«Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy The Testimony of Survivors Edited and compiled by Mark Paul Polish Educational Foundation in ...»
Shortly after that I heard at the Sunday sermon: ‘Fear the Lord more than people. When they tell you to turn over your pigs, you know how to conceal them though you could give them up without a sin. But when they tell you to give away Jews, the Germans must not be obeyed for God said “Thou shalt not kill” and we must help them, give them food and shelter’ …, etc. I do not know whether or not the priest already knew something about me or whether he saw me under the organ loft but I do know that talk about me in the village died down. (And I know that he gave a lead by way of example more than by word—a female catechumen of the family of Abraham came to the presbytery daily for lessons in the catechism. [She later learned that Rev. Czesław Chojecki, the vicar, had informed the pastor of Radzików, Rev. Zygmunt Wachulak, that a Jewish woman was hiding in the area, and the pastor appealed to the congregation to extend help to Jews.] Though I looked like a baited hare, the photographer took my picture and the community [county office] issued me a Kennkarte without any document of previous registration. Someone who wished me well brought me the card so that I would not have to show myself without need. I felt I was saved.
At Christmas the priest went around but he deliberately did not ask me about the catechism. On Christmas Eve, C.G. gave me verses of his sister and Renia X [Regina Hądzyńska]. She was 13 years old. Father [Henryk] Sulej [from the Marian monastery in Bielany, a suburb of Warsaw] saved her and got her a Kennkarte and guardians. Since my hostess was too poor to keep me through the winter I got myself other work. It is with emotion that I recall that the poorest paid me best and showed me the most affection. How delicately Halina warned me not to tell anyone that ‘Mother used to bake chała [plaited white bread]’ or pretended that she did not notice my ignorance about the Catholic faith! They probably all knew who I was but they didn’t let me feel it.
It happened that a woman known to have a long tongue recognized me to be the daughter of ‘that sweater maker’ … I told the priest [the vicar] about it. He became gloomy for a moment, but then he immediately comforted me: ‘I’ll take care of that.’ And the woman did not let the cat out of the bag.
During the bombing in 1944 a family I knew from Siedlce took shelter in the home of my host. They had previously concealed a small Jewess but she took ill and died, so they asked me to come to their home. After the war I gladly took up their offer because thanks to them I was able to resume my interrupted schooling. My former hosts and the priest [the pastor] continued to help me materially and gave me whatever I needed when I asked for it.
After so much proof of people’s goodness I come back to what I started from. Was that relative correct when she said that ‘If they could, the Poles would murder us all?’ I know that there were such persons, although they were exceptions for me. But there were more true human beings … I once heard of a charge made by Mr. T., an engineer, that ‘Catholics concealed us in order to convert us to Catholicism.’ Though I passed through many homes which I could not even list here, I never ran across this. I was taught my prayers and how to behave in church so that I might not give myself away; the rest was left to God and His mercy.
A priest in Kurów near Lublin, probably Rev. Wincenty Szczepanik, assisted Hersh and Helen Kotlar in finding a Christian family willing to take in their young daughter Goldele. The placement fell through after a few weeks, however, because the Polish couple became frightened. The Kotlar family, consisting of the parents and two daughters, survived the war receiving shelter and assistance from numerous Poles along the way. (Helen Kotlar, We Lived in a Grave [New York, Shengold Publishers, 1980], pp.53, 89–90.) The only money that was still ours was entrusted to the priest. … The priest was a good-natured and just man. He was concerned about the great sufferings of the Jews. Hersh was friendly with the priest. … When the Nazis began to confiscate Jewish belongings and the Polish zlotye [sic] was devaluated, Hersh endeavored to exchange both our textile and yardgoods for gold coins. Both of us realized that in the future there will be a need for this type of currency. Having succeeded in selling some of our merchandise for payments in gold, we looked for a place to hide our money as well as the unsold goods. The priest helped us immensely. He hid our gold coins for us in his house.
