyk, janitor, Kraków, Kościuszki [Street] 52
9. Jan Wiecheć, Kraków (employed during the war in the Krischer firm, Zwierzyniecka [Street] 6)
10. Engineer Karol Kulczycki, Warsaw (and his wife Julia)
11. The family of Michał and Maria Stępiński, Makocice 12 near Proszowice Every one of these people has done a great deal for me at the risk of his own life.
Fela Rotsztajn, who lived in the village of Jeziorna near Warsaw, recalled her many Polish benefactors, among them a priest. (Wroński and Zwolakowa, Polacy Żydzi 1939–1945, p.308.) I am a resident of Jeziorna near Warsaw where my family has lived for generations. I survived the occupation years in this area thanks to kind people. This wasn’t for a day or a month, but my wanderings lasted more than three years. Risking their own lives people lent me a helping hand. These were: Wojciech Dominik of the village of Łęg, Edmund Komorowski of Konstancin, Rev. Antoni Konieczny of Słomczyn, Kazimierz Wandel of the village of Łęg, Władysław Moskalewicz of Słomczyn, Stanisława Suchecka of Słomczyn, Władysław Zduńczyk of Słomczyn, Bolesław Zawadzki of Klarysew, Andrzej Rossman of the village of Bielawa, Kornelli of the village of Bielawa, Jerzy Mrówka of Mirków, and Zbigniew Kępka of Mirków.
Anna Forkasiewicz (née Niuta-Studnia), a Jewish survivor residing in Melbourne, Australia, described the assistance she and her family received from numerous Poles, among them members of the Catholic clergy.
(Chciuk, Saving Jews in War-Torn Poland, 1939–1945, pp.26–27.) So much is heard about the unsympathetic attitude of the Polish clergy towards the Jews that I want to place special
emphasis on two names:
Father Boleslaw Skwarlinski [Bolesław Skwarliński], Prefect from Radom: Whilst I was hiding for six months at the parsonage in Garbatka near Radom, the Prefect was a frequent guest of Father Jozef [Józef] Kuropieski, who provided me with all the care and attention a pregnant woman requires. I had to leave when my baby’s birth was approaching and it was then that I went to live with the Stopinski [Stopiński] family.
Father Jan Podsiadly [Podsiadły], my husband’s school friend: We were guests of his cousin during Easter of 1943 while he was still studying for the priesthood. In 1943 when the Germans evacuated areas on the right bank of the Vistula, we were taken to a camp in Pruszkow [Pruszków], where I was separated from my husband who was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. I was left with my baby in Sochaczew in tragic circumstances. (My striking Jewish features were only partially offset by my faultless Polish accent.) With the help of the local curate (who did not know my origin) I reached Mszczonow [Mszczonów] near Zyrardow [Żyrardów] where Father Podsiadly was a curate. He took care of my child and me, by lodging us with a childless couple and visiting us frequently; although the visits could have led to his arrest and even death, they served to allay suspicion about my Jewish appearance.
After I was wounded in a skirmish near Osa [Ossa] in Opoczno county, many people cared for me: Mirosław Krajewski, Elżbieta Krajewska, Mrs. Pieszczyk—the owner of a laundry near Jasna Street in Warsaw, Wacław and Ryszard Strzelecki, the teacher Gromelski, the engineer Bukowski, Rev. [Jan] Gałęza, Sister Stefania [Miaśkiewicz, of the Sisters of the Family of Mary], Irena Ciesielska and doctors whose names have faded in my memory because of the passage of time. Those are the people who, in the fall of 1942, during a period when the occupier heightened their terror, risked their lives and the lives of their families to come to my assistance.
A priest from Kielce, in central Poland, was sent to a concentration camp for assisting a Jew. (Chciuk, Saving Jews in War-Torn Poland, 1939–1945, p.33.) Because I extended help to a sick Jew in Kielce, I was arrested by the Gestapo and spent three years in a jail and in concentration camps in Oświęcim (Auschwitz), Mauthausen, Gusen and Dachau.