After escaping from the Warsaw ghetto, Lily Fenster (née Lubaskurka) took refuge in Łuków north of Lublin, where she passed as a Pole with the help of Poles. She happened to witness the execution of a priest who assisted Jews. (Testimony of Lily Fenster, November 8 and 10, 1994, Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History
Archive, University of Michigan at Dearborn, Internet:
http://holocaust.umd.umich.edu/fenster/section028.html.) If they caught her, they would kill her and burn her like, that’s what they did to a lot of Gentiles. I’ve seen they killed a priest … He saved a couple of Jews … in the parish there. They took him out. I was going with … [to] put flowers on the grave [of her mother] … in the cemetery … So we hid under the stones … The whole city was crying that they killed [the priest] … Shot on the cemetery because he saved some Jews.
Kitty Felix (now Hart-Moxon) was 12 years old when the war broke out. She fled from her hometown of Bielsko near the German border with her parents and younger brother, and took refuge in Lublin where they were confined in the ghetto. While in Lublin her mother made the acquaintance of a priest, who later provided them with false identity documents identifying them as Catholic Poles and devised a rescue plan. Kitty and her mother joined a group of Poles being sent to Germany for forced labour. (Account of Kitty Hart-Moxon in Wendy Whitworth, ed., Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story [Lound Hall, Bothamsall, Retford, Nottinghamshire: Quill Press in association with The Aegis Institute, 2003], pp.204–205; Internet: http://www.hmd.org.uk/files/1161877643pdf.) My mother, who was a qualified English teacher, made contact with a Catholic priest whose vicarage was opposite the Gestapo headquarters. She gave him English lessons in return for food. Crawling through the city sewers, she too risked her life, but without our endeavours we would have died of starvation [in the Lublin ghetto]. … We hid in the forest some three weeks, living mostly on berries. Eventually [in September 1942] we made our way back into Lublin—not to the ghetto but to the vicarage of the Catholic priest, who had obtained non-Jewish documents for us that were to help save our lives. I now had a new identity. My name was Leokadia Dobrzynska [Dobrzyńska], born in Lublin.
The priest had worked out a survival plan, but we would have to part, as together we were unlikely to survive. My father was to go to Tarnow [Tarnów] to be employed in a sawmill. My mother (now my aunt with a different name) and I would go into a Lublin collection centre where the SS were holding non-Jewish Poles they had grabbed off the streets to dispatch them to work in German factories. We got to the centre and soon found ourselves in a train, on our way with a group of Poles into the German Reich.
Our destination was Bitterfeld, the ammunition plant of IG Farben.
A Jew who hid in the Skrzynice forest near Lublin with a group of Jews received assistance from an unidentified priest he happened to encounter in the forest. (Account of A.G. in Trunk, Jewish Responses to Nazi Persecution, p.169.) The next morning, we watched a priest and a peasant roll a wagon into the forest to get firewood for the church. We went up to the priest and asked for some bread. The priest said he had no bread with him, but in the afternoon, when he came to the forest for more wood, he’d bring us some. Later, he did bring us bread and two bottles of milk. The bread and the bottles were hidden under the straw in the peasant’s wagon, and he didn’t know it. While the peasant was busy gathering wood, the priest told us to go to the wagon, where to look for the bread and milk, we found it and left.
Gitel Hopfeld and her two young children moved from village in vicinity of Biełżyce and Wronów near Lublin until the arrival of the Soviet Army. While few farmers were prepared to shelter them for any length of time, almost no one turned them away empty-handed, and no one betrayed them to the authorities. Eventually, they
Samuel Gruber, a Jewish partisan leader, described the attitude of a village priest in Pryszczowa Góra near Lublin, in in his memoirs, I Chose Life (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1978), at pages 83–84.
The [Jewish] partisans, the priest told the assembled mourners, were not robbers but fighting men, regardless of whether they were Christians or Jews. They were human beings who wanted to live and not be caught by the Germans.
Accordingly, the priest warned his congregants, if a band of partisans came to your farmstead you should give them food and shelter for the night and not tip off the Germans, at least not immediately. You could always make the report the next morning after the partisans had left. Just be sure you don’t inform the Germans while the partisans are still in your house, because if you do, you will end up having trouble from both sides, from the Germans for having taken in partisans, and from other underground fighters for having reported their friends.
It seems that the villagers took the words of their priest to heart, for the next day they treated us with unusual deference and hospitality. They gave us food, clothing, and even shoes, “so you can march better,” they said. However, this was not enough for some of our men. They went out on their own and, instead of asking peasants for what they wanted, acted the part of thieves and holdup men.
Tema Rotman-Weinstock, who was born to a poor family in a small town in the province of Lublin, had only four years of schooling, but her Polish was fluent and she was familiar with village customs. She too encountered the protective support of a priest. Her story is recounted in Nechama Tec, Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), at pages 227–29.
From the beginning of the Nazi occupation, Tema, dressed as a peasant, smuggled food from the countryside to the town to help support her family. During the last stage of the war she roamed the familiar countryside. She worked hard and had to move from employer to employer, most of whom were hungry themselves and found it hard to feed her. Constantly exposed to raids, cold, and hunger, Tema fought against her feelings of hopelessness.
One winter, while searching in vain for shelter, she suffered frostbite in three of her toes. A peasant woman who could hardly support herself and her retarded daughter took pity on Tema and kept her for three months. But the days when peasants were willing to keep her were [because of their fear—Ed.] coming to an end. Tema’s frostbitten toes continued to hurt her, and hunger made her grow thin. Finding solace in prayers, she persevered. For a while she hid out with a few meager provisions in the attic of a small roadside chapel. But hunger drove her out, and she went on until she found a hut.
There she met a cousin who had come in from the forest to buy provisions. He told her that he and his wife lived in a bunker in the forest. Tema begged him to let her join them. He refused. She continued to roam the countryside, sick and often starving. When she was on the verge of collapse, kind peasants took her into their home. She describes her stay.
“I could not regain my health. I stopped feeling hunger, vomited a lot, and suffered from headaches. I was hardly able to work. And after a month, afraid to keep me, this peasant, Popko, directed me to a woman who lived on a farm with her daughter. This woman had a hard time running the farm, yet she was too poor to hire a farmhand. The village was called Kajtanówka [Kajetanóka], and the name of the peasant woman was Niedźwiedzka. Her hut was far from the main road, and the Germans were unlikely to come there … She was not [visibly—Ed.] afraid to take me in; and I worked for her as much as I could. …” The year 1944 brought the Russian front closer. Tema’s health continued to deteriorate. She could barely eat, yet she had to work hard. Her employer seemed pleased with her; then somehow the word spread that Tema was Jewish.
Fortunately, no bad consequences followed because she found a powerful protector in the local priest. He baptized Tema and defended her against those who still saw her as a Jew. “The priest stood up for me, arguing that conversion was a wonderful Christian deed … Slowly, I began to feel better, my health improved, and the wounds on my toes healed … Then a miracle happened. I saw my mother, dressed the way she had been when we parted. She entered the hut, smiling, and said that we wouldn’t be suffering much longer because on the 23rd of July the Soviets would come to liberate us.” When Tema reported this vision to her employer and neighbors, they laughed at her. She herself began to doubt her dream or vision. But “the miracle happened—on July 23, 1944, the first Soviet soldiers came to our village and to the next one.” After the Soviets came, a group of women rushed into Tema’s house, calling her Santa Teresa. Each wanted her to come and stay. Each brought delicious food, insisting that Tema eat it. Like the people around her, Tema believed in miracles and saw herself as a saint. Eventually, however, Tema decided to return to her Jewish faith. She settled in Haifa, Israel …
188Tema stayed in touch with the peasants who were kind to her.
Krystyna Modrzewska, a twenty-year-old woman, and her mother, Maria Mendelbaum, survived with assistance of nuns and a priest from Lublin, Rev. Paweł Dziubiński, a prelate of the Lublin chapter. Rev. Dziubiński provided temporary shelter and other assistance to his former neighbours, then known as the Mendelbaums.