Yours in Christ, Monsignor Witold Dzieciol [Dzięcioł], Victoria Park, Western Australia Milton Kestenberg, an attorney in New York City, related the experiences of his father, a Warsaw industrialist, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto and was hidden with the help of several Poles. After the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the Germans rounded up the population and shipped it out of the ruins of the city. After jumping from a train and spraining his leg, Kestenberg was found by a guard who took him to a parish rectory. The priest took Kestenberg in and cared for him until the liberation. They remained friends after the war, until their deaths. (Ewa Kurek, Poza granicą solidarności: Stosunki polsko-żydowskie 1939–1945 [Kielce: Wyższa Szkoła Umiejętności, 2006], 216.) Piotruś Kormiol, who was born in Warsaw in 1932, recounted the assistance he received from various priests.
(His account, recorded in May 1945, is found in the archive of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Record Group 301, Testimony 489.) The Majackis solved Aunt Basia’s [Dr. Eleonora Reicher, who had converted to Catholicism in 1903 and was regarded as a Pole] problem by agreeing to take me to their house [in 1942]. And that was what happened. It was very nice for me at the Majackis’ house. My aunt and Miss Helenka [her housekeeper] came to see me every week. Even though the time I could spend outside was limited, I was not bored. I had a friend there, the Majackis’ son, Janusz. … I also did not behave the way I should have at the Majackis’. I was very talkative. This irritated Mr. Majacki. Luckily at that time Father Jacek Woroniecki was in Warsaw, a Dominican, Mrs. Potocka’s brother. It was he who helped my aunt put me in the dormitory run by the Marian Fathers in Bielany [a suburb of Warsaw].
Part of the dormitory was occupied by the Germans and that was very dangerous. The people there were also very unfriendly towards me. Because of my completely Semitic features, they would call me a Jew in front of everybody. Once I even had problems with a German. One of my friends from the dormitory told him straight out that I was a Jew. Who knows how badly everything might have ended, if the rector, a priest, had not calmed the situation down. But I could not stay there anymore. It was dangerous for me, and the rector was afraid.. My aunt did not know where to put me. … Finally, Mrs. Starzecka came up with a solution. She inspected orphanages of the Polish Red Cross. She put me up in the orphanage founded by my aunt. … In July , the entire orphanage was sent to the country for summer vacation. I was the only one who could not go [doubtless because of his appearance] and I had to stay behind. … So I stayed with Mrs. Bilińska and with several people from the orphanage’s staff. This was where I was when the uprising [of August 1944] broke out. … The uprising was put down, and the Germans sent me to the camp in Pruszków. … When I was in Pruszków, I did not know what was happening to my aunt, or to Miss Helenka. After three days, they took me with a transport to Kielce. I did not know anyone in Kielce, so I got on a train and went to Kraków. Mrs. Potocka’s brother lived in Kraków, Father Jacek Woroniecki, who put me in a municipal orphanage [actually this was a reformatory for delinquent boys] in Bronowice, near Kraków. Life was miserable [for all the children], and there was lots of work. … no one knew about my background. A few weeks later, my aunt found me, but she could not take me out of the orphanage.
… This is how I survived until Poland was liberated, without any real changes. … When Kraków and Warsaw were taken 180 over [by the Soviets] I returned to Warsaw and am living at my aunt’s house again.
Several unidentified priests in the vicinity of Włodawa, in the voivodship of Lublin, are mentioned in Jewish memoirs. Mirka Bram (Erlich), a Jewish girl born in 1936, recalls (as recorded in Maria Hochberg-Mariańska and
Noe Grüss, eds., The Children Accuse [London and Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 1996], pp.139–40):
Mrs Szusterowa [from Adampol] told me I should go and see the priest in Włodawa, and that he would certainly help me.